In 1965, “Like a Rolling Stone” transformed Bob Dylan from folk hero to rock star.
This year Bob Dylan is the king of rock ’n’ roll, and he is the least likely king popular music has ever seen. With a bony, nervous face covered with skin the color of sour milk, a fright-wig of curly brown hair teased into a bramble of stand-up tangles, and dark-circled hazel eyes usually hidden by large prescription sunglasses, Dylan is less like Elvis or Frankie than like some crippled saint or resurrected Beethoven. … Yet, Bob Dylan, at the age of 25, has a million dollars in the bank and earns an estimated several hundred thousand dollars a year from concerts, recordings, and publishing royalties.
“Like a Rolling Stone” finally put Dylan across as a rock ’n’ roll star. He wrote it in its first form when he came back from England. “It was 10 pages long,” he says. “It wasn’t called anything, just a rhythm thing on paper all about my steady hatred directed at some point that was honest. In the end it wasn’t hatred, it was telling someone something they didn’t know, telling them they were lucky. Revenge, that’s a better word. I had never thought of it as a song, until one day I was at the piano, and on the paper it was singing, ‘How does it feel?’ in a slow motion pace, in the utmost of slow motion following something. I wrote it. I didn’t fail. It was straight.”
“Like a Rolling Stone” climbed rapidly to the top of the charts. … National magazines began writing favorably about both Dylan and rock ’n’ roll, and rock concerts became the social events of the intellectuals’ seasons. Dylan’s reaction is predictably thorny. “The songs are not meant to be great,” he said. “I’m not meant to be great. I don’t think anything I touch is destined for greatness. Genius is a terrible word, a word they think will make me like them. A genius is a very insulting thing to say. Even Einstein wasn’t a genius. He was a foreign mathematician who would have stolen cars.”
Excerpted from “Bob Dylan: ‘Well, What Have We Here?’” by Jules Siegel, The Saturday Evening Post, July 30, 1966