Singing for Scorsese, Dylan joins others in honoring the 'Boardwalk Empire' executive producer.
ATLANTIC CITY — How appropriate it was to have Bob Dylan — on a break from his "Never-ending Tour" — at the Critics Choice Awards last week as part of a tribute to filmmaker Martin Scorsese, singing a live version of "Blind Willie McTell" with his crack touring and recording band (see video below)?
Well, it was very appropriate — and utterly surprising to fans and even Scorsese (by the look of his face after Dylan was introduced to perform) — as both men have a lot in common, including ties with the southern New Jersey and Atlantic City regions.
Instead of writing an essay on the similarities and interesting parallels between these two highly regarded men, in life and in art, here are some things you may not have known in relation to the pair, and probably a few things you did know, including a few interesting links to our area.
1. Atlantic City — Martin Scorsese not only directed the 2010 pilot for HBO's Boardwalk Empire, but remains a very important part of the series set in 1920s Atlantic City, serving as executive producer on the first two completed seasons. He also filmed The Color of Money (1986) in A.C. Dylan, on the other hand, has not only made it a habit to stop at the Borgata in Atlantic City nearly every time his tour comes through the region, but also once sang, in an early 1980s song never released on a proper studio album (just like "Blind Willie McTell" in fact), "Caribbean Wind": "Atlantic City by the cold gray sea / I hear a voice crying 'Daddy' / I always think it's for me."
2. Woodstock —Bob Dylan, tired and weak and in need of a break following several years of relentless work recording, writing, touring, fusing rock and folk together, playing across the globe, etc., retreated to this once-quiet artists enclave in upstate New York in 1966, raising his young family there. It was a place to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city, but not for long. By 1969, hordes of hippies and Dylan freaks, moved to Woodstock, N.Y., trying to extend 1967's Summer of Love and even inspiring the August 1969 Woodstock festival. Although Dylan skipped town and didn't perform at the three-day music festival, which was eventually held in Bethel, N.Y., about 45 minutes from Woodstock, Scorsese was there, as a young, budding filmmaker, working on the Woodstock film (1970), which he co-edited for one of his first film credits.
3. "The Last Waltz" — Martin Scorsese directed this concert film documenting the last performance by the rock group The Band, which featured Robbie Robertson, Garth Hudson, Richard Manuel, Levon Helm, and Rick Danko. The highly regarded 1978 concert film features interviews with the members of The Band, a group that had been called Levon & The Hawks while it was playing in Somers Point, N.J., — a mere 15 minutes outside of Atlantic City — over the summer of 1965, as well as performances by the likes of Van Morrison, Joni Mitchell, Ronnie Hawkins, Muddy Waters, Bob Dylan — and more. Not only is Dylan's movie-closing performance with The Band backing him the highlight of The Last Waltz —and possibly one of the best musical performances ever caught on film — it also bookends Dylan's relationship with The Band, which Dylan plucked out of its summer-long residency at Tony Mart's in Somers Point in August 1965 to become his touring electric backing band for the rest of 1965 and through 1966. The Band eventually went up to Woodstock where its members recorded (with Dylan) a number of tunes, many of which would become the basis of the double album The Basement Tapes. The Band would continue to work with Dylan off and on through this "final" 1978 performance caught by Scorsese.
4. The Blues - It was apropos for Dylan to select his song "Blind Willie McTell" to perform at the 2012 Scorsese tribute on many levels (a later incarnation of The Band recorded the song on its Jericho album), the first being the American music's huge influence on Dylan. Secondly, Scorsese was behind the multi-part 2003 PBS series The Blues, serving as executive producer and directing the "Feel Like Going Home" episode.
5. The Oscars — Both gentleman had to put in decades of work before being honored by their respective peers in terms of a Grammy or Oscar award for their work. Scorsese, failing to win Best Picture or Best Director honors for previous films such as Taxi Driver, Raging Bull and Goodfellas, was finally honored in 2006 for his film The Departed, picking up the Oscar for Best Director. Dylan, whose 1997 "come-back" album Time Out of Mind, netted the prolific songwriter his first Album of the Year Grammy, won an Oscar a few years later (and he keeps it on his amplifier for every live concert). Dylan's Oscar came for the apocalyptic 2000 ditty "Things Have Changed," from the film Wonder Boys. Three years later Dylan's second film, Masked & Anonymous, was released.
6. "No Direction Home" — In 2005, Scorsese directed this American Masters PBS special on Bob Dylan, featuring candid interviews with Dylan, as well as many other related figures, putting forth an interesting portrait of the artist within the context of his place in the 20th century as well as his influences and some of what he and his work inspired.
7. Oliver Stone - Aside from being one of the most important modern-day American filmmakers, along with Scorsese, did you know that Scorsese taught fellow filmmaker Oliver Stone at New York University? The main connection here is that an unreleased song from Dylan's 1992 album, Good as I Been to You, a wistful, acoustic cover of the 1950s pop ballad "You Belong to Me," was used to extraordinary effect in Stone's 1994 masterpiece Natural Born Killers and appears on the film's soundtrack.
8. Cameos — Over the past 50 years, both Scorsese and Dylan have had cameo roles on TV shows and in film. Scorsese played the gunman in the final scene of his own Mean Streets (1973), and has appeared in numerous other films, sometimes as himself. Dylan, who is the focus of the legendary 1967 rock film doc Don't Look Back, as well as his own 1978 four-hour film Renaldo & Clara, has also had cameo roles in films such as the western Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid (1973), Catchfire (1990) and on TV's Dharma & Greg (1999) as himself. As an aside, although Dylan has been a part of a few major film disasters — especially Hearts of Fire, the 1987 British-made film he co-stars in, which even the most devoted Dylan fans cannot bear to watch — Scorsese's record is a lot cleaner, with most of his on-screen "performances" a lot easier on the eyes and soul.
9. "Like a Rolling Stone" — Possibly Dylan's most well-known and inspirational song, a live version of "Like a Rolling Stone" — sounding as if it was recorded during the Dylan & The Band 1974 tour — played an important role in Scorsese's Life Lessons, the director's awesome contribution to 1989's New York Stories, starring Nick Nolte and Rosanna Arquette.
10. Influence — While Dylan turned the big 7-0 last May, Scorsese's 70th birthday will be this November. Similar in age, it's easy to see how big of an influence both Bob Dylan and Martin Scorsese have been in their respective mediums over the past 50 years. When the dust clears, these two men will be revered as two of the most highly regarded artists of the 20th and 21st centuries. Further, it's interesting to note how these two large figures in film and music, who have inspired and influenced so many who came after them, were both very much inspired by old films and old music (in both cases). One lasting message when comparing Bob Dylan and Martin Scorsese is how the two have always believed in dreams — whether in film or song form — and they have constantly turned to the art of the past to inspire their current works. The historic landmarks of their respective mediums have inspired them greatly, and as each have continued to inspire throughout their individual careers, likewise each has revisited the art (film for Scorsese, music for Dylan) forms that preceded them, viewing them as achievements as important as anything else in the modern world, and constantly referring to them and acknowledging their power. It was Dylan who told a Newsweek writer in 1997 that "the songs are my religion." Meanwhile, although Scorsese initially planned to become a priest, and although religion has played a crucial role in many of his films, from Mean Streets to The Last Temptation of Christ, Scorsese has a similarly high regard for the films that were made — around the world — in the early centuries of the 20th century. Finally, it doesn't take a movie or music critic to tell you that music has always played an important role in Scorsese's films, just as film has played an important part in Dylan's art.
Now, let's watch the video of Dylan singing "Blind Willie McTell" in tribute to Martin Scorsese:
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