Selecting a favorite Bob Dylan song is no small feat given his prolific career spanning six decades and 40 studio albums. The folk legend’s discography is a treasure trove of universally resonant compositions, from the comforting tones of ‘Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right’ to the powerful anthem ‘The Times They Are a-Changin’’.
For avant-garde enthusiast and electronic artist Laurie Anderson, however, the standout track doesn’t come from Dylan’s more mainstream hits. Instead, Anderson has chosen ‘Walls of Red Wing’ as her favorite Dylan song, an outtake featured in the ongoing Bootleg Series.
While not as widely recognized, ‘Walls of Red Wing’ encapsulates the essence of a Dylan classic. Opening with a harmonica, the folk track delves into a protest, painting a vivid picture of the Red Wing detention center with its barbed wire and cast iron gates confining young inmates.
The bleak narrative holds a personal connection for Anderson, rooted in her family history. Recounting the story of her grandfather, Axel Anderson, who endured a stint in the Minnesota prison, Laurie reveals a family tale initially shrouded in fantasy. Mistakenly led to believe that her grandfather arrived in Minnesota as a six-year-old prodigy, the truth emerged that he had moved with his parents, ending up in Red Wing, a boys’ prison with electric fences.
Discovering this part of her family’s past, Anderson found a deep connection with the track, appreciating its honest portrayal of the hardships faced by inmates. Describing it as more of a song of description and empathy than a protest anthem, she emphasizes Dylan’s focus on depicting the reality of the walls rather than advocating tearing them down.
The impact of ‘Walls of Red Wing’ on Anderson underscores the profound influence of Dylan’s songwriting on individuals. Listen to the track below.
<iframe width=”786″ height=”442″ src=”https://www.youtube.com/embed/zCzn532kltk” title=”Bob Dylan – Walls of Red Wing (Studio Outtake – 1963 – Official Audio)” frameborder=”0″ allow=”accelerometer; autoplay; clipboard-write; encrypted-media; gyroscope; picture-in-picture; web-share” allowfullscreen></iframe>