Bootlegs, not studio recordings, and unreleased film footage of performances were the driving force behind the creation of the soundtrack for “I’m Not There,” Todd Haynes’ Bob Dylan biopic.
Haynes went into the film with detailed ideas of how the pic should sound, down to particular verses from specific performances — “Basement Tapes” outtakes, the Newport Folk Festival performances, the England tour of 1966 and even a bit from his Christian period in the 1980s. The director-writer began with the idea of all new recordings and progressively added actual Dylan recordings to replace new works until he had a blend of the vintage and the fresh, much of which still sounds like it was recorded with equipment using tubes and tape.
“Todd would be so particular, noting second set, third night. He wanted it to feel like it did then,” said soundtrack co-producer Jim Dunbar. The script “was so structured, not only all the songs but the sections of the songs that he wanted in the film. He provided very direct guidance and was open to collaborating. We began to have input and it became a process of discovery,” Dunbar said.
Only one Dylan track appears on the soundtrack — his version of the never-before-released title track recorded during his “Basement Tapes” era of 1968-69. The rest are interpretations by artists such as Sonic Youth, Cat Power, Mason Jennings, Eddie Vedder and Jeff Tweedy; one back-up band includes Sonic Youth’s Lee Ranaldo, Television’s Tom Verlaine and Dylan drummer Tony Garnier and elsewhere it’s the band Calexico. Ranaldo and Joe Henry, two significant Dylan fans, handled much of the production.
“We’re mining identity through a flirtation with Dylan, with the iconic voice,” said soundtrack producer Randall Poster. “To shy away from that would have drained energy from the music.”
Most of the acts on the Columbia Records soundtrack will perform Wednesday at the “I’m Not There” celebration concert at the Beacon Theater in New York. On the bill are Jim James & Calexico (“Goin’ to Acapulco”), Cat Power (“Stuck Inside of Mobile With the Memphis Blues Again”), Yo La Tengo w/Buckwheat Zydeco (“Fourth Time Around”), Jennings (“Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll”), John Doe “Pressing On,” “I Dreamed I Saw St. Augustine Last Night”), Mark Lanegan (“Man in the Long Black Coat”) and Ranaldo (“Can’t Leave Her Behind” plus “I’m Not There” with Sonic Youth).
Also on the bill are Terry Adams Rock & Roll Quartet, My Morning Jacket, Joe Henry, Michelle Shocked & Jimmy LeFave, the Roots, Ian Ball & Olly Peacock of Gomez, J Mascis, Al Kooper & Funky Faculty, Dan Hicks and the Hot Licks and more.
Ranaldo had the plum assignment — or the daunting one, depending on your perspective — of capturing electric Dylan in the 1960s. He had to secure performance pieces of “Maggie’s Farm” and “Ballad of a Thin Man” that would synch up with the filmed sequences, but other than that he was left to his druthers.
“There was a slippery, sliding band feel during those years and we wanted to invest that feel (in the new recordings),” Ranaldo recounted, noting that he watched unreleased footage from D.A. Pennebaker films of the electric period. “That unreleased footage is a knockout. And the songs from that period — the lyrics are astounding and the music is free-flowing. It’s got so much to it.”
Ranaldo’s relationship with Haynes dates back to 1990 when the helmer did a video for the Sonic Youth tune “Disappearer” from the album “Goo.” Haynes and Poster were college friends who first collaborated on “Velvet Goldmine,” a project that was at the opposite end of this experience.
“Very early in the process, David Bowie wasn’t allowing us to use his music,” Poster said of the 1998 glam-rock pic. “This film was fully embraced by the Dylan camp very early. For ‘Velvet Goldmine,’ with Bowie out, it liberated us. In this case, though, we wanted to be chained to Dylan. At every turn we tried to follow the connection and logic to Dylan.”