On Highway 61: Music, Race and the Evolution of Cultural Freedom

The highway of American music culture and beyond

Music Gift Guide: Books
Music Gift Guide: Books

On Highway 61: Music, Race and the Evolution of Cultural Freedom

by Dennis McNally
Counterpoint Press, 384pp., $28

Highway 61, the legendary Blues Highway, becomes a metaphor in this chronicling of American popular music from the mid-19th century to 1965. Beginning with early social critics Henry David Thoreau and Mark Twain, On Highway 61 unfolds the concept of cultural freedom through African-American musical innovations and their inevitable absorption into the cultural mainstream. Post-Civil War minstrelsy, ragtime, early New Orleans jazz, blues, swing, bebop, R&B, electric blues, rock & roll, and the Sixties folk and blues revivals are all examined via the relevance of their social context, with a spotlight on major figures Louis Armstrong, Robert Johnson, and Muddy Waters. Author of biographies on Jack Kerouac and the Grateful Dead, Dennis McNally saves his best for last with Bob Dylan covering the final quarter of the book. Raised in Minnesota near the northern end of Highway 61, Dylan personifies the Anglo outsider who embraces black music only to then re-invent it. His iconoclastic mystique gets scrutinized through the prism of the folk movement, civil rights, beat literature, leftist politics, and the embryonic American counterculture. Bringing it all back home (so to speak) is Dylan's Highway 61 Revisited, a masterpiece of blues-infused, electrified folk.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

READ MORE
More Highway 61
Music for the Eyes
Music for the Eyes
Annie Leibovitz's portraits of American musicians reveal her true oeuvre

Margaret Moser, July 8, 2005

More Music Reviews
Faster Than Sound: SXSW Online Offered Lots to Look Forward To
SXSW Online Offered Lots to Look Forward To
Virtual festival forecasts incoming local debuts and tentative fall touring.

Rachel Rascoe, March 26, 2021

Faster Than Sound: Virtual ACL Music Fest Keeps Flags Flying
Virtual ACL Music Fest Keeps Flags Flying
Nostalgic livestream and rising Austin talent fundraise for the Austin Parks Foundation.

Rachel Rascoe, Oct. 16, 2020

More by Jay Trachtenberg
New Austin Music Worth Your Bandwidth This Week
New Austin Music Worth Your Bandwidth This Week
What we’re listening to

April 16, 2021

Top Books of 2020 That Struck a Literary or Musical Chord
Top Books of 2020 That Struck a Literary or Musical Chord
A writer's fictional joyride, a rock & roll memoir, and jazz fairy tales are books that sang this year

Dec. 18, 2020

KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Highway 61, Gift Guide 2014, Henry David Thoreau, Mark Twain, Louis Armstrong, Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters, Bob Dylan, Jack Kerouac, Grateful Dead

MORE IN THE ARCHIVES
NEWSLETTERS
One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

New recipes and food news delivered Mondays

Eric Goodman's Austin FC column, other soccer news

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle