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Esquire
Wednesday, April 6th, 2005


 

Like a Rolling Stone: Bob Dylan at the Crossroads

by Greil Marcus

Six Minutes That Changed the World

A review by Anna Godbersen

There has been much written about Bob Dylan, and even more as of late. But it seems that Dylan is large enough to sustain any number of books and theses and worshipful riffs, and so into this flood of words comes Greil Marcus' Like a Rolling Stone. Marcus -- cultural critic, master of digression -- wisely skirts worship, while remaining full of awe, going for the whole culture by way of a single song.

As his subtitle implies, Marcus views "Like a Rolling Stone," as a turning point in a career that was already remarkable for its brashness and originality. It was, he writes, an event. That "noisy, murderous, idyllic summer of 1965" -- when the single of "Like a Rolling Stone," was "sent out into the world with the intention of leaving the world not quite the same" -- was also the summer of the infamous Newport Folk Festival performance, when Dylan's transformation from folk singer to rock star would be publicly staged. The song also represents a raising of the bar in pop music songwriting, a challenge to the hacks. It is bigger than that: an address to the whole society, a dare to acknowledge what's rotten, a spur to adventure. But then, it is smaller too: Its six minutes and some seconds are, as Marcus describes them, an interruption that cannot help but sweep its listeners up.

There is plenty for the music geek here, too; Marcus covers the musician-and-producer politics of the June 1965 recording of "Like A Rolling Stone," and how the song changed in the performances that followed. Like A Rolling Stone's epilogue is a transcription of studio banter, with all the stresses and contemporary lingo faithfully reproduced. This has the effect -- like much of Marcus's book -- of nostalgia, and despite the namesake song's sweeping call for upset, it makes one want to return to that "delirious" season in pop music, when events like that were possible.


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