“I’m only Bob Dylan when I have to be.”
(1986 press conference)
When I was a kid, Dylan was my hero. I loved his songs, his strange voice, his wit and compassion. He seemed to care about the down-trodden and oppressed. It was inspiring for a shy kid looking for direction. I looked up to the guy, and felt connected to him, because his songs touched me, moved me.
I had no idea if the man himself really had any of the attributes that I pinned on him. All the ideas I had about him were from his songs, and the few books that I’d read.
As I got older, I started to suspect that the guy I was holding up as a hero, was, possibly, simply a man like any other. I didn’t like that notion. I wanted him to be larger than life, an aspirational figure, someone who would uphold a morality that I couldn’t, be a champion for the underdog.
After many Dylan Anonymous meetings, I came to accept that he was simply a musician. He was not a deity, higher power or superhero. He was not The Myth.
Today, 35 years later, I still think the music is great – but I no longer idolize the guy. I just love the beautiful, varied and cinemascopic songs, the voice that sings them. I also like that he does what he wants, regardless of how his audience might respond.
So, while riding on a train going West, I asked myself, ‘When did the Dylan Myth begin, who started it, and why do people keep accusing him of ‘selling out’?
“So all you newsy people, that spread the news around.
You can listen to my story, listen to my song.
You can step on my name, you can try ‘n’ get me beat,
When I leave New York, I’ll be standin’ on my feet.”
His tall tales and general evasiveness regarding his background started before he was even called Dillon, Bobby Vee, Zushe ben Avraham, Elston Gunn, Blind Boy Grunt or Bob Dylan. The Myth can be traced back to the late 1950’s – if his classmates’ memories are reliable.
The film No Direction Home has some great recollections by people who knew him back then, and there are a myriad books retelling the same (or similar) story. Bob Dylan’s own memoirs, Chronicles Vol. 1, is also a fascinating version of The Myth.
It seems fairly certain that the young Bob dreamed of escaping the dreary confines of parochial hometown Hibbing and discovered the magic carpet of music. He was in several bands – The Jokers(1956), The Shadow Blasters(1957), The Golden Chords(1957/58), The Satin Tones(1958), The Rockets(late 1958) and Elston Gunn & The Rock Boppers(1959).
To his great credit, he followed his dream to fulfil his Yearbook ambition and “join Little Richard”.
Everything appeared to progress well at first. He paid his dues in the clubs, pubs and coffee houses of New York He learned his craft, learned how to work an audience, and how to write. He took opportunities that presented themselves and had both ambition and self-confidence.
His love and admiration for Woody Guthrie was obvious, but he seemed to soak up everything he heard, from Odetta to John Lee Hooker, Dave Van Ronk to Victoria Spivey. He also possessed a knack for remembering melodies and songs and was not averse to borrowing other people’s style and technique. Like all musicians, he learnt by copying and adapting what he saw and heard around him.
“…he took the basic song and if he didn’t like the lyrics he just changed it to what he wanted.” – LeRoy Hoikkala on Robert Zimmerman in the late 1950s.
He also spun more yarns than a fairy tale convention.
In 1963, Andrea Svedberg’s Newsweek article did a hatchet job, an expose, on the newly emerging Bobby Dylan, and it hurt.
Amid general snootiness and repetition of (wholly unfounded) rumours that someone else had written Blowin’ In The Wind, the article took delight in outing The Myth. Rather than being the bohemian, ramblin’ Woody circus minstrel he had constructed, young Bobby Dylan was found to be Robert Zimmerman, who came from a quietly respectable, middle-class Jewish family.
It didn’t harm his career in the long run. In fact, it may have helped, because it created more mystery and probably led him to reassess his attitude towards the Press, and the information it was prudent to release.
It’s a useful tool, The Dylan Myth. A coat of many colours. It creates intrigue and mystique. It keeps people guessing and grants the man behind The Myth the freedom to live his real life, his life away from performing and being Bob Dylan.
Today, X factory finalists and other drama-schooled celebrities are taught how to deal with the media, how to project and protect their image. Everything is controlled, designed and orchestrated. Nothing is left to chance. Tricky questions are taught to be fielded with tact and grace. When young starlets deviate from this orchestration, they end up in Beiberland and rehab.
Celebrities, and their PR managers, charm and befriend the media. They hire manicured, draped and anonymous houses and pretend to let us into their Hello! homes, their lives. Rock Stars compose Press Releases about their impending divorces. They are treated like royalty, pandered to and indulged.
Things were different when Robert Zimmerman started to morph into Bob Dylan (His name was changed, legally, on the 9th of August, 1962).
“You can buy the best of Bob Dylan for $5.98. Don’t ask to meet him.”
Albert Grossman often seems to be credited or blamed for creating The Dylan Myth, but I am not entirely convinced that is the case. He was inventing characters for himself way before he met Mr Grossman.
