Bob Dylan on the CBC



The oddest Dylan piece that I have come across so far is undoubtedly the episode of the CBC’s Quest that aired in February 1964. It is the most complete video of Dylan at the tail end of his folksinger phase that exists. Airing literally a few weeks before the Beatles took over the United States, Dylan still has the Woody Guthrie clothing to go with hisharmonica holder. By March Dylan would have transformed his looks and rented his first electric guitar. This is a true time capsule piece.

A half-hour show airing Sunday nights at 10:30, Quest was intended to showcase cutting edge performers and performances. To today’s eyes it is unquestionably a bizarre show. No announcers, no interviewers, just Dylan performing on a set designed to look like a bunkhouse or a fishing cabin, with a group of men gathered around mostly smoking and ignoring him. You might have thought that someone on the set would have suggested that maybe the singer would look like a bigger deal if, you know, the people there actually seemed interested in him. But, no.

This is an intimate Dylan set. He performs six songs, four of which are (I would argue) major ones. It’s the best opportunity that I have had to see – rather than listen – to him sing and play so far. It’s remarkable how much younger he looks than he sounds.

Most of the performances here hew pretty closely to their recorded versions. “Restless Farewell”, the final song, is probably the most interesting given that it’s one of his least performed songs. He doesn’t belt out the “hards” in “A Hard Rain” like he was doing in concert at that time (not that it would have been appropriate in the setting). The sense of sitting in the room with the performer is palpable. This is probably as close as one can imagine being in one the coffeehouses of Greenwich Village.

YouTube has bits and pieces, but I found the complete thing here. I tried to link to the CBC’s own version (which might not have the annoying time stamp) but, well, I couldn’t get their site to work….

The Times They Are A-Changin’



The only good thing about Zack Snyder’s Watchmen movie is the opening credits sequence which is set to “The Times They Are A-Changin’”. If the movie had continued to be that good, it would be classic. Instead, it’s Watchmen.

Snyder uses a ton of shortcuts in that sequence, and the shortest of them all is the song selection. There may be no more anthemic song of the entire decade, but that doesn’t make it any less great. This is Dylan self-consciously adopting the mantle of “voice of a generation”, something that he would almost immediately attempt to cast off. It’s the song that his audience needed him to write.

With the Biblical overtones, its generation gap rhetoric, its address to “senators and congressmen”, and its skilfully crafted couplets this is a song that begs to be used in a variety of contexts. Yet it is not simply useful, it is actually quite beautiful. It’s a minor masterpiece of crafting, and is a song that plays well in a variety of arrangements.

Wikipedia reminded me that in 2010 the hand-written lyrics for the song were sold at auction for more than $400,000 to a hedge fund manager. So, maybe not so much change after all.

Here’s the Quest version from early 1964: