Rolling Thunder Logbook


By Jeremy Miles

Can it really be 30 years ago that Bob Dylan and his Rolling Thunder Review rolled across an unsuspecting swathe of north east America?

Well, impossible as it might seem to all you forever young baby boomers out there , this autumn will mark three long decades since Dylan’s motley, magical crew hit the road, rattling the nerves of the good folk of New England with their face paint and their fantasies.

On the bus that took them to cheap hotels full of Jewish mamas,  jaded gypsies and jumpy, dope-addled hangers on were, at various times, Joni Mitchell, Joan Baez, Roger McGuinn, Ramblin’ Jack Elliot, Bob Neuwirth, Scarlet Rivera, Mick Ronson, Ronee Blakely and David Blue,

Also on the passenger list were  the poet laureate of the beat generation Allen Ginsberg and the playwright, actor and all round good guy Sam Shepard.

Sam was hired to write a script for a movie that would make sense of the garbled gigs, the stream of consciousness play-acting, the full-blown madness of the whole affair.

Not surprisingly perhaps the script never materialised but, hanging on to the shreds of his psyche, Shepard - now an Oscar-nominated actor and Pulitzer Prize-winning author of more than 45 plays  - managed to pull something suitably weird and wonderful out of the bag.

The result was an impressionistic logbook of life on the road with Rolling Thunder.

It became something of a classic, putting flesh on the bones of the rumours that abounded about this rag-tag variety show cum travelling circus. Now, to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the tour which questioned and tested the American Dream in the face of a populace “festering with Bicentennial madness” , an all new edition of Shepard’s Rolling Thunder Logbook  is published on Monday (March 14).

Illustrated with 40 candid photographs by official tour photographer Ken Regan, it captures the camaraderie, isolation, head-games and reefer-fugged, pill-popping mayhem of this extraordinary tour..

Astonishingly, although superficially it catalogues nothing more than the selfish, juvenile excesses of rock ‘n’ roll, - the alternative power and money trip - there was something else at work here.

 What you get is a taste of the spirit of creativity, the futility of protest against the monster making might of the USA and a strange and chilling glimpse of the future. Above and beyond it all is Dylan, a singular talent whose enigmatic charisma somehow made it all worth while.

What is rather shocking though, reading this book in  2005, is how, even way back then, Dylan was a veteran. That some felt that 13 years after he had first arrived, guitar in hand, on the streets of New York City he must be all washed up. “It’s hard to see Dylan ever hitting what he once was...” reasons one character when he learns the mighty Zim is back on the road. His doubts were soon blown to smithereens. If you want to see why just get a copy of the 1975 Live: Bootleg Series Volume 5  with the bonus DVD. Click on the Rolling Thunder Review rendering of  Isis and prepare to be  humbled by a performance that is weird, wired and absolutely wonderful. The most incredible thing of all though is that three decades on, in his sixty fourth year, Bob Dylan remains a powerful and original performer who is just about to embark on dozens of US gigs on the latest leg of his famed Never Ending Tour.

*The Rolling Thunder Logbook by Sam Shepard with photographs by Ken Regan and a new forward by T-Bone Burnett is published on Monday (March 14) by Sanctuary Publishing at £13.99.


© Jeremy Miles 2022