Elektra Records chairman, Bob Krasnow (friend and business associate of Grossman’s), believes that “what you see today in the music business is the result of Albert. He changed the whole idea of what a negotiation was all about. Albert understood that music was becoming an industry.“
“He was the first person to realize that there was real money to be made in the music business“, said David Braun (music lawyer who represented Bob Dylan during the 1960s).
Jonathan Taplin said: “As far as Bob goes, Albert just got too greedy. He kept a huge percentage of Dylan’s publishing rights at a time when many other artists completely controlled their own publishing.”
Dylan later told Robert Sheldon, “I finally had to sue him. Because Albert wanted it quiet, he settled out of court. He had me signed up for ten years… for part of my records, for part of my everything. He only had me for 20%. There were others who had to give him 50%.“
Peter Yarrow felt Dylan owed Grossman’s far more than money: “Look, just as there never would have been a Peter, Paul and Mary, there never would have been a Bob Dylan who could have survived and made it without Albert Grossman. Personally, artistically and in a business sense, Albert Grossman was the sole reason Bob Dylan made it.“
I don’t agree with Mr Yarrow’s opinion. I think Dylan’s talent, charisma and ambition would have shone through, without Albert Grossman.
I think Mr Grossman helped shelter him from the intrusions of the Press, by making him unapproachable, but no-one could have predicted the focus that Dylan would become. He went from captivating folky beatnik to Spokesman for his Generation in a very short time.
It Ain’t Me, Babe
When you think about it, it’s an odd occurrence – to raise a musician to the level of spokesman or cultural leader. The media attention must have been great, in terms of wanting to cut through and make a living from your work, but to be held up as some kind of figurehead would surely have been troubling, especially at such a young age.
For politicians, though, it would have been the aim, the goal. Martin Luther King and John F Kennedy all held the hopes of the people, were spokesmen for their own generations. They were elevated to positions far above ordinary men, but they set out to achieve that. I don’t think Bob Dylan set out to be a spokesman for a generation. He just captured and focused certain feelings in his songs.
“I was just there at the right time with pen in hand”
– Bob Dylan, 1978
Dylan’s perceived connection with ‘protest’ and/or politics, has always struck me as odd.
Did people not listen to his songs?
“My name it ain’t nothing, my age it means less.”
“You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows”.
“Well, I try my best
To be just like I am
But everybody wants you
To be just like them
They say sing while you slave and I just get bored.”
Along with the whole of My Back Pages, It Ain’t Me, Babe, Restless Farewell and many more since.
He was, at heart, a rock n roller from the start. He had a deep passion for the old songs of America, but stumbled into the folk scene by accident. The songs, the stories, were as vibrant and expansive as rainbows, and he played them with a fresh, different attitude. A James Dean, Buddy Holly, Elvis attitude. When asked what tunes the Bobby of The Golden Chords liked to play, his band mate, LeRoy Hoikkala said: “Some of the southern type music, the blues songs…a lot of Little Richard. Bob loved Little Richard, so we did a lot of Little Richard stuff.”
A rigid folk scene was never going to contain him for long.
I don’t mean to suggest that his topical, beautiful, shattering early songs were not genuine or absolutely heartfelt, I just don’t think Dylan was into the politics, or rules of that particular folk or ‘protest’ music scene. I think he wanted to say something about the madness and sadness he saw, discovered he was good at it and wanted to make a living as a musician.
“I was singing to define the way I felt about the world.”
It might be worth mentioning that his girlfriends, Suze Rotolo and Joan Baez, were also very involved in politics and protest…just as his girlfriend in the late 70s was very involved in Jesus. Dylan seems to get completely absorbed by whatever piques his interest, gets right to the heart of it, then moves on, which is typical of most artists. Picasso didn’t just paint angular harlequins.
Dylan has said, on several occasions, that he felt constrained by the ‘Folk/Protest’ movement of the early 1960s:
“Folk music was a strict and rigid establishment. If you sang Southern Mountain Blues, you didn’t sing Southern Mountain Ballads and you didn’t sing City Blues. If you sang Texas Cowboy songs, you didn’t play English ballads. It was really pathetic.”
“I didn’t much ever pay attention to that. If I liked a song, I would just learn it and sing it the only way I could play it…But it didn’t go down well with the tight-thinking people. You know, I’d hear things like ‘the kid is really bastardising up that song’.”
“When I started writing those kinds of songs, there wasn’t anybody doing things like that. Woody Guthrie had done similar things but he hadn’t really done that type of song…He contributed a lot to my style lyrically and dynamically but my musical background had been different, with rock n’ roll and rhythm and blues playing a big part…In other words, I played all the folk songs with a rock ‘n’ roll attitude. This is what made me different and allowed me to cut through all the mess and be heard.”
