C.P. Lee,
Like the Night (Revisited):
Bob Dylan & the Road
to the Manchester Free Trade Hall

(Helter Skelter, 2004)

C.P. Lee (also author of the superb Like a Bullet of Light: The Films of Bob Dylan) was 16 years old when he saw Dylan perform at the Free Trade Hall in Manchester, England, on May 17, 1966. That night, as Dylan devotees all know, was the night of the infamous "Judas" taunt, hurled at the electric Dylan by an audience member (later identified as Keith Butler). That taunt and Dylan's reaction to it provided one of the most dynamic and iconic moments in the history of popular music, finally seen in all its wild glory in Martin Scorsese's recent Dylan documentary, No Direction Home. Lee's Like the Night, now in its second and greatly revised edition, fully documents not only that night but the events leading up to it, describing fully how and why Dylan's appearance on the stage that night with the Hawks (later to achieve their own well-deserved fame as The Band) had been a confrontation waiting to happen.

The number of books about Dylan has seemed to increase exponentially in the past few years, but this volume belongs on every Bobcat's shelves. The detail with which Lee delves into the months, weeks and days preceding the concert is extraordinary, but far from being a dry list of events and dates and sources, Lee recreates the time and makes it breathe and live. Indeed, it reads more like a novel than like nonfiction. It's steeped in dialogue as a result of the many interviews that Lee conducted, and the reality of time and place is palpable since Lee actually lived in and around the environs of Manchester and was there on that legendary night. His descriptions of individual performances by Dylan are beautifully limned, and though I own officially released and bootleg recordings of most of them, Lee's prose nearly allows you to hear the music itself.

Lee is also adept at setting up the folk and rock milieu of England during the mid-'60s, an atmosphere similar to that in the U.S., yet also quite different. By making American readers more familiar with the atmosphere that Dylan met there, the crowd reactions to Dylan's new look and sound become more understandable. When Lee, his readers and Dylan finally all arrive at that particular night, the tension is unbearable, even though Dylanites know what happened. The sense of immediacy is so great that nonfiction becomes more exciting than fiction.

Lee also provides many photographs, including a view from the stage, a ground plan, notes and several appendices for those wishing to delve further into that night. All in all, the book is a triumph, recreating an era and a moment with unerring accuracy. If you're interested in Dylan (and why would you be reading this review if you weren't?), this one belongs on your own five-foot shelf.

by Chet Williamson
19 August 2006

Buy it from Amazon.com.