Oct 5th, 2015, 11:38 PM

Dylan Goes Electric and the Birth of the Hipster

By Sam Baird
(Photo: D. A. Pennebaker)
Today's principled, though wrong, hipsters lack the authenticity of those who preceded them.
Fan: “You don’t know who I am, but I know who you are.”
Bob Dylan: “Let’s keep it that way.”
Tuesday, May 17, 1966. Some of the greatest musicians of the 20th century assemble on-stage at the Free Trade Hall in Manchester, England.  At the front of the group, Bob Dylan stands, the target of a barrage of jeers and boos from a large group of people firmly situated on the wrong side of history. Having "gone electric" the year prior with the release of his fifth album, Bringing It All Back Home, his fans were deeply divided. The more astute people saw this transition for what it was: a new era of of rock ‘n’ roll made for thinking people. However, the sulking, flaccid other half of the fan base viewed this as the ultimate betrayal to folk music in the name of money.
The public disdain had been clear to Dylan for almost year.  In July 1965, he played the Newport Folk Festival for the third time in a row. After an acoustic set on the first day of the event, he defiantly decided to play a set the next day with a band and electric instruments – the first time in his career. It was probably also the first time Dylan ever heard the sound of a boo. Having been the “spokesman of a generation,” his folknik audience felt he had betrayed the cause of the movement. (Legend has it that even Pete Seeger tried to sabotage the show from backstage.) This scorn carried on through his 1965-66 world tour. Save for a few cities, Dylan was met with contempt from hecklers at almost every show, culminating in that fateful night in Manchester. (For more on Dylan going electric, read this.)
“I didn't know what was going to happen, but they certainly booed, I'll tell you that. You could hear it all over the place.... I mean, they must be pretty rich, to be able to go some place and boo. I couldn't afford it if I was in their shoes."
-Bob Dylan, December 1965
Bob Dylan at a press conference at the Savoy Hotel in London in 1966.
After playing an initial acoustic set, Dylan was nearing the end of his electric second set. Backed by one of the best touring bands ever assembled (later to be reborn as the legendary roots rock group, The Band), Bob was already running low on sympathy for the ungrateful audience, then one man in the crowd broke the camel’s back.
“JUDAS,” the man yelled.
Dylan responded, “I don’t believe you…you’re a liar.”
At this point, he turns to his lead guitarist, Robbie Robertson, and gives him some musical direction on how to perform the final song of the show.
“Play it fucking loud!”
And they do. The group crashes into a spine-tingling performance of "Like A Rolling Stone."  Dylan gives a little back-handed salute to the mob and wears a defiant grin -- thus the greatest moment in rock ‘n’ roll history is etched in stone. But it also begs the question - who are these miserable urchins that were able to stand there, rolling their eyes in the face of greatness?

I don't believe you... You're a liar!!!

(Please excuse the subtitles and audio sync)
They can be described as an embodiment of everything that’s wrong in the world.  A scourge on the planet.  With masked faces and twisted ideologies, they come into a society, terrorize the inhabitants, destroy the local culture and history, supplanting it with their own sanitized existence, and creating hordes of refugees in the process.  
No, I'm not talking about ISIS.  I am, of course, talking about hipsters: those people you rightfully hate without knowing why.  In their masks of ironic facial hair, they enter communities, bringing their self-indulgent "body art" studios and gluten-free yoga. In the course of their infestation, rent prices go up, local culture gets erased, and lifelong inhabitants get exiled (see: Brooklyn and San Francisco).  Similar to yuppies, but with less developed personal hygiene, these wastes of space can be seen dressed like homeless people, buying vintage cassette tapes with their dad's credit card.
What started in the 60s as an authentic fear of change away from the folk (and to an extent hippie) movement, these precursors to hipsters that attended Dylan’s shows can be somewhat understood. They really cared about something and didn’t want to see it go away. They were wrong, but principled.
From there, this section of society entered its second stage. Becoming quagmired in a lifestyle of resistance to evolution without any basis in reality, they got stuck in time.  So much so that they rarely exist in nature anymore.
Now what we have is the third stage. Dubbed hipsters, these "people" are not only void of any real personal identities, they don’t even have the fortitude to care that they’re vapid. They lack the key ingredient to being a principled fool like their forbears – authenticity. Instead they embrace that they are a mimesis of a fabricated notion of what once was. Masking commercialism with grime and commodifying apathy, they took the smugness and self-righteousness of the folkniks heckling Bob Dylan, but removed any personal motives. They play dress-up, wearing the costume of what they think someone with a soul would look like.
Unfortunately, these people are real, they’re among us, and they’re breeding. While this can be dismaying, there is a way to fight back. When encountering one of them, try to inject some sort authenticity and reality into their stupor. Keep an ace up your sleeve that you can play to can counter their snobby, detached, crusty presence. Just make sure to play it fucking loud.
(Photos: Fiona Adams/Redferns, D. A. Pennebaker)