“There’s no black and white, left and right, to me anymore. There’s only up and down, and down is very close to the ground. And I’m trying to go up without thinking about anything trivial, such as politics.”
– December, 1963
“Me, I don’t want to write for people anymore – you know, be a spokesman. From now on, I want to write from inside me …I’m not part of no movement… I just can’t make it with any organization…”
– to Nat Hentoff, 1964.
“To tell you the truth, I really don’t know what politics are. When I am seriously dealing with something, I find my self to be on the side of the right this time and the next moment I am completely on the side of the left side.”
It’s hard to imagine what it must have been like – being so famous so quickly, and, most importantly, the kind of fame he had was so…unusual.
I have a friend who is an actor in a long-running British TV soap opera. He explained to me how the perceptions and expectations of people towards the character he plays can directly affect his private life, his real life, depending on the storyline of the soap opera he acts in. He has been verbally and physically attacked, spat at in the street – because of the person he plays on TV.
As frightening as it may sound, some people genuinely don’t seem to understand the difference between reality and an actor playing a role on television.
It seems to have been similar with Bob Dylan, but magnified a thousand times. Just because he wrote some meaningful songs, that touched a lot of people, he had been hoisted up onto a pedestal and demands placed on him. The art had been mistaken for the artist. The song had been mistaken for the singer. Responsibilities had been tied to the artist which did not belong to him.
Every artist who puts their work in the market place has to live with criticism, negative and positive. That’s part of the deal. However, does an artist have to accept the expectations and dreams of the people who buy (or don’t buy) his work?
I don’t think so.
“People say ‘You’re the prophet, you’re the savior.’ I never wanted to be a prophet or savior. Elvis maybe…”
– Bob Dylan on 60 Minutes.
With Bob Dylan, the whole thing seemed to get wildly out of hand very quickly, and it still goes on. The reaction to his recent appearance in a Chrysler advert is a case in point. Social Networks were alive with calls of ‘Sell Out!’.
This statement is typical, but by no means the most vicious or unreasonable:
“The real villian is Bob Dylan, who traded in a generation’s memories when he allowed the song to be used as an advertising jingle, probably for a tidy profit.”
I can’t see why people are so upset that Bob Dylan sometimes does adverts, private gigs or allows his music to be used to sell things like cars, yoghurt, beer, his own accountancy firm or Co-Operative supermarkets.
He’s not selling Arms, drugs or blood diamonds. He never robbed any churches or cut off any babies heads. He’s a musician who is making a living in a sales-based industry. He isn’t a charity, although he has, and does, a lot of work for non-profit organisations and causes that he believes in. He tends not to invite film crews to witness such things. He has also been known to spontaneously donate money to local communities…but I digress.
Bob Dylan supposedly ‘sold out’ for ‘going electric’, for signing to Columbia, for singing Country, for singing Gospel, for making money (like Tour 74 and the 1978 alimony Tour), for not singing ‘Folk’, for going ‘Vegas’, ‘Disco’, ‘Pop’.
If he stays out of the limelight, he’s a recluse. He has been accused of pretty much everything, from racism to alcoholism. He ‘sold out!’ for doing Hearts Of Fire (“I did it for money. I mean, why else would I do it?“) and, of course, for doing adverts.
He’s had people try to enter his home, go through his garbage, searching for clues to God knows what. There have been open letters printed in the Press, answers to all manner of questions demanded of him. He’s been quoted by Presidents, called ‘Judas’ for playing music he always set out to play, has been stalked, sued, derided, insulted and followed by women pretending to be his wife. He regularly has hundreds of people on file who are considered a threat to his safety, and for what?
Because he writes songs.
It really is bizarre.
“People come up to me like I’m some long lost brother or something, just because I wrote a song which happens to bother them in some particular way. Well, I got nothing to do with these people, and they got nothing to do with me.”
Don’t Follow Leaders
Dylan has tried to destroy The Myth many times. Self Portrait, according to the man himself, was an attempt to do that very thing.
“I wasn’t going to be anybody’s puppet and I figured this record would put an end to that…I was just so fed up with all that who people thought I was nonsense.”
– Cameron Crowe, Biograph, 1985.
“ I’d also seen that I was representing all these things that I didn’t know anything about…they sorta figured me as the kingpin of all that. I said, ‘Wait a minute, I’m just a musician. So my songs are about this and that. So what?’”
“There’d be crowds outside my house. And I said, ‘Well, fuck it. I wish these people would just forget about me. I wanna do something they can’t possibly like, they can’t relate to. They’ll see it, and they’ll listen, and they’ll say, ‘Well, let’s get on to the next person. He ain’t sayin’ it no more. He ain’t given’ us what we want,’ you know? They’ll go on to somebody else. But the whole idea backfired.”
– Rolling Stone, 1984.
