Six Ways to Play Bob Dylan The film I'm Not There features six different actors portraying Bob Dylan. On Tuesday, the soundtrack for the film is released and it features a wide variety of musicians interpreting Dylan songs.
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Six Ways to Play Bob Dylan

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Six Ways to Play Bob Dylan

Six Ways to Play Bob Dylan

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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Cate Blanchett is Bob Dylan. Richard Gere is Bob Dylan. Heath Ledger is Bob Dylan. Six different actors take on the role in an upcoming movie about Dylan called "I'm Not There." Our resident musician David Was is not one of those performers, though he has worked with Dylan. Here is his thoughts on the movie's soundtrack, which comes out today.

(Soundbite of song, "The Times They Are A-Changin'")

Mr. BOB DYLAN (Musician): Come gather 'round people wherever you roam.

DAVID WAS: Bob Dylan has lived his life as John Milton prescribed, as if it were a work of art. Dylan is a clever construction - a mask, if you will, fashioned by a Midwestern cosmopolite transforming himself into an everyman rustic like Woody Guthrie, at least in the beginning. By turns, Dylan fused beat poetics with blues aesthetics and walked the line between minstrelsy and originality with Walenda-like balance.

It was hard to see the themes on Dylan's ever-shifting curveball persona. Just when you thought you had him figured out, he went country on you or he was born again. Whether out of perversity or restlessness, he kept shifting shapes before our eyes.

(Soundbite of song, "Thunder On The Mountains")

Mr. DYLAN: (Singing) Thunder on a mountain, and there's fires on the moon. The ruckus and the alley and the sun will be here soon.

WAS: While the film "I'm Not There" might leave you suffering from postmodern puzzlement, the 34-song soundtrack CD is a delight. A surf and turf mash-up of leftfield artists like Sufjan Stevens and Yo La Tengo take a crack at being Dylan for a day. Like many such tribute projects, the success or failure of the venture depends on the casting. And both Haynes and music supervisor Jim Dunbar have done a masterly job.

(Soundbite of song, "Highway 61 Revisited")

Ms. KAREN O (Yeah Yeah Yeahs): (Singing) Oh, God said to Abraham...

Unidentified Man: (Singing) Kill me a son.

Ms. KAREN O: (Singing) Abe said, man, you must be putting me on. God said no, Abe said what. God said you can do what you want to...

WAS: One gets irreverent takes on Dylan from the likes of Karen O, the lead singer of the band the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, whose wacky exuberance on "Highway 61 Revisited" is perhaps closest in spirit to the 24-year-old Dylan who first recorded it. She's so alternative she makes PJ Harvey sound like Doris Day, and that's definitely a compliment.

(Soundbite of song, "Highway 61 Revisited")

Ms. KAREN O: (Singing) But the second your mother was with her seventh son and they were both out on Highway 61.

WAS: Actress Charlotte Gainsbourg, the daughter of French poet and songwriter Serge, does a soft, breathy, romantic version of Dylan's "Just Like a Woman," bringing out a tenderness missing in Bob's original.

(Soundbite of song, "Just Like a Woman")

Ms. CHARLOTTE GAINSBOURG (Actress): (Singing) Nobody feels any pain. Tonight as I stand inside the rain...

WAS: One of the great surprises on the collection is out-Dylaning of Dylan, done by his once-mentor Ramblin' Jack Elliott, whose turn on "Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues" makes one wonder who cribbed what from whom and when?

(Soundbite of song, "Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues")

RAMBLIN' JACK ELLIOTT (Folk Artist): (Singing) When you're lost in the rain in Juarez and it's Easter time too.

WAS: Another old Dylan compadre, Roger McGuinn of the Byrds, adds Mexican trumpets and violins to his version of "One More Cup of Coffee," his quavery vibrato an emotional counterpoint to the bombast of the arrangement.

(Soundbite of song, "One More Cup of Coffee")

Mr. ROGER McGUINN (Singer): (Singing) One more cup of coffee before I go to the valley below.

WAS: Six Dylans may be five too many, but the soundtrack ends with the man himself singing the title song, just in case anyone forgot.

(Soundbite of song, "I'm Not There")

Mr. DYLAN: (Singing) It runs, which it don't follow me. But I'm not there, I'm gone.

COHEN: Music from the just released soundtrack for the film "I'm Not There." Our reviewer: David Was.

(Soundbite of song, "I'm Not There")

Mr. DYLAN: (Singing) Now I'll cry tonight, like I cried the night before. And I'll feast on her eyes, but I'll dream about the door. So long, Jesus, savior, blind faith worth to tell. It don't have consultation she's my...

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