The 2007 exhibit "Bob Dylan's American Journey 1956-1966," at the Weisman Art Museum on the University of Minnesota, included 100 single versions of his "Blowin' in the Wind" by various artists. The song became Dylan's first hit when sung and released by Peter, Paul, and Mary in 1963. At right is a 1966 photograph of Dylan taken by Barry Feinstein.
In 1963, Bob Dylan’s moody mug was gaining fame. So was another visage, the Smiley face.
It was that kind of year.
That we’re still listening to Dylan and still working :) into our texts testifies to the staying power of pop culture trends whose fuses were lit 50 years ago, then fanned by whatever was blowin’ in the wind.
“You could feel everything beginning to ramp up,” said Lary May, a professor of American Studies at the University of Minnesota who was in college at the time. The 1950s had their moments of cultural rebellion — Elvis, the Twist, birth control pills, “Catcher in the Rye” — but these new influences would prove more obstinate, more challenging.
“In the ’50s, you grew up being a juvenile delinquent in the rock ’n’ roll youth culture, and then you became an adult,” May said. “I mean, Elvis enlisted in the military. But with the Beatles phenomenon, we all grew into adulthood together with lyrics that were becoming more and more socially conscious. They changed adulthood.”
Boundaries were pushed in ways no one had foreseen.
Some of the first waves washed over the folk music scene. Stuart Klipper, a fine arts photographer in Minneapolis, was steeped in the flourishing folk community of Ann Arbor, Mich., likely strumming an autoharp, “when a young man from northern Minnesota making his way to New York stopped in and hung around for a week or two.”
Bob Dylan made an impression. “He was effectively cut from a different fabric than the rest of us.”
Singers such as Pete Seeger long had been the voices of social conscience, but gently so, as in the scripture-based “Turn, Turn, Turn.” Dylan, however, “blew everyone away,” he said. “But not everyone knew how much they were willing to be blown away.” Dylan refused to perform on “The Ed Sullivan Show” when censors limited what he could sing. He pushed people’s buttons, sidestepping traditional folk music and performing his own songs, which rankled some. “There were hard lines around issues of authenticity and tradition,” Klipper said.
Some of those lines were drawn around Dylan’s songs that protested the growing U.S. involvement in Vietnam. The lyrics of “Masters of War” were far more blistering than “We Shall Overcome.”
And I hope that you die / And your death’ll come soon / I will follow your casket / In the pale afternoon.
The song shocked audiences in 1963, yet the lyrics have continued to resonate. In 2004, the owner of a Minneapolis record store found himself just as angry over rumored weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.
“I was very upset when ships started heading toward Iraq and they started bombing,” said Mark Trehus of Treehouse Records, who decided to make a benefit single to raise money for humanitarian efforts in Iraq. His song choice: “Masters of War.”
“That song is just as vital today as when it was written,” said Trehus, who collaborated with a local punk band, Dillinger Four. “It’s probably the angriest Dylan song of all, and I was really angry. And the world still has not changed enough.”
Tab, ZIP and Ringo
It’s reckless to connect too many dots about 1963, but a list of what began within popular culture is startling in its breadth. It’s almost impossible to resist intoning, after each item: “And the rest is history.”
• Julia Child’s show, “The French Chef,” premiered, becoming one of the first cooking shows on American TV.
• Andy Warhol founded his first Factory in New York City, an immediate mecca for artists, celebrities and partying.
• The first James Bond film, “Dr. No,” premiered in the United States.