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the pioneer of Dylan Studies; writer, public speaker, critic; became a Doctor of Letters in 2015 (awarded by the University of York, UK)

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Wednesday, September 14, 2011


I realise with the usual twitch of hapless surprise that the US and Far East tour with Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers was 25 years ago already! Here's one of the shorter entries from The Bob Dylan Encyclopedia, about Bob's little rap during the last night's concert in Japan:

Jesus v. Springsteen
On the 1986 tours with TOM PETTY & THE HEARTBREAKERS, beginning in Australia and Japan in February and March, Dylan would nightly regale his audiences with garrulous, slightly mad raps before a number of songs. Disappointingly, these were always roughly the same (i.e. descending to showbiz routine, rather than the spontaneous one-off communications of earlier eras  -  or at least of those when he spoke at all).
            The most effective was the rap that introduced ‘In The Garden’, from the Saved album: a song about Christ. The rap always begins with a short list other people’s heroes, and those on the list varied nightly  -  except that they always seemed to include BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN. The list was particularly nifty in Tokyo on March 10, at his last concert in the Far East. Dylan says:
            This song here’s about my hero. Everybody’s got a hero. Where I come from heroes are . . . John Wayne, Boris Karloff, Henry Winkler, Michael Jackson, Bruce Springsteen, Ronald Reagan, Richard Nixon. Anyway, I don’t care nothing about any of those people. I have my own hero.’


Anonymous John Carvill said...

Yes, that was a cheap shot, making snide reference to Bruce. As you note in your Encyclopedia, although Springsteen's talent cannot be compared to Dylan's, it was still an unnecessary (and no doubt wounding) slight for Dylan (or whoever was responsible) to exclude Bruce from the roster at the CBS '30th anniversary' concert.

1:50 pm  
Blogger Michael Gray said...

But as for the so-called 30th Anniversary concert, I've always assumed that Bob had very little to do with concocting it. It happened at a time when the record company regarded him as an iconic artist but one with no future sales potential - so much so that they didn't bother to keep track of where he was playing on his NET.

And for instance I can't imagine him having initiated the invitation to Sinead O'Connor. All the same, he may have expressed preferences about who to include and exclude.

2:18 pm  
Anonymous Kieran said...

So the list varied nightly, except for Bruce name, which was always on his list.

Gee, Bruce musta gotten right under his skin!

10:57 am  
Anonymous Rambling Gambling Gordon said...

It might have been around this time that I read the story that Dylan and Springsteen were by coincidence eating in the same restaurant one evening, and that Dylan had walked over to Springsteen's table and said, "You're good, but you're not me."

7:18 pm  
Blogger Brent White said...

Your entry on Springsteen said it better than anything I've read on the subject of Springsteen v. Dylan.

But this list isn't self-evidently a put-down, is it? Bob probably loved John Wayne, and he was in the list, right? And Springsteen was very popular at the time, albeit not as popular as Henry Winkler... or Nixon.

7:25 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What is interesting is there are people who insist that he gave up Christianity in favour of Judaism during the Infidels period. He might have given up on the evangelising, but he certainly did not abandon believing in Christ, at least in his own way. As for now, I don't know. Obviously he called himself a true believer when asked about his performance of O Little Town of Bethlehem, but a believer in the music, or in Jesus? My own guess is that he still believes in Jesus, but has decided to make his faith private, and has turned his back utterly on any kind of organised religion.

8:45 pm  
Blogger Michael Gray said...

Brent, you may be right. I've often said that Bob mocks the things he loves - but I'm not so sure when it comes to these Bruce comments.

I also remember - and in a way this was a sideswipe at Bruce too - how Bob dissed Clarence Clemons early on, saying defensively that Clemons was OK but that you couldn't compare him to Steve Douglas, the great sax player he was using on "Street Legal" and the 1978 world tour. And then of course after Clarence died, Bob changed his tune.

More interesting than either posture was what he said about Clemons on a 2009 Theme Time Radio Hour show. You can hear it here:

10:12 am  
Anonymous Kieran said...

Hey Michael,

I'd be interested to see how Bob "changed his tune" after Clarence died. I didn't hear anything of it.

His remark about Clarence not being as good as Steve Douglas came when he addressed accusations that he brought in a sax guy in imitation of Bruce. It would have been enough to show that his sound was different to Bruce's band and leave it at that. It was kind of gratuitous to bring Clarence in it, only to compare him unfavourably. The quality of his sax guy wasn't the issue.

