Dylan Goes Electric! Music, Myth, and History
Organized by the Department of Comparative Studies
and co-sponsored by the Program in Musicology,
Music and Sound Studies Group,
the Program in Popular Culture,
and the Center for Folklore Studies
Bob Dylan’s electric set at the Newport Folk Festival in 1965 is an iconic moment in 20th century music: the folk revival’s prophet and “voice of a generation” took the stage with an electric band, and an audience of dedicated folk fans reacted with dismay and booing. The confrontation is often compared to the reaction that greeted Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring in 1913, and signaled a new understanding of rock as a modern art form and of rockers as innovative rebels. More broadly, it signaled fundamental changes in American culture—soon to spread around the world—a split between the old and new lefts, and the rise of the counterculture, and its ripples are still being felt fifty years later.
Through recordings, images, and new research, Elijah Wald explores the world that shaped Dylan and his music, as well as the varied worlds of the people who loved him, hated him, ignored him, or felt he was betraying them, seeking to understand both the changes happening in that moment and the reasons some people found those changes so threatening. A central figure in that story is Pete Seeger, a complex artist and activist whose work has frequently been oversimplified, including his role in creating the Newport Folk Festivals. It is a story that reaches back to the populist communal movements of the 19th century, and remains as relevant as ever.
Elijah Wald is a musician, historian, and writer who has taught at UCLA and lectured widely on pop, roots, and Mexican music. His books include the recent Dylan Goes Electric! Newport, Dylan, Seeger, and the Night that Split the Sixties, which builds on his earlier Escaping the Delta: Robert Johnson and the Invention of the Blues and How the Beatles Destroyed Rock ’n’ Roll: An Alternative History of American Popular Music. His many awards include a 2002 Grammy, and his memoir with Dave Van Ronk, The Mayor of MacDougal Street, was the inspiration for the Coen Brothers’ Inside Llewyn Davis.