Bob Dylan – Subterranean Homesick Blues

Bob Dylan – Subterranean Homesick Blues

“Subterranean Homesick Blues” was Dylan’s first electric guitar piece and was also notable for its innovative film clip, which first appeared in D. A. Pennebaker’s documentary, Don’t Look Back. At the time Dylan was becoming unhappy to be categorised as an acoustic-only “protest singer” so he electrified his guitar and in doing so antagonised his army of Folk music fans around the world.

The song’s first line is a reference to codeine distillation and politics of the time: “Johnny’s in the basement mixing up the medicine / I’m on the pavement thinkin’ about the Government”. The widespread use of recreational drugs, and turmoil surrounding the Vietnam War were both starting to take hold of the nation, and Dylan’s hyper-kinetic lyrics were dense with up-to-the-minute allusions to important emerging elements in the 1960s youth culture.

Subterranean Homesick Blues” was originally released in 1965 as a single on Columbia Records. It appeared 19 days later as the lead track to the album Bringing It All Back Home. It was Dylan’s first US Top 40 hit, peaking at #39 on the Billboard Hot 100. It also entered the Top 10 on the singles chart in the United Kingdom.

Dylan emerged on the music scene in 1961, playing in Greenwich Village coffeehouses after the folk music revival was already underway, and released his first album the next year. Over a short period—less than three years—Dylan wrote about two dozen politically oriented songs whose creative lyrics and imagery reflected the changing mood of the postwar baby-boom generation and the urgency of the civil rights and antiwar movements.

At a time when the chill of McCarthyism was still in the air, Dylan also showed that songs with leftist political messages could be commercially successful. By 1964, however, Dylan told friends and some reporters that he was no longer interested in politics. Phil Ochs, another “protest” singer-songwriter, was asked if he thought that Dylan would like to see his protest songs “buried.” Ochs replied : “I don’t think he can succeed in burying them. They’re too good. And they’re out of his hands.”

According to rock journalist Andy Gill, “an entire generation recognized the zeitgeist in the 1965 verbal whirlwind of ‘Subterranean Homesick Blues’.”

Bob Geldof saw Dylan perform in Dublin in 1964 …. “Dylan had scooped the whole of American folk music (folk, blues, country) and married it to the Psalms, the poets, the Old Testament, and hurled it at my head, articulating the inchoate urge I was feeling. Bob Dylan moved my head. Mick Jagger and Keith Richards my hips.”

Bruce Springsteen – “Bob Dylan freed your mind just as Elvis Presley freed your body.”

Dylan has stated that when he reached the University of Minnesota in 1959, he fell under the influence of the Beat scene: “It was Jack Kerouac, Ginsberg, Corso and Ferlinghetti.” Kerouac’s  The Subterraneans, a novel published in 1958 about the Beats, has been suggested as a possible inspiration for the song’s title.

The song also depicts some of the growing conflicts between “straight” or “square” (40-hour workers) and the emerging 1960s counter-culture. It song also references the struggles surrounding the American civil rights movement eg “Better stay away from those / That carry around a fire hose” as during the civil rights movement, peaceful protestors were beaten and sprayed with high pressure fire hoses.

Bob Dylan at the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee voter-registration rally, Greenwood, MS, July 1963

In 2005 Todd Haynes got permission from Dylan to make a semi-bio-pic about Dylan, scored with his own music. It was significant that he got permission; Haynes had a nightmare on the production and release of Velvet Goldmine after David Bowie refused permission to use his music.

After receiving Dylan’s blessing, Haynes constructed a fragmented story wherein six different actors would play representations of Dylan (or representations of representations of Dylan). The Cast comprised Cate Blanchett, Heath Ledger, Christian Bale, Richard Gere, Ben Wilshire and 11 year Marcus Carl Franklin.

Subterranean Homesick Blues Lyrics

Johnny’s in the basement
Mixing up the medicine
I’m on the pavement
Thinking about the government
The man in the trench coat
Badge out, laid off
Says he’s got a bad cough
Wants to get it paid off
Look out kid
It’s somethin’ you did
God knows when
But you’re doin’ it again
You better duck down the alley way
Lookin’ for a new friend
The man in the coon-skin cap
In the big pen
Wants eleven dollar bills
You only got ten

Maggie comes fleet foot
Face full of black soot
Talkin’ that the heat put
Plants in the bed but
The phone’s tapped anyway
Maggie says that many say
They must bust in early May
Orders from the D. A.
Look out kid
Don’t matter what you did
Walk on your tip toes
Don’t try “No Doz”
Better stay away from those
That carry around a fire hose
Keep a clean nose
Watch the plain clothes
You don’t need a weather man
To know which way the wind blows

Get sick, get well
Hang around a ink well
Ring bell, hard to tell
If anything is goin’ to sell
Try hard, get barred
Get back, write braille
Get jailed, jump bail
Join the army, if you fail
Look out kid
You’re gonna get hit
But users, cheaters
Six-time users
Hang around the theaters
Girl by the whirlpool
Lookin’ for a new fool
Don’t follow leaders
Watch the parkin’ meters

Ah get born, keep warm
Short pants, romance, learn to dance
Get dressed, get blessed
Try to be a success
Please her, please him, buy gifts
Don’t steal, don’t lift
Twenty years of schoolin’
And they put you on the day shift
Look out kid
They keep it all hid
Better jump down a manhole

Light yourself a candle
Don’t wear sandals
Try to avoid the scandals
Don’t wanna be a bum
You better chew gum
The pump don’t work
‘Cause the vandals took the handles

About Bob Dylan

Born May 22nd, 1941

Robert Allen Zimmerman was born in St. Mary’s Hospital on May 24, 1941, in Duluth, Minnesota, and raised in Hibbing, Minnesota, on the Mesabi Iron Range west of Lake Superior.

His paternal grandparents, Zigman and Anna Zimmerman, emigrated from Odessa in the Russian Empire (now Ukraine) to the United States following the anti-Semitic pogroms of 1905. His maternal grandparents, Benjamin and Lybba Edelstein, were Lithuanian Jews who arrived in the United States in 1902. His paternal grandmother’s maiden name was Kyrgyz and her family originated from Kars, Turkey.

Dylan’s parents, Abram Zimmerman and Beatrice “Beatty” Stone, were part of the area’s small but close-knit Jewish community.

Robert Zimmerman lived in Duluth until age six, when his father was stricken with polio and the family returned to his mother’s home town, Hibbing, where Zimmerman spent the rest of his childhood.

Though his life was luxurious, he showed an early interest in serving the needy and underprivileged. At a very young age, he showed interest in music and mostly recorded his private thoughts in poetry. At high school, he performed at several talent shows, but he was consistently booed because of his lousy singing voice.

Robert Zimmerman spent much of his youth listening to the radio—first to blues and country stations broadcasting from Shreveport, Louisiana and, later, to early rock and roll.

He formed several bands while he attended Hibbing High School. The Shadow Blasters was short-lived, but his next, The Golden Chords, lasted longer and played covers of popular songs.

bob dylan golden chords 1958

Their performance of Danny and the Juniors’ “Rock and Roll Is Here to Stay” at their high school talent show was so loud that the principal cut the microphone off.

In his 1959 school yearbook, Robert Zimmerman listed as his ambition “To follow Little Richard.”

Since then, each and every Bob Dylan fan knows he has ended up doing much more than that.

Zimmerman moved to Minneapolis in September 1959 and enrolled at the University of Minnesota, where his early focus on rock and roll gave way to an interest in American folk music.He soon dropped out.

He stayed in the area to absorb its budding folk music and bohemian scene and began playing in local coffeehouses and improving his guitar playing. A friend loaned Dylan his collection of Woody Guthrie records and back copies of Sing Out! magazine, which had the music and lyrics to lots of folk songs. He read Guthrie’s autobiography, Bound for Glory, and learned to play many of Guthrie’s songs.

Dylan explained the attraction that folk music had exerted on him – “The thing about rock’n’roll is that for me anyway it wasn’t enough … There were great catch-phrases and driving pulse rhythms … but the songs weren’t serious or didn’t reflect life in a realistic way. I knew that when I got into folk music, it was more of a serious type of thing. The songs are filled with more despair, more sadness, more triumph, more faith in the supernatural, much deeper feelings.”

