Colin Irwin, Bob Dylan, Highway 61 Revisited
New York : Billboard Books, 2008
Legendary Session


You’ve been through all of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s books… And dropping a barbell he points to the sky saying, “The sun’s not yellow it’s chicken” … But the second mother was with the seventh son … You shouldn’t let other people get your kicks for you … Now when all the clowns that you have commissioned have died in battle or in vain …And the Good Samaritan, he’s dressing he’s getting ready for the show … I need a dump truck mama to unload my head … I started out on burgundy but soon hit the harder stuff … Don’t say I never warned you when your train gets lost …


The message of My Back Pages was there would be no more messages. Irwin, 40

Highway 61 changed everything, but what had changed Bob Dylan? He went from protest singer to wayward folkie to avatar of the rock era, during the 12 months in which he burnt brighter than any star since Elvis Presley. It didn’t matter what was on the other side of the doors he was kicking down, because once he stepped through, nothing would ever be the same again. Folk imploded, rock expanded, pop art mingled, the mainstream succumbed and show business was turned on its head: for songwriting, arrangements and lengths there is a before Highway 61 and an after. 8

Dylan had constructed a howling gale of sound that was almost demonic in its intensity while he waged a complex, raging verbal assault on a person, or persons, unknown. It sound angry, ugly and bitter and, nothing like it had ever been done before in pop music sphere, at least not anything with credibility or which had been taken seriously by anybody who counted. But here was ‘Like a Rolling Stone’ in all its pent-up, scary rage being taken very seriously indeed by the people who mattered most—the buying public. 80

The dramatic three days at Studio A had been the rocket ship that took him a million miles from The Other Place that had put him in a strait-jacket, drained him of energy, creativity and self-respect and where the natives were getting distinctly unfriendly. At these recording sessions he called all the shots, broke all the rules, didn’t give a damn about protocol or anything else and did exactly as he wished. And they represented the most frenzied, exhausting, thrilling artistic peaks of his life since he formed his first band, the Golden Chords, in Hibbing, Minnesota in 1955. Irwin, 89-190

[‘Desolation Row’] is like a movie with a succession of strange characters and disturbing images leaping before your eyes, seemingly making no sense at all, yet somehow imparting wider, deeper, darker, more sinister visions of the world at large and America’s role in it. Irwin, 146

Everywhere Dylan went there was someone in his face either demanding to know what the hell he thought he was doing dumping on folk music, pleading the know the identity of Mr. Jones or simply wanting to know him. Sometimes he did his best to answer seriously, mostly he mercilessly sent them upon a manner that had become familiar to his own elite circle of friends, talking in riddles and contradictions. Irwin, 222


 “I’m not good at defining things. Even if I could tell what the song was about I wouldn’t. It’s up to the listener to figure out what it means to him.”  Bob Dylan, in Irwin, 144

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