3/29/21: The Rolling Thunder Revue (2019) — Poetry in Motion Pictures (and music) #poetry
Bob Dylan says in this movie that life is not about searching. It’s about creating yourself and creating what you do.
This is almost totally true. We have a significant role in the creation of ourselves and the world, but we have partners — God and the aforementioned world. There is a divine intelligence that imbues us with a specific character and destiny. I call that divine intelligence “God”. You don’t have to. Dylan probably believes that existence is a random thing and that we are tasked with inventing meaning upon it. He thinks the world is as limited or limitless as it can be based on how we consider its possibilities. Dylan was born Bobby Zimmerman. He read poetry and heard music and watched theater and he selected all these styles and approaches that he liked. He put them together in inventive ways and became Bob Dylan. His way is not my way. For me, self – creation is different than self -invention. Self – invention is a branding exercise focused on how you are perceived by other people, or it is a way to escape a background or past that you don’t care for. I was never unhappy about who I was. I never wanted to change my name. I was different than other people, as different in my own way as Bob Dylan, but I was never conscious of the difference. I didn’t search — Dylan is quite right about that. I quite happily and innocently pursued my interests. I have been led through my life by an internal dynamism. I have purposefully pursued people, places and activities, and quite often have found that my destiny assigned another purpose to an experience than my desired or expected one. I have pushed against the world with my authentic self and the world has pushed against me. I, in concert with my essential nature designed by God and the world and its gentle and harsh responses, have formed myself.
I think that I am a more sincere person than Bob Dylan. Dylan spins a tale in the this movie, “A Bob Dylan Story”. He conflates true details with pure fictions and dares the viewer to figure out what is real and what is fake. Scorsese calls this “magic”. Dylan wants us to to study his story and wonder “how does he do that?” I don’t find all of that particularly interesting which isn’t to say that I think it is not worthy. It seems a kind of conceptual art, which is OK.
Strangely, I don’t think that I watched this movie at all to hear Dylan’s ideas about the nature of creation, or the futility of searching or the differences between fact or fiction, or Scorsese’s ideas about the magical nature of existence.. I had a personal epiphany as I watched this film, and it occurred without any conscious intention by me, Bob Dylan or Martin Scorsese. I discovered something important to me that was not the result of searching, but rather simply the result of living honestly.
I know the nature that God put inside of me. I know how it feels. It feels serenely happy when I honor it. I get physically ill when I don’t. I do not see the world as capable of saying “no”. The world is an infinitely enormous place. It’s only possible negative is “not here” and I move to another location to express my meaning. Sometimes the world says “that’s not it” and I have to refine my understanding of who I am and what I do. Or the world says, “that worked before, but you and I have changed”.
I had an epiphany while I watched this movie , an epiphany that will likely bore you, but I will share it anyway. I think these prosaic practical details are poetic.
I have enough money to live on, but I thought I might want to teach under the right circumstances — if it helped worthwhile people and brought in extra money. It hit me as I watched this film that I unequivocally do not want to teach. Writing has become my job without my awareness or consent. It just happened. I thought I would write four hours a day, and have time to do other things. I thought those other things could even inform my writing. My thinking has nothing to do with who I actually am or what I do. I am writing all the time. I think about my writing constantly. I am more fulfilled writing than doing anything that I have ever done. I conclusively recognized this reality today. It is a very big deal for me. I don’t think that people make decisions — not really. I think life is about conforming one’s external reality to one’s internal reality. When I write, my action in the world is a seamless manifestation of the action of my soul.
Dylan describes the poet Allen Ginsberg, and I saw myself in his words. Dylan said that Ginsberg “didn’t care about political power or material things” and that he was a “King”. So I am. I was never motivated to become rich or powerful. I understood at an early age the power of creative expression. Art’s influence on the world is greater than that of business or politics. Poets lead businessmen and politicians and everyone else to deeper understandings of reality. If you help people expand their consciousness of the world, you change the world. This is not always what I wanted to do, it is what I have always done. I didn’t pick being the way that I am. It is simply the case. This epiphany is part of a rolling thunder of epiphanies that I have enjoyed for several years.
I watched film of Allen Ginsberg reading his poetry and I realized that I want to read my writing in public. I don’t want to perform it. I want to read it. My writing is in an oral tradition. I read my pieces to my wife every morning. My material is meant to be read, and also meant to be read aloud. I didn’t view Ginsberg and feel that I wanted to write like him or be like him. I simply saw an image of a man reading his writing to an audience, and I saw myself. It could have been film of any other good writer doing a reading.
Another epiphany that you won’t see as earth shattering, but answers a big creative question for me. My writing is to be published as collections. I thought that it might be part of some great mega -narrative and may need to be re -written as a novel or memoir, but it doesn’t. Creating an overarching narrative wouldn’t help my writing. It would introduce explanation and a linearity which wouldn’t add to the art of what I am doing. These pieces when considered in total tell a story … formally making them into a story would actually detract from what I say.