He soon began to perform at the 10 O’clock Scholar, a coffee house a few blocks from campus, and became actively involved in the local Dinkytown folk music circuit.

During his Dinkytown days, Zimmerman began introducing himself as “Bob Dylan”.

In his autobiography, Dylan acknowledged that he had been influenced by the poetry of Dylan Thomas. Explaining his change of name in a 2004 interview, Dylan remarked: “You’re born, you know, the wrong names, wrong parents. I mean, that happens. You call yourself what you want to call yourself. This is the land of the free.”

Dylan dropped out of college at the end of his freshman year.

In January 1961, he travelled to New York City, hoping to perform there and visit his musical idol Woody Guthrie, who was seriously ill with Huntington’s Disease in Greystone Park Psychiatric Hospital.

Guthrie had been a revelation to Dylan and was the biggest influence on his early performances. Describing Guthrie’s impact on him, Dylan later wrote: “The songs themselves had the infinite sweep of humanity in them … [He] was the true voice of the American spirit. I said to myself I was going to be Guthrie’s greatest disciple.”

As well as visiting Guthrie in the hospital, Dylan befriended Guthrie’s acolyte Ramblin’ Jack Elliott. Much of Guthrie’s repertoire was actually channeled through Elliott, and Dylan paid tribute to Elliott in Chronicles (2004).

From February 1961, Dylan played at various clubs around Greenwich Village. In September, he gained some public recognition when Robert Shelton wrote a positive review in The New York Times of a show at Gerde’s Folk City.

The same month Dylan played harmonica on folk singer Carolyn Hester’s eponymous third album, which brought his talents to the attention of the album’s producer John Hammond.

Hammond signed Dylan to Columbia Records in October 1961

In July 1961 Dylan met seventeen-year-old Suze Rotolo, the daughter of Communists and a leftist herself. They soon moved into a Village apartment together. She introduced Dylan to writers and poets (especially Bertolt Brecht and Arthur Rimbaud) that expanded his own lyrical horizons. She also raised his political awareness.

Rotolo was working as a secretary at the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) office and each night gave Dylan the latest scoop about the civil rights movement. The sit-ins had erupted the previous year. By the spring and summer of 1961, the Freedom Rides were in the news. The Village folk scene was abuzz with singers writing and performing songs ripped from the headlines.

The performances on his first Columbia album, Bob Dylan (1962), consisted of familiar folk, blues and gospel material combined with two original compositions. The album made little impact, selling only 5,000 copies in its first year, just enough to break even. None of the album’s thirteen cuts (including two original compositions) could be considered political, protest, or topical songs.

In January 1962, hoping to be asked to perform at an upcoming CORE benefit, Dylan wrote “The Ballad of Emmett Till,” about a fourteen-year-old African American who was beaten and shot to death in Mississippi in 1955 for whistling at a white woman. It was Dylan’s first “protest” song. Within a year, he wrote several other topical songs, including “Talkin’ John Birch Society Blues” (poking fun at the right-wing organization), “Let Me Die in My Footsteps” (a critique of the Cold War hysteria that led Americans to build bomb shelters), “Oxford Town” (about the riots when James Meredith became the first black student admitted to University of Mississippi), “Paths of Victory” (about the civil rights marches), and “A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall” (about the fear of nuclear war, which he premiered at a Carnegie Hall concert a month before the Cuban missile crisis made that fear more tangible).

These songs were published in a new magazine, Broadside, that sought to encourage topical songs as part of movements for change.

Dylan made two important career moves in August 1962 – He legally changed his name to Bob Dylan, and signed a management contract with Albert Grossman.

Grossman remained Dylan’s manager until 1970, and was notable both for his sometimes confrontational personality, and for the fiercely protective loyalty he displayed towards his principal client. Dylan subsequently said of Grossman, “He was kind of like a Colonel Tom Parker figure … you could smell him coming.” Tensions between Grossman and John Hammond led to Hammond being replaced as the producer of Dylan’s second album by the young African American jazz producer Tom Wilson.

Within Columbia Records, some referred to the singer as “Hammond’s Folly” and suggested dropping his contract. Hammond defended Dylan vigorously. In March 1962, Dylan contributed harmonica and back-up vocals to the album Three Kings and the Queen, accompanying Victoria Spivey and Big Joe Williams on a recording for Spivey Records.

1962 with Victoria Spivey Big Joe Williams

While working for Columbia, Dylan also recorded several songs under the pseudonym Blind Boy Grunt, for Broadside Magazine, a folk music magazine and record label. Dylan used the pseudonym Bob Landy to record as a piano player on the 1964 anthology album, The Blues Project, issued by Elektra Records. Under the pseudonym Tedham Porterhouse, Dylan contributed harmonica to Ramblin’ Jack Elliott’s 1964 album Jack Elliott.

Zimmerman gave away his early affinity for rock music when he heard obscure folk and country records by Hank Williams Sr., Pete Seeger, and most importantly, Woody Guthrie. He then started to perform folk music at various coffeehouses where he started calling himself Bob Dylan in the honor of Welsh poet, Dylan Thomas.

It was not until his second album with Columbia Records, The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan (1963) that he identified himself as more of a songwriter than a singer.

The same year, using the name Elston Gunn, he performed two dates with Bobby Vee, playing piano and providing hand-claps.

From December 1962 to January 1963, Dylan made his first trip to the United Kingdom.

He had been invited by TV director Philip Saville to appear in a drama, The Madhouse on Castle Street, which Saville was directing for BBC Television. At the end of the play, Dylan performed “Blowin’ in the Wind”, one of the first major public performances of the song. The recording of The Madhouse on Castle Street was wiped by the BBC in 1968.

While in London, Dylan performed at several London folk clubs, including Les Cousins, The Pinder of Wakefield, and Bunjies. He also learned new songs from several UK performers, including Martin Carthy.

By the time Dylan’s second album, The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, was released in May 1963, he had begun to make his name as both a singer and a songwriter. Many of the songs on this album were labeled protest songs, inspired partly by Guthrie and influenced by Pete Seeger’s passion for topical songs.

The 1963 Free Wheeling album included several anti-war classics such as Blowin’ in the Wind, and A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall, etc. Dylan instantly clicked with the people, becoming the leader of the 1960s American folk music revival at a time when British Bands such as The Beatles, and The Rolling Stones dominated the musical world.

“Blowin’ in the Wind” was not about a specific incident or public controversy. The lyrics reflected a mood of concern about the country’s overall direction, including the beating of civil rights demonstrators and the escalating nuclear arms race.

By avoiding specifics, Dylan‘s three verses achieve a universal quality that makes them open to various interpretations and allows listeners to read their own concerns into the lyrics. “How many times must the cannonballs fly before they’re forever banned?” and “How many deaths will it take till he knows that too many people have died?” are clearly about war, but not any particular war. One can hear the words “How many years can some people exist before they’re allowed to be free?” and relate them to the civil rights movement and the recent Freedom Rides. “How many times can a man turn his head pretending he just doesn’t see?” could refer to the nation’s unwillingness to face its own racism, or to other forms of ignorance. The song reflects a combination of alienation and outrage. Listeners have long debated what Dylan meant by “The answer is blowin’ in the wind.” Is the answer so obvious that it is right in front of us? Or is it elusive and beyond our reach? This ambiguity is one reason for the song’s broad appeal.

Before singing “Blowin’ in the Wind” at Gerde’s, Dylan explained, “This here ain’t a protest song or anything like that, ‘cause I don’t write protest songs…I’m just writing it as something to be said, for somebody, by somebody.” Dylan may have been being coy or disingenuous, but it didn’t matter. The song caught the wind of protest in the country and took flight.

With its veiled references to nuclear apocalypse, it gained even more resonance when the Cuban missile crisis developed only a few weeks after Dylan began performing it.

Like “Blowin’ in the Wind”, “A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall” marked an important new direction in modern songwriting, blending a stream-of-consciousness, imagist lyrical attack with a traditional folk form.

Blowin’ in the Wind was, according to critic Andy Gill, “the song with which Dylan’s name is most inextricably linked, and safeguarded his reputation as a civil libertarian through any number of changes in style and attitude.”

