Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Dylan Goes Electric

NOTE: This book focuses on just the times of Dylan when he "went electric" in 1965, yet it doesn't mention Levon and the Hawks, Tony Marts or any of the deep background that is provided in Waiting on the Angels - The Long Cool Summer of '65 Revisited. 

Dylan Goes Electric – Newport, Seeger, Dylan, and the Night That Split the Sixties by Elijah Wald (Dey St. Harper-Collins, 2015)

Elijah Wald:

“On the evening of July 25, 1965 Bob Dylan took the stage at the Newport Folk Festival backed by an electric band and roared into a blistering version of ‘Maggie’s Farm,’ followed by his new rock single, ‘Like a Rolling Stone.’ The audience of committed folk purists and political activists who had hailed him as their acoustic prophet reacted with a mix of shock, booking, and scattered cheers. It was the shot heard round the world – Dylan’s declaration of musical independence, the end of the folk revival, and the birth of rock as the voice of a generation – and one of the defining moments in twentieth-century music.”

 “The first appearance after Newport was at Forest Hills Stadium in Queens (New York) on August 20, and Dylan played the first set alone and acoustic and then was joined by Robertson, Al Kooper on organ, Levon Helm on drums, and Harvey Brooks on bass.”

“Backstage, Dylan prepared the band, saying, ‘If they start yellin’ and booin’ don’t let it bother ya. Just keep playin’ the best ya know how.’”

DJ Murray the K introduced Dylan as part of a “new, swinging mood in the country – what’s happening, baby.”

“The first, solo set was universally cheered, and the crowd listened rapt through the new, ten-minute-long ‘Desolation Row,’ but when the band came on in the second half, angry fans booed, threw trash, and chanted, ‘We want Dylan,’ and one yelled ‘Scumbag!,’ provoking Dylan’s only retort of the evening, a restrained ‘Aw, come on now,’ which was approved with laughter and applause.”

“Forest Hills was a tennis stadium, and the crowd sounds like it is at a combination concert and sports event, there to listen but also the cheer its favorites and boo the opposing team. It was terrific theater, and while Dylan was upset by Newport, he was exhilarated by Forest Hills.”

“When Kooper and Brooks arrived at Grossman’s apartment for the post concert party, ‘Dylan bounded across the room and hugged both of us, ‘It was fantastic,’ he said, ‘a real carnival.’”

“Dylan had been getting bored with his solo concerts, going out every night, singing the same songs, seeing the same faces, getting the same reactions. In early 1965 he told a friend, ‘I ask myself: Would you come to see me tonight?’ and I’d have to truthfully say, ‘No, I wouldn’t come. I’d rather be doin’ something else.’”

“’Now, he said, ‘When I ask myself would I wanna come hear this tonight I gotta say I would. I dig it. You know? I really dig it. I don’t think about quitting anymore.’ He had always loved rock ‘ roll, and if some fans were disappointed, his true supporters were with him.”

“In hindsight,…Newport, in 1965 it made the news because it captured the tensions and conflicts of the moment, and for people who lived through that moment it only became more emblematic with the passage of time. That was the year of Vietnam, Watts, of the Free Speech Movement and the first acid tests, and the confrontation at Newport marked the end of the folk boom and the arrival of rock as a mature art form, the break of the New Left from the old, and the triumph of the counterculture. It as a handy, compelling symbol, recycled in myriad documentaries, and eventually became something of a cliché. But it continues to resonate because, if its details are emblematic of a particular moment, the central conflict was timeless. It was not the death of an old dream and the birth of a new, but the clash of two dreams, both very old and both very much still with us. They are the twin ideals of the modern era: the democratic, communitarian ideal of a society of equals working together for the common good and the romantic, libertarian ideal of the free individual, unburdened by the constraints of rules or custom.” 

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