Last week Bob Dylan was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, becoming the first American since Toni Morrison to receive that honor. During his five decades of making music, he played countless shows, and on one of his most famous tours, he came through Vermont.
In 1975, during his Rolling Thunder Revue tour, Dylan and his band played a show at Patrick Gymnasium, on the University of Vermont campus in Burlington.
Mark Stoler, professor emeritus of history at the University of Vermont, went to the show, and he spoke with VPR about the show and the legacy of Bob Dylan.
VPR: What are your first memories of that concert?
Stoler: “The first thing I remember is being woken up by one of my students at 3 a.m. The rumor mill had been flying. Dylan played small venues on this tour. He was in the New England area, and the rumors were flying that he was going to come to Burlington. This student, knowing that I was a fan, calls me at 3 a.m., and says, 'If you want to get a ticket, [get] on that line at Patrick Gym.'"
Do you remember any of the specific songs from the show?
“Desire officially didn't come out until a month or two later, so if you look, a plurality — if not a majority — of the songs [are] from that album, and most of us had never heard them.
“But for me, much more memorable was the fact that he was playing some of the really old songs, and of course he ended with one that was not his. He ended with Woody Guthrie's ‘This Land Is Your Land.’”
What was the political mood and social undercurrent on campus in 1975?
“The mood was still very counter-cultural, both politically and socially. I don't remember that changing really until the '80s. I do know that by ’75, I was already using Dylan lyrics in class, and continue to do so.”
How do you use Dylan lyrics in class?
“One of my last lectures was on the '60s was on the counterculture. I made it a point in the intro course to get up to the present to say to the students, ‘What you've been through is now part of history.’
“I would do Dylan lyrics from the early albums from The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, The Times They Are Changin’ and then flip into lyrics from Another Side of Dylan, Highway 61 Revisited and Blonde on Blonde. The difference in the lyrics and the introversion that went on [in the] lines flew out and you just grab them.
“Then there would be other times in courses where it seemed obvious to put it in. In the '90s, I team-taught a course in U.S. foreign policy with a neo-conservative in the political science department, and I would cite Dylan lyrics while he cited Beach Boy lyrics, and therein was the difference between the two."
What is your feeling about Dylan winning the Nobel Prize for Literature, even though he’s a musician and not technically an author?
“I think it is recognition of something. It's broadening the definition of what is to be considered poetry, literature. The book that I read which really put this into the proper framework for me [is] Sean Wilentz’s Bob Dylan In America. His conclusion, if I remember correctly, is Dylan was the master of every genre in American music, and as he played it, he changed it, so that he was a transforming force in the history of American music.”