Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Bob Dylan In America

I'm reading the new Sean Wilentz bio of Bob, a  Christmas present from my husband David. It starts out tracing the roots of the liberal-lefty-Commie elements of American folk music, and surprisingly, it goes back to Aaron Copland. (In 1934, he won the Communist Song Award!)
 It also turns out that Copland's young protege was Leonard Bernstein....and Clifford Odets and Elia Kazan were all part of this left wing group.
  Pete Seeger's father, Charles was a folk music collector, along with John Lomax and his son, Alan. Pete Seeger dropped out of Harvard, and worked with Alan at the Library of Congress, where the Lomaxes created the Archive of American Folk Song.  Alan discovered and recorded a young songwriter named Woody Guthrie, who then teamed up with Seeger and a group of folk artists to form the Almanac Singers. They promoted union organizing, racial justice, and other left wing causes. In the late 1940s, the Almanacs evolved into The Weavers, who had a number one hit with "Good Night Irene", which was a 1933 Leadbelly song discovered by the Lomaxes. The Weavers introduced the younger generation and Bob Dylan to the music of Woody Guthrie. Of course, Pete Seeger was named a "subversive", and the group was blacklisted. (The 1963 cover of Bob's album "Freewheelin" features him and his girlfriend Suze Rotolo, whose parents were New York City intellectuals and Communists, as well.)
This was all kind of news to me, the American Communist connection with folk music...though I knew about Pete Seeger & The Weavers being blacklisted. I wonder what it was about Communism that was so attractive during the 30s and 40s to all these artists, writers, and musicians. I guess it sounded good at the time...
Recently I was up late, and watched (for the 3rd or 4th time) the Martin Scorcese documentary "No Direction Home, which was divided in two parts so perfectly, and I was really primed to get this new biography. We just can't seem to get enough of Bob, from his folk period through his going-electric-mid-to-late 60s. It's all so brilliant, and he was just exploding with creativity. Was anyone ever as cool? No one could wear a checked suit & a top hat with more style. But then, I love his Rolling Thunder Review phase too, where he tours with Joan Baez, Roger McGuinn, Ramblin' Jack Elliott, and others. He was really our spokesperson, whether he liked it or not--we grew up with him, just like we did with The Beatles.


  1. Sounds great. I think this is a must read (for Frannie, too).