LIKE A ROLLING STONE by Greil Marcus

Like a Rolling Stone

Like A Rolling Stone: Bob Dylan at the Crossroads/Greil Marcus/Public Affairs Books/New York, NY/2006/286pp.
Finished 2/23/7 Rating: 5

Last year Rolling Stone Magazine polled the music industry on what was the greatest rock song of all time. Bob Dylan’s Like A Rolling Stone won, hands down. Dylan is, without question, the greatest songwriter of the 20th century. But this greatest of songs by the greatest of writers almost didn’t make it to the light of day. Marcus’ book is a history of the songs impact and the songs birth. He recounts how it has effected others, what was going on in the world at the time of its recording (June 16, 1965) – not only what was in the news, but what was “in the air”, and what was going on in the recording studio that summer day in New York City.

Some very interesting insights – for example the opening bang of the drum wasn’t planned, and that wonderful, glorious, famous organ riff that is now stuck in the head of everyone who loves rock music was a completely unexpected intrusion by a young Al Kooper who didn’t even play the organ! Those two days in the studio saw 14 takes, the sixth being the one that became the master. Marcus gives a blow by blow account of every take.

A couple of lines from the epilogue of the book sum it up well: “No matter how timeless ‘Like a Rolling Stone’ might turn out to be, what happened over the two days of recording sessions makes it clear that had circumstances been even slightly different – different people present, a different mood in the studio, different weather in the streets outside, a different headline in the morning paper – the song might never have entered time at all, or interrupted it…’Like a Rolling Stone’ is a triumph of craft, inspiration, will, and intent, regardless of all those things, it was also an accident.”

As a footnote, if you’re a Dylan fan, a simply amazing book (I rated it 10) is Dylan’s Visions of Sin by Christopher Ricks, an astonishing look at Dylan’s poetry in music, and his theology to boot, by a Cambridge trained Boston University professor of Humanities whose previous works were on Tennyson, Keats, Eliot, Milton and the likes.

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