The Rolling Thunder Revue
You have thunder in your steps. You just have to use them. Get out and live. Don’t do what you know how to do (at least not all the time). Do what you don’t know how to do. Open yourself up to the thunder of new experiences, new vistas. Go ahead. Live and you get to remember. Take a cross-country ride on a motorcycle (by yourself), wrestle with a mountain lion, chomp down on a Habanero Chili. Dylan wanted to do something different. Wanted to go in a new direction. Marry the old with the new. That’s what he did with his Rolling Thunder Review Tour back in the seventies. He changed with the times. Or maybe he helped change the times. A little of both, I reckon.
The Old and the New
Late one night last week, I sat down in my favorite beanbag chair, my lava lamp glowing serenely beside me in the darkened room. I turned on the magic lantern and tuned in to a film by Martin Scorsese, on Netflix: “Bob Dylan: The Rolling Thunder Revue.” I had been lucky enough in 1976 to have gone to one of the concerts on the Spring Leg of the Rolling Thunder Revue Tour in Fort Collins, Colorado. Just up the road from Boulder. I had always reveled in Dylan’s music, practically being weaned on it in the late fifties and early sixties when he came on the folk scene. Just when I was getting comfortable with his acoustic music, he changed it up. He went from folk singing to electric. Folk-rock. A hybrid of the old and new. Here was a man who was always reinventing himself. He still is. That’s what is magical about him. He doesn’t get stuck in a rut. Tries something new. Forges ahead. Painted his face in a white mask. The whole band did.
Running Riot with the Truth
Immersing myself in these performances of the First Revue Tour I realized the music had new levels to it. Dylan forged his genius into complete focus as he joined forces with other famous players around him, each adding their own brilliance to round out not only Dylan himself, but the whole experience. He did it again with The Traveling Wilburys. To its credit, the film, though, runs riot with the truth. Intentionally. We are led on a long and winding road, spicing up the real with fakery, things that happened and things that didn’t happen, all of it set up masterfully by Scorsese. Sharon Stone, who figures quite prominently in the film, is shown obsessed with Kiss as a young teenager, wasn’t actually on the tour. Nor was the presumed documentary film-maker, who was supposed to have been shooting the story of the tour. This makes the film eminently interesting and just plain fun to watch, drawing you in on the carnival atmosphere experience, as you try to figure out what is real and what is fake. It reminds me of some of Hunter S. Thompson’s books, most notably the Fear and Loathing series, some of which were true, based on his experiences and some embellished right out of his fevered imagination.
On Our Way
In 1976 on a late Spring evening, four of us squeezed, into my VW bug, me, Sven, Haggis Altoona and Autumn. Autumn was the most sensible person, so she drove. She could smoke and drink and hardly feel the effects. Definitely, a blessing and a curse. We drove from Eldorado Springs, through Boulder and headed north out on Route 287 to Fort Collins. We had tickets, got them early. I knew the concert would be big. A once-in-a-lifetime event.
The car was soon filled with fine marijuana smoke, talk and laughter. Cops be damned. We were going to see Dylan. Nothing could stop us. We pop-topped open some Walters Beer. 1.79 a case. Yeah, we were on our way in more ways than one. That’s the best way. More ways open more pathways, unknown to you at first, then becoming familiar as you tread their slippery paths. Follow them and see where you end up. Head out to uncharted territory. We were on our own Rolling Thunder Tour, following the edge of the foothills in an experience nonpareil. It had been raining lightly on and off all day. The windshield wipers weren’t working very well, hiccupping and wiping at half speed. In fact, they gave up the ghost on the outskirts of Fort Collins just as a hard rain came down splattering the windshield with hail. I leaned out the window and wiped the windshield with my shirt when the downpour got too heavy. I didn’t care. There was music in the air.
History with Dylan
I’d been lucky enough to see Dylan at the Newport Folk Festival in 1964 on the East Coast. Bringing back those memories gave me an eerie, familiar view of those times when I was a young man discovering pot and music and girls. We were going through changes. We are always going through changes. Then and now and will in the future. Nothing is static. Now, I would see him in Fort Collins. I’d see him again in Seattle many years later at the Paramount Theatre and then again at Chateau St. Michelle a couple of years beyond that.
We got to Fort Collins about an hour before the concert. Parked and made our way into Hughes Stadium, the place where the Colorado State Rams football team played their home games. It only had a capacity of 30, 000, but as I remember, the stadium was pretty well packed. We sat or stood about halfway back in a light drizzle. The rain had abated, but the skies were in turmoil, ready to open up in a rage and give us another good dousing. As it was a light mist was hovering around us. I was having a hard time, being so stoned, figuring out which was mist and which was smoke from all the pipes and fine, rolled blunts being lit up. In the gloaming, all the lighted joints looked like stars from far galaxies, winking at me. Yes, I was a goner, but not gone enough not to enjoy myself. And yes, there were plenty of cops around, all hidden in the recesses of the stadium, of course. They ignored our friendly digressions as they trained their spyglasses on us. They couldn’t arrest thirty thousand. Why they’d have thirty thousand in the clink. Thirty thousand clogging the courts. Thirty thousand rioting. Thirty thousand protesting. Nah, they knew better than to bother us.
A Hard Rain was Falling
The stage was covered, so the elements wouldn’t be much of a problem for the performers. The carnival began when Dylan and his band came on, their heads head covered with a white cloth. They looked like pirates, all of them. His first song was, appropriately, “A Hard Rain is Gonna Fall.” During the performance, the skies finally let loose and skewered us with pelting rain and wind. We hovered under our rain gear as we listened to Dylan, his music more powerful than the weather. I didn’t realize it, but the show was being filmed for NBC to be made into a special for TV.
Don’t Hold Back
Joan Baez and T. Bone Burnett, Roger McGuinn, Ramblin’ Jack Eliot along with significant others, joined Dylan to become The Rolling Thunder Revue, singing their thunder as thunder ripped across the skies above Colorado, rolling like bowling balls hitting the foothills. Rolling Thunder, a Native American term for thunder on the plains moving across the sky like a herd of Bison. Rolling. The thunder of pipes being lit. The thunder of stoned laughter. The thunder of strength in numbers. A cloud of smoke, sweet and acrid at the same time. The Yin Yang. Love, peace and music. Do what you don’t know how to do. Try a little tenderness from that pipe they’re passing. Don’t hold back. Get out and live. Remember, you have thunder in your steps.