Today is the birthday of Minnesota’s own favorite son, Bob Dylan; he turns 66. Martin Scorsese’s recent Dylan documentary occasioned some fine retrospectives of Dylan’s career, among which was Ben MacIntyre’s preview of the documentary for the London Times: “Minstrel Boy, Forever Young.”
In his outstanding City Journal essay on Pete Seeger (“America’s most successful Communist”), Howard Husock placed Dylan in the line of folk agitprop in which Seeger stood at the head. Husock’s essay is an important and entertaining piece. Dylan is only a small part of the story Husock has to tell, however, and Husock therefore does not pause long enough over Dylan to observe how quickly Dylan burst the agitprop shackles, found his own voice and tapped into his own vein of the Cosmic American Music.
On 1964’s “The Times They Are A-Changin'” album, Dylan foreshadowed his break from the folk movement in “Restless Farewell,” the album’s closing song. Later that year he turned in a more personal direction with “Another Side of Bob Dylan,” his last folk album. MacIntyre notes:
Dylan set words to music in a way that no one had done before. He refused to be pigeon-holed by the folkies, the protesters or the rockers. He borrowed and synthesised from the literary, artistic and actual worlds like a musical magpie, and he skilfully evolved his own mystique. And he kept going, even when his listeners booed or complained or, like the enraged Pete Seeger in 1965, threatened to chop off his sound cable with a hatchet at a folk festival in Newport because he had defected to electric sound. At a British concert, we see a furious folkie leaping to his feet and shouting