The career sabotage, as Dylan said, did seem to backfire. If anything, it seemed to fan the flames of mystery. Fans and critics alike seemed to demand that he returned to whatever position they had perceived he occupied before he crashed his Triumph. To join whatever cause happened to be popular.
People bought his albums, (and bootlegs, for which Dylan receives no money at all), saw his shows but that wasn’t enough.
Bob Dylan must be more than a musician, more than a songwriter, more than a man. He must be Super Bob, prophet and holder of a generation’s moral compass.
You have to buy in to something in order to sell out from it, don’t you? Bob Dylan, in my opinion, never bought into anything. I can find no evidence that he belonged to any organisation, left-wing, right-wing or otherwise.
He distanced himself from the ‘Folk/Protest’ movement precisely because it was limiting, on a variety of levels, and probably because of the demands that audiences were putting on him. People at the time seemed to want a leader, a champion, a focus. Bob Dylan did not want to be that person.
The industry he works in is as sales-based as any other. It is a capitalist operation, so can’t be anything else. He is a musician and sells his work to people who want to buy it.
I see no problem with musicians making money. I wish more of it went to the artist, rather than the industry they are surrounded by, but it is what it is.
I know musicians who choose to work outside of the music industry, despite having been offered ‘deals’. That’s their choice, but I know that they struggle, financially, and have to work extremely hard to earn a decent standard of living and, more importantly, to get their music heard.
Licensing your music for TV commercials is a very good way to make money, aside from gigging and selling albums, books and other merchandise. Woody Guthrie had sponsors and Hank Williams regularly had advertisements on his radio shows – just ask Miss Audrey. It’s not a new idea, but a cursory scroll through Google, Facebook and Twitter, suggests that Bob Dylan gets attacked for doing it. He sells out.
Because he is still associated with a social movement that happened, 50 years ago, in parts of America. A social movement that he deliberately distanced himself from at the time.
How crazy is that?
Some people, like Tom Waits (“Your credibility, your integrity and your honor are things no company should be able to buy”), don’t want to License their music or use their image to sell products, but most do. It’s a personal choice. I think great art can make money without cheapening it. I don’t think an artist has to starve to be respected.
“I can tell you that it doesn’t mean anything to him that people might not like what he is doing. Him still do it. And that is the most important thing. Him still do it.”
– Bob Marley
“I’m not selling breakfast cereal, or razor blades or whatever. You know thing’s go better with Coke because Aretha Franklin told you so and Maxwell House coffee must be OK because Ray Charles is singing about it. Everybody’s singing about ketchup or headache medicine or something. In the beginning it wasn’t anything like that, had nothing to do with pantyhose and perfume and barbecue sauce…Elvis, Little Richard, Chuck Berry… they all struck fear into the heart. Now they got a purpose sort of… to sell soap, blue jeans, anything, it’s become country club music… White House… Kentucky Fried Chicken… it’s all been neutralised… nothing threatening, nothing magical… nothing challenging. For me I hate to see it because it set me free, set the whole world on fire.”
– Bob Dylan, 1985
“What’s money? A man is a success if he gets up in the morning and goes to bed at night and in between does what he wants to do.“
Advertising has changed a lot since James Brown did commercials for hair spray.
After years of chasing generalised demographics, the trend is now for ‘psychographic profiling’.
Psychographics look at the mental model of the consumer in the context of a customer life-cycle. Amazon was a market leader in this technique, through innovations like “recommended products” and “users like me also bought.”
Psychographic algorithms have learned to predict its users, and what they are interested in.
Kids who like Jake Bugg, for example, may well be interested in certain albums by Bob Dylan.
The market works. I get to enjoy great music and the musicians get paid.
Michael and Janet Jackson, Ray Charles, Britney Spears, Beyonce, Aretha Franklin, Queen, Pink, Christina Aguilera, Kylie Minogue, Tina Turner, David Bowie, Madonna, Ludacris, Kanye West, Nicki Minaj and One Direction have all been ‘the face of Pepsi’.
The Rolling Stones advertised Kellogg’s Rice Krispies in 1964.
The Who, Golden Earring, The Moody Blues and The Turtles advertised Coke or Pepsi. Cream did Falstaff beer, Jefferson Airplane and Jerry Garcia did Levi’s jeans.
I’m not sure when it became immoral or ‘a sell out’ to earn money from advertising, but Dylan seems to get the most vitriolic and sustained criticism.
He has actually done surprisingly few ‘Adverts’ in his career as Legendary Seer of the Sixties. He advertised Fender musical instruments in 1965 and allowed his instrumental, Turkey Chase, to be used in a commercial for a Greek beer in 1979, but as his songs are of paramount importance to him, it isn’t surprising that the following list is relatively short.
It is worth noting that, according to Bob Spitz, Dylan has a permanent clause in his contract with Sony that gives him absolute control over how his music is used.
