Music beyond boundaries - the birth of rock

"There are many accounts of what happened next. Dylan left the stage with a shrug as the crowd roared. Having heard only three songs, they wanted 'moooooooooore', and some, certainly, were booing. They had been taken by surprise by the volume and aggression of the music. Some loved it, some hated it, most were amazed, astonished and energized by it. It was something we take for granted now, but utterly novel then: non-linear lyrics, an attitude of total contempt for expectation and established values, accompanied by screaming blues guitar and a powerful rhythm section, played ar ear-splitting volume by young kids. The Beatles were still singing love songs in 1965 while the Stones played a sexy brand of blues-rooted pop. This was different. This was the Birth of Rock. So many taste crimes have been committed in rock's name since then that it might be questionable to count this moment as a triumph, but it certainly felt like one in July 1965.

Yarrow appeared onstage, an inane imitation of a showbiz MC. 'Do you want to hear more?' I watched backstage as Neuwirth and Grossman ran relays to the artists' tent, trying to persuade Dylan to go back on. Finally Yarrow announced he would come back 'with just his guitar' (huge roar). Dylan strolled up to the mic and strapped on his harmonica neck-rig. 'Anyone got an E Harp?' Only at Newport could this request be followed by a shower of half a dozen harmonicas on to the stage.

He sang 'Mr Tambourine Man' brilliantly, reclaiming the song from the shiny but shallow Byrds version and sending a signal to anyone who might be gratified by his return to acoustic moderation: there would be no 'Blowin' in the Wind' tonight. Dylan had left the didactic world of political song behind. He was singing now about his decadent, self-absorbed internal life. He finished with 'It's All Over Now, Baby Blue', spitting the lyrics out contemptuously in the direction of the old guard."

Bob Dylan at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival recalled in 'White Bicycles - making music in the 1960s' by legendary record producer Joe Boyd, whose credits include Fairport Convention, the Incredible String Band, and Nick Drake. 'White Bicycles' is published by Serpent's Tail, ISBN 1852429100. It is essential reading for any student of contemporary music. The title, incidentally, is from a song by Tomorrow inspired by the free transport provided by Amsterdam's revolutionary provos.

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If you enjoyed this post take An Overgrown Path to Love of the blues


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