What is it in us humans that causes us to turn our allegiance so quickly? We do it in sports, we do it with products and stores, we do it with just about everything, but why? What drives us away from someone or something as quickly as we were driven to them?
Back in the early 1960’s Bob Dylan could do no wrong to the folk music crowd. In an age of uncertainty, of political unrest, and of exploration, the younger generation was seeking a voice and they found that voice in the form of Bob Dylan. Somehow this Jewish folk singer from Minnesota had captured the voice of a generation with “three chords and the truth.”
The interesting thing about people who seem to easily find a voice is that whoever seems to capture that voice can be abandoned as easily as they were adopted, and that’s just what happened with Bob Dylan. To become the voice of a generation would be a lot for anyone to bear, let alone a twenty something year old. Not long after being lauded as the voice of the generation, Dylan changed his tune. Maybe he had had enough, maybe he didn’t like the pressure, maybe he didn’t want to pigeon-holed. Regardless of what it was, in 1965, Dylan made an incredible change when he performed at the Newport Folk Festival, with an electric guitar.
Having performed at the festival in 1963 and 1964, there were high expectations of how Dylan would perform, after all, his voice was their voice. Surely he would perform and meet the expectations that they had for him, he represented them, his voice was their voice, he wouldn’t let them down, would he? He couldn’t let them down, could he?
Regarding this performance, it was said, “Few performances in history are as legendary – or as controversial – as Bob Dylan’s 1965 appearance at the Newport Folk Festival. In a single, galvanizing instant, Dylan plugged an entire generation in, forever changing not only the way the music was made, but the way it was heard.” When Dylan took that stage, complete with electric guitars and full band, his music was received with nothing less than boos. In a moment, nearly as quick as it took to gain his legendary status, a generation began to turn on him.
About Dylan’s performance, singer Ewan MacColl wrote in Sing Out! Magazine, “Our traditional songs and ballads are the creations of extraordinarily talented artists working inside disciplines formulated over time …’But what of Bobby Dylan?’ scream the outraged teenagers … Only a completely non-critical audience, nourished on the watery pap of pop music, could have fallen for such tenth-rate drivel.” Wow! From the voice of a generation to “tenth-rate drivel” in just a few minutes.
Nearly 50 years later, Dylan is still going strong. He’s been through many more changes in his career causing fans to turn on him, but I’m not sure that any turn has been nearly as memorable as the one that happened nearly 50 years ago. I, for one, am glad that he kept pressing on despite some fans turning on him. I can’t imagine what things would have been like had he taken the criticism too much to heart. It’s a good reminder to me that criticism and betrayal may be painful but it doesn’t have to define me. Pushing through can result in something far greater than anything that I ever could have imagined.