“They were put together down in Argentina/By a guy making 30 cents a day.”
A version of The Times They Are A-Changin’ was used in a commercial for Dylan’s accountancy firm, Coopers & Lybrand.
Agency president Fred Bertino said, “we got lucky!“
Part of the agreement blocks Hill Holiday (the Ad Agency responsible for the commercial) from using Dylan’s name, even when discussing the commercial.
“We bought the rights to the song, not the rights to talk about him,” Bertino explains.
The version in the advert is Richie Haven’s, not Bob Dylan’s.
It was definitely Dylan’s decision, however, as he owns the copyright.
When The Times was originally copyrighted in 1963, the U.S. copyright statute provided for a 28-year original term and a 28-year renewal period.
The standard Songwriters Guild of America contract in the ’60s limited the grant of rights to the publisher to 28 years (same as the original U.S. copyright term), after which the worldwide rights would revert to the songwriter.
It appears that Dylan’s contract with Witmark had this provision, since when the copyright to The Times was renewed in 1991, it was renewed in the name of Special Rider Music, rather than Warner Bros. Inc. (Witmark’s successor).
In addition, even prior to the copyright renewals of his early songs, Dylan appears to have had control over the use of his songs as jingles. (From Krasilovsky and Shemel, This Business Of Music, 7th Edition 1995)
Dylan licenses The Times They Are A-Changin’, this time sung by a children’s choir, to be used for a Bank Of Montreal commercial.
Dylan licenses the song ‘Love Sick‘ to Victoria’s Secrets, makers of ladies garments. He appears in the TV commercial.
He also allowed an exclusive compilation CD of his work to be sold by Victoria’s Secrets.
Kaiser Permanente Health Insurance are granted license to use the original, album version of The Times They Are A-Changin’.
Dylan’s people agreed an 18-month deal whereby Starbucks had exclusive rights to sell Bob Dylan: Live at The Gaslight 1962.
HMV Canada pulled all Bob Dylan products off their shelves in protest. HMV began stocking their shelves with Dylan’s albums (albeit sparingly) in December 2005 in order to capitalize on the Christmas season. HMV fully restored Dylan’s discography to their shelves in the spring of 2006.
Columbia later offered the Live at The Gaslight 1962 CD as a free giveaway with any Bob Dylan purchase at HMV stores.
Dylan appeared on a stool in an Apple ‘Silhouette Ad’. The video was created to help sell ‘Modern Times’ and featured the song “Someday Baby.”
Bob Dylan appears in a TV commercial for the Cadillac Escalade. The music is not his. The advert also promotes the show he hosted on XM Satellite Radio, whose receivers are standard on the Cadillac Escalade.
Dylan licensed the original album version of Blowin In The Wind for use in a commercial by supermarket chain, Cooperative Group in the UK.
His label later said that “the Co-op’s adherence to ethical guidelines on environmental impact, fair trade and social responsibility, influenced his decision.“
A Co-Op spokesman said “When we put the ad together we were astounded that no-one had ever used Blowin’ In The Wind in this context before. We felt the sentiments expressed in Dylan’s masterpiece summed up the optimism we have for the Co-operative.“
Also in 2009, a remix of the song, Forever Young was used in a Pepsi commercial. It featured images of a mid-Sixties Dylan, with shades, cut with images of Will.I.Am, who raps a verse. The advertisement ends with the slogan: “Every generation refreshes the world.“
An advert for Google Instant cleverly used clips from the Subterranean Homesick Blues scene from Don’t Look Back, featuring part of the album version of the song.
Brother used a mechanized cover of The Times They Are A-Changin’, performed by printers.
The license would have been granted by Dylan, regardless of the performer.
Retailer Kohl’s ran a television commercial in November for the Christmas holidays. The commercial shows a couple decorating an elderly woman’s apartment, to the sound of a cover of Dylan’s Forever Young.
Chobani, makers of yoghurt, used the original version of I Want You as soundtrack to their commercial, featuring a bear.
(The inclusion of a bear in the advert is clearly a reference to Albert Grossman, who was known to frequent shops.)
“It’s hard these days to find food made with only real natural ingredients. But at Chobani, it’s the only way we know how. A Cup of yogurt won’t change the world, but how we make it, might.”
The tagline is “How matters.“
Also in 2014, Jeep used two Dylan songs for car commercials. The first was a cover of Blind Willie Johnsons Motherless Children for Jeep Cherokees.
The second used Rocks And Gravel from Live at the Gaslight 1962.
Then there was the infamous Chrysler advert at The Super Bowl, which features Dylan selling an American-made car.
“Good car to drive, after a war” wasn’t the tag line.
There is a Bob Dylan Swiss watch and a Gibson Bob Dylan SJ-200 signature model guitar, 120 of which are signed by Dylan himself. One of the guitars is apparently owned by the Bob Dylan Corporation.
