Eat the Document

  1.     Eat the Document was Bob Dylan and D.A. Pennebaker’s sequel to Don’t Look Back. Don’t Look Back followed Dylan on a 1965 solo tour of England, confronting fans and writers disturbed by his move from protest songs like “Only a Pawn in their Game” to more abstract and personal work like “Mr. Tambourine Man” and “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue.” He faced even more hostility on the 1966 tour, having “gone electric,” backed by the Hawks (later known as the Band). This peaked at a notorious concert, captured in the film, where a heckler shouted “Judas” at Dylan, who then directed his band to “play fucking loud” and counted off “Like a Rolling Stone.” The movie was never released, probably a casualty of the chemical and emotional burnout which led Dylan to back down from the intensity of his 1966 work to John Wesley Harding and Nashville Skyline but, like all things Dylan, it has since been bootlegged in every medium available. Big chunks can be found on YouTube, including a troubling sequence of Dylan and John Lennon wasted out of their minds, and much of the concert footage was reused in Martin Scorsese’s No Direction Home. Meticulous reenactments of the offstage footage make up most of the Cate Blanchett section of Todd Haynes’ I’m Not There, and it is possible that more people have seen that than the original, a glamorous example of Baudrillard/Eco’s theory of the simulacrum.
  2. There are only a couple of minutes of film of Charlie Parker, and they are silent. The same is true for Albert Ayler, although there is also film of at least one concert locked in a European archive. It is almost certainly possible to watch all the existing video of John Coltrane in a day. As media have moved from photochemical to magnetic to digital, recordings have multiplied exponentially, and one can now, for example, follow a significant chunk of the New York jazz underground in almost real time thanks to Don Mount.
  3. If I was still in the academic world I would have developed a theory of the underground concert as virtual event by now. I recently played for a few dozen people in a storefront gallery across from a strip club and a weed store. Our set was maybe 40 minutes, and the entire evening lasted around three hours, with two other acts, setting up, tearing down, hanging out, etc. That’s the actual event. The virtual event began weeks before, with the creation of a Facebook event and it being shared and commented on by the musicians, our friends, and members of various groups where it appeared. It continued through the show itself, with people posting photos, videos, and comments from the setup, performance, and hang, then lasted for a day or two afterwards as more documentation was posted and more comments generated. This will all revive when more formal recordings, video, etc from the show are made public. It is not unusual for more people to “like” or comment on a post about a show than were there. Likewise, the effects of the fact of an event will often exceed the effects of the event itself: people hearing that I played with a particular Famous Musician will have more of an effect than people hearing me play with him/her.
  4. All this is an absurdly long-winded way of letting you know that I have some fresh documents of my own for you to check out. My March performance with Alicia Byer & Alexander Vogel is on Bandcamp, as are the results of a marathon session with Disclaimer (Kristian Aspelin, Paul Pellegrin, and me) plus Scott Heustis, Haskel Joseph, Tony Green, and Breeze Smith. There’s also video of my recent set at the Eagle Rock Center for the Arts Open Gate concert series with Ellen Burr, Anne LeBaron, and Charles Sharp, and a track from Cello Pudding’s set at Coaxial last week is going to appear on a compilation LP in Japan. Enjoy!



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