DYLAN: Dylan Goes Electric! by Elijah Wald, review: ‘unpicks the legend’

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Helen Brown writes:

In May 1964, Bob Dylan sat down in The May Fair Hotel, Berkeley Square, and scribbled himself a seven-line question: “HOW MANY TIMES/ DO I HAVE T / REPEAT that/ I Am Not A folksinger/ before people/ stop saying/ 'He’s Not A folksinger’.”

Who could blame him? Earnest American folk fans had anointed him as their movement’s messiah, and he didn’t want the job. Although he’d been inspired by the protest songs written by Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger, he was uncomfortable with what he saw as the dated simplicity of their Leftist politics. The year before, he had told Louis “Studs” Terkel, the pioneer of oral history who wrote about the experience of ordinary Americans: “Now’s a time maybe you have to belong to yourself, you know… There are more than two sides, you know? It’s not black and white anymore.”

Of course, we now know that all Dylan needed to do to prove he was not the messiah – just a very naughty boy – was to strap on a Fender Stratocaster guitar and “go electric” at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival, horrifying the cross-legged Kumbaya crowd and sending poor Pete Seeger running for an axe to hack through the unholy amp wires. It was the birth of a whole new musical era – or so rock mythology has it.

But guitarist Elijah Wald’s fascinating new book on the event reveals it to have been, inevitably, far .....

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