While Dylan’s topical songs solidified his early reputation, Freewheelin’ also included a mixture of love songs and jokey, surreal talking blues. Humor was a large part of Dylan’s persona, and the range of material on the album impressed many listeners, including The Beatles. George Harrison said, “We just played it, just wore it out. The content of the song lyrics and just the attitude—it was incredibly original and wonderful.”

The rough edge of Dylan’s singing was unsettling to some early listeners but an attraction to others. Describing the impact that Dylan had on her and her husband, Joyce Carol Oates wrote: “When we first heard this raw, very young, and seemingly untrained voice, frankly nasal, as if sandpaper could sing, the effect was dramatic and electrifying.”

Many of his most famous early songs first reached the public through more immediately palatable versions by other performers, such as Joan Baez, who became Dylan’s advocate, as well as his lover. Baez was influential in bringing Dylan to national and international prominence by recording several of his early songs and inviting him onstage during her own concerts.

Bob Dylan and Joan Baez at the 1963 March on Washington. They played 3 songs: – When the Ship Comes In / Only a Pawn in Their Game / Keep Your Eyes on the Prize (with Len Chandler)

Dylan with folk singer Joan Baez. This picture shows the pair singing on ‘Blowin’ in the Wind’ which was Dylan’s most famous song at the time

Others who recorded and had hits with Dylan’s songs in the early and mid-1960s included The Byrds; Sonny and Cher; The Hollies; Peter, Paul and Mary; The Association; Manfred Mann; and The Turtles.

Most attempted to impart a pop feel and rhythm to the songs, while Dylan and Baez performed them mostly as sparse folk pieces. The cover versions became so ubiquitous that CBS started to promote him with the tag “Nobody Sings Dylan Like Dylan.”

Dylan’s ambition for success sometimes conflicted with his political and artistic principles.

In May 1963, when CBS told Dylan he couldn’t sing “Talkin’ John Birch Society Blues” on the popular Ed Sullivan Show because the song was too controversial—an indication that McCarthyism hadn’t completely faded—he walked out of the rehearsal and refused to appear on the Sunday night show.

Yet Dylan was never comfortable being confined by the “protest” label. He disliked being a celebrity, having people ask him what his songs meant, and being viewed as a troubadour who could represent an entire generation. “The stuff you’re writing is bullshit, because politics is bullshit,” Dylan once told Phil Ochs, who continued to write and perform topical songs and identify with progressive protest movements. “You’re wasting your time.

Dylan said of “The Times They Are a-Changin'”: “This was definitely a song with a purpose. I wanted to write a big song, some kind of theme song, with short concise verses that piled up on each other in a hypnotic way. The civil rights movement and the folk music movement were pretty close and allied together at that time.”

By this time, Dylan and Baez were both prominent in the civil rights movement, singing together at the March on Washington on August 28, 1963.

Dylan’s third album, The Times They Are a-Changin’, reflected a more politicized and cynical Dylan.

The songs often took as their subject matter contemporary, real life stories, with “Only A Pawn In Their Game” addressing the murder of civil rights worker Medgar Evers; and the Brechtian “The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll” the death of black hotel barmaid Hattie Carroll, at the hands of young white socialite William Zantzinger.

On a more general theme, “Ballad of Hollis Brown” and “North Country Blues” address the despair engendered by the breakdown of farming and mining communities. This political material was accompanied by two personal love songs, “Boots of Spanish Leather” and “One Too Many Mornings”.

By the end of 1963, Dylan felt both manipulated and constrained by the folk and protest movements.

These tensions were publicly displayed when, accepting the “Tom Paine Award” from the National Emergency Civil Liberties Committee shortly after the assassination of John F. Kennedy, an intoxicated Dylan brashly questioned the role of the committee, characterized the members as old and balding, and claimed to see something of himself (and of every man) in Kennedy’s alleged assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald.

Another Side of Bob Dylan, recorded on a single June evening in 1964, had a lighter mood than its predecessor. The surreal, humorous Dylan reemerged on “I Shall Be Free #10” and “Motorpsycho Nightmare”. “Spanish Harlem Incident” and “To Ramona” are romantic and passionate love songs, while “Black Crow Blues” and “I Don’t Believe You (She Acts Like We Never Have Met)” suggest the rock and roll soon to dominate Dylan’s music. “It Ain’t Me Babe”, on the surface a song about spurned love, has been described as a rejection of the role his reputation had thrust at him.

His newest direction was signaled by two lengthy songs: the impressionistic “Chimes of Freedom,” which sets elements of social commentary against a denser metaphorical landscape in a style later characterized by Allen Ginsberg as “chains of flashing images,” and “My Back Pages,” which attacks the simplistic and arch seriousness of his own earlier topical songs and seems to predict the backlash he was about to encounter from his former champions as he took a new direction.

In the latter half of 1964 and 1965, Dylan’s appearance and musical style changed rapidly, as he made his move from leading contemporary songwriter of the folk scene to folk-rock pop-music star. His scruffy jeans and work shirts were replaced by a Carnaby Street wardrobe, sunglasses day or night, and pointy “Beatle boots”.

A London reporter wrote: “Hair that would set the teeth of a comb on edge. A loud shirt that would dim the neon lights of Leicester Square. He looks like an undernourished cockatoo.”

Dylan also began to spar in increasingly surreal ways with his interviewers. Appearing on the Les Crane TV show and asked about a movie he was planning to make, he told Crane it would be a cowboy horror movie. Asked if he played the cowboy, Dylan replied, “No, I play my mother.”

Dylan’s April 1965 album Bringing It All Back Home was yet another stylistic leap, featuring his first recordings made with electric instruments.

The first single, “Subterranean Homesick Blues”, owed much to Chuck Berry’s “Too Much Monkey Business” – its free association lyrics have been described as both harkening back to the manic energy of Beat poetry and as a forerunner of rap and hip-hop.

Subterranean Homesick Blues was provided with an early music video which opened D. A. Pennebaker’s cinematic presentation of Dylan’s 1965 tour of England, Don’t Look Back. Instead of miming to the recording, Dylan illustrated the lyrics by throwing cue cards containing key words from the song on the ground.

Pennebaker has said the sequence was Dylan’s idea, and it has been widely imitated in both music videos and advertisements.

The B side of Bringing It All Back Home consisted of four long songs on which Dylan accompanied himself on acoustic guitar and harmonica.

“Mr. Tambourine Man” quickly became one of Dylan’s best known songs when The Byrds recorded an electric version that reached number one in both the U.S. and the U.K. charts. “It’s All Over Now Baby Blue” and “It’s Alright Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)” were acclaimed as two of Dylan’s most important compositions.

How much of Dylan’s public persona was a performance already is a good question, and 1967 produced two documentaries that gave a sense of that persona, and the music, in transition.

There was Murray Lerner’s concert movie Festival, was one of the first of its kind, which along with Dylan showed acts like Donovan and Joan Baez at the Newport Folk Festival from the years 1963 to 1966. Though the film is lacking in complete performances (the full performances were finally released in 2005 as The Other Side of the Mirror), it offers a fascinating time-capsule of that period. “Festival” is a cinematic synthesis of the 60’s Newport Folk Festivals in which the art of folk music is pictured in transition during its most crucial years.


Bob Dylan Live At The Newport Folk Festival 1963 – 1965 opens a window into a critical epoch in American cultural history as reflected in the musical transformations of Bob Dylan’s galvanizing watershed performances at the Newport Folk Festival in 1963, 1964, and 1965.

“This is a different kind of film, in a sense, from what I usually make,” said Murray Lerner. “We decided on no narration, no pundit interviews, no interviews with Dylan. Nothing except the experience of seeing him… . That to me is exciting. Just the clear experience gives you everything you need.”

Lerner’s film is a no-frills document of Dylan in full performance, chronicling a tale of an artist growing up and away from his folk base, leaving the idealistic folkies in the dust. It also charts an odyssey from songs of innocence to songs of experience


The naïve songwriter is introduced as “a young man who grew out of a need.”

