Cultural Performance, Audience Contestation and Bob Dylan's Reputation during the Electric Turn (1965-6)
Department of Sociology and Social Research University of Trento Trento, Italy
How can a set of contested and partially unsuccessful performances acquire a mythic status? And how do they contribute to an artist's reputation? In this paper, I analyze Bob Dylan's transition from folk singer to rock icon during the mid 1960's, focusing especially on the world tour of 1965-6. Scholarship on this artist has neglected the performative dimension of his becoming a celebrity, focusing instead on textual analysis. The recourse to the toolbox of performance theory can bring some new insight on both Dylan and the creation of artistic reputation in transitional moments. I take into consideration the context, the actor-audience relationship, and the divergence of Dylan's and his audience's background representations and scripts, from the perspective of Jeffrey Alexander's cultural pragmatics. I argue that the transition was effective because Dylan was able to exploit the critical power of his opponents as a means to gain reputation which was consistent with the changing view of what rock music was, and that the interpretive conflicts moved on the edge of unsuccessful performance in a way that it could be scripted effectively according to an emerging vision of the novelty and individualism of rock music.