Autumn is a-comin' in, and it's time to fetch up some more of that smoky Dylan mystique. So it arrives: No Direction Home, a two-part "American Masters" profile airing on PBS on September 26 and 27, directed by Martin Scorsese, and mounted by the combined foundational forces of Apple Computer, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, WNET-TV, and a few others. (The film has already been issued on DVD, along with a double-CD soundtrack album.)
In times when too many things make too little sense -- for instance, the brazen millionaire crooks and liars that run our government in both its public and its private forms -- you grasp at anything in the culture that looks positive, promising. Pathetic pastime though it can seem, one is helpless to do otherwise. And pop music is the perfect grasping place precisely because it has always been vast and varied enough to justify any worldview -- depending on the needs of the moment, it will confirm the rosiest wishes, or the direst fears.
"Deep down in the jungle where the coconuts grow / There's a signifying monkey that the WORLD should know … ”
-- "The Signifying Monkey" (Willie Dixon)
It was already humid inside the Beacon Theater when Elvis Costello and his backing band The Imposters took the stage on an April night to play the single New York show on their recent tour schedule. By the end of the two-hour performance, the building was a virtual tropic zone, the seats were vibrating, and the crowd had gotten funky in more ways than one.
"I got my finger on the trigger" are the first words you hear on Bruce Springsteen's new album, Devils & Dust. They bespeak a promise that's been implicit throughout Springsteen's career; they summon up a pose he has customarily struck. They also imply the sort of violent, alienating move -- a lethal shot, a symbolic act of murder -- that he has too seldom been willing to make.