Bob Dylan in America
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Sean Wilentz discovered Bob Dylan’s music as a teenager growing up in Greenwich Village. Now, almost half a century later, he revisits Dylan’s work with the skills of an eminent American historian as well as the passion of a fan.
Beginning with Dylan’s explosion onto the scene in 1961, Wilentz follows the emerging artist as he develops a body of work unique in America’s cultural history. Using his unprecedented access to studio tapes, recording notes, and rare photographs, he places Dylan’s music in the context of its time and offers a stunning critical appreciation of Dylan both as a songwriter and performer.
are contained in the song that eventually ended up as “Lone Pilgrim” on World Gone Wrong. But there were some complications along the way with respect to the melody as well as the lyrics. Benjamin Franklin White claimed he wrote the song when he included it in his expanded edition of The Sacred Harp in 1850; William Walker also claimed authorship in the third edition of The Southern Harmony in 1854. Both assertions were entirely untrue. Ellis wrote the basic lyrics, and substantially the same
obscure that it undermines artful intentions. Early on, for example, Dylan strides onscreen as Jack Fate and is greeted by a character named Prospero (played by the comedian and actor Cheech Marin), who reports having just seen two eagles attack and kill a pregnant rabbit—a strange sight indeed, stranger still in the film’s blasted urban landscape. Many viewers no doubt caught the Shakespearean reference, and a few no doubt identified the omen of the eagles and the rabbit from Greek myth and
started popping up late in June. Just before the Fourth of July weekend, he joined Ramblin’ Jack Elliott onstage at the Other End and played several numbers, including the debut of a new song, “Abandoned Love”; later in the summer, he recorded a backing harmonica track for a studio album by David Blue. Word got around that Dylan was back in town when he wasn’t holed up out on Long Island with Jacques Levy, working on a new batch of songs; then, in late July, Dylan recorded the songs at the
thirties, and had not recorded a song for four years, when John and Ruby Lomax found him at the Pig ’n’ Whistle. Dating back to 1927, though, he had made more than twenty 78 rpm records that were released commercially either under his own name or under various pseudonyms, including Blind Sammie and Georgia Bill. He had also played backup guitar on sessions with the husband-and-wife vaudeville duo Alfoncy and Bethenea Harris and the vocalist Mary Willis, and he had recorded four 78s (three of
one of Dylan’s mentors) also took a liking to “Statesboro Blues” and recorded his own powerful version of it for Verve Records in 1966. Schooled, in part, by Charters and the young blues aficionados, the singers had prepared the way for the complete recovery of McTell’s music. Two years after Van Ronk, the evolving folk and blues musician Taj Mahal’s first album included a rock rendition of the song with a bottleneck electric guitar line, which riveted and inspired an up-and-coming guitarist from