The way that Graphix Zone created its new Bob Dylan CD-ROM could best be described as virtual. Though the company managed to coax the reclusive Dylan out of his shell to play an active role in the project, the catch was that no one at Graphix was allowed to speak to or meet with him personally until after it was completed. Graphix Zone is used to dealing with eccentric pop icons – for its first and only other music CD-ROM, the firm worked with – but Graphix president and founder Chuck Cortright says the Dylan experience was a strange one.
"We get to meet Dylan in 30 days," Cortright said on the day the CD-ROM was released in February. "That's how it was decided from the beginning."
Bob Dylan: Highway 61 – Interactive is the first CD-ROM to be issued by an artist of Dylan's legendary stature. Thanks to Dylan's participation the CD-ROM is a boon for collectors, featuring many songs that aren't even known to have appeared on bootlegs. Most notably, the disc includes an electric version of "House of the Rising Sun" that Dylan performed in 1962, three years before he was booed at the Newport Folk Festival, in Rhode Island, for going electric. The CD-ROM also uses old press clips to rectify some Dylan lore: It was as much a bad sound system as it was - Dylan's electric band that ticked off s folk fans at Newport. And after three - heavily jeered songs on electric guitar, e Dylan switched to an acoustic one.
Although everyone from David Bowie to Heart has released a CD-s ROM in the past year, Highway 61 – Interactive is one of the better ones available. The main screen is a collage of Dylan memorabilia. Clicking a computer mouse on each item opens up an interactive environment detailing a different period of Dylan's career. Crammed onto Highway 61 – Interactive are the lyrics to all of Dylan's songs; a list of every significant artist who has covered a Dylan tune; a re-creation of the Greenwich Village neighborhood in New York, where Dylan cut his teeth; and club and studio scenes from which rare Dylan footage and music can be accessed. There are 10 full songs and 110 song excerpts on the disc; including all eight studio takes of "Like a Rolling Stone" (two of them in waltz time), the original demo version of "Mr. Tambourine Man" and previously unavailable versions of "House Carpenter" and "No More Auction Block." The CD-ROM can be listened to on a regular CD player, but only to hear the three-minute version of "House of the Rising Sun," which doesn't exactly compensate for the disc's $59.95 list price.
The genesis of the Dylan CD-ROM was a long one. "From the first time I heard 'Like a Rolling Stone' – when I was 16, in 1965 – I was hooked and later became a Dylan fan," says Cortright. "When we got into CD-ROMs, we house circuit approached Dylan's manager and lawyer. It took six months of discussions until we were able to do this."
A team of 20 staffers spent another seven months completing the disc. Unlike with other CD-ROMs, on which the artist leaves the techies to do all the work, "Dylan and his people had an incredible amount of input," Cortright says. Dylan chose the name of the CD-ROM and the photo of him used on the cover as well as helped select the songs and images to be included.
At the launching of Highway 61 Interactive at Sony Music Studios, in Manhattan, last February, former Dylan organist Al Kooper and Roger McGuinn of the Byrds (both of whom are interviewed on the CD-ROM) performed the Dylan song that the Byrds made a No. 1 hit, "Mr. Tambourine Man," as well as "My Back Pages" and "Knockin' on Heaven's Door."
"I like it," Kooper said as he played with the CD-ROM on a computer after the performance. "I think it gives fans the opportunity to get inside and up close. I've collected all my memorabilia for years. Maybe I should do my own CD-ROM."
"I'm a techno nut, but this is my first exposure to a music CD-ROM," said McGuinn (who flew in from Orlando, Fla., specifically for the event) as he stood in line behind Kooper. "I can't wait to get back to Greenwich Village and find out what all those lyrics are about."
This story is from the April 20th, 1995 issue of Rolling Stone.