There’s something vaguely irksome about the idea of a group of gifted, name-brand musicians (including Elvis Costello and Marcus Mumford) getting together to perform and record a bunch of “Basement Tapes” songs that Bob Dylan wrote back in the Big Pink days of 1967. (Only 24 songs appeared on the 1975 “Basement Tapes” album, which leaves several dozen that were written or adapted or kicked around back then.) Question #1: Why didn’t Dylan himself choose to record and release some of these presumably cool songs? Because they weren’t quite good enough, right? And yet these musicians are obviously tickled that they’re playing previously unheard Dylan material. Question #2: Is there a reason why I, the viewer, should be tickled or even mildly intrigued? This trailer for Sam Jones‘ Lost Songs (Showtime, 11.21) is nicely done except for a portion around the 52-second mark when the narrator says the doc will include a “new and exclusive interview with Bob Dylan,” and then we see a murky old snap of the Big Pink house (57 Parnassus Lane, Saugerties, New York) but no Dylan footage, and then we hear the Great Man say, “I just wrote what I felt like writing.” As opposed to…what, writing what he didn’t feel like writing? As opposed to being forced by a gang of masked marauders to write these songs at gunpoint?
I just don’t care for the idea of being asked to turn on Showtime (which I don’t subscribe to in the first place) and lap up all this Dylan worship like some hungry spaniel. It bothers me. I’m skeptical. Dylan’s golden period was from ’62 through late ’66. By ’67 he no longer held mountains in the palm of his hand. I know this goes against the legend and all but not everything he wrote or farted back then was magical. Self-Portrait is proof of that. Art is about feeling it and letting it out and then refining it. It’s about going with the wheat and discarding the chaff.
Jones’ doc is promoting an album called the exact same thing — Lost Songs: The Basement Tapes Continued. The performers are Costello, Rhiannon Giddens, Taylor Goldsmith, Jim James, Mumford and producer T Bone Burnett.