If you're kicking yourself for missing the first broadcast of Martin Scorsese's remarkable public television documentary on Bob Dylan earlier this week, you might hear the poet's distinctive wail in your head: "Don't think twice, it's all right."
But it's not.
Not if you're of a certain age or certain inclination to doubt just how far the nation has advanced in the 40-plus years since Dylan's unique words and tones first penetrated the national consciousness. After all, the same kind of people who spilled American blood for a questionable cause in Vietnam are back running things again, and you wonder: Where's the poet? Where's the truth-teller? Jon Stewart is funny, but he's no Dylan.
Snippets from 10 hours of interviews with the enigmatic songwriter are only a backdrop for stunning never-before-seen footage of Dylan pre-1966. He's so young! He's just a baby-faced kid from Hibbing newly landed in Greenwich Village, bewildered by his fame, alternately embracing it and denying it.
"I came to town as an outsider ... they're trying to make me an insider of some kind," he says, complaining that the protest movement is trying to make him theirs.
Joan Baez recounts that at every rally she attended people asked breathlessly if Bob was coming. What they didn't understand was that "he never came," she said. But that was Dylan's point. Any true protest figure must also protest the protest movement. And so we see Dylan joking with the press: "I'm just a song and dance man."
Indeed! When he goes electric in 1965 he seems almost happy to be showered with boos. An artist needs to be "in a constant state of becoming," he said later in a phrase far less poetic than his original explanation: "He who's not busy being born is busy dying."
What's clear by the end of Scorsese's extraordinary film is that, for those now on the outside of political power looking in, Dylan's words are as fresh as ever. Not everything about the times have been a-changing over the past four decades. A hard rain is still falling. In the wake of terror, war and devastating hurricanes that laid bare America's lingering poverty, Dylan's questions still cut to the bone: "How does it feel to be on your own? With no direction home? Like a complete unknown? Like a rolling stone?"
© Copyright 2005 Star Tribune