Joan Baez and Joni Mitchell sing. Patti Smith and Allen Ginsberg recite poetry. And Bob Dylan talks, rocks and even drives the tour bus.
It's all in a new Netflix documentary, one of those talk-heavy music movies that Dylan fans always hope will offer insights into the self-consciously mysterious music icon.
In "Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story by Martin Scorsese," legendary beat poet Ginsberg waxes philosophical about Rolling Thunder -- Dylan's rambling, vaudeville-like 1975-76 tour featuring Roger McGuinn, Ramblin' Jack Elliott, Baez, Mitchell, Ginsberg and others in unconventional venues like the Mahjong Parlor in Falmouth, Mass.
The slippery Minnesotan's most freewheeling tour, Rolling Thunder was about building a community, and what a community can do, Ginsberg observes in the film.
Forty-some years later, Dylan reflects on what Rolling Thunder was about. Or not. "I don't have a clue," he says on camera, a hint of wariness in his eyes. "Because it's about nothing."
That might make you think of Jerry Seinfeld, or maybe Mr. Jones in Dylan's own song "Ballad of a Thin Man." You know: "Something is happening here but you don't know what it is."
Maybe it's not necessary to explain the money-losing, consciousness-raising Rolling Thunder Revue. It's enough to simply appreciate the powerful and historic performances in this often compelling, predictably elusive 142-minute film.
There's a scary seething in his eyes and a furious conviction in his voice as Dylan sings the newly penned protest saga "Hurricane," about wrongly imprisoned prize fighter Rubin (Hurricane) Carter. During "Isis," another unreleased-at-the-time selection, he spits out the words, his eyes spooky and feverish, his body jittery like Jagger's.
Opines Baez years later: "The charisma that he has, I've never seen anywhere before or since."
Perhaps the prize gem in "Rolling Thunder" is Mitchell, with just her acoustic guitar, performing her brand-new song "Coyote" in Gordon Lightfoot's Toronto home, with Dylan and McGuinn trying to follow along on their guitars. She implies she wrote the song about the tour. A listener might picture Dylan as Coyote, the guy who "just picked up a hitcher, a prisoner of the white lines on the freeway."