Friday, May 2, 2014

Electric Dylan

Dylan at Newport, 1965
It is hard to put a value on such penciled lyrics and margin notes, but Dylan's working draft of Like a Rolling Stone is expected to fetch well in excess of a million dollars at a Sotheby's auction next month.  Dylan himself won't enjoy the proceeds of the sale.  The unidentified seller apparently bought the four sheets of paper from Dylan directly in a "non-rock context," and one assumes Dylan himself verified the authenticity of the document.

The song made a huge impact when it was released in 1965, as it signaled Dylan's electric phase when he joined forces with Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper.  It first appeared on Highway 61 Revisited before being released as a single with Gates of Eden on the flipside.  It represented a significant departure from his earlier folk-based albums, greatly angering folk fans at Newport in 1965 but inspiring a new legion of fans.  Among them, a young Bruce Springsteen, who saw it as a clarion call for a new style of rock and roll music.

As is often the case with a revolutionary new approach, the album fell flat and the single had limp sales.  This was fortunate for Frank Zappa as he didn't have to quit his gig.  He thought the song so earth shattering that at first he didn't see any reason to continue.  Since then, the song has been covered by countless artists, including the Rolling Stones.   Not surprisingly, Rolling Stone magazine placed it atop its list of 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.

But, one has to ask if these are nothing more than very expensive liner notes.  Can the value of these lyrics be traced back to four pages of hotel stationery he apparently took with him from the Roger Smith Hotel in Washington, DC?  The strength of the original song lies as much in the musical arrangement by Bloomfield and Kooper as it does Dylan's lyrics.

Dylan with Mike Bloomfield and Paul Butterfield
Mike Bloomfield is one of those unsung heroes of rock and roll who is all but forgotten except to the most hard core fan.  His musicianship was valued greatly by other musicians at the time, particularly Dylan who briefly lured him away from the Paul Butterfield Band to help give the album the full body of sound he imagined.  An instrumental version of the song appears on this newly released box set of Bloomfield.

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