Bob Dylan's "Play It Fucking Loud" – A Classic Moment In Rock And Roll

Make That Bob Dylan’s “Play It Fucking Loud” – A Classic Moment In Rock & Roll That May Or May Not Have Happened

This is a Classic Moment In Rock And Roll. Forty-four years ago, Bob Dylan, defying those who demanded he reverse his self-transformation from folk music’s anointed successor to Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger to an electric guitar-wielding practitioner of rock and roll, sounded the legendary battle cry, “Play it fucking loud.”

Maybe.

In any case, this musical milestone is brought to you today in keeping with the Heck Of A Guy mission to enlighten those unaware of such significant cultural events, especially those of my own cohort who, like me, were subverting  what could have been a delightfully misspent youth by attending to schoolwork, teenage romance, parental placation, and similar endeavors of transient. slight importance while inexplicably overlooking the portentous, epoch-marking phenomena then taking place.

Two elements are pertinent to the setting of this well known, well documented, perhaps apocryphal  Classic Moment In Rock And Roll.

  1. In 1965 and 1966 Bob Dylan was indeed moving from folk music to rock. During this transition, a number of Dylan’s concerts were structured such that the first half was presented in the folk style with which Dylan had hitherto been identified while the second half was a rock and roll performance, replete with electric guitars, keyboard, and drums. A large proportion of the audiences greeted the rock concert segments with jeers and hostility, reflecting the feelings of a significant contingent of Dylan’s fans that he had deserted the pure sound of folk as well as abdicating the social causes associated with protest songs, union songs, and the musical tradition of folk icons such a Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger.
  2. Martin Scorsese’s 2005 film, “No Direction Home,” presented the story of Bob Dylan’s evolution from 1961 to 1966 into a full fledged superstar in a cinematic stew of interviews (including Scorsese himself interviewing Dylan) conducted for the movie and archival footage, including several concert performances.

The Critical Quote

This excerpt from Wikipedia is congruent with the account offered in Scorsese’s film:

Footage from the Manchester Free Trade Hall concert, at the end of that film ["No Direction Home"], includes the infamous Judas heckle incident. During a quiet moment in between songs, an audience member shouts very loudly and clearly: “Judas!”, to which Dylan replies: “I don’t believe you, you’re a liar” before telling his band to “Play it fucking loud!” as they begin to play an acidic version of “Like a Rolling Stone”.

He Said/Someone Said

The problem with this totemic phrase, which has been embedded in the Bob Dylan mythology and frequently advanced as one of his defining moments, is that it isn’t completely clear exactly what was said or who said it.  This extract  from All Along The Watchtower, which begins a  thread discussing the issue,  is characteristic of the controversy:

I was reading in the latest issue of ISIS magazine about the Manchester 1966 ‘incident’. A very well written article by JJ Stenzoski. He suggests that the ‘Get Fucking Loud!’ (or whatever it may be) comment wasn’t made by Dylan, as evidenced by the ‘No Direction Home’ DVD. Personally I agree, never ever thought it was him.

Resolving the question of what was  said by whom is further complicated by the 44 years that have passed since the event and the fact that the material presented in “No Direction Home” was specifically selected and the final results edited; consequently, it is impossible for a viewer to know with confidence if  the comments from the stage were actually generated  in  response to the shouts from the audience or if the remarks made by Dylan (or  perhaps a band member) were retorts  to other expressions  from the crowd not heard on the film.

Having watched the film segment myself several times, I am definitely uncertain. Were I forced to commit, it seems to me that Dylan’s mouth movements don’t match the quote.

Does it make a difference?  By this time, with the phrase firmly ensconced as a mantra in the minds of most fans, issued as a call to arms in blogs and magazine articles, and emblazoned across t-shirts – probably not. Would it change things if a historian discovered that the words  “I have no yet begun to fight” were uttered by Second Mate George Smith instead of John Paul Jones?

But, who said what does merit our interest. So, let’s go to the replay.

Bob Dylan – Like a Rolling Stone (from No Direction Home)

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