Saving You $2million


Screen Shot 2014-06-27 at 1.29.41 PM

In case you didn’t hear, Sotheby’s auctioned off what they are claiming are the original hand-written lyrics to “Like a Rolling Stone” this week for just over $2 million (including buyer’s premium). This strikes me as at least somewhat bizarre, since Dylan has been so perfectly clear that the song was culled from a ten-page typed rant, so it would seem to me that this is the hand-written second draft. I’m sure some exceptionally rich person isn’t that concerned about that.

You can see the pages at Sotheby’s site, and click through to enlarge them. I would even think that you could just print out your own copies for a lot less than $2 million. It makes an excellent craft project now that the kids are out of school for the summer!

The Guardian has a good write up of some of the marginalia here – I presume that they blew their copy up too.

Screen Shot 2014-06-27 at 1.30.07 PM

Dylan and the Dead (1986)



Bob Dylan’s relationship with The Grateful Dead has been a long, involved and convoluted one. The earliest intersection that I’ve come across this year was the 1969 Dylan interview by Jann Wenner in Rolling Stone where Dylan does little more than acknowledge that he’s aware of the San Francisco bands of the period, including the Dead. Of course, Jerry Garcia released an album of Dylan covers in 2005 with performances culled from as far back as 1973. And Garcia joined Dylan on stage in San Francisco in November 1980.

In the summer of 1986 Dylan and The Grateful Dead performed four shows together, with Dylan headlining three and the Dead headlining one. Those shows were in Akron, Oh (July 2), Buffalo, NY (July 4) and Washington, DC (July 6 & 7). The Buffalo show was the first Dylan concert that I ever bought a ticket to. More on that tomorrow.

Dylan and The Dead played six songs together according to Bjorner – three in Akron and three at the second show at RFK Stadium in Washington. Because Grateful Dead bootlegs are so incredibly available, I direct you here:

Click on the year, the show, and then the song to hear it. This archive, by the way, is just the most amazing thing I have ever seen. It makes me want to be a Grateful Dead fan.

Oh, yes, I’m not a Grateful Dead fan. At all. I mean, I could name maybe three of their songs. Just could never get into them at all. Have had many Dead fans try to convert me. It has never worked, not even a little bit. I think I even went to a Dead show at Canada’s Wonderland (with someone else paying for my ticket) and I left to ride the roller coasters. I just do not care about them.

So, I sat down to listen to these appearances. Both of them occur during the Dead sets, with Dylan joining them. Bjorner indicates that it was during the encores, but that doesn’t seem to be the case, at least as the concerts are presented on ListenToTheDead.


Let’s start with Akron. Dylan opened this show, so the Dead were playing after him. Bjorner has him playing guitar on “Little Red Rooster”. You can definitely hear a lot of cheering from the crowd about one minute in, and it seems unrelated to what the band is playing, so I assume that is when Dylan strode on. You’d have to be a much better blogger than I am to note the extent of his contribution, which seems to be guitar. This is followed by two Dylan songs. The first, “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright” is, I think, the best collaboration that will take place. I genuinely like this – Dylan belts out his lyrics and the Dead add a lot to the song musically. This is a really strong performance of a very good song. The duet that follows, “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue”, is not nearly as good. Dueting with Dylan is a fool’s errand, as Joan Baez can probably tell you, and this just doesn’t work at all. The Dead have their way of working and Dylan has his, and they seem to clash here.

Five days later, in Washington, they try it again. This version of “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue” is much worse. Dylan seems to join midway through, and you first hear him sing at about the 4:00 minute mark. This is full of clanging guitars and sounds sort of out of tune. This is exactly what I don’t like about the Dead in a nutshell. “Desolation Row” isn’t that much better. They’re not in sync with the lyrics, they’re sort of randomly rotating parts, and it is just an unholy mess. Bjorner indicates that Dylan also played on the version of “Satisfaction” that ended the show, but you can’t make him out. He certainly could be there.

