At the end of last month we observed the fortieth anniversary of Bob Dylan’s seminal “Highway 61 Revisited,” the album that featured “Like A Rolling Stone” in its full six-minute burst of glory. The single of the song had charted at number two in July 1965, but it was cut in half and reduced to playable length for AM radio. I think it’s fair to say that both the single and the album represent highpoints in pop history.
I’m looking forward to Martin Scorsese’s Dylan documentary next week. Tom Bevan has made his rounds scouring newspapers around the world this morning for RealClearPolitics and sent us a message alerting us to 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 places Dylan in the agitprop folk tradition that Seeger founded. 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 and found his own voice.
On the 1964 “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