The release of Dylan’s masterpiece “Desolation Row” spurred a seething debate between Paul Simon and London’s up-and-coming folk singer/songwriter Al Stewart. When it was over Paul didn’t speak to Al for a month. Here’s how Stewart remembers it:
“I had become obsessed by Highway 61 Revisited, and I played “Desolation Row” over and over again. In fact, the record came out in the West End of London two days early, on a Wednesday evening, and it came out everywhere else on a Friday. I spent the entire day of Thursday learning the lyrics (to “Desolation Row”). On Friday, the day of its release, I went to two different clubs in the West End of London and performed it. I’m sure I was the first person in the U.K. to sing “Desolation Row.” Paul came in and listened to it, and all he said was ‘Rehashed Ferlinghetti.’ That was his sole comment.
“I had no idea what he meant, it sounded like cold Italian food. So Paul set me right, that all Dylan was doing was copying Ferlinghetti, and therein ensued a three-hour argument. He said No, it’s rubbish, it’s stream of consciousness it doesn’t mean anything, and it’s old hat. I think at some point in my 19-year-old mania I said ‘You’re going to be damned lucky if you ever write a song as good as this!’ And that did it, Paul just kind of clammed up and walked out, and didn’t talk to me for a long time. It passed, but I do remember that because I probably shouldn’t have made that remark. I do apologize for it all these years later, but you get annoyed and I thought “Desolation Row” was the second coming of God and “Homeward Bound” wasn’t.”