And Clarence sax - regardless of technical ability - is the signature sound of the E-Street band, and a fine sound it is, too!

Going further, Clarence mentions Bob a few times in his autobiography, but they're hard to understand because he writes "fictionalised accounts" of real people, which is unnecessary and hardly autobiographical. But he's complimentary and shows Bob as being a friend and not a rival, or meanspirited, in any way.

I like thet Theme Time clip! Very witty remark at the end, about Clarence eating chicken in his dressing room while the Boss sings songs from non-E Street albums!

12:10 pm  
Blogger Tim O'Flanagan said...

I am a huge Dylan fan, I was actually contacted by Rolling Stone magazine and interviewed as being the biggest Dylan fan someplace. I am also a Springsteen fan but not on the same level. I went to a Springsteen concert in Edmonton, Alberta and he was truly amazing live. ?When I left the concert I had a whole bunch of reasons, but mostly because Bruce's live show was so much better than Bob's, he seemed so sincere to the crowd who had paid to watch.
Bruce was here in Calgary with his daughter a couple of years ago, my daughter wanted to try and meet him. We went out to Spruce meadows where is daughter was entered in a horse jumping competesion, and by chance cross paths with Bruce and Patti on a golf course. Anyway to make a long story short, he was running into a barn to get something for his daughter but took the time to tell us just to wait that he'd be out in a minute. We sat and talked to Patti and when Bruce came out Rory handed him a newspaper with his photo on the front cover he didn't have a pen but I handed him one. He signed the paper tp my daughter, spelt he name wrong and gave it back to Aurora. She dropped it, imediately, by accident into a puddle of water and he had a big laugh, picked it up , wiped it off on his pants turned it over and said maybe I can spell your name correctly this time. He allowed me to take photos of himself with my daughter. he was such a sweet fellow.
I have seen Dylan in concert a hundred times or so, and all but one autograph hunt was ended in complete disappointment. One night my 12 yer old son and I followed Dylan's bus from Saskatoon to Regina. It was probably one in the morning by the time his bus rolled into the Parking at the Regina Inn. My son got out and stood in the parking lot and waited for Bob to emerge from his bus. When he got close to my son, whose name is Dylan, his body guard joined the two of them as my son had asked for an autograph. So including the body guard there were three people in the parking lot. I noticed that there was some concern going on within the group so I got out and joined the three of them. Bob had his hood up and tied tightly around his face, I think I said something like, whats the problem here and Dylan's body guard answer as if on Que. Like my son was a small fellow at the age of 12 years of age, he has red hair and freckles and about as intimidating as a house kitten. His body guard said, so as a matter of factly,, " Mr. Dylan doesn't feel like signing autographs tonight" I couldn't believe what a peckerhead he was, it took so much more effort to not sign one autograph, than it would have been to simply take my son's pen and scratch out a his name. I have actually thought about this a lot over the past 115 0r so many years and, sure like Dylan has said, "Maybe I am a star, but I can shine for the people of my choice" Had he had simply taken the pen and signed his name I would have completely different thoughts about him as a person, anyway I have thought of him as a complete peckhead ever since that night, I still listen to his music daily and think he is the best song writer ever. On another note my daughter and I met his son at the edmonton folk festival a couple of years ago, he signed an autograph for her and at least 4 hours later after his show on the main stage, he walked to the edge of the stage and said " Have a great night Aurora" She just will never ever forget those five seconds of her life, Jacob must have been raised by her mother not Bob

Tim O'Flanagan

3:49 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I understand that Dylan offered Springsteen a slot on the Rolling Thunder tour but Springsteen declined because he could not perform with the E Steet band.Reminds me of the Springsteen unplugged album.

I suspect that one of the reasons that Dylan did not write many songs in the late 80s was the reaction to 'Born in the USA'. Has there ever been a more over-rated album?


8:43 pm  
Anonymous Curley Weaver said...

Tim O'Flanagan, you don't realise how creepy your Dylan-hunting story comes across. Yeah, sure, all you (or your son) wanted was an autograph and now the guy is a 'peckerhead' because he wouldn't do your bidding. This fine line between worship and resentment is a dangerous place - it's where the Mark Chapmans of this world come from. Why not respect people's privacy, as you would have people respect yours? Do you sign every petition that is shoved in your face on the street, or answer every hawker who comes to your door? There is a song you should listen to that addresses this subject of proprietary and fandom. It's by Jack White, who I believe is a good friend of Bob Dylan's. It's called 'Take Take Take'.