The rube Dylan performs shyly, asks to borrow a pick, and has problems tuning his guitar. Nevertheless, the sharp-edged brilliance of his lyrics and his cutting vocals burn through the pretense with “Only a Pawn in Their Game.” As Dylan sings, the audience stares in open-mouthed awe; when he appears at the end of the festival to sing “Blowin’ in the Wind” it is a coronation.

Peter Yarrow, master of ceremonies and comic relief for the three Dylan Newports, remarks, “I would like to say that he has his finger on the pulse of our generation.”

North Country Blues (7/26 afternoon workshop)
With God On Our Side (with Joan Baez – 7/26 afternoon workshop and 7/28 night performance)
Talkin’ World War III Blues (7/26 night performance)
Who Killed Davey Moore? (7/27 afternoon workshop)
Only A Pawn In Their Game (7/26 night performance)
Blowin’ In The Wind (with The Freedom Singers, Joan Baez, and Peter, Paul and Mary – 7/26 night performance)


A black-garbed Dylan has abandoned his North Country charm and emerges as a bemused trickster.

When Pete Seeger introduces “Bobby” and Dylan finally bounds out on stage, he cracks “I think you have the wrong man.”

Dylan is a now superstar and looks out of place in this early-’60s folk scene. “Bobby” romps through a duet with Joan Baez on “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright” like a cynical tourist. He concludes with a transcendent version of “Chimes of Freedom,” the song’s “majestic belts of bolts” electrifying the throng.

When Dylan leaves the stage, the crowd goes wild, and the hapless Peter Yarrow is left holding the bag. Yarrow attempts to introduce Odetta but is booed to silence, the crowd chanting, “We want Bob.” Yarrow ineptly responds, “Thank you for him and thank you for feeling this way.” Dylan bounds on stage, does a little dance, and smarmily remarks, “Thank you. I love you.”

Mr. Tambourine Man (7/24 afternoon workshop)
It Ain’t Me, Babe (with Joan Baez – 7/24 night performance)
With God On Our Side (with Joan Baez – 7/26 night performance)
Chimes Of Freedom (7/26 night performance)


In the summer of 1965, as the headliner at the Newport Folk Festival, Dylan performed his first electric set since his high school days with a pickup group drawn mostly from the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, featuring Mike Bloomfield (guitar), Sam Lay (drums) and Jerome Arnold (bass), plus Al Kooper (organ) and Barry Goldberg (piano).

Dylan is a sardonic, dispirited rocker and this is his restless farewell. He enters the fray with the appropriately titled, “If You Gotta Go, Go Now” and on one of the few forays Lerner takes off the stage we see Dylan mobbed by fans and sitting on a bus laughing at creepy-looking festival-goers who stare in at him through the bus windows (“They’re all my friends” quips Dylan).

Signs of things to come are registered by a teen attendee talking about Dylan, “When he gets to be a god who needs him anymore? He becomes part of the establishment.”

Not for long. Dylan is rehearsing his soon-to-be-legendary electric set with the Paul Butterfield Blues Band and woebegone Peter Yarrow is nagging the electric boys, “It is essential to get the level for your instruments into your heads!”

Lerner brutally cuts from that to Dylan and Butterfield lacing into “Maggie’s Farm” with Butterfield’s angry, cutting guitar riffs and Dylan’s killing, lacerating vocals — rock as an expression of existential rage. This is a truly great performance and Lerner pulls no punches. What is shocking today is to hear the loud, vocal, and nasty chorus of boos greeting Dylan at the conclusion of the song. Dylan appears rattled and he stumbles through his next tune, “Like a Rolling Stone” which is also greeted by jeers.

A young, 24-year-old Dylan, who had become an icon of folk music, was booed off the stage after playing three songs on an electric guitar. A number of friends and colleagues tried to persuade Dylan to finish his set, including Johnny Cash.

Dylan returns and asks for a harmonica and is vigorously pelted with one from the crowd. He then launches into bitter and seething versions of “Mr. Tambourine Man” and “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue.”

Dylan removes the guitar strap from his neck like removing a noose and stalks off the stage.

One version of the legend has it that the boos were from the outraged folk fans whom Dylan had alienated by appearing, unexpectedly, with an electric guitar. Murray Lerner, who filmed the performance, said: “I absolutely think that they were booing Dylan going electric.”

An alternative account claims audience members were merely upset by poor sound quality and a surprisingly short set. This account is supported by Kooper and one of the directors of the festival, who reports his audio recording of the concert proves that the only boos were in reaction to the emcee’s announcement that there was only enough time for a short set.

Nevertheless, Dylan’s 1965 Newport performance provoked a hostile response from the folk music establishment.

In the September issue of Sing Out!, singer Ewan MacColl wrote: “Our traditional songs and ballads are the creations of extraordinarily talented artists working inside disciplines formulated over time… ‘But what of Bobby Dylan?’ scream the outraged teenagers… Only a completely non-critical audience, nourished on the watery pap of pop music, could have fallen for such tenth-rate drivel.”

If You Gotta Go, Go Now (7/24 afternoon workshop)
Love Minus Zero/No Limit (7/24 afternoon workshop)
Daytime Rehearsal with his electric band
Maggie’s Farm (with his electric band – 7/25 night performance)
Like A Rolling Stone (with his electric band – 7/25 night performance)
Mr. Tambourine Man (7/25 night performance)
It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue (7/25 night performance)

Bob Dylan at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival with manager Albert Grossman

Over the three years his image shifts from the giggling, youthful kid young audiences adored to a jaded, exhausted figure, deliberately interacting less with the audience and attempting to shift the focus back from himself to his music; this didn’t work, and when he did an electric version of “Maggie’s Farm” the crowd, famously, booed. There was Dylan in sunglasses and a leather jacket with an electric guitar and a band behind him; where had their saviour gone?

It would be 37 years before Dylan returned to the festival.

Few photographers had greater access to Bob Dylan than Barry Feinstein. Having taken the iconic photograph that appeared on Bob Dylan’s The Times They Are A-Changin’ album in 1963, Feinstein was invited as the exclusive photographer on Dylan’s European tour of 1966 and US tour of 1974.

“The mutual trust, respect and friendship Bob and I had for each other are reflected in these photographs. I liked his work, he liked mine. He knew I would make him look interesting – and he was interesting. I knew I was in the presence of genius.” – Barry Feinstein

Don’t look Back – 1965Portrait of the artist as a young man

The second movie was D.A. Pennebaker’s seminal documentary Don’t Look Back, (released in 1967) and filmed on Dylan’s (aged 23) 1965, 3 week tour of England. Pennebaker’s camera followed him from airport to hall, from hotel room to public house, from conversation to concert.

It opens, significantly, with the famous music video for “Subterranean Homesick Blues,” one of his first electric tracks. At the time, no one could have known how fortuitous Pennebaker’s timing would prove to be. Within a few months of this tour, Dylan would forsake his role as “The Conscience of Folk Music” to pick up a Fender Stratocaster and play rock and roll.

In 1998, the film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”

Recording several brilliant solo performances and capturing a wealth of fly-on-the-wall footage of Dylan’s interactions with friends and strangers, Pennebaker caught Dylan on the cusp of a radical career change, and the man in this film seems to be thrashing about in his shackles, looking for some sort of escape route.

Joan Baez and Donovan, among others, are on hand. Its the period when Dylan is shifting from acoustic to electric, a transition that not all fans, including Baez, applaud. Dylan’s romance with Baez had pretty much run its course by the time of the tour, and the film candidly captures what amounts to their breakup.

Within a year, Dylan would suffer a motorcycle accident that would put him out of commission for nearly 18 months.

The film features Joan Baez, Donovan and Alan Price (who had just left The Animals), Dylan’s manager Albert Grossman and his road manager Bob Neuwirth; Marianne Faithfull, John Mayall, Ginger Baker, and Allen Ginsberg may also be glimpsed in the background.

Dylan, Robbie, Michael McLure, and Allen Ginsberg, 1965

From the opening sequence of Dylan holding up words to the soundtracks Subterranean Homesick Blues, Dylan is playful and enigmatic.

