The Rolling Thunder Logbook, by Sam Shepard

Music and mayhem on the road with Dylan
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The Independent Culture

Thirty years have passed since Melody Maker exclaimed "Bob and Baez to tour clubs!" Punk had yet to happen and the "hip young gunslingers" who would chronicle it, Julie Burchill and Tony Parsons, were among disaffected readers of the upstart NME. How times change. MM is long gone; Burchill and Parsons are, in their different ways, part of the establishment. In spirit at least, Bob Dylan and Joan Baez, both in their 64th year, remain the same.

Thirty years have passed since Melody Maker exclaimed "Bob and Baez to tour clubs!" Punk had yet to happen and the "hip young gunslingers" who would chronicle it, Julie Burchill and Tony Parsons, were among disaffected readers of the upstart NME. How times change. MM is long gone; Burchill and Parsons are, in their different ways, part of the establishment. In spirit at least, Bob Dylan and Joan Baez, both in their 64th year, remain the same.

When the Rolling Thunder tour was announced, each singer had produced a critically acclaimed and commercially successful album - Diamonds and Rust in Baez's case, Blood on the Tracks in Dylan's. The idea for the tour was hatched while Dylan was hanging out in New York City, recording Desire and checking in with old friends such as Bob Neuwirth and Ramblin' Jack Elliott.

He was mellow, remembering the old days in Greenwich Village coffee-houses. "We had this fire going 10 years ago and now we've got it burning again," Dylan said as he gathered his merry band of pranksters. Baez cancelled her own tour to answer the call. The numbers swelled from 20 to 70 and, as it rolled on, to 100, by which time the original idea of "living-room" concerts had been abandoned, notably with the "The Night of the Hurricane" benefit at Madison Square Garden.

But it began intimately enough, with a surprise birthday party for Mike Porco, owner of Gerde's Folk City. There, in 1961, Dylan had played support to the Greenbriar Boys and been anointed by Robert Shelton's celebrated New York Times review.

The medicine show took off for New England, trailing a film crew plus Sam Shepard, hired to write the screenplay. "None of this has to connect," the singer told the playwright; "in fact it's better if it doesn't connect".

As anyone who sat through the four-hour home movie that was Renaldo and Clara knows, it didn't connect - but it did contain some great moments and magical music. All Shepard had to show for his part in the madness was The Rolling Thunder Logbook, originally published in 1977 and available in Britain only as a rare import.

Impressionistic or merely chaotic, depending on your view, Shepard's book captures something of the spontaneity of the tour, though his weariness at the mayhem taints the fractured narrative. And does indolence or ignorance account for the fact that none of the howlers has been corrected: Gerty's for Gerde's, "Williams and Zinger" for Dylan's "The lonesome death of Hattie Carroll" (William Zanzinger is her murderer)?

Less typographical tricksiness and more photographs (some revealing shots have been excised) would have made for a better, and better-value, book. But in the final end, as Dylan sang, it's a welcome reissue.

The reviewer is co-editor with David Gutman of 'The Dylan Companion' (Da Capo)

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