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The Night That Bob Dylan Went Electric


Tomorrow marks 50 years since the night Bob Dylan plugged in his guitar. In 1965, the singer took an electric instrument onstage at the Newport Folk Festival.


He was at a celebration of traditional American music, which made sense because Dylan - then in his 20s - was a folk music star who was about to make himself into something more.



GREENE: We're listening here to one of those iconic moments in music history. It's said to be a moment when pure folk music blended with rock music, or more precisely, folk music was co-opted. In any case, it was loud.


BOB DYLAN: (Singing) I ain't going to work on Maggie's farm no more.

INSKEEP: Murray Lerner was there. He was a filmmaker shooting the festival, and he sensed the atmosphere as Dylan stood on stage.

MURRAY LERNER: You know, the whole outfit, the black leather jacket and the darkness on the stage made me feel that it could, you know, lead to something bad.

GREENE: And so Lerner did what any good cameraman would do.

LERNER: I leapt on the stage for a good deal of it and took extreme close-ups of him.

GREENE: The footage was later used in a film "The Other Side Of The Mirror," which captured why this moment was so electric.

LERNER: Dylan had always been a center of dissention and negativism among a lot of the pure folk people because he was rewriting the songs and writing his own songs. And he was a big star and they didn't like him being that big a star. So when he went electric, it really increased their worry about what he was doing in this position.


DYLAN: (Singing) Well, I try my best to be just like I am, but everybody wants you to be just like them. They say sing while you slave. I just get bored. I ain't going to work...

LERNER: I was not expecting that at all, but when I really surrendered to it when it happened, I was thrilled actually. And I saw that this was going to be a new wave of not only music but culture, I thought.

INSKEEP: Lerner may have been right, but when you hear the footage, it's clear that at the time not everybody was ready.

LERNER: Yes, there was definitely a mixture of booing and applauding.


DYLAN: Thank you very much.

INSKEEP: Here we have part of the alchemy of culture and fame. The people booing in the audience only made Bob Dylan more famous.

GREENE: And when filmmaker Murray Lerner returns the Newport Folk Festival this weekend, he will still be talking about that night 50 years ago.


DYLAN: (Singing) Once upon a time you dressed so fine, threw the bums a dime in your prime, didn't you? People call, say, beware, doll. You're bound to fall. You thought they were all kiddin' you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
David Greene is an award-winning journalist and New York Times best-selling author. He is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, the most listened-to radio news program in the United States, and also of NPR's popular morning news podcast, Up First.