Sunday, February 24, 2013

Goin' Electric

My dear friend Cameron started his own company last year. It's an electric bike company called Motiv, and it's doing pretty well. He asked me to write the inaugural post for the brand's blog, so I wrote about a time when electricity made everything better. Naturally, I wrote about Bob Dylan plugging in an electric guitar.

"Goin' Electric"
by Jake Kilroy

When Dylan went electric in '65, hardcore folk fans were...less than thrilled. In fact, I'd say they were pretty pissed at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival. To some, the folksinger had turned his back on what made him (aside from immaculate lyrics), an acoustic guitar and a harmonica. With his fifth album, Bringing It Back Home, Dylan poured half of his heart into an amp and let it spill some beautiful classics, such as "Subterranean Homesick Blues" and "Maggie's Farm." Sure, the other side of the album gave America "Mr. Tambourine Man," but no matter how beloved that song is, it just wasn't the fiery kick of electricity that burned the many bridges in Dylan's rearview mirror, let's be honest.

Then, just a few months later, Dylan gave the world the album Highway 61 Revisited, and, more specifically, the song "Like A Rolling Stone." Decades later, at Dylan's introduction to the Rock 'N Roll Hall of Fame, Bruce Springsteen recalled the first time he heard the song (in the car with his mother) and claimed the opening "sounded like somebody'd kicked open the door to your mind." He then added, "He invented a new way a pop singer could sound, broke through the limitations of what a recording could achieve, and he changed the face of rock 'n roll forever and ever."

During the Bob Dylan World Tour 1966, Dylan and his first electric band played at Manchester Free Trade Hall. While Dylan played a fully acoustic set the first half, the electric second half brought out the fury of diehard folk fans, with even one audience member famously bellowing, "Judas!" True to form, Dylan responded with, "I don't believe you. You're a liar!" Then, like any man with a gut reaction calling for fire, he turned to his band and yelled, "Play it f***ing loud!'

And so they did.

Holy hell, did they ever. When that stick hit the snare drum to tackle the audience with "Like A Rolling Stone," it resounded beyond the walls. It came at popular music with a ferocity that belonged more to a growling animal. Sure, that song isn't the blaster it was by comparison to what's overtaken the radio since that snare hit heard round the world. But, back then, it wore out the masses with its wild grab bag of tricks.

Over the next few years, Dylan further proved what going electric could do, releasing spectacular album after spectacular album: Blonde On Blonde, John Wesley Harding, Nashville Skyline, and on and on.

When it finally became apparent that not only was Dylan not going back to a solely acoustic living, but that he was creating many of his most finely crafted creations with the help of an electric guitar, the antagonistic noise died down. In 2012, Dylan reflected on the Manchester Free Trade Hall concert, saying, "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?"

That's right, Bob, and, these days, everyone's glad you plugged in when you did.

Bring on the electric.

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