“Wish I was Bob Dylan,“ Robert Creeley wrote in the late 1960s, a time when this seemed to be the wish of nearly everybody — including, apparently, anthologized poets whose confinement to print gave them good reason to envy Dylan’s immediacy and perceived social relevance. In the same poem (“In London,” not one of the epigrammatic poems for which Creeley is famous but a series of notebook jottings whose loose tongue seems the result of Dylan’s influence coupled with Allen Ginsberg’s) Creeley also wished he could hear Dylan’s “Tears of Rage” sung by the sweeter-voiced Joan Baez. This could be taken to mean that Creeley was one of the many who admired Dylan, even during his period of greatest influence and popularity, more as a songwriter than as a performer — more as a voice than as a singer. If so, it hardly amounted to a slight. “He’s got a subtle mind,” Creeley decided in the poem, for all intents and purposes embracing Dylan as a fellow wordsmith, perhaps even a fellow poet.
I happened upon “In London” while paging through Creeley in search of another poem I recalled reading years ago, which darted to mind as I listened last fall to Live 1966 (Columbia/Legacy C2K 65759), a concert recording from a period when Dylan stood accused of betraying folk music — and of jeopardizing such folkie ideals as nuclear disarmament and Negro voter registration — for the sin of cupping his hands to his mouth to shout his lyrics above the big bang of a rock-and-roll band at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival. Not exactly a new release and not exactly a reissue, Live 1966 is the first authorized edition of a performance in Manchester, England, that has been obtainable on one bootleg or another almost continuously since at least 1971. The recording location is so frequently misidentified as London’s Royal Albert Hall that Columbia/Legacy has given its two-disc set the subtitle “The ‘Royal Albert Hall’ Concert,“ in an effort to assure potential customers that this is the one they’ve heard so much about over the years. Like many rock bootlegs of the 1970s, the various pirate editions of Dylan’s “Albert Hall” concert were often packaged in plain white sleeves; you knew you had the right show if toward the end, below the hum of the amplifiers and the snarl of Dylan and Robbie Robertson tuning their electric guitars in preparation for “Like a Rolling Stone,“ you heard an outraged audience member cry “Judas!”