Dylan vs the 1960s



It was the first week of 1994 when Bob Dylan killed the spirit of the 1960s. The scene of the crime was the college bowl games. The instrument of death? An ad for Cooper-Lybrand, one of the world’s largest accounting firms, featuring a soundtrack in which the great Richie Havens sings “The Times They Are A-Changin’”. The reaction was swift and immediate, with papers like The Orlando Sentinel writing about Dylan “selling out” and Time magazine declaring with their headline “Just In Case You Hadn’t Heard – the 60s Are Over”.

It’s a familiar refrain. You heard this past February when Dylan appeared in a Chrysler ad, and I’ll write about it again in a few weeks when Dylan works with Victoria’s Secret and then again with Starbucks. In February I noted to people that Dylan had a two decade tradition of leasing his work to advertisers, so all the hand-wringing jeremiads from the chattering classes at Salon.com were a huge waste of bandwidth. It doesn’t matter though, these stories are relentless.

This week’s example is a new ad from luxury car manufacturer Acura, who are using Sid Vicious’s cover of “My Way” to . Now it is the moment for the children of the 1970s to say “But it was supposed to be about the music, man!”, even though that Vicious cover never seemed to be a cynically calculated effort to cash in in the first place (it’s one of the things that made it great).

I can’t write about the actual ad, though I do have the vaguest recollection of it, because I cannot find a copy on the internet anywhere. It seems like it might have just been a touch too early for permanent internet archiving. Here’s Richie Havens doing the song, you can imagine your own accounting ad if you want to.

Later in the year, Dylan was called upon to save the spirit of the 1960s from lame acts like Green Day. On August 14 he was one of the headliners for Woodstock ’94, another event that was killing the spirit of the 1960s. I do remember this one. I recall that there was a certain sense of outrage about the prices of food, water, beer and all that kind of stuff. It was also broadcast on pay-per-view, which everyone I knew found repellent, because they all conveniently forgot that the first show was a capitalist enterprise by a bunch of hippies looking to make a big score, so the fact that the second one was exactly the same seems entirely apropos to me. In both cases, I think, the organizers lost money when the crowd tore the fences down, so there was a certain parallelism there. Most of the reviews were lousy. The New York Times ran an article featuring people who won free tickets to the show complaining about how bad it was.

Dylan, of course, famously skipped the first concert in 1969, which was held a few miles from his home. He went to the Isle of Wight with The Band instead (taking an enormous pay day – seriously, at what point was the 1960s not about making money?) and played a pretty good show that disappointed some people. Now here he was twenty-five years later, making the appearance that the world had been waiting for. It was a good, short show that is keenly typical of the extensive 1994 tour. At this point his supporting band had played about 250 shows with him, so they are tight, tight, tight if a bit the same every night if you listen to a lot of them. The set is described as one of the highlights of the mud-soaked show, which seems a bit hard to comprehend – it’s not that good. Solid though. Most of the other acts were Lollapalooza standards (Red Hot Chili Peppers, Nine Inch Nails, Porno for Pyros) or stadium rockers (Red Hot Chili Peppers, Metallica, Aerosmith) doing their big venue thing.

To my mind, Dylan missed two huge possibilities that would have made this the greatest Dylan show ever. Had he done either of these things, I’d have been tickled.

First, he should have played the same songs that he played at Isle of Wight. Perhaps, though, he didn’t have the time. That show was longer than his Woodstock 94 set, where he played third from the top on the Saturday night (before the Chili Peppers and, inexplicably, Peter Gabriel), so maybe it wasn’t possible.

Failing that, I feel like he should have played a set that he might have played at the original. He comes pretty close. Of the twelve songs that he did that night, nine were from his 1960s albums and one was from the Basement Tapes, so would have been written before Woodstock. The only exceptions were the opener (“Jokerman” from Infidels) and “God Knows” (from Under the Red Sky), neither of which seemed essential here. I think it would have been funnier if he had done a total nostalgia set for the nostalgia show.

Ah, but who am I to dictate song choices to the man who killed the 1960s? Like Sid Vicious, Dylan did it his way.

Here’s a video of Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower” from that show. The phrasing of the lyrics is just the weirdest thing ever.