Midweek Music Moment: “Subterranean Homesick Blues”

Bob Dylan was groundbreaking in many areas. But who’da thunk he’d foreshadow the day of the music video. Yet a filmed promo for his song “Subterranean homesick blues,” shot on May 8, 1965, on Dylan’s U.K. tour, not only was one of the first, it was ranked number 7 on Rolling Stone‘s 1993 list of the top 100 music videos.

It’s more than likely you’ve seen at least snippets of the video, which shows Dylan flipping over cue cards with some of the words to the song. The clip also opened Dont Look Back, the documentary of the 1965 U.K. tour.

The song was the opening cut on Dylan’s Bringing It All Back Home, his fifth LP. It was the first album on which we hear the “electric” Dylan that would create such an uproar at Newport and a subsequent U.K. tour later in 1965. In fact, the song kicked off the electric side of the LP.

The video was shot in an alley outside the Savoy Hotel, in which Dylan and his entourage stayed for his London performances. Several of the scenes in Dont Look Back were shot in the hotel. The clip is also memorable because beat poet Alan Ginsberg appears in the background on the left side talking with someone. Yet this wasn’t Ginsberg’s only connection with Bringing It All Back Home. In the liner notes on the back cover, Dylan wrote, “why allen ginsberg was not chosen t’ read poetry at the inauguration boggles my mind.”

The political, anti-establishment tenor of “Subterranean Homesick Blues” is also responsible for another significant cultural impact, one viewed far less pleasantly. In the song, Dylan sings, “You don’t need a weather man/To know which way the wind blows.” That lyric was the source of the name for the Weather Underground, “The Weathermen,” a radical splinter group of the Students for a Democractic Society in the 1960s. In fact, “You Don’t Need a Weatherman to Know Which Way the Wind Blows” was the title of one of the group’s foundational documents. With a goal of “destruction of U.S. imperialism,” The Weathermen embarked on a violent path, including several bombings, which eventually led several members to go “underground” for years to escape prosecution.

It’s amazing how one song from one artist can not only lead to the evolution of music videos but also contribute to radical political activity.

The pump don’t work
‘Cause the vandals took the handles

Bob Dylan, “Subterranean Homesick Blues

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