Soundtrack depicts life of Bob Dylan

Justin Rodstrom

The soundtrack to “I’m Not There” establishes and maintains the theme of the many faces of Bob Dylan, with two discs spanning Dylan’s 40-plus years of work as told by an odd lot of characters.

And just as the film does, the soundtrack for “I’m Not There” is in many ways a tribute to Dylan and his words that still echo through the worlds of music, politics and popular culture a half century after their beginnings.

The album begins with an up-tempo, Hendrix-style telling of “All Along The Watchtower” by Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam fame with a backing group dubbed The Million Dollar Bashers, named after a song from Dylan’s album “Basement Tapes.”

Other highlights of the album include a bittersweet rendition of “Goin’ To Acapulco” by Jimmy James of My Morning Jacket with Spanish jam band Calexico; a snazzy, keyboard-driven version of “Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again” by Cat Power; and “Simple Twist of Fate” by the lighthearted, raspy Jeff Tweedy of Wilco fame.

Of course, the real transcendental moment comes on the last of the 34 tracks with title track “I’m Not There” performed by Bob Dylan with The Band.

The real awe of this song isn’t just in its lyrics, which are incisive, bittersweet and full of regret, but is in the fact that the song was released at all. An overwhelmingly popular live track, “I’m Not There” has never been released before, with fans resorting to bootleg recordings of the fan favorite – until now that is.

The rarity is a snapshot of the height of Dylan’s popularity, recorded over 30 years ago when he was still recording with The Band.

And though the outpouring of support for this soundtrack and film from so many actors and musicians shows the true brilliance and influence of Dylan, “I’m Not There” lets you know – if you didn’t already – that there is really only one Bob Dylan.

With “I’m Not There,” Dylan is painted with intricate brushstrokes as the backwoodsman, iconic hipster, folksinger, pop cynic and pop star that has made him one of the most enigmatic visionaries in the American songbook.

The film animates these many lives with a cast including the deceased Heath Ledger, Christian Bale, Cate Blanchett, Richard Gere and Ben Whishaw – and those are just the actors who play Dylan himself.

As seemingly strange as it is for a woman and a black boy to portray the Dylan characters, all of whom go by different aliases, the casting could not be more perfect.

Whishaw is a boy straight out of a folksong, rambling from freight train to freight train with nothing more than a beat-up Confederate-era hat and guitar in hand, looking for a home and a place to sing his songs.

Bale is the haggard visionary, traveling town to town with the instructions for a working-class revolution bound up in songs.

Blanchett is the drug-scene hippie; the dejected culprit of a disillusioned folk crowd; the young, self-righteous, self-conscious pop star.

Ledger embodies the midlife crisis faced by Dylan, with nothing left to prove but even less to live for, as his fame and his wife have left him as well as the cause he was fighting against, the Vietnam War.

Finally, Gere plays the Dylan of old age looking to escape his previous lives and find peace in the anonymity in the backwoods of Minnesota.

“I’m Not There” sketches out Bob Dylan as a tall tale – a folk story passed down from generation to generation.

Fantastic tales weave their way through the story lines, from Dylan being consumed whole by a whale to visiting a town where it is Halloween every day, the songwriter is presented as more than a man but less than a god.

The bad times follow soon after the highs – from drug overdoses to the scorn of fans dissatisfied with change in musical direction to a motorcycle accident. It seems as if the lows were worth more than the price of fame.

Even worse than this, all the lows were real moments in Dylan’s life.