1965 – The Year Modern Britain Was Born
By Christopher Bray
Simon & Schuster – £20.00
An enlightening and emphatically liturgical book – from that of a quintessentially artistic and political persuasion at least – 1965: The Year Modern Britain Was Born covers a colourful and expansive terrain, while in so doing, making for occasionally terrific reading.
From said year’s deaths of Winston Churchill and T.S.Eliot, to the still felt debauched debacle that was Dr. Beeching’s ‘The Reshaping of Britain’s Railways (”For the Beeching axe was nothing more than an exercise in market-driven ideology – one of the most naked in the history of post-war Britatin – and one that was bound to disappoint. In an increasingly post-industrialised age, the railways were never going to be profitable.”); from Sylvia Plath and Pink Floyd to the Vietnam War (”You only had to turn the box on during the mid-sixties to be confronted with imagery from this distant, bloody turmoil. Beyond the impression of naked chaos, it was also easy to notice that America’s part in the war was largely fought by black troops and white officers”), to Roy Jenkins, quite possibly the finest Foreign Secretary Britain has ever had (”Jenkins once called his stint at the Home Office ‘the liberal hour.’ It has turned into a liberal half-century, and there is no prospect of our turning the clock back on his reforms”); 1965 is a book that travels at quite a literary speed, yet never takes its eye off the ball of the year’s gargantuan influence.
Already in the book’s Introduction, former Fleet Street journalist and author, Christopher Bray already makes as much clear wherein he writes: ”We are talking of 1965, the year the old Britatin died and the new Britain was born. Because 1965 planted bomb after bomb under the hidebound, stick-in-the-mud, living-on-past glories Britain that preceded it – and gave us the country we live in today. Everywhere you looked, from the House of Commons to the school common room, from the recording studio to the television screen, from the railways to the rear-view mirror, from the inner space of the tortured mind to the outer space of the moon, the country was (as Bob Dylan put it that year) ‘busy being born.’ Change wasn’t just in the air – it was the air, the air everyone breathed all day long.”
Moreover, a relatively easy yet compelling read, these ten chapters are, if nothing else, a pertrinent reminder of how very, very influential and artistically creative 1965 was. And throughout the book, there’s one inexorable reminder, after another, after another.
Although I have to say, it is chapter five (‘Something Is Happening Here’), which fundamentally focuses on Bob Dylan’s visionary, if not astounding output throughout the year – during which he released the highly influential albums Bringing It All Back Home and Highway 61 Revisted – that I personally found the most eye-opening, the most interesting and unsurprisingly, the most intrinsically captivating: ”There was, though, no humour to be found in the first great masterpiece of Dylan’s post-political work, ‘Like A Rolling Stone,’ a hectoring, haranguing, humiliating diatribe that is less a song of protest than it is a song of detestation […]. Far from reasurring them that all was right with the world because God – and, of course, Dylan – was on their side, the song told everyone that they were alone in a universe more hostile than anyone bar a few philosphers had ever dare let on. ‘Like A Rolling Stone’ was a kind of aural judgement day, a howling threnody from an Old Testament prophet counselling – decreeing? – that none shall survive […]. It is easy to forget – given the song’s barbarous reputation – that this is joyous music, music that was originally conceived in waltz-time, music that for all the hellfire and damnation histrionics of its lyric never strays out of the key of C major. (Long after the event – and perhaps wise after it, too – Dylan would call C major ‘the key of strength, but also the key of regret). Joe Macho Jr.’s bass line hops and bounces gleefully along, while Al Kooper’s organ – astonishingly, a last-minute addition to the mix – is so offhand and blasé, so honeyed and viscous, it oils much of the grind and friction out of Dylan’s cawing invective.”
Other than just some of the ultimately very well considered description(s) mentioned above, I for one, never knew Dylan thought of C major as ”the key of strength, but also the key of regret.”
So, for (certain) Dylanologists alone, this book is exceedingly well worth purchasing and reading. But Sir Bob aside, 1965 also profiles and analyses the more than important/captivating year in such a manner that is in a way, poetically robust and all resounding in more ways than one.