Don’t Look Back, the D.A. Pennebaker documentary filmed during a Bob Dylan concert tour, turned fifty this year. To honor the occasion, a cable movie channel aired the movie last week during prime time.
While the film of course is focused on Dylan, several other artists also received credit for key roles in it. Donovan Leitch, whom the press had dubbed as a British version of Dylan, makes an appearance toward the end of the film.
Long time Dylan colleague Joan Baez was quite a bit on screen, sitting beside Dylan on the bus for almost the whole tour. Unlike Donovan, however, Baez does not perform any of her own songs during Don’t Look Back.
The artist nearly as visible as the star himself is Bob Neuwirth, who seems to spend the entire film at Dylan’s side. Neuwirth, the big guy behind the sun glasses, shares inside jokes with Dylan while frequently lighting Bob’s cigarette.
Besides these tasks and the film in general, Neuwirth has enjoyed an entertainment career that has gone virtually unnoticed. His excellent 99 Monkeys album from 1990 alone should have made him a household name, a disc highlighted by a New York City ballad called “Biggest Border Town In the World.”
In addition to that record, there are other details that make Bob Neuwirth an integral part of music history.
He introduced songwriter Kris Kristofferson to singer Janis Joplin in the late Sixties, and a short time later Janis made Kristofferson’s “Me and Bobby McGee” a smash hit. After that, Neuwirth co-wrote another Joplin hit, “Mercedes Benz.”
Millions of people have seen the cover of Bob Dylan’s Highway 61 album, where Dylan is shown in the center of the photo. Beside him one can see the lower half of another person, who happens to be Bob Neuwirth.
Neuwirth also had much influence on the punk rock move of the late Seventies, even working with one of the female pioneers of that era. He co-wrote with Patti Smith the song “Just Like You”, which has become a favorite among her fans.
In 1986 he worked with another punk pioneer, Elvis Costello. The two veterans co-wrote the song “It’s Not Too Late”, which appeared on Costello’s album King of America.
Further evidence of Neuwirth’s musical flexibility came in 1996, when he worked with former Velvet Underground member John Cale. The two teamed up to record Last Day On Earth, an album that flourished because of their collaboration.