Here’s something that truly qualifies as American history–a letter from Sis Cunningham, founder of folk song magazine BROADSIDE, to Ralph J. Gleason, legendary music critic, dated November 5, 1964. In it, Cunningham responds to questions Gleason has asked about the origins of the topical song movement.
Cunningham also relates the most recent Dylan news, and gives her read on his songwriting–remember, she was the first to publish Dylan’s songs (in Broadside) and was among the earliest of his enthusiastic supporters. In this letter, written a mere 5 days after Dylan’s historic “Halloween Concert” at Philharmonic Hall in New York, Cunningham tells Gleason about a Dylan backlash brought on by his abandonment of the topical song, relating that some of Dylan’s followers consider his career at an end, consoling themselves that “he wrote five or six great songs while he lasted.”
Cunningham tells Gleason how ridiculous she thinks this is, shares her opinion of Dylan as an important poet, and relates how Johnny Cash wrote a letter supporting Dylan to BROADSIDE that said “SHUT UP, and let him sing !” This is the most articulate and right-on defense of Dylan I’ve ever read. She truly “got” Dylan, and it’s fascinating to read such a prescient appraisal of his talent, so early on. Note also her brief defense of the Beatles at the end of the letter.
42 years later, it’s an amazing thing to read–and I think we would all agree that he managed a few more than 5 or 6 great songs.