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In ‘Rolling Thunder Revue,’ Scorsese Tries to Capture a Wild Dylan Tour

Category: Entertainment,Music

As Dylan, Shepard (who served as an on-the-fly screenwriter) and the others spontaneously came up with scenes for “Renaldo and Clara,” revue members turned up in unlikely locations that are among the highlights of the new movie. Dylan and Ginsberg visit Jack Kerouac’s grave in Lowell, Mass., and the beat poet reads his epic “Kaddish” to the women of a mah-jongg club. In one extraordinary sequence, Joni Mitchell — who says she “wanted to come see a concert and got sucked into it” — plays an early version of her song “Coyote” at a party at Gordon Lightfoot’s house in Toronto, accompanied by Dylan and McGuinn. “Every night was like that, it was like a two-month party,” McGuinn said.

The heart of “Rolling Thunder Revue,” of course, is the concerts — about a dozen full songs, including searing, riveting versions of “Isis,” “A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall,” and “The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll.” These performances reveal just how energized Dylan was, how he had recommitted to his material at a time when music was in a phase of safe, corporate bloat.

“In 1975, the music business had gotten very commercial,” McGuinn said. “Bob came from a more organic time, and I think in his heart he was trying to recapture the good time of art over commerce.”

Scorsese said his intent was to carry that approach into the film. “What we did was try to use that same spirit that existed on the tour,” he said.

At the end of “Rolling Thunder Revue,” Dylan is asked what remains from the tour. “Nothing. Not one single thing. Ashes,” he replies. But earlier in the film, he offers something (paraphrasing a quote often attributed to George Bernard Shaw) that gets at the inspiration for not just these shows, but also the constant in his life’s work.

“Life isn’t about finding yourself, or finding anything,” he says. “Life is about creating yourself, and creating things.”

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