The opening scene of the film also served as a kind of music video for Dylan’s song “Subterranean Homesick Blues”, in which the singer displays and discards a series of cue cards bearing selected words and phrases from the lyrics (including intentional misspellings and puns). Allen Ginsberg makes a cameo appearance during this episode.

shot at the Savoy Hotel London rooftop, garden and back lane

The original title of this film is Dont Look Back (i.e. without an apostrophe in the first word). D.A. Pennebaker, the film’s writer (and director) decided to punctuate the title this way because he “was trying to simplify the language”. Many sources, however, assumed this to be a typographical error and swiftly “corrected” the title to Don’t Look Back (i.e., with an apostrophe in the first word)

Pennebaker has stated that the famous “Subterranean Homesick Blues” music video that is shown at the beginning of the film was actually shot at the very end of filming. Pennebaker decided during editing to place it at the beginning of the film as a “stage” for Dylan to begin the film.

The film was first shown publicly May 17, 1967, at the Presidio Theater in San Francisco, and opened that September at the 34th Street East Theater in New York.

Dont Look Back is really about fame and how it menaces art, about the press and how it categorizes, bowdlerizes, sterilizes, universalizes or conventionalizes an original like Dylan into something it can dimly understand. In addition to the song’s influence on music, the song was used in what became one of the first “modern” promotional film clips, the forerunner of what later became known as the music video.

Dont Look Back – review
In an Electric Storm / by Bernard Zuel
April 28, 2007

In 1966, backed by an electric band and playing songs that unashamedly leapt far from the folk roots that had made his name, Bob Dylan toured Britain to mounting hostility. Hooded-eyed and wild-haired, he looked hounded. What’s more, surly and wired on amphetamines and adrenaline, he snapped back at the uncomprehending press and the angry elements in his audiences.

dylan with the Hawks at the Free Trade Hall, Manchester 1966

During a show in Manchester, a man in the audience, incensed by the electric rock’n’roll being played, yelled out “Judas!”, to which Dylan replied “You’re a liar” before turning to his band and demanding they play louder as they pounded through a fiery version of his iconoclastic rock hit, Like a Rolling Stone. Rock’n’roll would never be quite the same again. Neither would Dylan.

Contrast this with the Dylan captured a year earlier by a young American filmmaker, D.A. Pennebaker, who followed the singer and his entourage around Britain shortly before the release of Dylan’s first half-step into electric rock, the album Bringing It All Back Home. Pennebaker’s film would become the first proper rock’n’roll documentary, Don’t Look Back, and remains the template, indeed the measuring stick, for all future music documentaries.

In 1965, as Dylan began his British tour, he was asked at the first press conference, “What is your real message?” An amused Dylan raised an eyebrow and responded: “Keep a good head and always carry a light bulb.” During another interview, when asked to explain what he was angry about, a surprised Dylan responded, “I’m not angry.”

Today, Pennebaker confirms the truth of this in the commentary that accompanies an impressive DVD box-set “deluxe edition” of his film. If the evidence he shot isn’t enough, with many moments of tomfoolery backstage, impromptu singalongs in hotel rooms and a laughing Dylan jousting with a mouthy science student before one show, Pennebaker says the young singer-songwriter was remarkably good-humoured and accommodating.

“If it looks like he was mean to the press, look who they sent to talk to him,” Pennebaker says. “They had no idea what they were dealing with.”

As is revealed in this remarkable film, the man they were dealing with was a pop star, complete with screaming fans, who didn’t play pop songs; a folk singer who was already declaring he didn’t and wouldn’t do “protest songs”; a fan of country and blues when neither were remotely hip in popular culture; a restless artist on the brink of change, even if it would mean antagonising the doubtful in his audience.

“After I finished the English tour, I quit because it was too easy,” Dylan would say a year later. “There was nothing happening for me. Every concert was the same: first half, second half, two encores and run out, then having to take care of myself all night. I didn’t understand; I’d get standing ovations and it didn’t mean anything. I was just following myself. It was down to a pattern.”

What was fortuitous was that Dylan’s rule-breaking attitude was shared by Pennebaker, who took full advantage of the development of lightweight film cameras that enabled him to film anywhere and everywhere, and a subject who gave him near complete access.

Despite not knowing much about Dylan when approached by the singer’s manager, Albert Grossman, to come on tour, Pennebaker “knew that it was an important film to do, that it was going to be around for a long time”, and he immersed himself in it. Determined not to make a concert film, a lot of what he captured was “just happenstance”, but being there for those moments was not accidental.

“You had to take part in [the musicians’] lives in the way that didn’t seem false,” Pennebaker says. “I want people to think that they can see behind the music, that the music isn’t why they are there.”

Amusingly, given its contemporary status as a groundbreaking film, Don’t Look Back was rejected by all the big film distributors in 1966 and 1967, with one telling Pennebaker that it was “ratty, badly focused – it’s hard to hear what anybody’s saying. It’s just a disaster film.”

It was a porn-cinema magnate, trying to become respectable for his wife, who picked up the rights and screened it in an adult cinema in San Francisco.

You get the feeling even the Bob Dylan of 1966 would have laughed himself hoarse at that.

Bob Dylan met Sara Lownd(e)s sometime in 1964, and told her he intended to marry her shortly after. They moved into Hotel Chelsea (in separate rooms) in New York together.

On November 22, 1965, Dylan secretly married the then 25-year-old former model Sara.

Some of Dylan’s friends (including Ramblin’ Jack Elliott) claim that, in conversation immediately after the event, Dylan denied that he was married. Journalist Nora Ephron first made the news public in the New York Post in February 1966 with the headline “Hush! Bob Dylan is wed.”

Their marriage became strained in 1974 when Bob’s frame of mind was drastically changed by his art teacher, Norman Raeban. They divorced finally in 1977.

Sara inspired a lot of Bob Dylan’s songs, such as “Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands,” “Sara,” the entire album “Blood on the Tracks,” and some consider her to have inspired “Isis,” “We Better Talk This Over,” “Abandoned Love,” “Down Along The Cove,” “Wedding Song,” “On A Night Like This,” “Something There Is About You,” “I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight,” “To Be Alone With You,” “If Not For You,” “Desolation Row,” “Where Are You Tonight? (Journey Through Dark Heat),” and “Love Minus Zero/No Limit.”


Many of those who idolised the younger Dylan saw it as deliberate defiance; announcing at the start of the movie (and as the opening track on the album Bringing It All Back Home, released just before the tour) that this guy wasn’t singing ‘finger-pointing’ songs any more, and his lyrics were increasingly oblique and surreal. The songs were getting more mysterious, and so was Dylan. The Dylan in the movie is in the business of shaking off his old persona, and responding to increasing pressure from journalists to account for himself by becoming increasingly hard to pin down.

Aside from some concert footage from the Royal Albert Hall (it would be the last year that Dylan associated performing with smiling) most of the film takes places backstage and in hotels and parties. Physically and in voice Dylan seems right in the middle of those two iconic ‘60s figures he embodied; between the smirking folkster with puppy-fat cheeks and the mystical rocker of 1966.

In the film, Dylan is subject to journalists’ questions everywhere he goes, and generally responds with questions of his own, with deliberately obscure answers, with confrontation or simply with ways to keep himself amused. One journalist from Time magazine rubs him up the wrong way and Dylan rants at him like an angsty teenager.

San Francisco Press conference ( Dec 3rd, 1965 )

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He doesn’t always come out of the movie well, but by this point he probably had already realised the gulf between the way he thought he was presenting himself and the way he was being perceived.

Pennebaker would follow Dylan back to the UK the following year for the British leg of his ’66 tour. He was joined, famously, for the second set by The Hawks, who would soon achieve their own fame as The Band.

The tour was notorious, and the second set was met at every performance with boos from the audience; walkouts were even planned, so people with tickets would go see the first acoustic set, then make a point of leaving when Dylan returned with an electric guitar.

Many Dylan fans would now refer to this period and the albums that followed (Highway 61 Revisited and Blonde on Blonde) as his creative peak, but with Dylan the response to the music is constantly tied up, amongst his idolaters, with the response to him.

When Pennebaker cut the movie together Dylan thought it was too similar to Don’t Look Back, so re-edited it himself despite having no experience with editing or filmmaking. The result was an hour-long, shambling and at times incoherent film called Eat the Document, which has seldom been seen outside of bootleg versions. Although it’s shambolic (and Dylan couldn’t edit) it offers an intriguing insight into that tour.

