Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Half audience booed, half cheered at Dylan concert 1965. I know, I was there

I WAS THERE when Bob Dylan plugged in his guitar and half the audience booed.  It was September 1965 at the Hollywood Bowl.   

Today, looking on the internet, there’s some argument over whether audiences booed or not during the Bob Dylan tour of summer 1965 when he "sold out" as far as folk-protest music lovers felt, by playing electronic music.   At the beginning of summer they booed him in Newport and the first weekend of September, they booed him in L.A.

The audience was split almost in half, those who loved the electric sound and those who hated it.  And both sides expressed themselves loudly, half the audience booing, half cheering.  I was there, I know, and I was one of the ones cheering. 

That September 1965 concert was a pivotal experience in my life, not something I’d forget.  It was last weekend of summer before my senior year in high school and I rode in from the San Gabriel Valley with a carload of kids.  Patrick who drove us to the Dylan concert in was my best friend and also the go-to guy in Arcadia when it came to left-wing politics.  Patrick took me to my first Peace and Freedom Party meetings in Pasadena.

Now Patrick was among the loudest ones booing while I thought Dylan's electric music was ground-breaking and mind-blowing and a positive revolutionary step for music. 

Half the audience screaming and half of them booing during the Bob Dylan tour 1965 was apparently the birth of a new schism within the folk-rock anti-war music revolution of the time, splitting traditionalists from innovators. 

First half of the concert that summer night in the Hollywood Bowl, all was in harmony in the audience as Dylan played acoustic songs.  Then came intermission, and we stole hits on joints, wandered the aisles.  Dylan came back with his new rock band and the tone of the crowd noticeably changed. 

He plugged in and sang, Ballad of the Thin Man.

The boos started as soon as he began the song, as there were likely activists in the crowd who’d heard of Dylan plugging in earlier that summer in Newport and came prepared to boo. 

Dylan sang:  “You know something is happening and you don't know what it is, do you Mr. Jones,” and I went into an almost euphoria, it was such an amazing breakthrough new sound.

One of the first times the song was ever heard. 

"You know something is happening and you don't know what it is, do you, Mr. Jones."  OH YES, that's it, that expresses it all of it, everything I'm going through in my life, it's full of Mr. Jones's and they don't know what is happening.  YES YES YES!!!

I went nuts, cheering, standing on my seat. 

His band was set up with electric equipment.  Dylan stood on stage skinny legged, wild haired.  The music was something you had never heard before. 

And half the audience was booing, an angry hateful betrayed kind of booing. 

Patrick next to me was booing louder than most.  Patrick who had been my colleague and friend for life, as we were politically awakened early in our lives me as a sophomore him as a junior in high school.  We felt a connection of agreement on all things progressive, yet here was Patrick booing at Bob Dylan for plugging in and going electric.

And I thought it was greatest thing since Lennon McCartney, even better.  I jumped up and joined the other half of the audience who were cheering and grooving along with the new electrified highly alive sound. 

In the car we argued all the way back to the suburbs that night.  After that night I actually began to turn to places other than Patrick’s room across the street for political inspiration. 

The summer 1965 tour began in Newport on the East Coast, where the first phenomenon took place of half the crowd booing Dylan for plugging in his guitar.

On YouTube is video of a press conference Dylan held at the end of that summer in San Francisco 1965, here is a quote:

DYLAN:  I don't play folk rock.

QUESTION:  What would you call your music?

D:  I would call it, uh, um, I like to think of it more in terms of vision music.  It's, uh, mathematical music. 

Q:  Are the words more important than the music?

D:  Um, the words are just as important as the music.  There would be no music without the words. 

Q:  What poets do you love?

D:  Oh, Rimbaud, W. C. Fields.  The family, the trapeze family in the circus.  Smoky Robinson.  Alan Ginsberg, (Ginsberg in then on camera in the viewing area)  Charlie Rich, he’s a good poet. 

Q:  Do you still sing your old songs?

D:  No.  No. 


Sing Out Magazine had a notably bad review of Dylan plugging in at Newport.  Today on their website they glimmer over it with an updated report on the concert:

Bob Dylan plugged in his electric guitar at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival, and by the time he and the Butterfield Blues Band finished their rocked up version of “Maggie’s Farm,” finished too was the folk boom.”



DYLAN anthologists have different takes on “When Dylan Went Electric” from TheSelvedge Yard:

What inspired Dylan to go electric in the first place?  Some say Dylan was inspired (or challenged perhaps) by an exchange he had with John Lennon. Dylan slammed Lennon, essentially dismissing The Beatles lyrically– “you guys have nothing to say”, was the message.  Lennon’s counter was to enlighten Dylan of the fact that– he had no sound, man. Whether or not it resulted in Dylan going electric, or The Beatles writing more introspective lyrics, who knows–  but it’s a helluva story.


(continued from Selvedge Yard)
When Dylan and the band go into a loud, and raucous rendition of “Maggie’s Farm” the boos erupt almost immediately, along with mixed cheers. Then Dylan goes into “Like a Rolling Stone” (the week the song was released as a single) and the boos continue.  After playing “Phantom Engineer” and still facing scorn from the crowd, Dylan tells the band, “Let’s go, man. That’s all”, and walks off stage– pissed and frustrated.  

Here is what Dylan himself said 
about audiences booing his new electric sound:

The first time I played electric before a large group of people was at the Newport Folk Festival, but I had a hit record out (Bringing It All Back Home), so I don't know how people expected me to do anything different. I was aware that people were fighting in the audience, but I couldn't understand it. I was a little embarrassed by the fuss, because it was for the wrong reasons. I mean, you can do some really disgusting things in life and people will let you get away with it. Then you do something that you don't think is anything more than natural and people react in that type of riotous way, but I don't pay too much attention to it.

From Bob Dylan Revisited

Interview by Scott Cohen

In Rolling Stone December 1985


In 2012, Dylan referred to the booing incident while addressing criticism that he hadn't clearly acknowledged his lyrical sources for his new album Tempest:
"Wussies and pussies complain about that stuff. It's an old thing – it's part of the tradition. It goes way back. These are the same people that tried to pin the name Judas on me. Judas, the most hated name in human history! If you think you've been called a bad name, try to work your way out from under that. Yeah, and for what? For playing an electric guitar? As if that is in some kind of way equitable to betraying our Lord and delivering him up to be crucified. All those evil motherfuckers can rot in hell."


I looked around and there were a lot of others like Patrick, shaking angry fists jumping up and hollering. And there were a lot of others like me, cheering, getting a shine in their eyes shouting yes, yes, something new. 

I ran towards the stage with the cheering half of the audience. 

This electrification of “folk music” fit right in with the difference between my generation and the generation before, a difference that  presented itself over and over again in my life. In 1965 everything was just beginning to erupt and explode and turn into what has become our current state of nonstop change. 

The electrifying and changing of everything in life was just beginning to take hold in 1965 and I loved it, and Dylan’s electric music personified it. 

Two weeks in a row I went to the Hollywood Bowl the end of summer 1965. The weekend before, on August 29th, I’d gone to see the Beatles in concert. There I did not scream like almost every other teenage girl there, in fact I was irritated that the screaming was so loud you could not hear the music. 

Then next weekend I'm cheering while half the audience is booing at the Dylan concert. 

 Like I said, a pivotal time in my life.

Post by Kay Ebeling, producer, City of Angels Network

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