Tuesday, September 24, 2013

When The Post Called Dylan King

"When you're young, you think you're going to live forever. The sooner you learn that you're not, the more time you have to do something about it." ~Alfred G. Aronowitz

So begins the 1968 Saturday Evening Post feature story on the royal family of pop music. It's more pictorial than text, but that's what magazines like Life and National Geographic did for us in such vivid color. The showed us, and didn't just tell us the stories, each picture worth a thousand words.

The cover of this November 2 issue is a photo discretely captioned, "A rare picture of Bob Dylan in seclusion." In the upper right of the page, where it lists the exclusive stories in this edition, we read, "Bob Dylan and the Pop Scene."

Publications like Readers Digest and the Post work overtime coming up with story titles and cover shots that will sell more magazines. Testing must have shown that for this story Bob Dylan would draw more buyers than the clan of pop music characters assembled within.

The first portion of the article is called "Pop: The Royal Family." In retrospect, the opening lines are almost frightening by their prescience. The first three pictures feature Jim Morrison and the Doors, Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin. All three would be dead by age 27. It's a sobering beginning to a piece that is aimed at celebrating the antics and excess of youth. But in the world of pop, excess appears to be the path to success.

The selection of celebrated musicians ranges across genres and anticipates much. Janis holds center stage on her page, surrounded by smaller images of Buck Owens, Frank Zappa, Country Joe McDonald, B.B.King, and Arlo. Grace Slick and the Jefferson Airplane feature prominently on the next two page spread, surrounded by The Fugs, Aretha Franklin, Ravi Shankar, Dionne Warwick, Tiny Tim, Al Kooper, Otis Redding, Merle Haggard, Mavis Staples and the Beach Boys. The next spread is equally exciting for fans of the era. Ritchie Havens, Diana Ross, Charles Lloyd, Ray Charles, Johnny Cash, Elvis Presley, Simon and Garfunkel, the Beatles, Herb Alpert, and The Rolling Stones fill this spread.

Turn the page. Big black and white shot of Dylan playing his guitar and smiling big. Caption across the centerfold reads: Enter the King, Bob Dylan. The article is a one page summary of how Dylan ended up in Woodstock, how he'd gather Robby Robertson and the band to join him there where the rented a house nicknamed Big Pink. It's the story of Dylan's controversial motorcycle accident and convalescence out of the public eye.

Aronowitz spells out why young Dylan was king to many followers of the scene. "He had started a civil war in the folk community, rearranged the pop charts, fathered a new generation of poets and helped shaped the probability that contemporary music will become the literature of our time. Even the Beatles, after they met Dylan for the first time in 1964, yielded to his influence."

This period of seclusion seems, in retrospect, to have been one of the most significant decisions the young Dylan made. Pulling out of the spotlight gave him a chance to incubate in preparation for a much longer career than many of his peers.

The following summer a major event occurred in Woodstock. Everybody who was anybody would have loved to be there performing. A motion picture came out of the event. Albums as well. And the musicians who played became household names.

But quietly, the resident of Woodstock spent the weekend packing his bags, for he was heading to another concert that week, where he would be the headliner. It would be his first live performance in three years... the Isle of Wight. 



jzsnake said...

You mean he was packing heading for another joint?

ENNYMAN said...

Yes... overseas. Packing his gear for the music fest there. Woodstock was August 15-19 and Isle of Wight about ten days later. It had been 3 years since performing in England, the end of his previous touring, and in a sense was a homecoming.