Thursday, October 29, 2015

...and the present now, will later be past

----------------------- [excerpt, Dylan Goes Electric! -- Introduction] ------------ The Newport Folk Festivals of that period were like no gatherings before or since, and some of the people who remember them most fondly had no interest in Dylan and can't even remember whether they saw him perform.  For many of them Newport was also a symbol of rebellion against the demands and expectations of the mainstream --

not only the mainstream of segregation and militarism but the mainstream of million-selling rock, pop, and even folk stars.

Newport included many artists who were older and more conservative than Dylan, many who were more clean-cut and accessible, and some who were younger, wilder, more difficult, more committed, more radical, or more obscure.  The folk revival was a motley, evolving world,

and in hindsight it is easy to remember it as a bunch of nice boys and girls with guitars and forget that they were sharing stages with Mississippi John Hurt and Eck Robertson, the Moving Star Hall Singers, the Blue Ridge Mountain Dancers, Jean Carignan, Spokes Mashiyane, Bill Monroe, Maybelle Carter, Son House,

Muddy Waters,

and the Reverend Gary Davis.  In the shock of Dylan's electric reinvention it is easy to forget that Lightnin' Hopkins, the Chambers Brothers, and the Paul Butterfield Blues Band had all already played electric sets at Newport that weekend. 

And it is easy to separate Dylan, the lone genius, from the friends and peers and rivals who helped and taught and inspired and influenced him:  Dave Van Ronk, Eric Von Schmidt, John Koerner, the Clancy Brothers, the New Lost City Ramblers, Jim Kweskin, Peter Stampfel, Len Chandler, Joan Baez

-- and the old guard that welcomed them, some eagerly, some warily:  Alan Lomax, Sis Cunningham, Irwin Silber, Odetta, Theodore Bikel, Oscar Brand, and always, everywhere, Pete Seeger.

Seeger is a central figure in this narrative, because the story of Dylan at Newport is also the story of what Seeger built, what Newport meant to him, and the lights that dimmed when the amplifiers sucked up the power.  It is about what was lost as well as what was gained, about intertwining ideals and dreams

that never quite fit together, and about people who tried to make them fit and kept believing they might.


{Dylan Goes Electric!  Newport, Seeger, Dylan, and the Night That Split the Sixties.  by Elijah Wald.  Dey St., an imprint of William Morrow Publishers, HarperCollins, New York, 2015}


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