“My son is a corporation and his public image is strictly an act.”
(Abe Zimmerman, 1963)
Dylan played at West Point Military Academy on Saturday, 13th October.
Elliott Mintz: ”Bob Dylan is doing pretty much the same thing that he has been doing for the last 30 years. The nature of the venue is not of great importance to Bob. He’s just Bob.”
From the stage, Dylan remarked: “Talk about a guillotine there! Actually not such a bad way to go. There are much worse ways than that!” after It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding).
He played Masters Of War, which pours scorn on armaments manufacturers and the politicians and military advisors who send soldiers off to fight wars.
On February 3, Dylan and his band performed at the Biltmore Hotel, Las Vegas, for approximately 250 people. The show was a corporate sponsored event and was not open to the general public.
The show was sponsored by Nomura Securities International, Inc., a subsidiary of Nomura Securities Co., Ltd. and they are the largest brokerage house in Japan. Interestingly, Nomura helped to underwrite a US issue of Sony stock in 1961.
Nomura president Ethan Penner apparently remarked: “I am not here paying someone a lot of money to amuse themselves – they are here to amuse me.“
Good luck with that, Mr Penner.
On Sept. 27, Dylan performed at the Catholic Eucharist Congress in Bologna, Italy. Pope John Paul II was there, in body, if not in spirit.
On the 14th of November, Bob Dylan played at an Applied Materials private employee party, along with Jakob Dylan and Wallflowers. They didn’t sing together.
Dylan played at a Lucky Jeans private party at Club Rio Suite Hotel And Casino, Las Vegas, NV on March 1st.
“In 1990, Lucky Jeans retailed for almost $70, the top price then. Rock artists would wear our products, and we would hang their photos in the stores. We were known for our twice-a-year parties at the trade shows in Vegas. When Bob Dylan played for us in the mid-’90s, we knew we were a success. Artists like Jackson Browne, who wouldn’t normally play trade shows, loved our brand. They wore our stuff and would perform for us…“
– Barry Perlman, CEO Lucky Brand, Fortune Magazine, Sept 14th 2012
Dylan and Norah Jones played a private show to celebrate Amazon’s 10th Anniversary on July 16th in Seattle. Dylan is the top-selling living male recording artist on Amazon, and Jones is the top-selling female artist.
“It’s not uncommon for high-profile artists, even one as closely associated with the counter-culture as Dylan, to appear at corporate events. The stigma that used to be associated with these corporate gigs seems to be just about gone now. The artist’s motivation for doing this is usually money. They pay extremely well. … (Dylan’s) doing casinos and all kinds of things now. Bob hasn’t been as selective in his choices as he would have been even 10 years ago, or as any artist would have been 10 years ago.“
– Gary Bongiovanni of the concert trade magazine Pollstar.
Getting a massive fee for playing a Private Party for Lucky Brand jeans seems like a massively good idea. I see no moral reason for not doing private gigs. I happen to think Amazon treat their employees disgracefully, but that has nothing to do with Bob Dylan.
The Apple, Google, Pepsi and Chrysler commercials advertised Bob Dylan as much as the products that paid the fee.
Tax Deducatble Charity Organisations
“Bob Dylan’s music endures because he so brilliantly captures our heartbreak, our joy, our frailty, our confusion, our courage and our struggles. His words convey a depth of meaning that few artists can equal, inspiring us and always moving ahead of our expectations.”
– Karen Scott, Amnesty International’s manager of music relations.
Bob Dylan is currently, publicly, supporting the following charities:
Amnesty International, City of Hope, End Hunger Network, Feeding America, K9 Connection and Music Rising.
In 1963, Bob Dylan performed, for free, at an SNCC rally in Greenwood, Mississippi and the historic ‘March on Washington’, where Dr. Martin Luther King made his famous “I Have A Dream” speech.
Dylan sang “Only A Pawn in Their Game”, among others, at the Lincoln Memorial. Given it’s central theme of the racist murderer not being wholly responsible for the crime, with institutionalised racism being equally complicit, it was a brave choice.
In 1964, Dylan wrote Puff The Magic Dragon but gave it away when he realised it was terrible.
On Sunday, August 1, 1971, Dylan played for free at the “Concert for Bangladesh” in the afternoon and evening.
The shows were organised to raise money for a massive refugee crisis that was gripping the South Asian nation of Bangladesh.
Dylan wrote and released the song George Jackson in the same year, as a response to the assassination of the Black Panther and author.
Dylan appeared at a Friends For Chile concert in 1974. It was organised by Phil Ochs. Dylan’s performance was possible influenced by the intake of alcohol.
Rubin Hurricane Carter wrote his autobiography, ‘The Sixteenth Round: From Number 1 Contender to #45472’, in prison. It was published in 1974.
