11:00 AM GMT 29/10/2012
42 years ago, Bob Dylan took the stage at the annual Newport Folk Festival with a harmonica around his neck and a Stratocaster in his hand. Three songs later, and with the amped-up help of his new, electric band, folk music's most beloved figure had become rock 'n' roll's newest, most controversial hero. For those that witnessed the event live, the memories remain vivid. Luckily for the rest of us, one man captured it all on celluoid...
MOJO: Did the festival organisers know that Dylan was going to ‘go electric’ in 1965?
Lerner: "[Master of ceremonies] Pete Yarrow knew of course. He was at the rehearsal but beyond that, Pete Seeger and Yarrow were both managed by Al Grossman. Did Pete Seeger know? I don’t know. I would imagine he was surprised. I caught the rehearsal [and] I’d got excited about electric music through Paul Butterfield, but I didn't put two and two together until Dylan came on stage in the leather jacket."
Apart from ‘Just keep filming’, what were the words going through your head while Dylan was on stage in 65?
"I really thought, not in retrospect, that this is a new threshold that we’re crossing here, a gateway to some new world, a different kind of culture and I didn’t know whether it was for good or bad but it was mesmerising and hypnotic and I liked the sensation it created in your body. It pulled you into it like hypnosis. I still think that that’s the power of electricity in music."
There’s been a lot of debate over the years as to who exactly was doing the booing and who were they booing? Dylan, the organisers, the shortness of the set?
"It’s a good question. When we showed the film at The New York Film Festival [in October] one kid gets up and says, ‘About this booing… I was sitting right in front of the stage, there was no booing in the audience whatsoever. There was booing from the performers’. So I said, Well, I don’t think you’re right. Then another kid gets up and says ‘I was a little further back and it was the press section that was booing, not the audience’, and I said, Well, I don’t think you’re right. A third guy gets up and says ‘I was there, and there was no question, it was the audience that was booing and there was no booing from the stage’. It was fascinating. People remember hearing what they thought they should hear. I think they were definitely booing Dylan and a little bit Pete Yarrow because he was so flustered. He was not expecting that audience reaction and he was concerned about Bob’s image, success creatively and commercially since they were part of the same family of artists through Al Grossman. But I absolutely think that they were booing Dylan going electric."
For more from Murray Lerner pick up a copy of the January issue of MOJO - on sale December 1.
In the meantime, here's a reminder of what all the fuss was about:
Bob Dylan - Newport Folk Festival, July 25, 1965
Posted by Ross_Bennett at 11:58 AM GMT 25/10/2007