There’s so much happening in the Dylan world! This week, Definitely Dylan Live takes a look at the brand new 14-disc set and film capturing 1975’s Rolling Thunder Revue, and Laura and Robert discuss their experiences at the World of Bob Dylan Symposium in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
In an exclusive interview, Laura speaks with Michael Chaiken, curator of Tulsa’s Bob Dylan Archive, about the archive’s vision and mission, its role in future retrospective releases, and its relationship to Sony and the Bob Dylan Music Company. And of course Laura couldn’t resist asking a question or two about some long-rumoured fan Holy Grails!
The episode’s music begins with a version of People Get Ready from the Rolling Thunder Revue rehearsals that should be familiar to fans of Paul Williams’ writing. Here’s Paul on why this performance is so special:
“People Get Ready” is a gem. It’s a great song, first of all, and even though he can only half remember the words, Dylan is completely successful at expressing and communicating his love for the song, his respect for its tempo, its message, its magic. This comes through in his voice (and in his enthusiastic, rhythmic piano playing, itself a sort of second voice). And mysteriously, levels within levels, something else comes through: it’s as if his open mouthing of the chords, words, and rhythms of love opens a door to the feelings behind the love, perhaps (one can only speculate) feelings that were touched when the musician as listener first heard and felt the song.
Something emerges. It is a feeling of wonder, of smoothness, of personality, of spiritual contact. Beauty is another aspect of it, that odd, intense sort of beauty that requires disorder, imperfection, randomness, a sense that something exquisite and short-lived is occurring and we are observing it only by accident, by rare good fortune. People who’ve attended Dylan recording sessions or concert rehearsals often speak of such performances with awe. Here is one that Dylan himself has recorded and included on his movie’s soundtrack and even released to radio stations.
The point is that in the movie Renaldo & Clara and the Rolling Thunder tour and Dylan’s performances during the tour reflect and express an aesthetic that starts, perhaps, with the ability to appreciate “People Get Ready.” Here is a performance full of garbled, slurred and forgotten words, a performance joined in progress by drums, bass, and eventually guitar (and just as the guitar player gets into something, the singer/pianist drops the song, leaves him hanging). A recording almost drowned out by chatter at the beginning, focused on a vocal that comes on with astonishing power for a few words and then dies away. What is this shit?
This shit is Dylan’s idea of what great music is and where it comes from, and I celebrate him and his movie and the music he made on this tour because my experience is, he’s right. […]
Returning for a moment to “People Get Ready,” its triumph is the mood it evokes, like a single note reached for and achieved - Dylan picks up the song, tries it on, and discards it, but something incredible and quite complete has occurred during the moment of his wearing it. If we want to speak of the experience in terms of emotional/intellectual content, what the performance evokes gains added poignance in hindsight - more than three years before his “conversion,” here is Dylan showing with his heart how real, how tangible to him is this slow train coming. It’s in his blood. That’s pure delight in his voice when he sings, “All you need is faith to hear those diesels humming” (surely he can hear them; surely that’s what he’s unconsciously hearing here); and unshakable conviction and great boozy sweetness when he sings, “Don’t need no ticket, you just thank the Lord.”
People Get Ready (S.I.R. Studio Rehearsals)
Spanish Is the Loving Tongue (S.I.R. Studio Rehearsals)
Easy and Slow (Seacrest Motel Rehearsals)
What Will You Do When Jesus Comes? (S.I.R. Studio Rehearsals)