Review: Rolling Thunder Review & Echo In The Canyon

Two generations of Dylans are attracting attention with movies. Bob is the focus of Martin Scorsese’s Rolling Thunder Revue, A Bob Dylan Story, and his son Jakob is involved with the documentary, Echo in the Canyon.

In 1975, fresh off his tour with the band, Dylan decided to round up a troupe of musicians to do concerts in smaller halls. He also planned to record them for his experimental film, Renaldo and Clara, being written by Sam Shepard. Scorsese draws on actual concert footage, but fictionalizes some of the backstory.

So you’ve got Dylan performing with Joan Baez and Roger McGuinn and a band including a young T Bone Burnett and David Mansfield. There are interviews with some of the prinicpals, including poet Allen Ginsberg, referred to as “The Oracle of Delphi” and Dylan himself, who’s not exactly a reliable witness. “i don’t remember a thing about Rolling Thunder,” he says.

Then there are fictitious characters, like the director Stefan Van Dorp, played by Bette Midler’s husband, and the promoter, played by Jim Gianopulos, who’s the head of Paramount Pictures but was never involved with the tour.

It’s as though Scorsese, a Dylan fan who directed the documentary, No Direction Home, wanted to get out a larger truth about what the tour might have represented for a pick-up entourage on the road. There’s a great scene of Joni Mitchell playing a brand-new “Coyote” (written about Sam Shepard) at Gordon Lightfoot’s apartment in Toronto, with Dylan and McGuinn playing along.

It’s perfect that Dylan actually drives the tour bus himself and that he sets the tone for the commedia dell’arte feeling, including performing with white makeup. “when somebody’s wearing a mask,” he tells an interviewer, “he’s gonna tell you the truth. When he’s not wearing a mask, it’s highly unlikely.” 

The the other Dylan – Jakob – is involved with the movie, Echo in the Canyon, now playing in theaters. Jakob and Andrew Slater came up with the idea of paying tribute to the music of the late 60’s that came out of L.A., inspired by the scene in Laurel Canyon.

Jakob serves as a kind of tour guide for recollections from some of the people who were there, like David Crosby, Stephen Stills, Roger McGuinn, Graham Nash, and Jackson Browne, plus Tom Petty, who was hugely influenced by the scene.

Some of the insights are revealing – like Brian Wilson acknowledging a Bach chord progression in “California Girls” and McGuinn  explaining how George Harrison was inspired to write “If I Needed Someone” by the Byrds’ recording of “Bell Of Rhymney”

Jakob called on some of his other contemporaries , like Regina Spector, Cat Power, Fiona Apple, Beck, and Norah Jones, for their takes on the ‘60s classics, and the results are pretty darn good.

Cynthia Cochrane