11:00 pm  
Anonymous Kieran said...

Hey Paul,

You say that you think that Bob didn't write more songs in the 80s because of Born in the USA, which you then call the most over-rated album. Why would this stop Bob writing songs? He wrote plenty in the 60's when the Beatles were making albums, over-rated or not.

Do you think it's because he became disillusioned with the process? I'm critiqueing your view, I'm just interested in why you think this, because I think Bob still wrote plenty songs in the 80's, but just not such great songs, after a while.

Maybe the muse deserted him? But Born in the USA surely couldn't have affected him at all, no more than Thriller or Purple Rain. It could only affect him negatively if he was intimidated by its success...

10:33 am  
Anonymous Kieran said...

Sorry Paul - I meant to say "I'm NOT critiqueing your view!"

Freudian slip!

I'm just interested in why you think this...

11:26 am  
Blogger Jack said...

Not sure where this going.
Clearly his work in the 1980s was not so good and at times poor; I am astonished by the idea that this was someway related to the success of 'Born in the USA'-This makes him sound like a labile soul, which does not fit at all.

That he can be unpleasant, rude & egotistical is not a surprise; he has his flaws, like each of us. In some of his work (Including the album 'Saved')he has described these; and in others they have been covered up and projected out onto others e.g. Dirge,Positively 4th Street & Man of Peace.

What is important to me is the wonderful work which has inspired and, at times sustained me, over the past 38 years of listening.

4:22 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Kieran

I said that I suspect that it may be one of the reasons that Dylan did not write many songs in the late 80s ( as far as we know ).

I understand that Dylan was very prolific in the first half of the decade - the excellent post 'Saved' songs such as Ain't Gonna Go To Hell For Anybody,etc, over 40 outtakes around the time of 'Shot Of Love', 20 outtakes from the Infidels sessions and about 20 outtakes from the 'Empire Burlesque sessions and then the reported lost great work at the KOL sessions ( and the Clydie King duets ).

It is fair to say that the muse deserted him at this time probably for several reasons. We will never know the reasons or the reason he withheld many of the best songs written in this period.

I believe that the whole process of making records was far easier for Dylan in the 60s and 70s and that the musical explosion of the 60s was a motivating factor unlike the general trend of post punk corporate music in the 80s.

Jack...I did not mean to convey the idea that Dylan's work in the 80s was not that good. I made the observation that he stopped writing songs.

I agree with Michael...if we only had the work from the 80s and 90s, it would still make him the greatest songwriter of the age.


7:52 pm  
Blogger Jack said...

Hi Paul-I was taken aback by your comment ("I suspect that one of the reasons that Dylan did not write many songs in the late 80s was the reaction to 'Born in the USA'"), because Dylan is such an independently spirited,inner-directed artist and these qualities have been a defining feature of his career. We don't know if his ego was really upset by Springsteen's greater popularity; that does not interest me.

9:52 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Jack

You're right. I had assumed that Dylan must have been confused by the fact that an album as poor as Born in the USA ( by Springsteen, a so-called "new Dylan" ) could become so highly acclaimed and popular.

Dylan's motto has always been: the audience find me.


12:59 pm  
Anonymous Kieran said...

Three things.

Born in the USA isn't really a "poor album." It's what it is, "gut-bucket rock" (copyright Bob Dylan). It has some music that's catchy as hell, and this is they style he was aiming for. Bruce has aimed for certain things witt different albums, but BITUSA is definitely a conscious attempt to capture some old-school fifties rock, with a modern (to the 80's) topical slant.

It's a pleasing thing. Not Bruce's fault it became so big maybe, but I doubt he ever complained about this.

Which brings me to the 2nd part, the remark that Bob's motto would be that the audience should come to him. I see him differently. I think he's definitely a commercial artist. He's no Lady Gaga, but he's mining material which he knows is within his commercial range. He has a solid fanbase and although he alienates people now and again, I bet he's also well aware of the figures, and certainly in the last 15 years he's been cautious and deliberate about putting out "products" which enhance his reputation - and bank balance.

Also, if he was so "confused" by Bruce effect, he must also have been impressed: he hired in some E-Streeters to give the first version of "When the night..." a distinctly Springsteenesque flavour (albeit, making it inferior to his own brilliant version on Empire Burlesque).

I think if Bob was ever intimidated by Bruce it was when he witnessed the Boss in the mid-seventies, performing high-octane four hour shows, where we saw great pre-song monologues, something which Bruce still does to great effect...