The following year, he sent the book to Bob Dylan, who visited Carter in jail. Inspired by Carter’s story, Dylan and producer Jacques Levy wrote the eight-minute narrative epic “Hurricane,” which ended up on the album Desire.
Dylan featured the song heavily in his Rolling Thunder Revue tour, and played at the New Jersey prison where Carter was held to show support. The Revue, which also featured Joan Baez, Joni Mitchell, Allen Ginsberg and Roger McGuinn, went on to play a benefit concert (to raise money for Carters legal costs) at Madison Square Garden (raising $100,000).
The second benefit at the Houston Astrodome didn’t fare so well. The high ticket price, the arena’s ‘poor sound’ reputation and the question of whether some of the advertised stars would actually appear, prevented a sellout. By the morning after the concert, rumors abounded that the benefit, suffering from high stadium, hotel and transportation expenses, had actually lost money – according to a 1976 issue of Rolling Stone.
The song was licensed for use in the 1999 film, The Hurricane.
The New Yorker film critic David Denby called it: “False, evasive and factually very thin – a liberal fairytale.”
In March 1975, Dylan played a benefit concert, in San Francisco.
It was a one-day festival in aid of Bill Graham’s S.N.A.C.K. (Students Need Athletics, Culture and Kicks) organization.
(Dylan plugged a mime troupe show at the 1965 San Francisco Press Conference. The troupe was being promoted by Bill Graham.)
On June 6, 1982, at the Rose Bowl, Pasadena, CA, 85,000 people showed up for a concert to promote nuclear disarmament.
“Peace Sunday: We Have A Dream”, a six-hour show, featured Bob Dylan as a surprise guest during Joan Baez’s set.
1985 was a busy charity year for Dylan. He contributed vocals to the single, Sun City, which urged artists not to play the Casino and leisure complex in the heart of South Africa. Artists who played there were considered by many to be endorsing the racist Apartheid system.
Interestingly, the following artists did play Sun City:
Elaine Page, Frank Sinatra, Queen, Elton John, Linda Ronstadt (who received $500,000 for six concerts in 1983, saying “I don`t like being told I can`t go somewhere“), Julio Iglesias, The O’Jays, Ray Charles, Boney M, Black Sabbath (Drummer Bev Bevan refused to play the shows, and was replaced by Terry Chimes, formerly of The Clash), Rod Stewart, Status Quo, The Beach Boys, Tina Turner, Dionne Warwick, Laura Branigan, Kim Wilde, Modern Talking, Cher, Dolly Parton, Chicago, Rick Wakeman, Kenny Rogers, Gloria Gaynor, George Benson, Shirley Bassey and Barry Manilow.
Stevie Wonder turned down $2 million to play in Sun City. Bill Cosby turned down a similar amount.
Beyoncé, Mariah Carey, Jay Z, Nelly Furtado and Jon Bon Jovi have all played for members of Libya’s Gaddafi family in recent years. The going rate is $1 Million for 45 minutes.
Dylan also sang on the USA For Africa single, We Are The World and was filmed for the video.
There is fantastic footage (on YouTube) of Dylan rehearsing for his part, asking Stevie Wonder to help him, by playing the chords on the piano and coaching him to get a decent vocal.
In the same year, Dylan infamously headlined the original Live Aid concert in Philadelphia.
After an excited intro from Jack Nicholson (“Some artists’ work speaks for itself; some artist’s work speaks for his generation. It’s my deep personal pleasure to present to you one of America’s great voices of freedom. It can only be one man! The transcendent Bob Dylan!“), Dylan sang three songs with Ron Wood and Keith Richards ‘backing’ him.
As the sound monitors were behind them (and behind a giant curtain where a plethora of stars rehearsed the finale), they could not hear themselves, resulting in a shambolic performance.
Dylan, Richards and Wood may have had a small glass of beer prior to taking the stage…
In between songs, Dylan said this:
“I hope that some of the money…maybe they can just take a little bit of it, maybe…one or two million, maybe…and use it, say, to pay the mortgages on some of the farms that, the farmers here, owe to the banks…“
Bob Geldof, who organised the event, was deeply upset by the statement:
“He displayed a complete lack of understanding of the issues raised by Live Aid…. Live Aid was about people losing their lives. There is a radical difference between losing your livelihood and losing your life. It did instigate Farm Aid, which was a good thing in itself, but it was a crass, stupid, and nationalistic thing to say.“
Peter, Paul and Mary were originally pencilled in to join Bob Dylan for a performance of Blowin’ In The Wind, but Dylan called the organizers a few days before the show saying that he would play with Wood and Richards instead.
