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Landmark Dylan concert officially released

Julie Bender | Thursday, April 8, 2004

By 1964 America was a nation ill at ease. JFK was dead, the Civil Rights movement was making itself violently known, the Cold War was in high gear and Vietnam was just getting underway. On the musical front, rock ‘n’ roll was taking the nation by storm, alienating the generations by means of loud guitars. Up to this point, however, the political and the musical cultures had for the most part remained separate entities. There was some crossover with folk music, but the rock ‘n’ roll popularized by Elvis Presley and the Beatles remained a voice for raw youthful energy and excitement.Bob Dylan was in the process of changing all this even before1964. He was taking the folk protest of Woody Guthrie, the Beat energy of Kerouac and Ginsberg, the rebellious sex of Presley and James Dean and the rough-hewn rock of the Beatles and creating with it something all of his own. For the first time, words were becoming more important than a danceable beat or catchy melody. Dylan was able to use his infamously nasal voice and irregular guitar to transfix audiences. He was able to capture this new musical essence and use it to analyze and critique American society. And, just as important, people were willing to listen. The 1964 Halloween concert, now officially released as the sixth volume in the Bob Dylan Live Bootleg Series, is one of the most bootlegged shows of Dylan’s career. Dylan had just released “Another Side of Bob Dylan” the summer before and his album “Bringing It All Back Home” was underway. This concert, often called his last real folk concert, had a certain zeal and excitement to it. Dylan was deliriously entertaining throughout the show, playing a mix of familiar favorites and samples of new songs. The audience’s reaction and reception to Dylan shows they too knew something special was in the air that Halloween night.The concert opened with Dylan’s most famous song at the time, “The Times They Are A-Changin.” Immediately after his first down stroke on the guitar, Dylan held the audience captive for the duration of his performance. He daringly played “Talkin’ John Birch Paranoid Blues,” a song that had been banned from the Ed Sullivan Show due to its tongue-in-cheek jibe at the John Birch Society’s communist paranoia. Dylan gets applause as he sings the line, “I discovered there were red stripes in the American flag. Did you know about Betsy Ross?”Continuing with light, tipsy banter between songs, Dylan continued with the suggestive “If You Got to Go, Go Now (Or Else You Got to Stay All Night)” before testing new ground with “It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding).” The endless stream of dark lyrics laid before the audience in this manifesto gives a hint of the direction Dylan would be going with his next album.Besides a taste of what the future held in store, the Halloween concert also treated fans to several duets between Dylan and his rumored romantic partner at the time, Joan Baez. It was a pairing of the king and queen of the folk movement, and the result is spellbinding. Dylan’s harsh nasal vocals and Baez’s rippling voice combine in an inexplicable, though pleasurable harmony over songs like “Mama, You Been On My Mind” and “It Ain’t Me, Babe.”As the concert comes to an end, Dylan leaves the stage humbly despite the forceful cries of appreciation and esteem by the audience. The lonesome hobo and traveling troubadour was paving the way for rock ‘n’ roll to come, and Halloween 1964 was a glimpse into the future for many fans. Now, 40 years later, Dylan’s continuing Bootleg Series renders this glimpse an immortal reflection on the history and importance of his music.

Contact Julie Bender at jbender@nd.edu