Chris discusses two key BOB DYLAN shows from 1963
1963 was the year of the ‘Folk Boom’ in the USA, when a mainstream singer like Trini Lopez could have a sizeable hit with If I Had A Hammer, a catchy, rousing, if rather generalised global plea for ‘freedom and justice’ originally performed by Pete Seeger’s group The Weavers. The big record companies had begun to realise the commercial potential of such material. There is little doubt that the political context of the times influenced this new vogue. The Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 had thrown the shadow of the Cold War into sharp and terrifying relief, which the rabid and fanatical anti-communism of much of the American establishment further underlined. Meanwhile the struggle against the institutional racism of American society was resulting in a number of large protests, which sometimes led to violent reactions from the authorities. The key to Dylan’s early success lay in the way he eloquently voiced the concerns of American youth about such issues. Yet unlike the ‘commercial folk’ of singers like Lopez, the Kingston Trio and Peter, Paul and Mary, who encouraged audiences to ‘sing along’ with their pleasantly presented anthems, Dylan achieved his fame with a harsh and uncompromising vocal style which was an amalgam of influences from outside the popular music mainstream, including many blues and ‘hillbilly’ singers. He was also influenced by the drily monotonal vocal style and the political subject matter of the songs of his hero Woody Guthrie.
The third song is Talkin’ New York, a lightly ironic talkin’ blues which recounts Dylan’s arrival in Greenwich Village. Dylan changes some of the lyrics from the recorded version, demonstrating that he is already unafraid to adapt his songs onstage. This was another feature of his performances he had taken from Guthrie. After establishing this ‘ramblin’ boy’ persona he later includes Dusty Old Fairgrounds, presented here in its only live performance. The song is fairly lengthy. Each of its fourteen verses ends with the refrain …following them dusty old fairgrounds a-calling… It maintains a lively pace and a breezily optimistic tone throughout. Here he extends the fictions of Stolen Moment, producing a travelogue full of colourful descriptions and inventive rhyming whose narrator thoroughly inhabits the role of a travelling circus hand who is in love with the ‘call of the fairgrounds’, as he travels through many different towns and states. As with Bob Dylan’s Dream we are invited to believe that the song is communicating the real life experiences of the singer. This was a charade he would not be able to keep up for very long once he became truly famous and reporters began digging into his real background. But throughout his career he would continue to present his songs from behind a series of such ‘masks’: the angry ‘politico’, the philosophical ‘lover’, the surrealist, symbolist poet, the ‘family man’, the tortured lover, the Born Again prophet, the ‘burned out rock star’ and the ‘travelling minstrel’. As he demonstrates most effectively in this concert, the entire ‘Bob Dylan’ identity is a kind of dramatic construct.
DAILY DYLAN NEWS at the wonderful EXPECTING RAIN