Elijah Wald – Dylan Goes Electric!
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In the early 1980s Elijah began writing on roots and world music for the Boston Globe, publishing over a thousand pieces before he left in 2000, and his work has appeared in numerous newspapers and magazines. His dozen previous books include Escaping the Delta: Robert Johnson and the Invention of the Blues; How the Beatles Destroyed Rock ’n’ Roll: An Alternative History of American Popular Music; Narcocorrido: A Journey into the Music of Drugs, Guns, and Guerrillas; and The Mayor of MacDougal Street, a memoir with Dave Van Ronk that inspired the Coen Brothers' movie Inside Llewyn Davis. He has won a Grammy Award for his album notes to The Arhoolie Records 40th Anniversary Box, for which he was also nominated as a producer, and his books have won many awards, including an ASCAP-Deems Taylor award and an honorable mention for the American Musicological Society’s Otto Kinkeldey award. He has an interdisciplinary PhD in ethnomusicology and sociolinguistics, and taught for several years in the musicology department at UCLA. He is currently based near Boston, wrinting, traveling to speaking engagements around the US and abroad, and performing in a duo with his wife, clarinetist Sandrine Sheon.
One of the music world’s pre-eminent critics takes a fresh and much-needed look at the day Dylan “went electric” at the Newport Folk Festival—timed to coincide with the event’s fiftieth anniversary
On the evening of July 25, 1965, Bob Dylan took the stage at Newport Folk Festival backed by an electric band and roared into his new rock hit, Like a Rolling Stone. The audience of committed folk purists and political activists who had hailed him as their acoustic prophet reacted with a mix of shock, booing, and scattered cheers. It was the shot heard round the world—Dylan’s declaration of musical independence, the end of the folk revival, and the birth of rock as the voice of a generation—and one of the defining moments in twentieth-century music.
In Dylan Goes Electric!, Elijah Wald explores the cultural, political and historical context of this seminal event that embodies the transformative decade that was the sixties. Wald delves deep into the folk revival, the rise of rock, and the tensions between traditional and groundbreaking music to provide new insights into Dylan’s artistic evolution, his special affinity to blues, his complex relationship to the folk establishment and his sometime mentor Pete Seeger, and the ways he reshaped popular music forever. Breaking new ground on a story we think we know, Dylan Goes Electric! is a thoughtful, sharp appraisal of the controversial event at Newport and a nuanced, provocative analysis of why it matters.
"a great work of scholarship, brimming with insight – among the best music books I have ever read."
"touchingly captures a period and a mood...a major contribution to modern musical history."
"splendid, colorful work of musicology and cultural history... Mr. Wald is a superb analyst of the events he describes."
"excellent... a rich study of the clash between cultural authenticity and commercial success."
"...one of the best music journalists around.... As told by Wald, the story of Dylan at Newport is not so much about music as it is about stories themselves, how they mesmerize even as they bumble along and don't always end cleanly. The truth is often messy. And usually that messiness makes for a better story."
"What Wald reveals about that most mystified of singer-songwriters and the folk and rock worlds that then surrounded and elevated him changed my own view of a moment I thought I had all figured out -- and of the songwriterly 1960s as a whole."
Myths and facts about the night Dylan went electric:
Myth: Before Dylan, the folk music establishment thought folksingers should only sing traditional songs.
Myth: The older folk establishment hated rock ’n’ roll.
Myth: Dylan’s first success on the folk scene was as a singer-songwriter in the Woody Guthrie style.
Myth: Dylan’s early fans were shocked when he switched to rock.
Myth: Dylan was the musical voice of the anti-Vietnam War movement.
Myth: The Newport Folk Festival crowd hated electric guitars.
Myth: Dylan’s electric set was the birth of folk-rock.
Fact: Dylan’s electric set at Newport in 1965 did get booed—though more people were cheering.