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 Seriously Folk

Blacklight Bar

'Bob Dylan Live...' follows the singer on his path to a plugged-in new sound.

by Ken Tucker in Entertainment Weekly

The Other Side of the Mirror
Unrated, 83 mins., 2007

Bob Dylan
locking in at a scant 83 minutes, The Other Side of the Mirror: Bob Dylan Live at the Newport Folk Festival 1963-1965 depicts one of the most fascinating evolutions in the history of popular music. Thanks to director Murray Lerner -- who filmed three years' worth of performances at the famous Rhode Island folk-music gathering in crisp black and white -- we can watch Dylan gain in artistry, confidence, and stature... as well as in humor, power, and a thrilling arrogance.

Bob Dylan - The Other Side of the MirrorIn 1963, the 22-year-old Dylan is still an earnest Woody Guthrie adept, his reedy voice barely able to contain the righteous sincerity he pours into such songs as "With God on Our Side" and "Only a Pawn in Their Game." By the time he sings his first signature composition, "Blowin' in the Wind," it's clear from the rousing reception that the kid already has both the crowd and his fellow performers -- most of them many years his senior -- in his back pocket.

By 1964, Dylan's profile has so dominated the folk scene that Joan Baez gets big laughs from the audience just by doing an impersonation of his nasal moan, and introducing him by saying "This is George Washington." The latter is a neat little joke, suggesting in a mere four words that Dylan is now so well-known that Baez doesn't even need to speak his "real" name, and that he has become the First Father of modern folk music (he proves it later in the show by singing his "Chimes of Freedom," a composition both stirring and revolutionary in its visionary imagery). His incipient rock stardom is implied visually: His jeans are tighter; his mop of hair is more carefully mussed.

One year later, the transfiguration of Bob Dylan is complete. Lerner shows us glimpses of the rehearsal for what will become the scandal d'estime of the festival -- an electric-guitar-powered mini-set that puts the rock back in "folk rock." Dylan wears a puffy shirt with white polka dots (so much for the folkie uniform of plaid work shirt). Sunglasses hood his eyes. When Peter, Paul and Mary's Peter Yarrow, before bringing Dylan out, tells the crowd that the fest is running "way overtime" and urges fans to "split" after the star's performance, Dylan snickers, "That's what you think." Facing the dismayed faithful in a leather jacket, Dylan spits out "Like a Rolling Stone" over the wail of Mike Bloomfield's guitar, and when he concludes we hear -- as director Lerner describes it in a recent interview, the DVD's only extra -- "some applause, some catcalls, some booing."

It's the sound of an audience being divided and reconfigured, the sound of a reaction to something utterly new. Lerner's phrase -- that Dylan became "a high priest of this culture" -- may seem overheated... until you see this footage. A-  

 The '70s: Stayin' Alive Somehow

Blacklight Bar

Author Bruce J. Schulman on why the '70s still matter.

by Nayelli Gonzalez in Newsweek

EXTRA! act picturehile the '60s inspires memories of social change and the '80s triggers thoughts of upward mobility, the '70s evokes images of Farrah Fawcett and polyester. But after the success of VH1's I Love the '80s, the network is devoting 10 hours to that overlooked decade in a series that premiered Aug. 18. Newsweek's Nayelli Gonzalez asked Bruce Schulman, author of The Seventies: The Great Shift in American Culture, Society, and Politics, for background:

Why should we care about the '70s?

This period formed the defining moment in recent American history. Most of the struggles and achievements of modern American life -- the entrepreneurial energy, the competing variety of cultural and religious identities, the political ascendancy of the sun-belt South -- began taking shape.

But most people think the '60s changed the United States.

The romantic view of the '60s persists because the iconic events of the decade -- Woodstock, the Siege of Chicago, the Summer of Love, the Black Panthers -- fit the conventional model of historic change. The shifts of the '70s don't fit that portrait. The '70s appears as the sickly, ugly, less accomplished younger sibling. But it was the '70s that gave us the America we live in today.

How did it reinvent America?

One year alone, 1973, witnessed fundamental changes. It saw the end of the American intervention in Vietnam, Roe v. Wade, Watergate, the Indian occupation of Wounded Knee and the first Arab oil shock. Billie Jean King won the "Battle of the Sexes." The Godfather swept the Academy Awards, highlighting both the triumph of a new, personal director-oriented cinema and the renewed interest in ethnic identity among white Americans previously content with the melting pot.

Why does pop culture play such a large role in your book?

During the '70s, the public sphere of government and politics became less important, while the private spheres of business and pop culture became more important. When I ask people to name the emblematic figure of the '60s, I get JFK or Martin Luther King. But for the '70s, I hear not Nixon or Jimmy Carter, but John Travolta. 

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