Like a Rolling Stone – Greil Marcus

Perhaps it is strange to start a website dedicated to music with a post about a book. But then that is the intention of this page: to catch the glimpses of music, be it in film, books, LP’s, radio or in nature. Whatever it is – or wherever it comes from – it will be pure, unadulterated noise.

I finished reading this book a couple of weeks ago when I was in the middle of nowhere. Greil Marcus writes about music reverently and with this work he takes us through the times and era that Bob Dylan recorded and released Like a Rolling Stone.

One thing which struck me from reading this account was how the master take of Like a Rolling Stone almost didn’t happen. Reaching for a bootleg of the session when I got back, I listened whilst reading Marcus’ blow by blow account. During the first few stabs at the song Dylan’s voice cracks, the musicians lose it. Then out of nowhere, the take is nailed and the song reaches levels which are rarely captured on tape. Then, bizarrely, several more takes are recorded. For an artist as notoriously fickle as Dylan, who has dropped tracks such as Blind Willie McTell from albums, it’s not out of the realms of possibility that he may have lost hope with the song and left it on the cutting room floor.

For someone who wasn’t born in those times, it is impossible to imagine Like a Rolling Stone being played on the radio for the first time. I guess this book is the closest we can get to actually being there. Greil Marcus gives us a snapshot of the period: a time shortly after the assasination of Malcolm X, the conflict in Vietnam escalating and the Civil Rights Movement in full flow with Johnson signing the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Would a song such as this have been created in anything but a turbulant time?