New Nonfiction: Dylan Goes Electric – Elijah Wald

Wald is one of those music writers who uses a specific topic to help you understand a larger story. I first ran into his work when we published Escaping the Delta, a biography of Robert Johnson that was also a look at the evolution of the blues. Of that book, the Wall Street Journal said “[it] overturns myths and puts Johnson’s music into a broader, often surprising context.”

The same could be said of this look at the moment that—for my money—changed everything in American popular music: when Dylan broke down the walls between folk and rock at the Newport Folk Festival. Wald does a great job of creating a “you are there” vividness while considering divergent points of view and explain the swirling cultural contexts.

July 25th is the 50th anniversary of the day Dylan went electric at Newport and most media will be timed to that date.  Wald will be interviewed on NPR’s “Weekend All Things Considered” on the 25th and additional coverage is set for the Boston Globe, Wall Street Journal Los Angeles Review of Books.

Wald contextualizes the deeply divisive event in illuminating detail: his history of the social and musical trends (emphasizing the blues, his specialty) leading up to 1965 is thorough and enlightening, and his description of the scene at Newport in those years vividly and touchingly captures a period and a mood….All the players, too, are here (Joan Baez, Dave Van Ronk, Johnny Cash, et al.), and, though nostalgic, the book makes a major contribution to modern musical history.”
Booklist (starred review)

“What sets Wald’s book apart is his laser focus on that one date. The detailed recounting of what did and did not occur on stage and in the audience that night contains contradictory evidence sorted skillfully by the author. He offers a wealth of context; in fact, his account of Dylan’s stage appearance does not arrive until 250 pages in….[T]he key storylines, other than Dylan, involve acoustic folk music guru Pete Seeger and the rich history of the Newport festival…[as well as appearances] by Joan Baez, the Weavers, Peter, Paul, and Mary, Dave Van Ronk, and Gordon Lightfoot…Wald’s personal knowledge seems encyclopedic…. An enjoyable slice of 20th-century music journalism almost certain to provide something for most readers, no matter one’s personal feelings about Dylan’s music or persona.”
– Kirkus Reviews

“Uh-oh: here comes Elijah Wald, skewering the accepted version with those ornery facts again, just like he did with Robert Johnson in Escaping the Delta and lots of other folks in How the Beatles Destroyed Rock ‘n’ Roll. In concise and entertaining fashion, this meticulously-researched book shows why the story it tells is important, and leaves you with as clear an idea as anyone but Bob Dylan has of what actually happened that night. It’s a great story, masterfully told, of how the times were, indeed, a-changin’—and why.”
—Ed Ward, rock and roll historian for NPR’s Fresh Air

Dylan Goes Electric! Newport, Seeger, Dylan, and the Night That Split the Sixties (9780062366689) by Elijah Wald. $26.99 hardcover. 7/14/15 on sale.

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