MY POEM ABOUT THE MOVIE — I DON’T CARE WHAT IS FACT OR FICTION, I JUST CARE WHAT IS TRUE; BOB DYLAN IS A GOOD POET AND WHAT HE DOES BEST HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH HIS IDEAS …
The bicentennial (1976) as a magical time
one person at a time
Not a shot was fired
Bob Dylan for President!
An alternative to Nixon
In 1976, America’s spirit was broken
200 million Viet Nams
200 million Watergates
No one had faith in anything
Dylan the Poet wanted to touch the inner self
The Inner Self
Not in a Me Decade way
When we create ourselves we save the world
I never “got” Dylan
I thought he was just a singer
and a fashion
I listened to Sinatra
But I get him this morning
I had some latent thing inside of me
that God and no one else put there
not family, friend, teacher or even external experience
nothing happened to me that made me say
“I am a Poet”
I just was
I didn’t know what a Poet was
Now I do
It crept up on me
I didn’t get that Dylan was a poet
that he read Whitman and Frost and learned things — like I did
I thought he was just stealing ideas to get over
Dylan was a thief
If he thought somebody did something interesting he took it …
but there was art in the way that he put it together
I didn’t get Dylan’s ambivalence about performing
it doesn’t show in this movie
in this movie, Dylan celebrates performing
He is the source of all enthusiasm
He is the sun of enthusiasm
Someone told me about a later tour in the 90s where he sat off to the side of the stage and didn’t look at the audience
That I can relate to
I don’t want to be the listeners’ teacher or entertainer
I won’t perform my words
My voice speaking those words is a thing I make
It’s not a show …
I didn’t get that Dylan’s music was just reading poems in a different way
My voice is nothing like Bob Dylan’s
well, it’s a little like it I guess
it involves words
but we don’t resemble each other in any way
But my genre is the same as Dylan’s …
plus the DNA of my other forebears
I was born into a tradition that I never knew existed
I knew the pieces but I didn’t completely see how one built on the other
Maybe it’s a tradition of my own making
and surely this is an incomplete list
(My epiphany was prosaic — how I organize my writing day, my finances, the fact that I will do readings, the fact that I see collections of my writings not long form narratives … but the poetry, the meaning … that piece that would be of primary interest to you, that has to be discovered … but let me tell you that clarity of my approach is a big deal …)
Ginsburg (what a mensch … I really relate to this guy … especially the way he read his work … he wasn’t a showman like Bob Dylan — there was a kindness about his readings — I wouldn’t be like that, he likes the audience a lot more than I do — I think he really wanted to free people and have them live happy lives … that’s fine, but I just want to tell them the truth and leave the rest up to them … but I liked a guy standing in front of people reading from a paper in his hand), Kerouac (too romantic for my taste, but I like the way he wrote — he carried it around and then put it on the page hot and fast — free … I say I want to publish in collections and not write them into one narrative but all of my pieces are a narrative — no need to edit or write explanations — if you write every day you tell your life story) and the rest of the Beat Poets (I need community, man … I need community … I know it’s not my job to form it, and I know it exists … I don’t need to search for it … I’ve searched … I know I’ll know it when I see it)
Begat the folk music scene (I worked in those clubs doing comedy before sensitive types and the shit eating public — Inside Llewyn Davis is an instructive myth useful to my life … the movies intersect with my specific past … I made myself a human sacrifice in those clubs and I reflected on what happened and revivified at the movies … the trick … the magic trick … today’s movie talks about magic … not sleight of hand … transformational magic … turning water into wine …making one’s inner life perfectly congruent to one’s outer life … that is the magic …)
and the early improvisational theater scene — Sills and Shepherd, the Compass Players and the existence of Second City ( I was there and during my career as an improviser, I learned how to create …. and the early guys — my early mentors — were concerned with what concerned me … love, honor, justice, compassion …)
and all of this begat Bob Dylan (Dylan put all of this together in a much different way than I did and do — but here is where we intersect, we both put it together: Dylan says in this movie “Life is about creating yourself and creating things” — Amen, brother …)
Dylan wrote poetry and folk music and improvised and made theater
and all of this plus film studies begat Martin Scorsese (or maybe part of Scorsese)
Dylan thought up a story mixing together fact and fancy and Scorsese directed it …
The Magical Power of Art
Art changes people
The world changes every time a person changes
Art is more powerful than the usual things that we think are powerful
What difference does fact or fiction make when the point is Truth
We are species unto ourselves
and water rushing down the river of history
and eternal beings
our moments are the same thing as
Copyright 2021 Richard Thomas