Without any doubt the voice of my generation was Bob Dylan. With his distinctive, often muttering voice he spoke to the youth of the sixties and seventies like no other recording artist. At a time when the Viet Nam war was on all our minds, when class struggle was a prime concern and civil rights was increasingly important, Bob Dylan's songs spoke to the heart of these matters and we listened intently. Bob Dylan World Tours 1966-1974 is now available on DVD and it is a must have for those like me, people who grow up with Dylan's music and want to see behind the public persona of this enigmatic man. This disc does not feature the music of Bob Dylan; instead it looks at him through the camera lens of Barry Feinstein, the official photographer who followed Dylan on tour around the world. Director Joel Gilbert takes us way behind the scenes, talking to the ones that knew Dylan well, that where part of his life and where there when musical history was made.
Each segment of this documentary examines a different influence on Dylan, looking closely at those that worked with him and encouraged him. One of the first was his early meeting with Joan Baez. These two giants of folk music met and were photographed by Feinstein and now we get to see these rare images. This meeting is remembered by Mary Lou Pasturel, who owned the Espresso in Woodstock, one of the many coffee houses popular back then. Listening to her is like chatting with an old friend about the bygone days. Dylan would write songs that would later appear on several of his albums, asking Pasturel for permission to try them out with the audience.
Feinstein chats with Gilbert about how he got this once in a lifetime chance to be paid to follow Dylan, snapping pictures. Life Magazine realized that Dylan was becoming a powerful force not only in music but in the many social changes that where occurring. They commissioned Feinstein as the official photographer and now, thanks to this film, we get not only the pictures, but the stories behind them. He repeated the experience again during Dylan's now famous 1974 tour. The two men had formed a friendship, affording Feinstein the rare opportunity of really capturing the man behind the music.
Seeing these images added a fresh dimension to my life long appreciation of Dylan's music. For those of us that grew up in the pre-MTV world of music, we didn't have the constant bombardment of images of the artist that is common today. For us these images show us the faces behind the voices we listened so intently to. These photos display a depth to Dylan that helps in the understanding of his politically influential lyrics.
Feinstein has an extraordinary eye for details. In one shot of Dylan at the Espresso, we see Dylan standing, discussing something with Dick Farina, while Joan Baez reclines on a couch in the background. He captures sadness in the face of Baez contrasted with the excitement that glows from Dylan. In some of color photographs, Feinstein displays Dylan the way so many of us remember him, on stage, guitar strapped around him, harmonica in front of him and his face glowing from the spotlight. The real treat is the many candid shots Feinstein got of Dylan. It shows the various moods this man went through from the happiness while composing his classics to an introspective moodiness that drove his lyrics. This is a rare treasure for anyone interested in the man that Bob Dylan is.
In 1971 George Harrison of the Beatles asked Dylan to perform at his concert for Bangladesh. This was one of the greatest assemblies of musical talent ever. While most of Feinstein's pictures where in black and white, Harrison insisted on color and the images gathered that night are powerful.
A later chapter is a discussion with Al Aronowitz, long time rock journalist who facilitated a meeting in the sixties between two very different yet powerful musical forces, Bob Dylan and the Beatles. Once again the memories are told against the backdrop of photographs giving a unique perspective of one of rocks classic moments.
One of my personal favorite segments is when Gilbert visits the place of the recording sessions at an old rural house called affectionately Big Pink, after its garish paint job. It was there that Dylan worked with the Band, creating some of the most memorable music my generation ever listened to. This included The Weight, the definitive Band song that is now, sadly used in commercials.
Gilbert also travels to the places where Dylan's early days took place. We get to see the streets of Greenwich Village where Bob Dylan use to play in out of the way dives. This was particularly of interest to me since I used to go to those places and saw Dylan on many occasions. His interviews with the people involved showed great respect for them. His questions are heart felt and to the point, often permitting them to go off on a tangent usually leading to other great reminisces of those days past. With this, he succeeds in what he set out to do, bring the story behind these wonderful photos to life and expose a new generation to the genius of Bob Dylan.
There is a part of the extras section of the disc that provides a gallery of some 150 photographs, many never before shown to the public. As you move from photo to photo you see the progression of Dylan's life, both public and private. There is an intimacy that there camera affords, at times the shots are so personal you may fell that you are intruding.
While not for everybody this is a must have for the true Dylan fan. Watch this and then turn off the lights, put on an old Dylan record and remember a time that helped us become aware of the world.