Song Of The Week - Bob Dylan - Like A Rolling Stone
Generations – yes, plural – grew up desperately trying to lay their hands on bootleg vinyl, cassette, whatever, of Dylan’s 1966 Albert Hall gig. Had to hear it, had to have it. In the days before everything you ever heard about was just a click away, it was some sort of holy grail. A defining moment in the history of pop music that you needed to meet on your own terms and try to find out what it really meant
But why? (Don’t worry, we come back to that bit.) The year before, Dylan went electric and some people weren’t happy about that. Turns out the thing that was really blowin’ in the wind my friend was the fact that Dylan had always been closer to Elvis than Pete Seeger and, in his own mercurial way, had inspired/defined/used the folk/protest movement of the early ‘60s to get him where he needed to be.
So what was so significant about that Albert Hall gig? Well for the first half he came on and played acoustic – his established audience loved it (and listen to the official bootleg released a few years back – it’s amazing.) Then, after the interval, he came back on with the band that were still The Hawks but would soon become The Band, and they rocked with loose abandon – brilliantly unsure of themselves and brilliantly untamed. Then just before the final number, some dickhead folkie purist stood up and called him “Judas.” Hence the notoriety.
So years go by, the bootleg of this show became the highest selling illegal item this side of 1930s moonshine, and the legend grows. But as with all history – it slowly revealed itself. For starters, it turned out that although it was on the ’66 UK tour, the “Judas” incident did not happen at the Albert Hall but at the Manchester Free Trade Hall (even when Dylan officially released the show he chose to print the legend and opted to call it “Royal Albert Hall.”) But here’s the best part – when they remastered the recording of that night they heard so much more than all those millions of long duped bootlegs managed to convey. Here’s how it goes –
-Dylan and the band are gearing up to play Like A Rolling Stone
-Man shouts out “Judas”
-Dylan pauses to acknowledge the few that applaud
-Dylan finds something to say “I don’t believe you…You’re a liar” – artist confronts audience
-Dylan seems composed, BUT
- here’s the key part – he’s mad as all hell. He turns to The Band and clearly says – something that was never audible on all those millions of bootlegs – “Play if fucking loud!!” And, whilst the original record starts with the most perfect of rim-shots, this stumbles into life
- and it is literally – not metaphorically – but LITERALLY the sound of the world changing. Never did one man asking “How does it feel?” sound so important. Before, or since. That’s why! (Told you we’d come back.)
When Martin Scorsese made his peerless doc No Direction Home and got Dylan to agree to do on-camera interviews for it, the director of Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, GoodFellas et al, was too in awe to sit down with the man and do the interviews himself. But, even though the clip below is more end titles that actual footage, he captured this crucial moment perfectly. And the same words ring as true now as they did then – “Play it fucking loud”.
(As to the rest of Dylan’s film career – best not to think about it really.)