Highway 61 Revisited gets revisited by professors

Bob Dylan’s 1965 album receives original reactions from a response project

Photo courtesy of Amazon | Bob Dylan’s 1965 album will be responded to in the form of nine original compositions and films as a part of “Something is Happening Here.”

When Dr. Graley Herren, chair of the English department, was invited to participate in a panel about Bob Dylan, he was ecstatic.

“I have Tyrone Williams to blame,” Herren said. “He, somehow, I still don’t know how, but because he’s way artsier than I am, swims in different circles. And he knows or met Brianna Matsky… She contacted me, and it took me as quickly as I could type out, ‘Yes, yes, a thousand times yes.’ I agreed because I will go anywhere, anytime, to talk about Bob Dylan because there’s no subject that interests me more.”

The panel, which was held in the Blackbox Theater of the Contemporary Arts Center on Nov. 7, was the opening act of “Something is Happening Here,” a response project curated by Matsky, a professor at Wilmington College. The project was built around inviting 12 different composers to create original piano pieces responding to Dylan’s 1965 album, Highway 61 Revisited, though it has grown to also include nine filmmakers and six interdisciplinary artists.

As the crowd of only thirteen people gathered, Herren leaned back in his chair, allowing his Triumph Motorcycle t-shirt to be exposed — the same shirt that Dylan is wearing on the album cover, which Herren told Michael Fiday, one of the other panelists, he had ordered online shortly before.

The panel was composed of Yemi Oyediran, a musician and historian currently working on a documentary about King Records, Fiday, a professor of composition at the University of Cincinnati, and Herren, and was hosted by Matsky.

The panel was opened with Matsky giving a short recap of why she had chosen this album in particular to respond to. She hails from Minnesota, a few towns away from where Dylan grew up as Robert Zimmerman, and said that she had decided on Highway 61 Revisited because of two reasons: Dylan went electric and wasn’t explicitly political, and she had a personal connection to it because of her hometown and she had been given a copy of it by a boyfriend when she was younger.

The panel opened with Oyediran speaking about the sound scape that Dylan created, and eventually evolved into him claiming that Dylan essentially created punk rock with this record because of the subversive political attempt he made to communicate with sound, rather than lyrics. This claim was Herren’s highlight of the night.

“Though I was fascinated by what Michael and Brianna had to say, I also just don’t have the vocabulary to follow everything they were talking about in terms of chord progressions and notes,” Herren said. “Whereas Yemi’s area of expertise was not so far afield with things I was familiar with, I could understand more of what he was saying and apply it usefully to my little niche of Dylan studies.”

Overall, Herren believed the night to be a rousing success because of the different perspectives of all the different panelists.

“I liked (the panel) a lot,” Herren said, “and I learned a lot because… analyzing words is my specialty. And so, even though I’m aware that a song is more than just words on a page, much more, it’s performance art, it’s music, it’s variations in vocal delivery… But all the lyrical stuff is what I tend to focus on, whereas the panelists came from different perspectives.”

The response project will continue at 7 p.m. on Thursday and Friday evening at the Woodward Theater with the premiers of the nine original compositions and films. Thursday night will focus on the A-side of the album, while Friday will be the B-side. Tickets are available on a sliding scale here.

By: Kevin Thomas | Editor-in-Chief