Bob Dylan Live, 1975

by RON JACOBS

 

I’m listening to Bob Dylan’s newest release, Live 1975. This CD/DVD collection is culled from his Rolling Thunder Tour of 1975. This tour consisted of Dylan, Joan Baez and a traveling troupe of musicians that included guitarist Mick Ronson, folk guitarist Bobby Neuwirth, guitatist T. Bone Burnett, violinist Scarlet Rivera, bassist Rob Stoner, and a few others who came and went over the course of the tour. Allen Ginsberg lent his presence, poetry, wit, and hand cymbals to several of the shows, as well. It was a cultural phenomenon in its day. Dylan was getting ready to release the Desire album, which included the anthem “Hurricane.” For those who don’t know, this song was an impassioned call to release the boxer Hurricane Carter, who had been falsely imprisoned for a murder he did not commit. It was another song in Dylan’s series of songs about Black people who had been denied their humanity thanks to America’s bloody legacy of racism. Three other songs in this vein that come quickly to mind are “Emmett Till”, “The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll”, and “George Jackson.”

The tour was not just another rock band on the road. It was a traveling circus with a purpose-that purpose was to free Hurricane Carter and, by doing so, remind the rock and roll nation that racism had not disappeared. Indeed, it was as bad as it ever was. The only difference was that it was harder to see now that America’s legal apartheid had lost its sanction, thanks to the civil rights and black liberation struggles of the previous twenty years. The other role this tour would play would be to remind the rock and roll nation that our music was more than just a goodtime sound-it was our talking drum, the way our message reached each other and the powers that be. Free Hurricane! Free our minds! Free our country! That’s what the civil rights movement was all about. Unfortunately, that movement itself was in disarray. Many of its most militant and identifiable individuals and groups had been murdered or jailed-Martin Luther King and the Black Panthers, to name two. Others had lost their way via drugs, drink, and despair. Others had succumbed to the many temptations that capitalism offers. Some were just plain tired. Still other had rendered themselves virtually irrelevant by picking up the gun or the bomb and going underground, occasionally making a small noise by blowing up part of a building or by robbing a bank. Those who were left and were still thinking politically were joining communist sects that seemed to spring up weekly like mushrooms after a rain. It was a dismal time in terms of the revolution.

Culturally, the momentum had been lost. The Rolling Stones and their imitators were either capitalist clowns or trying hard to be. The Grateful Dead had ended the first round of their thirty year countercultural journey and not even the Deadheads knew what lay ahead for them. The rock promoters were the rising stars in the scene. In fact, it was no longer a scene, it was an industry. Like it does to everything, capitalism had commodified the counterculture. It had become something you went to a head shop to buy. Even the food coops were closing down because of competition from health food stores that operated for profit and because their clientele was choosing to shop at Safeway.

So, Dylan hit the road. By doing so, he made rock and roll relevant again. The songs were more than tales of vanity, lust, and hedonistic pleasure, and the performers were on a mission of truth. For those who can remember, truth was in pretty short supply in 1975. Richard Nixon had left the White House in ignominy only a few months before. Gerald Ford, America’s first president who had not even gone through the charade of an election, sat in his place. The war in Vietnam, which had been started on a series of lies and mistruths, had ended in May 1975 with a victory for the Vietnamese. Already, that victory was being rewritten. Somebody who was unafraid to speak (or sing in this case) the truth was sorely needed. Bob Dylan and the Rolling Thunder Revue fit the bill.

Two weeks before the Dylan 1975 CD was released, The Other Ones began their Fall Tour. For those who don’t know, The Other Ones are the Grateful Dead without Jerry Garcia, and with new members Rob Barraco and Jeff Chimenti on keyboards and Jimmy Herring on lead guitar. They play many of the same songs and naturally approach the music as the Dead did-long, extended jazzy, blues jams and incredibly danceable rhythms. The guitar snakes its way amongst the rhythms like a six-foot black snake in the Eastern woods of North America. The bass playing makes the musical ground underneath those guitar runs pulsate like the desert heat on a lonesome stretch of interstate.

I found myself at this band’s November 16th show in Albany, NY. Like everyone else, I had no idea what to expect, but I was hoping for the best. That’s what I got. Musically, the show was far above expectations. The blues tune “Cold, Rain and Snow” opened the first set while I waited outside to get in. From there, the music just continued to improve. The band mixed Dead tunes with blues and folk standards, never missing a beat. >From the surreal “Crazy Fingers” off the Dead’s 1975 album Blues for Allah to Willie Dixon’s “Little Red Rooster”, almost everyone in the sold-out hall danced their asses off.

I looked around during the intermission. Audience members smiled and smoked lots of weed. After all, it’s harvest time in the Northeast. A pretty young woman near where I was standing was with a group of her friends, one of whom had a baby who was wearing earplugs and giggling. Mama and her friend both wore t-shirts that said “Make Love Not War.” Their male friends’ t-shirts were more direct-both stated “Fuck War” in bold red and black letters. As I looked around more I saw more peace buttons and antiwar slogans adorning the audience members then I had seen since I was in D.C. on April 20, 2002 for the big antiwar march that Saturday. There is something happening here. I hope Mr. Jones (oops, I mean Mr. Bush) takes notice.

