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The Man, The Moment and the Movement

Jayanti Seth

By Mike Marqusee
Seagull Books, Kolkata, 2005, pp. 378, Rs. 395.00

VOLUME XXX NUMBER 1-2 January-February 2006

Bob Dylan is like an arrow that has never returned to an area it has once traversed. As much as his fans have wanted him to revisit the glory days of the 1960s, Dylan has moved on. Yet, it would be difficult to argue that the 1960s were anything but Dylan’s decade. The permanent mark he has left on American music comes from his prolific and highly original output during this decade. In Chimes of Freedom Mike Marqusee makes strong connections between Dylan’s songs and the events of the period to which they are tied.   For those of us who remember the 1960s with a rush of adrenalin, the feature that sets the decade apart was the belief that conventional society needed to change in the name of egalite, of modernity; coupled to this was the somewhat naïve fixation that it could, indeed would change, to accommodate the vision of people who were in their twenties at the time. Bob Dylan spearheaded this movement with his songs of protest.   It is not entirely coincidental that references to arrows and spears creep in quite naturally when discussing Dylan’s work at this time. Although this was the music that spoke for pacifism, and was as anti-racist as it was anti-war, Dylan’s lyrics contained hidden and overt threats for the “masters of war” – they would be “drownded” in the tide, they would be conquered like Goliath, and the protestors would stand over their graves to make sure that they were dead. This inert fury and violence set Bob Dylan’s songs apart from the music of his contemporaries with whom it was closely associated at the time, particularly the work of folk singers such as Joan Baez and the trio Peter, Paul, and Mary.   In this book Marqusee is attempting something very difficult, ie., the deification of a figure who rejected apotheosis by any group or cause. An incident that Marqusee recounts demonstrates this: On December 13th, 1963, three weeks after the Kennedy assassination, Dylan arrived at the Hotel Americana in New York City to attend the Emergency Civil Liberties Committee’s annual Bill of Rights dinner. The ECLC has been formed in 1951 . . . Each year it presented its Tom Paine Award to a champion of the cause. In 1962, Bertrand Russell had been the recipient. In 1963, the prize went to Bob Dylan.   By the time a very drunk Dylan reached ...

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