Throughout the ’60s and ’70s, fans and critics spent a lot of time analyzing Bob Dylan’s every lyric and movement, trying to figure out What It All Meant. Self-appointed Dylanologist A.J. Weberman even rooted through Dylan’s garbage in search of the Truth. Luckily, there’s now a quicker, more sanitary way of acquiring that elusive Dylan insight.
A high-tech tour through the artist’s career, Bob Dylan: Highway 61 Interactive features all manner of Dylaniana. Of course, this isn’t the first time Dylan has gone electric (remember how he toasted the folkies at Newport in 1965?). But now he’s gone really electric. Searching for guides through the digital Dylan, we found some of his song titles eerily appropriate.
”Positively 4th Street”: For some history, you can stroll through Dylan’s old stomping grounds, Greenwich Village circa 1961, accessing musical clips, such as ”Medicine Show,” an embryonic version of ”Temporarily Like Achilles.” And in a dingy coffeehouse, there’s Mike Porco, who talks about booking Dylan’s first New York City gig. All of these bits can be reached by clicking such objects as radios, posters, newsstands, and signs. Choosing a particular song on a jukebox, for example, will hurl you forward 14 years to 1975 and the same coffeehouse, complete with sound and video from Dylan’s Rolling Thunder Revue. Outside, you can turn down an alley to view the video for ”Subterranean Homesick Blues.” It’s that element of surprise that makes the trip worthwhile — not unlike the real Village.
”I Shall Be Released”: Highway 61‘s historical highlight is a tour through the Columbia Recording Studios, featuring video interviews with Dylan sideman Al Kooper and producer Bob Johnston, plus alternate takes of ”Like a Rolling Stone” that trace its evolution from gentle waltz to venomous rock anthem. Heard in succession, these nine versions of the song prove that geniuses are often just people with enough time and money to futz around in a studio.
”Most Likely You Go Your Way”: The main menu is nothing if not clever. Click on autumn leaves and you get photos from Dylan’s family scrapbook. A motorcycle icon contains newspaper clips concerning his 1966 bike crash. Handcuffs provide a quick glimpse of the covers of famous bootlegs like The Great White Wonder.
”My Back Pages”: The real nourishment for the info-starved is the disc’s extensive song index, containing album liner notes, critical commentary, all of Dylan’s lyrics, and an exhaustive list of cover versions of his tunes. I, for one, needed to know that Cher once recorded ”Lay Lady Lay.”
”Stuck Inside of Mobile”: No doubt about it, clicking randomly around Dylan’s concerts is good for a few giggles, from the 1965 Newport Folk Festival to the 1993 shows at New York’s Supper Club, his first nightclub performances in more than 30 years. Of course, it can also get you stuck wandering around backstage at Madison Square Garden during Dylan’s 30th-anniversary concert as you try to access a clip from the show.
”Gotta Serve Somebody”: There are a few historical omissions that can leave you as mystified as ”Queen Jane Approximately.” For one thing, the disc’s lack of material from the late ’70s through the ’80s would lead you to believe that Dylan was practically retired all those years. Worse, the majority of the audio clips are song fragments. Overall though, the casual Dylan fan will have a ball stumbling onto random moments from one of the most fascinating pop- music careers ever. On the other end, fanatics who are still listening to their 70,000 vinyl bootleg versions of ”Visions of Johanna” won’t find any reason to check this out. They’ve probably got their own copies of all of these treasures. Fine. Let them keep poking through those garbage cans. Me? I’ll stay clean and watch my screen. B