That’s it. To my ear, one good song out of six. Everything else sounds like people stepping on each other’s toes.

Dylan will tour with The Dead again in 1987, and that will result in a live album widely regarded to be both the worst Dylan album and the worst Dead album – quite the accomplishment. Not something to look forward after this little taste.

Here’s that version of “Satisfaction” from RFK Stadium, which is the only one of the songs that I can find on YouTube:

Hard to Handle



Like all Dylan tours after 1974, the True Confessions tour of 1986 is well bootlegged, and you can probably get at least a halfway decent copy of every single show. The first leg of that tour, which included shows in New Zealand, Australia and Japan, was the subject of an early HBO concert documentary, Hard to Handle. Filmed on February 24 and 25 in Sydney (the fifth and sixth of six shows in that city that month), the film seems to me to be fairly representative of the way that those shows sounded.

The True Confessions tours (the second one took place in summer 1986) used Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers as the supporting band, as well as the now obligatory back-up singers (the Queens of Rhythm). Dylan played with the band, did a few songs solo each night, and also left the stage usually twice during the show so that Tom Petty could perform songs like “Refugee” and “American Girl”. There seems to be a division among bootleggers about how to deal with this:

  1. Present the show in its entirety, including the Tom Petty songs. This pushes most of the bootlegs into a third CD as the shows run close to three hours
  2. Chop the songs by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, often bringing the show back onto two CDs
  3. Passive-aggressivly note on the liner notes “Tom Petty song” without even bothering to give a title, even if the song was a huge hit. Dylan fans can be, er, petty.

Hard to Handle falls into the second category. You know that it’s The Heartbreakers up there, but you would never guess that they performed four songs on each of these evenings. It’s a Bob Dylan special, after all. It’s also short, at an hour. Dylan does ten songs, which is just under half of a typical set on this leg of this tour (he actually did 25 and 27 songs at these two shows, which is quite extensive by his standards – I’m sure that there was some talk about getting significant material to work with). About half the songs are taken from each of the shows, and, somewhat bizarrely, the spoken introduction to “In the Garden” is taken from the show on the 25th but the song itself comes from the previous evening.

“In the Garden” is the most striking song on the bootlegs. While riding my bike yesterday I was listening to one of the earlier Sydney shows (very much like this one) and actually pulled over to make a note about Dylan’s spiel before this song, where he talked about heroes (Muhammed Ali, Bruce Springsteen, Michael Jackson (boy, would no one say that now…)), all of whom he disavows before singing a song about his hero, Jesus Christ. Many Dylan sources (i.e. Wikipedia) suggest that Dylan was post-Christian at this point in his career, but as this set piece makes clear, nothing could be further from the truth.

Watching this video is a bit trying for me. In stark contrast to the Newport material from the mid-1960s or the Rolling Thunder video in Renaldo and Clara, there is not much to hold my visual interest here (this is inapt comparison, but we just watched the Katy Perry concert video with our eight year old and I realized how much the idea of a band on a stage performing songs is an antiquated idea now). The show is not that well shot – too much from the same side with the keyboardist – but I’m not sure how visually appealing you could likely make this anyway.

I do think that it is a good representation of the tour as it was in Australia, which is not yet all the way there. The version of “Like a Rolling Stone” is incredibly limp, for example, and the band isn’t adding a great deal to the material. The versions here are less changed than they have been in the past (with The Band) or will be again in the future. It is a bit of a conservative sound. One big advantage of the tour is that they did a lot of material. While the shows often opened in similar ways, a lot of songs got done (Bjorner lists 48, with many of them, from “Mr. Tambourine Man” to “Heart of Mine”, sung only once on the tour). There are compilations of this material out there, and those seem better to me than any of the individual shows – but I certainly haven’t listened to all of the shows, far from it.

Hard to Handle is available with some subtitles here until Dylan and/or HBO’s lawyers get a hold of it. You can probably also get every single song individually on YouTube and piece the whole thing together yourself. Enjoy!