Tambourine Man

Jeremy Gordon

Bob Dylan is one of the greatest American songwriters, and he secured a position as such before he was 25. The Other Side of the Mirror: Live at the Newport Folk Festival 1963-1965 – released this past Tuesday – is a must-own for any Dylan fan and a valuable visual document in following his progress as both an artist and as a musical icon.

The DVD opens in 1965 with Dylan clad in black, being embarrassingly introduced as a musical messiah before giggling at the absurdity of his status and launching into a goofy rendition of “All I Really Want to Do,” a song that if taken at face value, rejects his position as a spokesman for his generation.

Immediately after this performance, the DVD jumps to 1963 and shows Dylan at his musical youngest: a short-haired, fresh-faced folkie wearing a polo shirt who smiles at his introductions and even banters with his peers. Here Dylan is the rookie amongst the veteran folkies like Joan Baez and Pete Seeger. But by end of the 1963 performances when Baez, Seeger and others join him to sing “Blowin’ in the Wind,” they all stand behind Dylan, clearly second fiddle.

The 1964 performances show Dylan as he’s beginning to emerge as a lyrical genius, jumping from topical songs to beautiful gems like “Mr. Tambourine Man.” Dylan wears a permanent smile throughout his songs and seems aloof. And when he duets with Baez on “It Ain’t Me, Babe,” he stretches his notes out and ends the song prematurely.

It all climaxes back in 1965, when we see Dylan make his famous jump to electric. “Maggie’s Farm” is given a rollicking, bluesy treatment while “Like A Rolling Stone” is shown off for the first time. Later, Dylan sings some of his acoustic classics to appease the restless audience but his boredom is apparent. The Newport Folk Festival is where Dylan made his bones as a folk icon, but he would quickly discard that image to become one of the most important solo artists in America.

-Jeremy Gordon