The second set began with “Scarlet Begonias” from Mars Hotel-not a political song, by any means, but very danceable. Of course, the Dead (and the Other Ones) don’t write many political songs. They choose, instead, to help the audience create a world where the politics are of joy. That doesn’t mean they weren’t political-they played more benefits for more varied causes than any other rock band during their heyday. From the Black Panthers to the ACLU to the Berkeley Food Bank to the defense fund for those arrested during the 1969 People’s Park insurrection, the Dead put their money where their heart was.

I left the show feeling better about the world than I did when I went in. The last time I felt that way after a rock concert was when I saw Bob Dylan and his Band at Madison Square Garden in November 2001. These two groups do more than play music. They carry on the cultural traditions of the real American culture-the culture of the inner city and the tenant farmers’ shacks, the bohemian urban enclaves and the green hills of Vermont and Virginia, the farmworkers’ lean-tos and the hobo’s open highway, Desolation Row and Shakedown Street. Commercialism is alien to the condition this music creates, despite commercialism’s continuing attempts to form the music into its image. Why? Because commercialism shrinks the consciousness. This music expands it.

RON JACOBS lives in Burlington, VT. He can be reached at: rjacobs@zoo.uvm.edu

?

 

Ron Jacobs is the author of Daydream Sunset: Sixties Counterculture in the Seventies published by CounterPunch Books. He lives in Vermont. He can be reached at: ronj1955@gmail.com.

Like What You’ve Read? Support CounterPunch
Weekend Edition
September 4-6, 2015
Vijay Prashad
Regime Change Refugees: On the Shores of Europe
Lawrence Ware
No Refuge: the Specter of White Supremacy Still Haunts Black America
Paul Street
Bi-Polar Disorder: Obama’s Bait-and-Switch Environmental Politics
Kali Akuno
Until We Win: Black Labor and Liberation in the Disposable Era
Arun Gupta
Field Notes to Life During the Apocalypse
Steve Hendricks
Come Again? Second Thoughts on My Ashley Madison Affair
Paul Craig Roberts
Whither the Economy?
Ron Jacobs
Bernie Sanders’ Vision: As Myopic as Every Other Candidate or Not?
Rob Urie
Capitalism and Crisis
Jeffrey St. Clair
Arkansas Bloodsuckers: the Clintons, Prisoners and the Blood Trade
Richard W. Behan
Republican Fail, Advantage Sanders: the Indefensible Budget for Defense
Ted Rall
Call It By Its Name: Censorship
Susan Babbitt
“Swarms” Entering the UK? What We Can Still Learn About the Migrant Crisis From Che Guevara
Andrew Levine
Compassionate Conservatism: a Reconsideration and an Appreciation
John Wight
Adrift Without Sanctuary: a Sick and Twisted Morality
Binoy Kampmark
Sieges in an Age of Austerity: Monitoring Julian Assange
Colin Todhunter
Europe’s Refugee Crisis and the Depraved Morality of David Cameron
JP Sottile
Chinese Military Parade Freak-Out
Kathleen Wallace
The Child Has a Name, They All Do
David Rosen
Why So Few Riots?
Norm Kent
The Rent Boy Raid: Homeland Security Should Monitor Our Borders Not Our Bedrooms
Michael Welton
Canada’s Arrogant Autocrat: the Rogue Politics of Stephen Harper
Ramzy Baroud
Palestine’s Crisis of Leadership: Did Abbas Destroy Palestinian Democracy?
Jim Connolly
Sniping at the Sandernistas: Left Perfectionism in the Belly of the Beast
Pepe Escobar
Say Hello to China’s New Toys
Sylvia C. Frain
Tiny Guam, Huge US Marine Base Expansions
Pete Dolack
Turning National Parks into Corporate Profit Centers
Ann Garrison
Africa’s Problem From Hell: Samantha Power
Dan Glazebrook
British Home Secretary Theresa May: Savior or Slaughterer of Black People?
Christopher Brauchli
Poor, Poor, Pitiful Citigroup
Norman Pollack
Paradigm of a Fascist Mindset: Nicholas Burns on Iran
Barry Lando
Standing at the Bar of History: Could the i-Phone Really Have Prevented the Holocaust?
Linn Washington Jr.
Critics of BlackLivesMatter# Practice Defiant Denial
Roger Annis
Canada’s Web of Lies Over Syrian Refugee Crisis
Chris Zinda
Constitutional Crisis in the Heart of Dixie
Rannie Amiri
Everything Stinks: Beirut Protests and Garbage Politics
Graham Peebles
Criminalizing Refugees
Missy Comley Beattie
In Order To Breathe
James McEnteer
Blast From the Past in Buenos Aires
Patrick Higgins
A Response to the “Cruise Missile Left”
Tom H. Hastings
Too Broke to Pay Attention
Edward Leer
Love, Betrayal, and Donuts
Louis Proyect
Migrating Through Hell: Quemada-Diez’s “La Jaula de Oro”
Charles R. Larson
Class and Colonialism in British Cairo
David Yearsley
Michael Sarin: Drumming Like Summer Fireworks Over a Choppy Lake