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The Sixties: Dylan Plugs in and Sells Out
How did one moment in the 1960s come to symbolize the larger social changes of the era?
Students learn about Bob Dylan’s transformation from folk hero to blues rocker through excerpts from the Bob Dylan Guitar investigation. They then compare and contrast reactions to Bob Dylan’s playing electric guitar at the Newport Folk Festival in order to understand how that one event came to symbolize larger social changes.
Related Episode: Dylan’s Guitar Investigation
Dawn Peterson’s dad was a pilot in the 1960s. He flew many singers and music acts, including Bob Dylan. Shortly after Newport Folk Festival in 1965, someone left a guitar behind in the plane. Dawn Peterson - and her father - believe the guitar is not only Dylan’s, but the very guitar he played during his legendary set at Newport in 1965. Hosts Elyse Luray and Wes Cowan are out to find out if this is the guitar Dylan “plugged in.”
Suggested Grade Level
This lesson is written for grades 9-12 but could be adapted for use in grades 6-8 as well. Suggestions for adaption include: to provide students with the necessary background, before beginning task small groups with researching different aspects of the 1960s: Civil Rights Movement, Vietnam War, Cold War, counterculture/hippies, Feminism, last days of the Hayes Code/end of Old Hollywood, assassinations of major leaders (JFK, Martin Luther King, RFK, Malcolm X), and the British Invasion; limit the number of web resources students view; print web resources and highlight relevant information.
Suggested Unit of Study
This lesson is appropriate for American History units on post-World War II American society, the Cold War, and the Civil Rights Movement.
Dylan Plugs In
Elyse Luray talks with Bob Dylan expert Andy Greene.
History Detective Elyse Luray talks with Bob Dylan expert Andy Greene, who describes the historic night at the Newport Folk Festival in 1965 when Dylan first played electric guitar.
Elyse Luray talks with Jonathan Taplin, one of Dylan’s roadies who was at Newport.
Elyse Luray talks with Jonathan Taplin, one of Dylan’s roadies who was at Newport, and argues that Dylan did not sell out but made a gigantic artistic leap forward.
Computers/Technology Lab with access to the internet
Estimated Time Required
1-2 class periods
Folk music in the 1960s was characterized by melodies performed on acoustic guitars and banjos and song lyrics dealing with progressive politics. Bob Dylan began his career as an acoustic troubadour, singing protest ballads that won over the folk music establishment. He became one of the most popular performers in the folk music scene and wrote the iconic song “The Times They Are A-Changing.” At the Newport Folk Festival, an annual performance festival, in 1965, Bob Dylan defied expectations and arrived with a backing band and electric guitar. The audience was disappointed and let Dylan know it by booing him off the stage. Others, however, saw Dylan’s electric performance as a gigantic leap forward in his artistic development. Dylan’s revolutionary act at Newport Folk Festival struck a chord in a generation struggling with its own loss of innocence.
- Photocopy the Reactions to Dylan at Newport, 1965” reproducible
- Bookmark the websites listed in the Activity section of this lesson plan on the web browsers in the technology lab or create a web page (see tumblr.com or blogger.com to set up a class webpage) with links to these sites.
Have students watch the video Dylan Plugs In while taking notes on the following. Afterwards, use the questions to assess comprehension and prompt discussion:
- What was Bob Dylan’s role in the folk revival of the 1960s?
- What happened at Newport Folk Festival in 1965?
- How did Bob Dylan’s music change in 1965?
- Why was the folk movement upset with Dylan?
- Can you think of any other artists who drastically changed styles? How did people react to them?
After showing the episode excerpt from the History Detectives episode Bob Dylan Guitar, review with students the major events of the 1960s (Civil Rights Movement, Vietnam War, Cold War, counterculture/hippies, Feminism, last days of the Hayes Code/end of Old Hollywood, assassinations of major leaders (JFK, Martin Luther King, RFK, Malcolm X), and the British Invasion). Lead a discussion about the volatility of the decade:
- What was the mood of the country during the 1960s?
- What important events were taking place?
- What were the conflicts within the country? What were the international conflicts?
- What was the role of young Americans during this time? How were attitudes among the nation’s youth changing?
