Everything’s been returned which was owed? Not even close, pal. Bob Dylan‘s Bootleg Series has barely begun to unpack the treasures he vaulted in the Sixties, when he was redefining rock & roll month to month, working at an amphetamine-reptile pace too fast for anybody else’s central nervous system to keep up. His latest Bootleg Series installment, the soundtrack to Martin Scorsese’s forthcoming Dylan documentary. No Direction Home, has twenty-six unreleased recordings, the best of them from the electric glory of 1965-66, the very peak of Zimmer-osity.
Some of it has never even hit the Dylan-freak tape circuit, such as the live 1961 “This Land Is Your Land.” Disc One has the riotous Freewheelin‘ outtake “Sally Gal,” plus the teenage home recording “When I Got Troubles.” But Disc Two is where Dylan really starts to mix up the medicine. Each alternate version spins a new story; “Visions of Johanna,” cut in 1965 with the Band, ends with a high, bluesy moan that sums up all the song’s insomniac desperation.
The prize is “Ballad of a Thin Man,” live at Edinburgh in mid-1966, with Garth Hudson doing things on the organ that God never meant the organ to do. It fits especially well since No Direction Home is a Scorsese documentary on Dylan, and “Ballad of a Thin Man” could pass for a Dylan documentary on Scorsese. They’re a fascinating pair of geniuses, two of America’s most fanatic hearts, both lonely men obsessed with immigrant culture, old-world religion, Elvis, doo-wop, the Depression, New York and the Sixties. They’re both visionaries who connect what critic Greil Marcus calls “the old weird America” to the new one in discomforting ways. (So if Mean Streets was Scorsese’s Bringing It All Back Home and Taxi Driver his Blonde on Blonde, is Good Fellas his Blood on the Tracks or Love and Theft? Discuss!) Their documentary together is the very least they owed us. And the soundtrack shows why we still have so much to learn from them — although home is the last place either one would promise to lead us.