Dylan Goes Electric: How news becomes history (and vice-versa).


2015 marked a point in time when music aficionados recollected, with a wistful look in their eyes, that it was fifty years since Bob Dylan had ‘shocked the world’ by using an electric guitar on stage for the first time.

Of course, ‘shocked the world’ is a relative term. In 1965, it’s true that those who appreciated Dylan’s devotion to acoustic folk were amazed at his decision, but few people on either side of the Atlantic were actually traumatised by it, whilst those with no knowledge or interest in his music remained happily oblivious, especially in a year where news bulletins were full of Vietnam and Martin Luther King. It was, however, sensational and groundbreaking enough at the time to make the headlines, and is still remembered by a generation of music lovers.

Is there a bigger point to be made here, though? When does news become history? Is it just after it is broadcast, or during that period of time when it is still ‘current affairs’? Is it five minutes, five days, five months or five years later? There must have come some point when Dylan’s decision to perform at the Newport Folk Festival with a fully amplified backing band, rather than making his usual solo appearance with an acoustic guitar and harmonica, became ‘old news’, when it ceased to be relevant and became just one of those things, a memory, a fact useful for pub quizzes. Similarly, further down the line and even more interestingly, when did it become noteworthy again?

‘Anniversary journalism’, beloved of article writers, has been labelled as pointless and lazy, but there is a place for it as a way to re-evaluate the past. So this year when we mark a ‘momentous occasion’ we are, with the benefit of hindsight, able to place it in perspective. We can see that in the grand scheme of things it may not be as important as war, or rumours of war, but also that it meant a great deal to a great deal of people, and as such is worth remembering.

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I have been working for Oxford Open Learning since 2010 and love helping my students with their English and History courses. As a teacher and personal tutor, I have taught pupils from all around the world, aged from three to adult. I am often to be found with my head in a book and sometimes I have four or five on the go at the same time. I love learning about History and Art and am passionate about literature.

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