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It was a different world then

  • Jul 3, 2009
So writes C. P. Lee, who was there the night Dylan painted an electric and electrifying masterpiece. He was speaking specifically of writing down snippets of lyrics as he and a friend who had been there remembered them after the Manchester Free Trade Hall concert of May 17, 1966. Without the Internet, the new songs Dylan sang that night might take months to arrive in northwestern England on vinyl, and even then, Lee reminds us, at the time in that working class city, record players were a luxury.

Indeed the world is different now, a fault line cracked that night that still reverberates today, and continues even in the decade since Lee wrote his book about that infamous night. The official "bootleg" (The Bootleg Series, Vol. 4: Bob Dylan Live, 1966: The "Royal Albert Hall Concert") of the complete concert is now available, as is DVD versions of Bob Dylan - Don't Look Back (1965 Tour Deluxe Edition), D. A. Pennepacker's groundbreaking documentary of the 1965 tour, and Scorsese's No Direction Home: The Life And Music Of Bob Dylan, which culminates with video footage of the event.

So today, the events of that night are readily documented, and finally correctly attributed to Manchester and not London (Lee himself played a key role in correcting the "Royal Albert Hall" mistake), but Lee's book is central to really understanding the night in context. His background first places the concert in context politically, at a time when folk versus popular music was the subject of municipal law and Communist Party dictates in Great Britain, a stunning reminder, kids, that music is more than just iTunes content; it matters.

He then places the concert in context

-musically: a context derived directly from the political,

-geographically: the Manchester Free Trade Hall was home to jazz orcestra concerts for which one sat and listened politely),

-chronologically: As vividly documented in the DVD documentaries now available, Manchester was near the end of a grueling tour that dates back to the famous Newport "plugged in" set where the negative reactions first became vocal, but after Dylan in studio had recorded several sides of electric music with various sets of musicians, and finally

-personally: here Lee relies not just on his own memories of the concert, but on interviews with many who were there that night, including "Lonnie", an anonymous representative of the Traditionalists who booed (and still in 1998 defends the reaction and dismisses Dylan's career as a "missed opportunity").

But to really place the concert in context, listen to it as Lee concludes by going through the setup for the concert in detail (expecting a solo acoustic folk singer, Hall management had sold seats on the stage that were displaced by the massive sound equipment, forcing last-minute arrangements so those legitimate ticket holders could still be accommodated) and then through the concert song by song. The CD is on my very short list of all time greatest albums, not just for the music, but for the setting and the performance. Even during the acoustic half, the tension is palpable, the silence so thick that the polite applause seems to intrude on Dylan's personal soundscape.

Then, the electric set explodes with the fury of a rolling thunder and the electricity that howled from the bones of Dylan's face. Lee documents the rising temperature of protest in the room, as today my pulse still quickens and blood pressure elevates with each song until that infamous catcall of "Judas" (surely goaded by Dylan's pointed and powerful "Thin Man" performance just ended) released the tension into the loudest roar of applause on the CD, Dylan turns to the band with instructions to "play f***ing loud", and then the greatest live musical performance ever captured explodes into my head. Even from the distance of thousands of miles and 30-plus years my hair stands on end.

Lee's book is an indispensable aid to understanding and experiencing this piece of history as it happened.

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Todd Stockslager ()
Ranked #36
I love reading and writing about what I have read, making the connections and marking the comparisons and contrasts. God has given man the amazing power to invent language and the means to record it which … more
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About this book


Bob Dylan's tour of Europe in May of 1966 has long been a point of fascination for his most dedicated fans, thanks mostly to the tapes of incendiary gigs that leaked out and were bootlegged over the years. Treasured tapes of the phenomenal show he gave in Manchester, England, on May 17, 1966, have been passed among fortunate collectors for decades, and the show has finally been officially released by Dylan's record label asLive, 1966: The "Royal Albert Hall Concert."Now those who've only attended the legendary Manchester gig in dreams can journey back to join C.P. Lee and his mates. Lee, a professor today, was at the age of 16 one of the lucky 1,800 to be blasted and blown away by the intense aural assault Dylan unleashed inside Manchester's Free Trade Hall. Writing with an eye for the quirky detail, Lee takes the reader along to the concert, introducing us to the steadfast fans as well as those who came to heckle. Not only isLike the Nightgreat fun, but the author possesses keen understanding for Dylan and his music, and his insights into Dylan as both performer and as a cultural force should be required reading for anyone who claims to be a Dylan fanatic.--Robert McNamara
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ISBN-10: 1900924072
ISBN-13: 978-1900924078
Author: C. P. Lee
Publisher: Helter Skelter Publishing

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