Dylan's thunder

You will not die, it's not poison


Ron Jacobs


I'm listening to Bob Dylan's newest release, Live 1975. This CD/DVD collection is culled from his Rolling Thunder Tour of 1975. This tour consisted of Dylan, Joan Baez and a travelling troupe of musicians that included guitarist Mick Ronson, folk guitarist Bobby Neuwirth, guitarist T Bone Burnett, violinist Scarlet Rivera, bassist Rob Stoner, and a few others who came and went over the course of the tour. Allen Ginsberg lent his presence, poetry, wit, and hand cymbals to several of the shows, as well. It was a cultural phenomenon in its day.


Dylan was getting ready to release the Desire album, which included the anthem "Hurricane." For those who don't know, this song was an impassioned call to release the boxer Hurricane Carter, who had been falsely imprisoned for a murder he did not commit. It was another song in Dylan's series of songs about Black people who had been denied their humanity thanks to America's bloody legacy of racism. Three other songs in this vein that come quickly to mind are "Emmett Till", "The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll", and "George Jackson."

The tour was not just another rock band on the road. It was a travelling circus with a purpose - that purpose was to free Hurricane Carter and, by doing so, remind the rock and roll nation that racism had not disappeared. Indeed, it was as bad as it ever was. The only difference was that it was harder to see now that America's legal apartheid had lost its sanction, thanks to the civil rights and black liberation struggles of the previous twenty years.

The other role this tour would play would be to remind the rock and roll nation that our music was more than just a goodtime sound - it was our talking drum, the way our message reached each other and the powers that be. Free Hurricane! Free our minds! Free our country! That's what the civil rights movement was all about.

Unfortunately, that movement itself was in disarray. Many of its most militant and identifiable individuals and groups had been murdered or jailed - Martin Luther King and the Black Panthers, to name two. Others had lost their way via drugs, drink, and despair. Others had succumbed to the many temptations that capitalism offers. Some were just plain tired.

Still others had rendered themselves virtually irrelevant by picking up the gun or the bomb and going underground, occasionally making a small noise by blowing up part of a building or by robbing a bank. Those who were left and were still thinking politically were joining communist sects that seemed to spring up weekly, like mushrooms after a rain. It was a dismal time in terms of the revolution.

Culturally, the momentum had been lost. The Rolling Stones and their imitators were either capitalist clowns or trying hard to be. The Grateful Dead had ended t