It is one of Australia’s greatest military triumphs: a simple holding action across a narrow dirt trail that spanned the inhospitable mountains of the central spine of New Guinea. A much smaller Australian force aided by allied natives struck, fell back, harassed and repeated these steps against the might of the Japanese Army.
Although at almost every step the Australians gave ground, they slowed down the Japanese advance to a crawl, while nibbling away at their forces until the invaders’ supply lines were hopelessly over-extended – and until the Australians could be reinforced. The tide of battle swiftly reversed, but the retreat of the Japanese was much less a fighting retreat than that of the Australians had been.
One of the greatest conquerors and military leaders the world has ever known was born in Pella, the capital of Macedon. His father was the king of Macedon, Philip II, and he himself was Alexander the Great. The genealogies of his parents were not merely royal – Philip claimed descent from Heracles, while his mother, Olympias, claimed descent from Achilles – and Alexander’s second cousin was the noted general Pyrrhus of Epirus.
He was raised as a noble’s son, and taught the arts of his class and sex – which naturally included warfare. From the ages of 13 to 16, he was tutored by the philosopher Aristotle, after which he served as his father’s regent while his father was absent pursuing military conquests. After Philip’s death and Alexander’s own accession to the throne of Macedon at the age of 20, Alexander began what would become one of the greatest conquests the world had ever seen.
Although the world is full of songs inspired by stories, few songs can claim to be the remains of one. But Like A Rolling Stone is one that can. Extracted from a short story Dylan wrote, and which he describes as “20 pages of vomit“, the song is about alienation – although whose alienation remains a matter of some debate. (The leading candidates are Edie Sedgwick, Joan Baez and Dylan himself.)
Despite being six minutes long, it was released as a single, and rose to #2 on the American charts, making it Dylan’s biggest hit to that time. (It was beaten out of the top spot by “Help”.) The song marks Dylan’s first use of electric guitar in his music, and thus represents his shift from his folk roots to a more pop sound. Not coincidentally, it also marks the point from which he became a part of the cultural mainstream, albeit remaining an iconoclastic and dissenting part of it.
The song was first performed live by Dylan at the Newport Folk Festival in 1965. Since then, it has been covered by numerous artists, including Jimi Hendrix and the Rolling Stones. In 2004, Rolling Stone magazine proclaimed the song, with its characteristic restraint, “the greatest song of all time.”