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Popularity without playing

A refusal to play brought Bob Dylan more media attention than his early songs


By the summer of 1963, Bob Dylan would become a household name thanks to a cover of his "Blowin' In the Wind", the protest song. The cover, made famous by the group Peter, Paul and Mary, would bring awareness of Dylan's music to the mainstream public of millions of fans. The group's cover version of the Dylan song rose up to number 2 on the Billboard charts. Not only did it transform the song into as a civil rights anthem, it made Dylan a household name. Yet a few months earlier, Dylan would still be struggling to break into the music world and establish himself nationally.

His chance for a big break came through securing an invitation to perform on The Ed Sullivan show. The song he had planned on performing, "Talkin' John Birch Paranoid Blues", was about the John Birch Society and how it tended to interpret social events as covert Communist conspiracies. Bearing in mind the events of the time - the Cold War in particular - Dylan was aware of the sensitivities of performing the song, and had sought approval from Ed Sullivan himself, and nothing had been flagged. Yet hours before he was about to go on stage, he was informed that network bosses, fearing a potential lawsuit, had banned the song.

Rather that sing a different song, Dylan stuck to his guns and walked off the set without performing. The media coverage of this incident arguably gave Dylan more credibility as a "protest" artist and more weight to his songs, and made him more popular than he would have been had he performed on the show. Over the summer months, with the cover version of his song gaining traction, his popularity would snowball and put him firmly in the nation's eye. And that is how, without playing a single note, Bob Dylan found himself catapulted into fame.

And what would have happened if Dylan had remained on stage, but staged a silent protest by not playing? Would he have achieved even more media coverage through silence? We can only speculate.

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