Let’s get one thing straight: you don’t boo Bob Dylan.
It seemed to be a hero’s welcome, as Dylan returned to the Newport Folk Festival in 1965, 50 years ago today. As he stepped onto the stage, the announcer boomed out: “And here he is…take him, you know him, he’s yours.” Yet, something was different. After only two verses of Maggie’s Farm, it began.
Five days previous, the poster boy of protest folk had released his new single, Like a Rolling Stone, which featured the seemingly unthinkable – electric guitars. In the mid-60s, the diehards of folk looked on at bands like The Beatles battling through Shea Stadium amidst the deafening screams with utter distain. While rock’n’roll was at it’s peak in popularity, in folk circles, the electric guitar was the universal symbol of selling out.
For them, Dylan was different. He was simply a wordsmith, geared with an acoustic guitar and a harmonica. He was theirs.
The day before, everything was going according to plan as Dylan performed three songs acoustically as a warm up for his main stage set the day after. Yet after his solo performance, he heard wind of the festival organiser’s cheap shot comments about Paul Butterfield Blues Band, a band featuring electric guitars.
Bob Dylan’s not the kind of man that you want to cross.
He gathered his band together to re-rehearse his set, with electric guitars, and for hours, late into the night they got to work. As the announcer called out “… he’s yours”, the crowd witnessed a very different kind of Dylan step onto the stage. No longer the protest poster boy, there was a rock’n’roll star wearing a leather jacket, tight jeans and playing a Stratocaster at Newport.
As the boos rang out and as Dylan “electrified one half of his audience, and electrocuted the other”, it became clear. The artist had changed. Dylan had evolved.
While the folk purists were up in arms, something shifted for Dylan as he plugged in. His uncompromising, paired back style put pressure on other bands, forcing them back to the drawing board. The Beatles would return with Rubber Soul, The Stones would have to up their game and a door was now left wide open for Hendrix, Reed and Simon to step into. This wasn’t just sticking it to a festival organiser, this was a transitional moment in music.
There’s two things that strike me as I look back 50 years.
1. Don’t settle.
Dylan could have settled with being the poster boy of the folk scene, playing the old hits and keeping the crowd happy. But that wasn’t enough. As an artist he wanted to keep moving forward, developing his craft, creating the new.
There is value in not settling.
As we continue to walk through our 20s and 30s, learning and relearning the purposes of God in our lives, it’s vital that we don’t settle. Following the footprints of Christ, we must continue to take risks, keep learning, developing our strengths and grabbing hold of new opportunities that lead to growth and maturity. Our unsettling will not only allow space for us to step into the new, it will also serve those around us as we continue to courageously follow Christ in the love of God and love of neighbour.
2. Remain true.
The crowd at Newport expected a folk singer, yet discovered an artist in a leather jacket. Their expectations of Dylan were shattered and the boos rang loud. In the midst of it all, he remained true to himself and trusted his gut.
People will have expectations that they place on us. That’s a neutral reality.
The difficulty comes, however, when we allow people’s expectations to define us, creating a playing field which is smaller than the boundaries of our truest purposes. Despite expectations, we must stay true to ourselves, even if we hear the faint sound of booing in the background.
Peter Scazzero puts it well: “Living your God-given life involves remaining faithful to your true self. It involves distinguishing your true self from the demands and voices around you and discerning the unique vision, calling and mission the Father has given you. It requires listening to God from within yourself.”
While you may be ‘theirs’ to some people, you are more than peoples’ expectations of you. Above all else, you are His.
After the final chord of Maggie’s Farm was played that night 50 years ago, the booing erupted.
People didn’t get it.
Dylan didn’t react. He turns to his lead (electric) guitarist and appears to utter the words: “You ready?”
Unwilling to settle, remaining true to himself, Dylan defiantly plays his Stratocaster and sings out: “Once upon a time you dressed so fine …”