John Harris

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Dylan Goes Electric! by Elijah Wald review – when Bob took a Stratocaster to the Newport folk festival

Saturday, July 11th, 2015

Legend has it that one act of rebellion heralded the end of the folk revival and the birth of rock. This is what really happened

What happened to the musical revolution? From the 1950s to the 90s, popular music was prone to great watershed moments. The process was not neatly linear; change was usually dramatic and often retrospectively pinned to a particular moment: the Beatles appearing on The Ed Sullivan Show in February 1964; David Bowie announcing the belated start of the 70s when he performed “Starman” on Top of the Pops in July 1972; even as late as the summer of 2001, the arrival of the high-conceptual blues-rock duo the White Stripes in London, as they stylishly set about killing the grindingly awful genre known as “nu-metal”.

The 21st century is very different. When anybody can log in to Spotify and put Quicksilver Messenger Service next to the Clash next to the Beastie Boys next to Pharrell Williams, how can one retain any feeling of forward motion? When YouTube means we now consume music’s visual aspects in isolation rather than as part of a simultaneous audience of millions, can a single musical event or occasion ever take on huge historical meaning?

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