Two Bob Dylan Bio Pic movies have been made in more recent times

No Direction Home

The first is Martin Scorsese’s 2005 documentary No Direction Home, the definitive Dylan documentary covering his youth and early days in New York, up until his motorcycle accident in 1966

It is masterfully edited together and aside from being the only documentary of its type to feature Dylan himself being interviewed, effectively narrating it, it also gathers interviews with Pete Seeger, Joan Baez, Dave Van Ronk and Suzie Rotolo (the girlfriend on the cover of the Freewheelin’ album).

The interviews had been gathered over several years by Jeff Rosen, Dylan’s manager, and include one with Allen Ginsberg, who died in 1997. Scorsese was brought in quite late to make something of it (he never actually interviewed Dylan himself, claiming he was too nervous). As well as telling Dylan’s story, it evokes the time and place beautifully.

I’m Not There

The second movie made was “I’m Not There”

In 2005 Todd Haynes got permission from Dylan to make a semi-bio-pic about Dylan, scored with his own music. It was significant that he got permission; Haynes had a nightmare on the production and release of Velvet Goldmine after David Bowie refused permission to use his music.

After receiving Dylan’s blessing, Haynes constructed a fragmented story wherein six different actors would play representations of Dylan (or representations of representations of Dylan). The list included an 11-year-old African-American kid and an Australian woman, but that kind of open mindedness at the casting stage was precisely the point.

Cate Blanchett was the Dylan-est of all the other Dylans – she perfectly apes Dylan at the time he was most contrary to the press as he transitioned from folk-message songs into electric guitar based rock, never once giving away her gender.


On July 29, 1965 just four days after his controversial performance at Newport, Dylan was back in the studio in New York, recording “Positively 4th Street”. The lyrics teemed with images of vengeance and paranoia, and it was widely interpreted as Dylan’s put-down of former friends from the folk community—friends he had known in the clubs along West 4th Street.

In July 1965, Dylan released the single “Like a Rolling Stone”, which peaked at No.2 in the U.S. and at No.4 in the UK charts. “Like a Rolling Stone” – was Dylan’s 1965 hit single, which appeared on the album Highway 61 Revisited. In 2004, it was labelled the Greatest Song of All Time by Rolling Stone magazine. ( Highway 61 Revisited was titled after the road that led from Dylan’s Minnesota to the musical hotbed of New Orleans.)

At over six minutes, the song has been widely credited with altering attitudes about what a pop single could convey. Bruce Springsteen, in his speech during Dylan’s inauguration into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame said that on first hearing the single, “that snare shot sounded like somebody’d kicked open the door to your mind”.

In 2004, and again in 2011, Rolling Stone Magazine listed it as number one on its list of “The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time”.

In support of the record, Dylan was booked for two U.S. concerts and set about assembling a band. Mike Bloomfield was unwilling to leave the Butterfield Band, so Dylan mixed Al Kooper and Harvey Brooks from his studio crew with bar-band stalwarts Robbie Robertson and Levon Helm, best known at the time for being part of Ronnie Hawkins’s backing band The Hawks (later to become The Band).

On August 28 at Forest Hills Tennis Stadium, the group was heckled by an audience still annoyed by Dylan’s electric sound. The band’s reception on September 3 at the Hollywood Bowl was more favorable.

While Dylan and the Hawks met increasingly receptive audiences on tour, their studio efforts floundered. Producer Bob Johnston persuaded Dylan to record in Nashville in February 1966, and surrounded him with a cadre of top-notch session men. At Dylan’s insistence, Robertson and Kooper came down from New York City to play on the sessions.

The Nashville sessions produced the double-album Blonde on Blonde (1966), featuring what Dylan later called “that thin wild mercury sound”. Al Kooper described the album as “taking two cultures and smashing them together with a huge explosion”: the musical world of Nashville and the world of the “quintessential New York hipster” Bob Dylan.

1966 No direction Home

In Martin Scorsese’s 2005 documentary No Direction Home, Dylan states, ‘I had ambitions to set out to find…this home that I’d left a while back. … I was born very far from where I’m supposed to be so I’m on my way home.’

In Greenwich Village, the epicentre of the post-McCarthy folk revival in the early sixties, Dylan would pick out which performers were ‘doing it for real’ and then pick up how they were doing it. Dylan states regarding performers he admired, ‘ There was something in their eyes that said “I know something you don’t know” and I wanted to be that kind of performer.’

He describes the folk scene in the early 60s as divided into two camps: pop music for college kids and intellectual folk music – Dylan considered himself neither. In his 2006 autobiography Chronicles, Volume One he writes,’ There were a lot better singers and musicians around [Greenwich Village] but there wasn’t anybody close in nature to what I was doing.’

Dylan’s uniqueness eventually brought him to the attention of Columbia Records’ John Hammond and although Dylan’s voice was not the standard at Columbia—home to the beautiful voices of those like Tony Bennett and Johnny Mathis—Hammond’s track record for sales convinced the executives at Columbia that Dylan would be worthwhile. It was with Columbia that Dylan’s massive repertoire (over 600 original compositions) would take off and progress over the course of the last half-century.

Throughout his career Dylan’s music has undergone several significant shifts. In 1965 he ‘went electric’ with Bringing It All Back Home. This transition brought about accusations of ‘going commercial’ for money and fame. One audience member famously criticised Dylan, exclaiming ‘Judas!’ during a now-infamous performance at the Royal Albert Hall in 1966.

In an interview with the Chicago Daily News in 1965, Dylan states, ‘I’ve never followed any trend, I just haven’t the time to follow a trend. It’s useless to even try.’ Instead, Dylan saw his ‘going electric’ as a natural progression from his earlier style. In No Direction Home, he states, ‘An artist has got to be careful never really to arrive at a place where he thinks he’s at somewhere. … You’re constantly in a state of becoming.’

In 1966, not long after the release of his third electric record, Blonde on Blonde, Dylan was badly injured in a motorcycle accident. ‘Truth was that I wanted to get out of the rat race,’ Dylan writes. ‘Having children changed my life and segregated me from just about everybody and everything that was going on.’ (Chronicles, 114)

He refrained from touring for the next eight years, but still wrote and recorded prolifically.

During this time he returned to more traditional roots and explored country music with several excellent pieces such as ‘I Dreamed I Saw St Augustine’, ‘Lay, Lady, Lay’, ‘If Not For You’ and ‘Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door’, but had not achieved a significant amount of critical or commercial success—at least anything that could be likened to the success of his earlier material—until the release of Blood on the Tracks in 1975.

Dylan undertook a world tour of Australia and Europe in the spring of 1966.

Each show was split into two parts. Dylan performed solo during the first half, accompanying himself on acoustic guitar and harmonica. In the second half, backed by the Hawks, he played high voltage electric music. This contrast provoked many fans, who jeered and slow handclapped.

The tour culminated in a famously raucous confrontation between Dylan and his audience at the Manchester Free Trade Hall in England on May 17, 1966.

An official recording of this concert was finally released in 1998: The Bootleg Series Vol. 4: Bob Dylan Live 1966. At the climax of the evening, a member of the audience, angered by Dylan’s electric backing, shouted: “Judas!” to which Dylan responded, “I don’t believe you … You’re a liar!” Dylan turned to his band and said, “Play it fucking loud!” as they launched into the final song of the night—”Like a Rolling Stone.”

The 1966 world tour was to be his last major concert outing for almost 8 years: seared by the experience, Dylan withdrew after his famous motorbike accident in July and, apart from sporadic solo appearances at events like the Isle Of Wight Festival and the Concert For Bangladesh, he did not undertake another major tour until the Before The Flood tour in 1974, which reunited him with The Band.

By the time he arrived in Australia, just prior to his 25th birthday, Dylan was at the height of his fame and was now, along with The Beatles, one of the most famous and popular performers in the world. Thanks to the aggressive style of his manager Albert Grossman, he was also one of the most highly paid.

