By Jay Parini
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Extra info for American Writers, Supplement XVIII
Dylan had previously shown little interest in politics, but under the tutelage of Suze and her sister Carla, as well as such Village folk personalities as Dave Van Ronk, he began to learn and write about an array of social issues. His second album, The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, released May 1963, includes three songs that would become standards in the 1960s culture of protest. The lyrical yet vague expression of outrage and hope in “Blowin’ in the Wind” stands in counterpart to “Masters of War” with its very specific admonition of the American weapons industry, while “Oxford Town” weighed in for civil rights with a powerful if somewhat incredulous response to the episodes of hatred and violence accumulating in the South.
Accompanying him on both occasions was filmmaker D. A. Pennebaker, documenting the commotion of Dylan’s abrupt and enormous fame in what would become Dont Look Back (1967) and Eat the Document (1972). Pennebaker’s dominant venture in the first of these documentaries was to reveal the contrasts and narrate the tensions between an uptight, aging establishment (largely represented by members of the press) and a hip, enthusiastic, liberated younger generation. In the second film, however, the same youthful crowds discover their own capacity for cantankerousness as they criticize and indeed boo Dylan’s new, loud, plugged-in performances.
Without requiring an audition—in some versions of the story without ever having heard Dylan sing— Hammond offered Dylan a record deal on the authority of Shelton’s review. Dylan signed on the spot. In July 1963 Dylan made his first of several appearances at the Newport Folk Festival, where the singer Joan Baez, only a few months older than Dylan but already a major star in the folk galaxy, extolled him to the audience as a new and crucial voice. During the same month, Peter, Paul and Mary’s version of “Blowin’ in the Wind” came very close to topping the charts.
American Writers, Supplement XVIII by Jay Parini