July 25, 2015, marked the fiftieth anniversary of the day Bob Dylan “went electric,” ostensibly stunning crowds of dedicated folk fans at the Newport Folk Festival. In the recently published Dylan Goes Electric!: Newport, Seeger, Dylan, and the Night That Split the Sixties, Elijah Wald argues that Dylan’s performance was a seminal event of the 1960s, a touchstone for the cultural shifts that would progress into the latter half of the decade—the iconoclastic spirit in particular. Booklist reviewer Mark Levine says Wald’s book “makes a major contribution to modern musical history.” Here’s an excerpt from the starred review:
Wald contextualizes the deeply divisive event in illuminating detail: his history of the social and musical trends (emphasizing the blues, his specialty) leading up to 1965 is thorough and enlightening, and his description of the scene at Newport in those years vividly and touchingly captures a period and a mood. Some of this material has been covered before, but rarely has it been done so knowingly, lovingly, and felicitously.
NPR’s Arun Rath conducted a wonderful interview with Wald, that gets to the meat of his book. Check out these other recent, well-reviewed books, which range from biographies, to a reference book of 100 of Dylan’s songs, to a collection of interviews:
Bob Dylan: The Essential Interviews, edited by Jonathan Cott
Bob Dylan has been interviewed probably thousands of times, yet especially because he has a reputation for being a difficult subject, it is gratifying to discover how substantive and compelling music journalist Cott’s 29 selections are.
Counting Down Bob Dylan: His 100 Finest Songs, by Jim Beviglia
Each song entry contains the original release information and two to three pages of anecdotes and historical stories about not only Dylan’s music but also information on what was going on in the world at the time.
Like a Rolling Stone: Bob Dylan at the Crossroads, by Greil Marcus
Marcus’ vast understanding of American culture and intimate knowledge of Dylan’s career make this an eye-opening read.
Once upon a Time: The Lives of Bob Dylan, by Ian Bell
A fascinating read about an artist who, to this day, defends his right of “artistic autonomy,” refusing to be anyone but himself, whoever that may be.
Time Out of Mind: The Lives of Bob Dylan, by Ian Bell
A must for Dylan fans.