- Based on what you know about the 1960s, make a guess: Why did Dylan’s performance at Newport in 1965 provoke so much emotion?
Watch the video Incredible Leap as a class, then direct students to investigate the varied reactions to Dylan plugging in at Newport by reviewing the following sources on the Internet:
- Open Letter to Bob Dylan
- In Defense of Bob Dylan
- From 33 Revolutions per Minute, pages 67-69
- Sing Out! Highlights from the Folk Music Bible
- Bruce Springsteen on Dylan
- Dylan at Newport: Who Booed?
- Mods, Rockers Fight Over New Thing Called “Dylan”
- Dylan Conquers Unruly Audience
Using the Reactions to Dylan at Newport, 1965 reproducible to record their thoughts, have students consider:
- Who is writing this piece?
- Did they approve or disapprove of Dylan plugging in?
- What reasons do they cite?
Then lead a discussion about how this one event came to be a defining moment for a generation.
- What did the people who were critical of Dylan’s plugging say about his artistic choice?
- What did the people who were excited by his plugging in say?
- What common threads did you see among the comments?
- What did folk music represent to its fans? What did rock music represent?
- What was it about this one event that touched so many young people in the 1960s? What change in America did this event come to represent?
Have students consider and research iconic events or acts of cultural importance of the current generation or recent decades. Then, have them write an essay or give a visual presentation on the topic: What event in your lifetime has a similar importance or cultural value as Dylan’s plugging in? Why?
More on History Detectives
Use the following episodes or lesson plans from History Detectives to enhance the teaching of this lesson in your classroom.
- Lesson Plan: Lunch Counter Closed: Examining the Strategies of the Civil Rights Movement
- Video: Hot Town Poster Investigation, Beatles Autographs Investigation
- A Visual Journey: Photographs by Lisa Law, 1965-1971. Photo essay, with commentary, about the counterculture in the 1960s. Includes a timeline of important events. (Note: includes discussion of drug use and sexuality.)
- The Sixties. PBS website covering events of the Sixties, including politics, revolutions, pop culture, war and peace, and a timeline feature.
- The 1960s. Overview of the 1960s, with links to further articles and video, from History.com
- Bob Dylan: No Direction Home Lesson Plan. Lesson plan about Bob Dylan and the 1960s from PBS “American Masters”
National History Standards
2. Historical Comprehension: The student comprehends a variety of historical sources
3. Historical Analysis and Interpretation: The student engages in historical analysis and interpretation
4. Historical Research Capabilities: The student conducts historical research
US History Content Standards, Grades 5-12
Era 9: Postwar United States (1945-1970s)
- Standard 1: The economic boom and social transformation of postwar United States
- Standard 2: How the Cold War and conflicts in Korea and Vietnam influenced domestic and international politics
- Standard 4: The struggle for racial and gender equality and the extension of civil liberties
Common Core State Standards
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.6-8.1 Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.6-8.2 Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary of the source distinct from prior knowledge or opinions.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.6-8.6 Identify aspects of a text that reveal an author’s point of view or purpose (e.g., loaded language, inclusion or avoidance of particular facts).
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.1 Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources, attending to such features as the date and origin of the information.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.2 Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary of how key events or ideas develop over the course of the text.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.6 Compare the point of view of two or more authors for how they treat the same or similar topics, including which details they include and emphasize in their respective accounts.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.9 Compare and contrast treatments of the same topic in several primary and secondary sources.
CCS.ELA-literacy.RH.11-12.1Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources, connecting insights gained from specific details to an understanding of the text as a whole.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.11-12.2 Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary that makes clear the relationships among the key details and ideas.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.11-12.6 Evaluate authors’ differing points of view on the same historical event or issue by assessing the authors’ claims, reasoning, and evidence.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.11-12.8 Evaluate an author’s premises, claims, and evidence by corroborating or challenging them with other information.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.11-12.9 Integrate information from diverse sources, both primary and secondary, into a coherent understanding of an idea or event, noting discrepancies among sources.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.WHST.6-12.10 Write routinely over extended time frames (time for reflection and revision) and shorter time frames (a single sitting or a day or two) for a range of discipline-specific tasks, purposes, and audiences.