the real godfather of punk

Yet another blog entry on the Scorsese Dylan documentary, No Direction Home, on PBS.

So we’ve been watching Dylan in the studio with Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper, and then it’s the Newport Folk Festival… and then when the stellar documentary footage shows Peter Yarrow walking onstage to introduce Dylan.

And then I realized where the documentary was going.

Dylan going electric at Newport. I feel like I’ve seen at least part of this before, as a teenager, on one of those Rolling Stone history of rock things. I remember vaguely feeling elated when watching it then, understanding what I was seeing; I know I had the same feeling tonight, fully cognizant of Dylan’s history and impact.

All I could think was: Man, that was seriously punk rock.

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about what is and isn’t punk, lately; working on my Springsteen presentation; the impending closure of CBGB; all of this meaning that I’ve been trying to find a way to explain to the uninitiated what punk really means.

But my god! How much more punk was Dylan going electric at Newport?! It was protest and statement and unavoidable upsetting the apple cart, palate clearing, throwing down the gauntlet, and, I’m sure, more than just a little of the imp of the perverse.

But damn it was PUNK! People BOOED him the entire set! You can hear the boos over the band! And they just kept playing, went offstage. He’s coerced to come back with the good guitar, the acoustic guitar, and what does he sing? “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue”:

Leave your stepping stones behind, something calls for you.
Forget the dead you’ve left, they will not follow you.
The vagabond who’s rapping at your door
Is standing in the clothes that you once wore.
Strike another match, go start anew
And it’s all over now, Baby Blue.

If the set wasn’t fuck you to the folk establishment, to the labels put on Dylan, to the role he was expected to play…well, let’s just make really damn sure with the choice of this particular song.

More than almost anything else in the documentary, I was completely blown away by this scene. And if that’s not punk, well, I don’t know what is.