Jul 242007

As long as I’ve read about rock music, much has been made of Bob Dylan’s going electric and its polarizing effect on the folk faithful…as if anyone has cared since about 2 weeks after the early ’60s folk movement began to putter out. What I’ve never heard is the other side of the story: What did rock fans think of his move to the electric world? Shortly after turning electric, Dylan would become almost as big as The Beatles, which would have made him as big as if not bigger than God. Do any of our older Townspeople recall a feeling of “It’s about effin’ time you crossed over!” Has anyone read of such a feeling in the air? I would think someone would have been psyched that his great tuneage and boss Look had finally entered the rock realm.

I’m tying this into my thoughts in yesterday’s Dugout Chatter on feeling that you might love an artist if only you could get your head around the genre within which said artist worked. Someone may have mentioned Dylan if not for the folky part, and this is 43 years after the guy crossed over to rock!

Let me know if this “other perspective” on Dylan’s going electric has ever been documented or felt. Obviously, he became much more popular after having plugged in. Had I been of age back then, I like to think I would have welcomed his crossover. That folk stuff was holding him back. The hell with it! What took you so long, Bob?


  11 Responses to “Dylan Goes Electric: “It’s About Time!””

  1. saturnismine

    mod writes: “let me know if this other perspective on dylan’s going electric has been documented or felt.”

    this is a really interesting topic, mr. modulator.

    i just have a few thoughts that add to your opening post, since i wasn’t around to experience it either:

    i always considered the strapping on of an electric guitar by dylan to be a somewhat arbitrary marker in his trajectory. its machinations reduced to a “moment” by historians, and its significance inflated.

    dylan had already pissed the folkies off with “another side” (out by summer of ’64). while it’s not an electric album, it is a rare thing: not folk, not rock, just a surreal as shit acoustic album. so the change was already on the way. the content of those songs is alot like how he would write until the motorcycle accident.

    as for your question about the rock perspective on his choice to plug in, i always thought that he was probably in a “lose lose” situation in the eyes of a significant segment of music lovers: the folkies were pissed, and i’m sure many rockers felt that he was hopping on the bandwagon or something.

    but a more significant number embraced him, either because they liked the gesture that plugging in represented, or thought his new carnaby street image was cool, and, last but not least, related to the tunes he was writing and recording in that new configuration.

    one more thing on the rock perspective: maybe it’s not missing, maybe it’s so pervasive that we’re missing it: in other words, isn’t the history that glorifies this “monumentally important moment” told from the rock perspective? it’s as if the “history of rock” says “the day that dylan went electric, we won, and to the victor go the spoils: his best material is from this period.” that point of view is reinforced every day on classic rock radio, and was even reinforced by the record buying public’s consumption of electric versions of his songs by the byrds.

    again, interesting stuff…

    i gotta get back to work.

  2. Mr. Moderator

    You get what I’m saying, Saturnismine. I look forward to where this discussion is headed already.

  3. saturnismine

    thanks. wanted to add / clarify as i think on this historiographic question some more:

    i think you are absolutely right about the folkie reaction to dylan throwing the switch being emphatically historicized. it’s everywhere in the dylan literature. but i interpret most of the presentations of the folkie view i’ve read as a rock-ist form of rhetoric: the folkies are usually portrayed as possessors of the backwards, unhip, outmoded battle cry of loser, whose cultural influence has waning. dylan has abandoned ship. and that, in itself, is a portrayal of the event from a rock perspective. they use this wayward folk view to make their point.

    maybe there are sources that try to validate the folk point of view and i just haven’t seen them.

  4. Do any of our older Townspeople recall a feeling of “It’s about effin’ time you crossed over!” Has anyone read of such a feeling in the air?

    Back in the sixties, when we were young and idealistic, we never got impatient in this way. I mean, I’m not talking about myself, just about what I’ve heard…

  5. Read Joe Boyd’s WHITE BICYCLES for what I truly believe is the definitive telling of Newport ’65, including the origin of the apocryphal story about Pete Seeger and the ax.

    Boyd’s interpretation of the event jibes entirely with that of my late father in law, who was right there in the photo pit at the time: what booing there was was because the hincty little amp setup was distorting the fuck out of Bloomfield’s guitar and drowning out the vocals.

  6. Mr. Moderator

    Cool stuff, Great One, and thanks for the reminder to add that book to my reading list. Boyd was great when interviewed on Fresh Air a couple of months ago.

  7. BigSteve

    I’m not quite old enough to have experienced what Mr Mod is suggesting. I was only 14 at the time of the motorcycle accident, so, except for having liked Like a Rolling Stone on the radio, my experience of the mythical Dylan only began around the time of John Wesley Harding, by which time he’d gone unelectric again. My contemporaries had to work backwards to find out where he was coming from, and the acoustic/electric divide wasn’t that important to us. In fact I think it took years for the myths of the Newport festival and the 1966 European tour to set in.

  8. Mr. Moderator

    BigSteve wrote:

    In fact I think it took years for the myths of the Newport festival and the 1966 European tour to set in.

    Interesting… Thanks.

  9. saturnismine

    speaking of dylan:

    phils 4, nats 3.

    i’ll be down at the ballyard tomorrow night.

    if any rth’ers will be there, lemme know.

  10. 2000 Man

    I was too young to know anything about it, but I had a History of Rock class in 8th grade that was like the first one in the state of Ohio (I have no musical talent or ability and choir looked to me like pure torture), so I jumped in because it was a year long class and would cover my High School music requirements. My teacher talked about Dylan going electric at great length, and how the people that were at Newport were not interested in some rock n’ roll band. The abandoning of the folk movement, which had been really gaining fans on college campuses and with the dearth of real rockers prior to The Beatles, folk was on the verge of being the Big Thing. The Beatles knocked that back five years. Dylan was the one guy that could get the same kind of airplay as the rockers, and when he left they were pissed, though their movement had kind of been going underground again anyway. I think Dylan’s going electric is the blueprint for the Indie/Underground fanbase abandoning their heroes when they sign to major labels or have a hit (the sellout).

    Then again, my teacher never heard Dark Side of the Moon, and he was about the age I am now, I guess (though the album was only a year or two old). When we brought albums in he had to screen them and he let “bullshit” slide on DSotM because it was “such an important album.” Because “One day, we’d understand all this stuff about getting older, having regrets, unfairness of society, blah, blah, blah.” Now I’m his age and I don’t like that album, but when I loaned it to him in 8th grade I liked it a lot.

    I told him I thought rock and roll was about new music, and I still think that.

  11. The telescoping of time in the 60’s still amazes me. Bringing It All Back Home was released in March of 65, having been recorded in January. Like a Rolling Stone was recorded in June and released July 20, five days before the Newport performance. Don’t Look Back documents an English tour that Dylan took in early 65, right around the time of Bringing It All Back Home and already there were some complaints in the movie about him moving into the pop sphere. So Newport was more of a transgression against the venue than an unveiling of his first electric foray. He had already released his first “Electric” album and his biggest “Electric” single. I’m with BigSteve. I was 10 when Like a Rolling Stone came out and I don’t think I had any knowledge of Dylan before that. I think generally only college age hipsters were intimately familiar with him before Like a Rolling Stone. In other words, at that time he was the voice of a very select segment of a generation, but one that would largely define the mythology of the 60’s.

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