Sunday, July 31, 2011

The Concerts for Bangladesh

"The Concert for Bangladesh" could have been the first movie my parents allowed me to attend by myself.

I'm not positive that it was. In fact, I'm almost sure that it wasn't. But if it wasn't the first movie I ever saw by myself, it was one of the first.

The movie was a film document of a benefit, multi–performer concert to aid the people of Bangladesh, who had been plagued by war and famine. Ex–Beatle George Harrison gathered together folks like Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, Ringo Starr and others for a benefit show.

In hindsight, I'm sure it was the model for shows like Live Aid and other benefit concerts that were so prevalent in the 1980s and 1990s.

Eventually, the concert and the movie and triple album that came from it generated more than $200,000 in relief funds, but the organizers failed to apply for tax–exempt status, leaving the money snarled in an IRS escrow account for a decade.

I've heard that experience left a bitter taste in the mouths of many of the participants.

Well, that really is another story.

I was quite young in 1972 when the movie was at the theaters, and I was ignorant of many details. I had an older friend who had been given the album for Christmas so I had heard the music before, but I didn't realize that there wasn't one concert for Bangladesh but two.

I don't think that made me unique. In fact, unless you were living in the New York area 40 years ago, you probably didn't realize there were two concerts.

Both concerts took place 40 years ago tomorrow in New York's Madison Square Garden.

In terms of musical content, the shows were almost identical. The songs weren't played in the same order, but there were few variations.
  • In the afternoon show, Harrison played "Awaiting On You All" and Dylan played "A Hard Rain's A–Gonna Fall." Neither song was performed that night, but both recordings were on the album and in the movie.

    Dylan also performed "Love Minus Zero/No Limit" that afternoon, but he did not play it that night. The recording wasn't included in the original album or movie, but it was part of a special edition DVD issued six years ago, and it was included as a bonus track on the reissued CD in 2001.

  • In the evening show, Dylan played "Mr. Tambourine Man." He didn't play that one in the afternoon and it wasn't in the movie, but it was included on the album.
The film combined footage from both shows, and — with the exceptions of the songs I mentioned — the rest of the shows were identical.

When I saw the movie, it seemed like one concert to me, not a compilation of clips from two different shows. I suppose it could be an example of how easy it is for even a semi–talented film editor to fool a young boy, but I'm not certain about that.

Clearly, I'm older now, but I wasn't able to differentiate the last time I saw the movie — and you really can't tell from listening to the album.

For all intents and purposes, the movie and album that were generated from the two performances on Aug. 1, 1971, might as well have been done in a single take.

The movie is streaming for free online today and tomorrow. Judge for yourself.