To many Bob Dylan fans in the early 1960’s it seemed as though he could do no wrong. Dubbed the ‘voice of a generation’ his music and lyrics took the young bohemian youth of America by storm. From his humble beginnings in rural Minnesota, Dylan quickly shot to fame making a name for himself as a young folk singer on the Greenwich Village coffee shop scene.His rise continued with the release of his first album and he was soon a household name.
Despite the constant praise and adulation heaped on Dylan, he never seemed comfortable with this new found glory. He often shied away from press interviews giving little or no cooperation to journalists and constantly denounced his title of ‘voice of a generation’. Then, in 1965, he caused even more consternation when he suddenly lost his trademark acoustic guitar replacing it with the electrified Rock & Roll equivalent. This was the last straw for many fans some of whom claimed Dylan has completely sold out and gone to the dark side; the pop music world.
Throughout the early 1960’s, Dylan worked tirelessly to improve his music, performing in bars and coffee shops around the Greenwich Village area of New York City.His fan base began to grow, with many flocking to hear what this so called voice of a generation had to say, with songs such as “The Times They Are A-Changin’” gaining a lot of praise.
Then came 1965 and the release of Dylan’s fifth album Bringing It All Back Home. The album opens with the sharp electric guitar intro of “Subterranean Homesick Blues” and Dylan’s electric band can be heard throughout many of the other tracks on the record.
In July 1965, Dylan took to the stage at the Newport Folk Festival with the intention of performing some of these new electrified numbers. He had been received with standing ovations in Newport just two years before when he performed a number of his folk hits.
However, his 1965 performance did not go so well. Fans were stunned as Dylan shook the speakers with his loud electric guitar. Many booed or simply stood open mouthed as he tore through songs such as “Maggie’s Farm”; a metaphor for wanting out of the folk and country music world.
Dylan performing Maggie’s Farm at Newport Folk Festival (1965).
Judas Hits Europe
Soon after these disastrous performances; Dylan and his band hit Europe to tour his Highway 61 Revisited and Blonde on Blonde albums, hoping for a better reaction. Instead, they were met with and even more hostile reception.
In cities such as Liverpool and London, fans expressed their disappointment, claiming that Dylan had sold out and joined the pop music genre.
Angry English fans after a Bob Dylan concert (1966).
This new found hatred for Dylan came to a head at a concert in Manchester in May, 1966. The concert itself opened with seven acoustic songs and gradually began to pick up intensity as the show progressed.
As the electric instruments became more noticeable the crowd grew more hostile. They booed and heckled with Dylan responding childishly by mumbling nonsense into the microphone.
Then came the reason the show has gone down in Rock history. Just as a moment of silence fell around the arena, someone from the crowd shouted “Judas!” which was followed by laughter and applause.
Dylan responded in his signature monotone speaking voice; “I don’t believe you…You’re a liar!”, before turning to the band shouting “Play it fuckin’ loud” and leading them into one of the most ferocious performances of his hit “Like A Rolling Stone” ever seen.
A response born out of frustration and anger perhaps; but an iconic performance nonetheless.
The infamous “Judas” incident in Manchester (1966).