by Richard Lewis


I first read a book by James Elroy about twelve years ago. It was called The Black Dahlia and it was unlike any other crime novel that I had ever read. It turned out to be the first of a quartet of novels that moved through Los Angeles from 1942 up to 1959. The third book was called L.A.Confidential and amazingly, in 1997, was made into a superb film starring Kevin Spacey, Russell Crowe, Kim Bassinger and Danny DeVito. The screenplay was adapted from Elroy’s novel by Brian Hedgeland and Curtis Hanson and won them an Academy Award. Curtis Hanson was also the director.

So when I heard that Dylan had written a new song for the film Wonder Boys I was interested to note that the director was once again Curtis Hanson. As we now know Dylan won himself an Oscar for this track. As I wrote at the time I was pleased to buy the entire soundtrack as it featured not only Dylan but also Buffalo Springfield, Leonard Cohen, John Lennon, Neil Young and Van Morrison.

The music video that Dylan made seemed to get right inside the film and into the mind of the central character Grady Tripp (Michael Douglas) as Dylan and Douglas kept changing places. Having recently got a DVD player I decided to get Wonder Boys on DVD whenever I saw it at a reasonable price. Last week it popped up in the HMV sale for £10 so I snapped it up.

The DVD has a number of extras (special features) including the Bob Dylan music video for Things Have Changed. There is also a section called “Singer/songwriters of Wonder Boys with commentary by Curtis Hanson.” First of all he comments on the songs by Ritchie Furay, Lennon, Young and Morrison saying that he chose “a group of songs that underscore the bitterness of success and its aftermath as well as the yearning for purpose, renewal and love that delicately connects the main characters.” Then there is a special section on Bob Dylan, the premiere singer songwriter, the quintessential Wonder Boy, who has succeeded in continuously challenging himself and his listeners and in so doing has remained creative and vital over the decades and as a result his creative output is interwoven into all of our lives.

Hanson then goes on to discuss the other Dylan songs in the film, Not Dark Yet (the section in the film was shot to “accommodate” Dylan’s lyrics), Buckets of Rain (reflecting the weather and soul of the location in Pittsburgh) and Shooting Star (Hanson quotes out Poet Laureate as saying that Dylan is one of the greatest artists of the 20th Century.)

Then Hanson says that whilst they were shooting on location in Pittsburgh he learned that Dylan was considering a request to write an original song for the film. He says that this had always been a dream of his since Dylan’s collaboration with Pecking on the soundtrack of Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid some 27 years before. Hanson invites Dylan to the editing room to see some rough ‘cut footage and they talk about Michael Douglas’ character Gene Tripp. Shortly after this Dylan goes back on tour but then out of the blue a CD arrives in the mail.

It is Bob Dylan singing about “water under the bridge” and…. Dylan’s unique voice and imagery capturing the spirit and troubles of Gene Tripp and in so doing the soul of Wonder Boys.

Of course, the song also stands alone, as Dylan’s own caustic mid life commentary on life at the turn of this new century. How lucky we are to have it!

My thoughts entirely.