If you were to look back at the most pivotal pillars in the pantheon of modern music, then chances are Bob Dylan will be the biggest. The shadow of Dylan has loomed over the music industry for decades. It’s such a permanent feature that looking back at the moments when the musician is just a “young folk poet who you might say looks like Huckleberry Finn, if he lived in the 20th century,” are moments of brilliant curiosity.
One such moment occurred in the spring of 1963 as Studs Terkel, a renowned broadcaster, author, and historian welcomed a 21-year-old Bob Dylan to his radio show and introduced him to the listeners tuning in around Chicago. It was one of the first times, outside of New York, that the freewheelin’ Bob Dylan got out on the open road and spoke directly to his audience.
At the time, Dylan had just finished the recording of his second record, The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, but was still a relative unknown outside of the smokey coffee shops of Greenwich Village in New York and the audience that came with them. Still, he travelled to Chicago with a show at his manager Albert Grossman’s venue, The Bear Club, with a growing sense of his worth. The following day, after completing the gig, Dylan went to the WFMT radio studios for an hour-long appearance on The Studs Terkel Program.
Before arriving at the show, Dylan’s fame, however fledgeling, was beginning to take flight as his debut album, Bob Dylan, saw him gather radio play and intrigue and an audience began to swell. But while that record had seen Dylan use other artist’s songs as his main form of expression, the album was comprised of almost entirely original material. The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan saw the singer assert himself as a songwriter, with the LP containing songs which are, to this day, remembered as his most iconic, including, ‘Blowin’ In The Wind’, ‘Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right’, and ‘A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall’.
Yet when Dylan arrived at WFMT, the singer was still unknown to the majority of his audience. It saw Dylan perform some of those iconic songs (full list below) on Terkel’s show as well as offering some back story to the tracks.
On ‘A Hard Rain’s a Gonna Fall’ and suggested it wasn’t about an atomic fallout: “No, it’s not atomic rain,” Dylan says. “It’s just a hard rain. It isn’t the fallout rain. I mean some sort of end that’s just gotta happen… In the last verse, when I say, ‘the pellets of poison are flooding their waters,’ that means all the lies that people get told on their radios and in their newspapers.”
Soon enough, it becomes clear that Dylan isn’t there to clear up any mistruths that were circling his work, he was there to start his own myths. It was just one more moment in which Bob Dylan refused to conform.
Despite his lack of fame, the singer is every bit the icon he would grow to be, with an album of great songs under his arm, Dylan was well on his way.