Monday, October 31, 2016

Why Did Bob Dylan Shift From Protest Folk Music To Commercial Folk Rock Music In 1965?

According to David Hadju's 2001 book, Positively 4th Street: The Life and Times of Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, Mimi Baez Farnia and Richard Farina:

"...Highway 61 Revisited was...Dylan's best-selling album by far, his first to reach a spot as high as number three on the Billboard album chart. `His move into that music just seemed so calculated,' said Geoff Muldaur. `It just seemed to me like he decided, "Okay, now I'm going to be a rock and roll star and sell a lot of records."'"

An examination in the Billboard magazine archives of the 1965 issues seems to indicate that during the then-24-year-old Dylan's May 1965 tour of England, his "Subterranean Homesick Blues" song (which some have claimed was derived, somewhat, from Chuck Berry's "Too Much Monkey Business" song) reached number 6 on the Brit charts. And during that same month, the Byrds' folk-rock version of Dylan's "Mr. Tambourine Man" song was also rising in the United States near to the top of Billboard's U.S. single record hit charts by early June 1965.

So on June 21, 1965 then-Columbia University Trustee William Paley and then-Columbia University Trustee and then-Institute for Defense Analyses [IDA] Executive Committee Member William A.M. Burden's CBS/Columbia Records corporate media conglomerate announced that it was going to spend money on a special Bob Dylan "singing his own songs" promotional campaign (which may have helped,perhaps, generate some of the additional "Dylanmania" that developed among U.S. teenage rock fans in mid-1965, in addition to what was generated by Dylan's "Like A Rolling Stone" folk rock song).

Yet on July 28, 1965 Pete Seeger wrote, in a memo to himself, the following reference to Dylan's artistic shift from protest folk music to an apparently more commercially successful, hip capitalist folk rock musical direction:

"It isn't pretty to see a corpse--man or beast...

"I knew that last week at Newport, I ran to hide my eyes and ears because I could not bear either the screaming of the crowd nor some of the most destructive music this side of Hell. Bob Dylan, the frail, restless, homeless kid who came to New York in '61 was now the frail, restless, homeless star on the stage.

"When we see a flaming streak across the sky, we all exclaim, though the light has died before the echo of our voices. But I am glad I saw this shooting star...The songs Bob wrote in 1962 and 1963 will be sung for many a year...

"...What is the reason for the change--I don't know. A girl gone perhaps. A manager come. The claws of fame. Or was he killed with kindness?..."   

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Woody Guthrie's Post-1950's FBI File Revisited--Part 2

In a July 15, 1946 letter, Woody Guthrie wrote the following:

“I think that I have proved that a folk singer, to sing best what the people have thought and are thinking, is forced to turn his back on the bids of Broadway and Hollywood to buy him and his talents out. I feel like my work in this field will someday be seen as the most radical, the most militant, and the most topical of them all…

“Every folk song that I know tells how to fix some things in this world to make it better, tells what is wrong with it, and what we’ve got to do to fix it better. If the song does not do this, then, it is no more of a folk song than I am a movie scout…

“When you ask yourself which of the so-called folk singers live up to the real name, you can cross lots of their names entirely off of your list…Ask yourself, does the singer, (artist or poet), take part in the fight to win a better world for the worker? There is only one big fight with a million and one legs to it, the fight of the worker to win his fair share from his owner (boss, etc.). The more the owners allow a singer to be heard around, the less he can sing the tale of the worker’s fight. Before your voice can be heard or your face fotographed, you must actually turn into a weapon of the owner against the workers. I know from a hundred cases of my own experience that any work of protest, fight, militance or plan for the worker, was blue penciled, and censored a dozen times. Any word that was too true, too strong, or too loud in criticizing the world owned by the big boss was scratched out by several hands under a thousand reasons.”

Coincidentally, among the pages contained in Woody Guthrie’s declassified post-1950s FBI file (#100-29988) is an April 10, 1951 memorandum from the FBI’s New York City office to the FBI Director on the subject “Woodrow Wilson Guthrie, Security Matter,” which states that “It is recommended that a Security Index Card be prepared on the above captioned individual.” This April 1951 document also categorizes Woody as “Communist,” indicates that “49 Murdock Court, Brooklyn, NY” is now Woody’s residence address and lists Woody’s “business address” as “Free Lance Folk Singer.”

For more information about Woody Guthrie’s historical contribution to U.S. musical history, you can check out the official Woody Guthrie site at