Inspired by the comments Dylan made at Live Aid, Willie Nelson, Neil Young and John Mellencamp agreed that family farmers were in dire need of assistance and decided to plan a concert for America. The show was put together in six weeks and was held on September 22, 1985 in Champaign, Illinois before a crowd of 80,000 people. It raised over $9 million for America’s family farmers. It was called Farm Aid. Dylan played a set, backed by Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers.
Dylan helps raise funds for Chabad, by doing a video spot during filming for Hearts Of Fire.
Dylan performed for free at the Bridge II Concert, on December 4, 1988, in California at the Oakland Coliseum.
Performers that night were – Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, Nils Lofgren, Billy Idol, Dylan, G. E. Smith, Jerry Garcia & Bob Weir, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, and Tracy Chapman.
In September 1989, Dylan appeared on a Chabad telethon.
Dylan contributed lead vocals, as Lucky Wilbury, for the 1990 Romanian orphans appeal single, Nobody’s Child. The whole appeal was organised by Olivia Harrison.
In 1991, Dylan contributed a song, This Old Man, to For Our Children, a benefit album for children with pediatric AIDS.
In September, Dylan appeared on TV, helping raise money for the Chabad Telethon, saying:
“Give plenty of money to Chabad. It’s my favorite organization in the world. Really, they do nothing but good things with the money. The more you give, the more it will help everybody.”
On July 30, 1999, Dylan played alongside Eric Clapton, Sheryl Crow, Mary J. Blige, and David Sanborn in a one-night-only concert in New York City’s Madison Square Garden, as a benefit for Clapton’s Crossroads Centre at Antigua.
On March 24, 2002, Dylan attended the 10th Annual Elton John AIDS Foundation Party in Los Angeles.
In 2008, Bob Dylan announced that part of the profits from his upcoming Canadian tour will be donated to the Raise A Reader charity.
Raise A Reader is a charity devoted to improving literacy levels, and has raised more than $10 million to this end. Amongst the other major supporters of the Raise A Reader charity are Michael Buble, Anne Murray and James Taylor.
In 2009, Dylan released Christmas In The Heart.
Feeding America will receive Dylan’s royalties (forever) from sales in the USA, while two further charities, the United Nations’ World Food Programme and Crisis in the UK, will receive royalties from overseas sales.
Dylan said: “That the problem of hunger is ultimately solvable means we must each do what we can to help feed those who are suffering and support efforts to find long-term solutions. I’m honoured to partner with the World Food Programme and Crisis in their fight against hunger and homelessness.
It’s a tragedy that more than 35 million people in this country alone—12 million of those children—often go to bed hungry and wake up each morning unsure of where their next meal is coming from. I join the good people of Feeding America in the hope that our efforts can bring some food security to people in need during this holiday season.”
On July 23, 2009, Kristie Buble (no relation to Michael), a police officer in Long Branch, New Jersey, picked Bob Dylan off the street because residents had complained about an old homeless man walking around in the pouring rain and peering into the windows of a vacant home.
In 1978, when I was a kid of 15, Bob Dylan was my hero.
In truth, I became obsessed by him. I used to try to walk like him, dress like him, act like him – or at least the image of him I created from books, interviews and film clips.
Dylan’s music has been playing throughout my life. It has been in the background through divorces, bereavements, personal struggles – as well as travels, romances, triumphs and various joyful events.
I have been lucky enough to see him in concert quite a few times, most recently at the Royal Albert Hall in London.
My record collection contains every album he has ever officially released. The same is true for Leonard Cohen, Millie Jackson, Tom Waits and Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy, but Dylan is different, somehow. His songs affected me very deeply when I was young, and that affection has grown. He’s a fascinating guy.
The fact that I love the guy’s music, doesn’t mean I should hold him accountable for my expectations, morality or beliefs.
Dylan has adamantly never bought in to anything, as far as I can see, and so the whole notion of him selling out is a nonsense. He is a hard-working musician who sells his music to people who want to buy it. His responsibility to his audience ends there.
He cannot live up to or accept any moral or political ideals that people attach to him. That is a wholly unreasonable demand.
From the very beginning, he has refused to accept the various titles he has been burdened with – leader, Sixties protest singer, folksinger, Born Again Christian, spokesman, idol, prophet, sage or seer.
Neil Young once said that Dylan was “a reflection and extension of the history of American music.”
I think I would agree with that.
Bob Dylan is a great musician, end of story.
“Half of the people can be part right all of the time,
Some of the people can be all right part of the time.
But all the people can’t be all right all the time
I think Abraham Lincoln said that.
I’ll let you be in my dreams if I can be in yours.
I said that.”
Dag Braathen for photos, insults and being Norwegian.
Wikipedia, Google, Rolling Stone, Snoozeweek, Expecting Rain, b-dylan.com, Lars Lindh’s interview with LeRoy Hoikkola, dylandays.com, and my 9 year old daughter, who told me that Dylan’s version of This Old Man was “too scary for kids” and that it would “give her nightmares.”