5:41 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


Dylan is a totally different artist and it is unfair to compare him to the likes of Springsteen.

Dylan has turned his back on more money than most artists can ever dream of. Springsteen made a choice to make a catchy pop product then released single after single to capitalise on his mass audience. Compare BINTUSA to Darkness on the Edge of Town. No comparison.

Dylan has a significant history:refusing to perform on the Ed Sullivan TV show, refusing to sing topical songs at Newport Festival ( I don't just mean in 65),performing at the Greenwood Voters Rally,March on Wahington,Woody Guthrie Concert, Bangla Desh,Rolling Thunder Tour playing small halls,refusing to sing his pre-Slow Train Coming songs in 1979...need I go on?

Are you seriously suggesting that Springsteen's 70s shows intimidated Dylan ? Dylan in 1974 was in a totally different universe as a performer to Springsteen , then came the amazing performance years from 1975to 1981. These years were consistently brilliant and had performances of such intensity,power,variation,etc with an unsurpassed body of work and arguably his greatest voice (Dylan is not only the greatest songwriter by a country mile or two ,he is the greatest singer and performer - light years ahead of Springsteen and anyone else).

I went to a Springsteen performance in 1981 and it was good fun. I went to see Dylan perform in 1981 and he was breathtaking...the whole performance with the wonderful gospel female singers then his own performance of a truly staggering intensity. Hardly a word spoken, sure, but a performance of infinite variation with possibly his most naked, emotional harmonica playing.

Sorry..Springsteen is ten a penny, Dylan is a true genius.


8:47 pm  
Anonymous Kieran said...

Hey Paul,

I didn't actually compare them, but I think you're overstating the case just a smidgen:

"Dylan has a significant history:refusing to perform on the Ed Sullivan TV show, refusing to sing topical songs at Newport Festival ( I don't just mean in 65),performing at the Greenwood Voters Rally,March on Wahington,Woody Guthrie Concert, Bangla Desh,Rolling Thunder Tour playing small halls,refusing to sing his pre-Slow Train Coming songs in 1979...need I go on?"

Why not? Victoria's Secrets, Coca Cola, some bank ads, all the merchandising on his website, corporate gigs, etc. He pop-ified Empire Burlesque, bringing in synths and woo-hoo choruses. Unfortunately for him, Bruce proved better at making "a catchy pop product", although, like I said, Bruce was actually making a retro-album of sorts, kind of like Billy Joel did with Innocent Man, except, of course, Bruce album was bigger in so many ways.

"1975to 1981. These years were consistently brilliant and had performances of such intensity,power,variation,etc with an unsurpassed body of work and arguably his greatest voice (Dylan is not only the greatest songwriter by a country mile or two ,he is the greatest singer and performer - light years ahead of Springsteen and anyone else)."

Well, these years just might have been surpassed by his wiriting of ten years earlier. We should be careful not to dip too readily into hype. Dylan is clearly the greatest songwriter in the rock music era, but that's it.

As a performer, he often has these moments where it all moves from messy-to-sublime in a glorious way, but that's not all the time. He's the only one I know who can do this, by the way. It's as if he stumbles on genius, and it's an incredible thing to behold. And so is the more regular shambles he makes of things. An incredible thing to see in such a vaunted professional performer. He isn't so great as Bruce live, and if I had to choose, I'd take Bruce four times out of five, because despite Bob being far the greater songwriter, Bruce combines Woody Guthrie with Barnum and Bailey and gives the audience a show they go home buzzing from.

Not that we should compare them - they're both the best at what they do best...

10:46 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Kieran

Who is the greatest rock performer you have ever seen ? What was your first Dylan concert ?


PS I stand by my opinion in relation to Dylan's performances from 75 to 81.

4:15 am  
Blogger Michael Gray said...

I'm not complaining, but d'you think we can finish the Bruce ping-pong game soon please?

9:24 am  
Anonymous Kieran said...

"I'm not complaining, but d'you think we can finish the Bruce ping-pong game soon please?"

Ha ha! But you started it, Michael - no wait! Dylan did!

"Who is the greatest rock performer you have ever seen ? What was your first Dylan concert ?"

Hi Paul,

Bruce is the best live performer I've seen, and my first Bob show was Slane 1984 - not a promising start, I'll grant you, but I've seen him about 12 times since, last time being Dublin about 2 years ago...

9:29 am  

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