Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Bob Dylan and Lonesome Rhodes....

Sean Wilentz at BobDylan.com has written a piece called The Roving Gambler at Scenic Newport which is one of the more worthwhile things I've read on Dylan in quite some time. I am a big fan of anything that makes me go "Oh yeah! Why didn't I see that? It's so... so... clear." I've pasted an excerpt below, but you should go here and read the whole thing.

"In 1957, Andy Griffith starred in the Budd Schulberg-Elia Kazan film A Face in the Crowd, playing Lonesome Rhodes, a convicted hobo and country singer who, thanks to a shrewd producer (played by Patricia Neal) becomes a nationwide T.V. celebrity and reactionary demagogue -- a forerunner of Rush Limbaugh and Bob Roberts. Bob Dylan saw A Face In The Crowd, and, reportedly, was more shaken by it than by any film he'd seen since Rebel Without a Cause. At a crucial moment in the film, Griffith's character realizes he's going to make a fortune and starts singing an exuberant and menacing version of 'The Roving Gambler.'

On August 24, 1997, Bob Dylan -- who had cheated death weeks earlier and was now on the verge of releasing an album, Time Out Of Mind, that would reclaim his career -- played a concert in Vienna, Virginia. The songs included 'The Roving Gambler,' which Dylan and his new band had added to their set list a few months earlier. (They would eventually alternate it with 'Duncan and Brady.') Three songs later, after 'Blind Willie McTell,' Dylan introduced his band and acknowledged the presence in the audience of one of the men 'who unlocked the secrets of this kind of music,' Alan Lomax. (At Newport, in 1965, Lomax along with Pete Seeger led the old guard that objected to the blasts of white-boy electricity, including Dylan's. Now all seemed forgiven.) Then, with a mischievous audible chuckle, Dylan and the band kicked into a roaring 'Highway 61 Revisited,' a consummate Dylan rocker of the kind that had so enraged Lomax in 1965. 'This kind of music,' indeed - except that except that 'Highway 61' includes the following verse, with ominous undertones of both ancient folk music and A Face in the Crowd:

Now the rovin' gambler he was very bored
He was tryin' to create a next world war
He found a promoter who nearly fell off the floor
He said I never engaged in this kind of thing before
But yes I think it can be very easily done
We'll just put some bleachers out in the sun
And have it on Highway 61.

On July 19, 2002, two weeks before what the New York Times would soon be hyping as Bob Dylan's triumphant return to Newport, Alan Lomax died. But something of his spirit, and that of the recently dead Dave Van Ronk, and also those of Tennessee Ernie Ford, Don and Phil Everly, Robert Mitchum, Lonesome Rhodes, and Tony Glover, hit the stage running when Dylan, in a cowboy hat, a fake beard, and a wig that made it seem, from five rows back, as if he'd sprouted enormous flowing orthodox Jewish ear locks, opened his set with the Brothers Four's arrangement of 'The Roving Gambler.'"

Go read the Wilentz piece now, and if you've never seen Kazan's A Face in the Crowd you really need to go find a copy as soon as possible. About a third of the way through you'll be reaching for the box, checking the date and wondering how this documentary on the rise of George Bush the First could have been made so long before anyone had heard of him.

1 comment:

Trace V. Ordiway said...

Saw the film on television, late night, when I was maybe 12 years old. Blew me away. And, yes, many time since I have marveled at how prescient it is/was. Stan is right; if you have never seen it do so today.