World Tour 1966

April 13 Sydney Stadium
April 15 Festival Hall, Brisbane
Apr 16 Sydney Stadium
Apr 19 Festival Hall, Melbourne
April 20 Festival Hall, Melbourne
April 22 Palais Royal, Adelaide (Parts of the press conference at Adelaide Airport are broadcast on local radio.)
April 23 Capitol Theatre, Perth

In 1966, Robert Menzies resigned, Harold Holt instituted conscription for the Vietnam War effort, and assured the American President that Australia would “go all the way with LBJ,” Australia switched to decimal currency, the White Australia policy was abandoned, 6 o’clock closing was extended to 10pm, and Bob Dylan toured Donald Horne’s “luck country” on an amphetamine-driven wave of success.

The press didn’t quite know what to make of him (he wasn’t a cute mop-top Beatle like the last rock icons to tour).

The cultural wasteland of Australia in the 60s was brought face to face with a singer who broke all the rules of vocal delivery, looked like he was from some other planet, and wrote stream-of-consciousness lines such as “jewels and binoculars hang from the head of the mule,” and “praise be to Nero’s Neptune; the Titanic sails at dawn.” – by Glen OBrien

Australia was the first major stop (outside the US) for Dylan’s legendary World Tour in 1966.

The fortunate few thousand here who witnessed it saw what proved to be the watershed moment in Dylan’s career.

It was the culmination of Dylan’s evolution from folkie icon to fully-fledged rock star, which had begun with his controversial “electric” debut at the Newport Folk Festival on July 25, 1965. The punishing schedule of the 1965-66 period – three landmark albums somehow crammed in around a frantic round of tours and other engagements – took its toll on Dylan.

Like The Beatles, his popularity, and his perceived role as a social spokesman exposed him to an unprecedented level of media and fan attention. His press conferences and interviews became a cross between an police interrogation and a boxing match, with the wry, caustic and cynical Dylan sparring with (and sometimes mauling) the journalists, who in return probed to find flaws in this new musical demigod.

His songs were taking rock music to a new level of complexity and maturity, but in doing so he had left far behind him the folk style that had made him famous. Many older fans, who took folk music very seriously, felt betrayed by Dylan’s move into what they saw as the ‘corrupt’ world of pop music.

He famously outraged the folk audience when he performed his second set at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival backed by an electric band, comprising members of the Paul Butterfield Blues Band and organist Al Kooper (who had played on the legendary Like A Rolling Stone).

Folk patriarch Pete Seeger was apparently so angered by Dylan’s electric set that he tried to pull the plug on the PA system, resulting in a fight between him and Albert Grossman.

Dylan was deeply committed to his new music, and determined to present it the way he wanted – whether the press and audiences liked it or not.

He began his Fall 1965 Tour in August that year, backed by a 4-piece group that consisted of two members of Ronnie Hawkins’ former backing band The Hawks (guitarist Robbie Robertson and drummer Levon Helm), plus bassist Harvey Brooks and organist Al Kooper, who played the organ on Like A Rolling Stone.

From the outset they experienced hostility from audiences across the US. Partway through the tour, in September, Brooks and Kooper left the group, unwilling to continue in the face of the nightly jeering and catcalls. They were replaced by the other three members of The Hawks – Garth Hudson, Richard Manuel and Rick Danko – thus completing what many consider to be Dylan’s perfect backing band.

The ’66 World Tour tour commenced in early February, and travelled through the US and Canada, interspersed with sessions for Dylan’s next LP (Blonde On Blonde). Audience reaction to the tour was very mixed; many were excited by the new direction, but older fans objected vehemently to Dylan’s new style, and expressed their displeasure loudly.

Volume was a critical issue: Dylan and his musicians were using the best amplification available, and by 1966 standards they played very loudly indeed. Used to the moderate sound levels at folk concerts, many fans were taken aback by the unprecedented volume, causing further negative reaction.

According to a recent article about the English leg of the tour, in the music magazine Mojo, many of the supposed catcalls during the electric sets were actually calls to “turn it down”.

Reviews of the new tour were generally negative, and press conferences were increasingly confrontational. Hostility from the press and audiences dogged him all through the ’66 world tour, culminating in the famous incident at the Manchester Free Trade Hall, when a heckler called him “Judas” – to which Dylan famously replied “I don’t believe you!”

Numerous dates on the tour were officially recorded and/or bootlegged; the “Judas” concert was captured on tape and was available on the famous Great White Wonder bootleg LP (which wrongly identified the concert as being at the Royal Albert Hall). It can now be heard on the official Live 1966 double-CD.

The tour was also filmed in color by documentarist DA Pennebaker (who also captured Dylan’s 1965 UK tour for the landmark music documentary Don’t Look Back). The 1966 footage was put together by Dylan and Howard Alk as Eat The Document in 1971. It has been out of circulation for many years, although a segment from it is included in the BBC documentary series Dancing In The Street.

When questioned by the author at the Sydney Film Festival in 1998, Pennebaker was evasive about the status of the ’66 footage, which is apparently still under Dylan’s control; he described himself as having been merely a cameraman for this project.

By the end of the tour Dylan was teetering on the edge, mentally and physically exhausted, and was reportedly using drugs heavily.

In the end, like the Beatles, he survived by getting off the treadmill.

Dylan was now playing “electric”, he was being constantly heckled by folkniks or angry fans throughout the second, electric half of a concert.

Even the press began to go along with the dissent of his fans. A review in the magazine Melody Maker of the May 5, 1966 concert in Dublin, Ireland stated that “It was unbelievable to see a hip-swinging Dylan trying to look and sound like Mick Jagger. For most it was the night of the big let-down.”

In Europe, walkouts were common, unlike in the United States. The press became more and more hostile as he traveled through England, particularly in London. The May 10 concert at Colston Hall in Bristol was savaged by one reviewer, saying that Dylan was “sacrificing lyric and melody to the God of big beat.”, while another stated that Dylan had been “buried in a grave of deafening drums.”

Robert Shelton later wrote in Dylan’s biography that the press was behaving like a “conformist, Neanderthal mob”.

Concert-goers began to become hostile, yelling at Dylan from their seats, shouting phrases like “phoney” and “traitor” between songs. Dylan would often reply to these jeers, such as in Liverpool, where one man shouted “Where’s the poet in you? What’s happened to your conscience?”, to which Dylan responded, “There’s a guy up there looking for a saint.”

During one concert, as the jeers and shouts reached a terrible level, Dylan lazily replied, “Oh come on, these are all protest songs. It’s the same stuff as always, can’t you hear?”

When the group embarked to Scotland, the audience turned out to be somewhat more receptive, at least in Glasgow, where Dylan’s supporters outnumbered his hecklers. But in Edinburgh, a section of the audience attempted to overpower out the band by playing their own harmonicas.

In Paris, the French even jeered during Dylan’s acoustic set; and during the electric portion, Dylan told his audience, “Don’t worry, I’m just as eager to finish and leave as you are.”

The final two nights at the Royal Albert Hall in London saw the biggest walkouts of the tour, but there was some support, as The Beatles were in the audience, shouting down the hecklers. George Harrison denounced the angry fans as “idiots”.

When the tour ended, the Band returned to America angry and dejected; Robbie Robertson later said that, “After those shows we were lonely guys. Nobody wanted to hang out with us.”

Now that Dylan had separated himself from his folk contemporaries, his personality had greatly changed.

The James Dean look of a leather jacket and slacks was gone. Dylan’s new style of dress consisted of a dark green hounds tooth suit consisting of a tight, double-breasted waist-coat with a matching pair drainpipe trousers, all laced with diamond flecked stripes. For footwear, he chose a new pair of handmade Chelsea Boots, which were famously associated with The Beatles, and better known as “Beatle boots”.

According to his primary photographer Barry Feinstein, Dylan picked up the custom tailored suit and boots from a shop on Carnaby Street in London. When he wasn’t on stage performing.

Dylan was rarely seen without his blue suede military jacket, and custom wayfarer-style sunglasses.

Despite the transition from acoustic folk music over to rock ‘n’ roll, Dylan did not see himself as a part of the mainstream crowd of musicians. In a press conference in December 1965 he would detach himself from his contemporaries of rock music and call his style “vision music . . . mathematical music”.

