Thursday, November 07, 2013

Bob Dylan Banned!

We have all read variations on the tale.  Bob Dylan's music was banned on a radio station in Texas, sometimes specifically El Paso, in 1968 or sometimes 1970. The ban is not because he was a red, or a subversive, but just because he was unintelligible. They feared that he might be obscene or profane and them be unable to detect it through his nasal warbling of the English vernacular. In most versions of the story the station continued to play recordings of other artists covering Dylan’s songs. The story appears in numerous contemporary books:
Parental Advisory - Eric D. Nuzum (2009) 
Influences: Music and Society - Joshua Hanes (2006)
The Rough Guide to Cult Pop - Paul Simpson (2003) 
The Joy of Swearing - Alison Maloney (1999) 
But if you go backward another decade the references get more specific. Both a 1993 Issue of Colorado Libraries and a 1991 issue of School Library Journal go a step further and carrying an article that quotes original source material in the story. This time accusing the Dylan lyrics of being "indecipherable."  High school literature students may not be able to use quote marks correctly, but library trade magazines certainly can. Regardless, this is still more than 2 decades after the event supposedly occurred. The gap strains incredulity. It's also worth mentioning that zero of his many biographies even mention the event.

The 1968 date also stands out as plausible. While it was the year between his release of  John Wesley Harding (1967) and Nashville Skyline (1969,) the former was released on December 27th and any reaction to it could easily have occurred in the following year.But how much rock n' roll was even on the El Paso radio band in 1968?  El Paso had only three FM stations by then: 88.5 KTEP, 94.7 KPAK, and 99.9 KTSM. The AM band was more filled out: 600 KROD-AM, 920 KELP-AM, 960 KHEY-AM, 1590 KINT-AM, 1150 KIZZ-AM, and 1360 KTSM-AM. There were also some border blasters like XEROK, and others, but generally speaking border blasters didn't ban anything... it was part of their charm.
You can eliminate many of them as candidates, KHEY was a country station in the sixties as was KROD for the most part. KTEP was  a college station and KTSM was a CBS affiliate playing a lot of syndicated talk programming. Of the whole group I find only one at all plausible. KELP was a Top 40 station and in 1968 John Wesley Harding went platinum. I don't have a lick of proof but that's my thesis. It's not the first time Dylan would have been censored.  Just five years before, censors forbid him to sing "Talking John Birch Paranoid Blues". He walked out on them.