During his 1965 tour of England, it was alleged Dylan had used cannabis, but, by the end of 1965, he is said to have taken other drugs. During his 1966 tour, Dylan told Robert Shelton: “It takes a lot of medicine to keep up this pace. A concert tour like this has almost killed me.”

Dylan told Rolling Stone in 1984 that he “never got hooked on any kind of drug.”

During his 1966 tour, Dylan was frequently described as exhausted and acting “as if on a death trip”. D. A. Pennebaker, the film maker accompanying the tour, described Dylan as “taking a lot of amphetamine and who-knows-what-else.”

In a 1969 interview with Jann Wenner, Dylan said, “I was on the road for almost five years. It wore me down. I was on drugs, a lot of things… just to keep going, you know?”

In 2011, BBC Radio 4 reported that, in an interview which Robert Shelton had taped in 1966, Dylan claimed that he had kicked a heroin habit in New York City: “I got very, very strung out for a while… I had about a $25-a-day habit and I kicked it.”

Some journalists questioned the validity of this confession, pointing out that Dylan had “been telling journalists wild lies about his past since the earliest days of his career.”

After his European tour, Dylan returned to New York, but the pressures on him increased. ABC Television had paid an advance for a TV show they could screen. His publisher, Macmillan, was demanding a finished manuscript of the poem/novel Tarantula. Manager Albert Grossman had already scheduled an extensive concert tour for that summer and fall.

On July 29, 1966, Dylan crashed his 500cc Triumph Tiger 100 motorcycle on a road near his home in Woodstock, New York, throwing him to the ground. Though the extent of his injuries were never fully disclosed, Dylan said that he broke several vertebrae in his neck.

Mystery still surrounds the circumstances of the accident since no ambulance was called to the scene and Dylan was not hospitalized.

Dylan’s biographers have written that the crash offered Dylan the much-needed chance to escape from the pressures that had built up around him.

Dylan confirmed this interpretation of the crash when he stated in his autobiography, “I had been in a motorcycle accident and I’d been hurt, but I recovered. Truth was that I wanted to get out of the rat race.”

In the wake of his accident, Dylan withdrew from the public and, apart from a few select appearances, did not tour again for eight years.

Once Dylan was well enough to resume creative work, he began editing film footage of his 1966 tour for Eat the Document, a rarely exhibited follow-up to Dont Look Back. A rough-cut was shown to ABC Television and was promptly rejected as incomprehensible to a mainstream audience.

In 1967 he began recording music with the Hawks at his home and in the basement of the Hawks’ nearby house, called “Big Pink”.

These songs, initially compiled as demos for other artists to record, provided hit singles for Julie Driscoll (“This Wheel’s on Fire”), The Byrds (“You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere”, “Nothing Was Delivered”), and Manfred Mann (“Mighty Quinn”). Columbia belatedly released selections from them in 1975 as The Basement Tapes. Over the years, more and more of the songs recorded by Dylan and his band in 1967 appeared on various bootleg recordings, culminating in a five-CD bootleg set titled The Genuine Basement Tapes, containing 107 songs and alternate takes.

In the coming months, the Hawks recorded the album Music from Big Pink using songs they first worked on in their basement in Woodstock, and renamed themselves The Band, thus beginning a long and successful recording and performing career of their own.

In October and November 1967, Dylan returned to Nashville.

Back in the recording studio after a 19-month break, he was accompanied only by Charlie McCoy on bass, Kenny Buttrey on drums, and Pete Drake on steel guitar.

The result was John Wesley Harding, a quiet, contemplative record of shorter songs, set in a landscape that drew on both the American West and the Bible. The sparse structure and instrumentation, coupled with lyrics that took the Judeo-Christian tradition seriously, marked a departure not only from Dylan’s own work but from the escalating psychedelic fervor of the 1960s musical culture.

It included “All Along the Watchtower”, with lyrics derived from the Book of Isaiah (21:5–9). The song was later recorded by Jimi Hendrix, whose version Dylan later acknowledged as definitive.

Woody Guthrie died on October 3, 1967, and Dylan made his first live appearance in twenty months at a Guthrie memorial concert held at Carnegie Hall on January 20, 1968, where he was backed by The Band.

With honors ranging from countless Grammys and Academy Awards to the Kennedy Center Honors and the Pulitzer Prize, Bob Dylan has always asked questions and done things differently, paving the way for many others to do the same

At the height of his career, Dylan’s lyrics were quoted in politicians’ speeches, taught in poetry classes and worshipped by people because he sang for them.

With a long musical career spanning five decades, Bob Dylan’s incalculable musical impact has influenced the worlds of music, literature and politics and has been only surpassed by The Beatles. Every generation has since used popular music effectively to express their imperative issues. Yet, Dylan never realizes his impact and continues on his musical expedition, recreating history.

Key Influencers on Bob Dylan

Jack Kerouac – 1922 – 1969

Dylan never met Kerouac – But he loved Kerouac’s “breathless, dynamic, bop phrases.” His “spontaneous prose” told tales of the Beat generation, making him the talented and reluctant spokesman for the hip youth of the 1950s.

There was existing a close and complex relationship between the folk-music crowd and the Beats in Greenwich Village in the 1950s and 1960s. Dylan arrived there in January 1961, having read the Beats in Minneapolis: – “I came out of the wildness and just naturally fell in with the Beat scene, the bohemian, Be Bop crowd, it was pretty much connected, “ Dylan said in 1985. “It was Jack Kerouac, Ginsberg, Corso, Felinghetti . . . I got in at the tail end of that and it was magic. . . . it had just as big an impact on me as Elvis Presley.”

jack kerouac reading

But while Dylan could identify with Kerouac as another “young man from a small industrial town who had come to New York as a cultural outsider,” the friendship he developed with Ginsberg transformed both their lives.

They first met at a party in December 1963 and their bond deepened over decades, “each influencing the other, while their admirers forged the counterculture that profoundly affected American life at the end of the twentieth century.”

Allen Ginsberg, photographer. “Jack Kerouac Avenue A across from Thompkins [sic] Park 1953 New York, his handsome face looking into barroom door—This is best profile of his intelligence as I saw it Sacred, time of Subterraneans writing

Allen Ginsberg – 1926 – 1997

Allen Ginsberg is probably one of the best-known contemporary poets in recent history.

He was born in 1926 in Newark, NJ and received his B.A. from Columbia University in 1948.

Like many of the writers of his period, Ginsberg had a desire to attain the mystical. The metaphysical poets of the nineteenth century, including William Blake, were perhaps his greatest influence.

In addition to the almost epic poem Howl, Ginsberg has authored numerous books. Many of his writings were interpreted as controversial and even obscene. Ginsberg is perhaps one of the most respected and revered Beat writer’s.

Woody Guthrie – 1912 – 1967

Is best known as an American singer-songwriter and folk musician, whose musical legacy includes hundreds of political, traditional and children’s songs, ballads and improvised works.

He frequently performed with the slogan This Machine Kills Fascists displayed on his guitar.

His best-known song is “This Land Is Your Land”.

Songwriters such as Bob Dylan, Phil Ochs, Bruce Springsteen, Pete Seeger, Joe Strummer, and Tom Paxton have acknowledged their debt to Guthrie as an influence.

Guthrie traveled with migrant workers from Oklahoma to California and learned traditional folk and blues songs. Many of his songs are about his experiences in the Dust Bowl era during the Great Depression, earning him the nickname the “Dust Bowl Troubadour”.

Throughout his life Guthrie was associated with United States communist groups, though he was seemingly not a member of any.

Guthrie was married three times and fathered eight children, including American folk musician Arlo Guthrie.

Guthrie died from complications of Huntington’s disease, a progressive genetic neurological disorder. During his later years, in spite of his illness, Guthrie served as a figurehead in the folk movement, providing inspiration to a generation of new folk musicians, including mentor relationships with Ramblin’ Jack Elliott and Bob Dylan.

Woody Guthrie was inducted into the Oklahoma Music Hall of Fame in 1997.


General Interest items re Subterranean Homesick Blues


The film clip was used in September 2010 in a promotional video to launch Google Instant. As they are typed, the lyrics of the song generate search engine results pages.




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