Urban Legend #347
Bob Dylan & Neil Diamond encounter at The Last Waltz
The story goes like this: “At The Last Waltz, Neil Diamond came off stage and Bob is just about to go on. As he came off, Diamond said, ‘you’re really gonna have to go some to follow me, man, I was so great.’
And Bob says, ‘What do you want me to do, go on stage and fall asleep?’”
That is from a Ron Wood interview in Q Magazine (#75) from 1992.
That story is all over the internet – from Wikipedia to Amazon – in books and magazines. It has become legendary. It makes Dylan look witty and cool and Diamond look arrogant and rude.
But is it true? Did it happen?
“There ain’t a man alive can tell me what to say. I choose my own side and I like it that way.”
Neil Diamond was first asked about that night by Rolling Stone in 1988:
“I had fun. (Got to) hang out backstage with people like Bob Dylan…They knew who I was. I wasn’t a stranger to them. I did feel like odd man out…but I got to see Dylan perform for the first time there.
Before Bob went out, I was kidding with him backstage.
I said ‘you’d better watch because this is my audience and I’m gonna kick them in the ass!”
(I said this) knowing, of course, that these people probably didn’t have the vaguest idea who I was.
He kind of looked at me.
But he went out there and he really kicked ass.”
Rolling Stone asked Diamond about it again in 2010:
“Actually, it was before we both went on,” he said. “He was tuning his guitar and I came over to him and I said, ‘You know, Bob, those are really my people out there.’
He kind of looked at me quizzically. I said it as a joke, but I think it spurred him a little bit and he gave a hell of a performance . . . It was a good night and an exciting night. I was glad to be a part of it.”
In the 1988 Rolling Stone article, Diamond refers to a recording of ‘Sweet Caroline’ that Dylan recorded and personally sent to him. This is mentioned again in 1992, when Neil Diamond appeared on the Arsenio Hall show:
“Bob Dylan sent me a version of him singing Sweet Caroline with his band…which is like nothing you’ve ever heard before.”
He said this with great affection, not malice or derision.
He also repeated his admiration at seeing Dylan play live:
“Bobby Dylan…I saw him only once at The Last Waltz concert and he absolutely killed ‘em”
Now, I can’t see Bob Dylan recording or bothering to send a version of Neil Diamond’s own song to him if there was any animosity between the two men.
“When we meet again and are introduced as friends”
I’m not trying to suggest that they are best friends, but I can’t see the legendary exchange that Ron Wood has described being true.
Dylan has generally been very respectful of fellow musicians, no matter how different they may be from his ‘style’ – Barry Manilow, Michael Bolton, Frank Sinatra, Beastie Boys…all tell of warm and generous comments or reactions from Dylan. Even his comments about Donovan in ‘Don’t Look Back’ were humorous and affectionate.
Also, as reported in The Salt Lake Tribune (July 18, 1976), Dylan went to see Neil Diamond play at the Aladdin Theatre over the 4th July weekend in 1976, months before The Last Waltz concert on 25th November.
Cameron Crowe and Clinton Heylin have both reported that it was seeing the Diamond shows that helped him re-think and re-shape his 1978 stage performances.
He was also impressed enough to sign with Diamond’s manager, Jerry Weintraub, several weeks later.
“I’ll know my song well before I start singing”
Neil Diamond has released two Dylan songs since The Last Waltz ‘incident’ – so there clearly isn’t any lingering ill-feeling, if indeed there ever was.
He covered ‘Lay Lady Lay’ on 2003’s ‘Neil Diamond – Stages’ and then ‘Make You Feel My Love’ on 2008’s ‘Home Before Dark (Deluxe Edition)’
They share the same performing-rights society, SESAC, who, in 1994 lured both Bob Dylan and Neil Diamond away from ASCAP.
“Just pour me a drink and I’ll tell you some lies”
There are several photographs taken backstage at The Last Waltz, and they tell a different story to the version told by Ron Wood, who admitted to having a personal dislike of Neil Diamond – “He is one of my pet hates. In fact none of us could understand what he was doing there anyway (at The Last Waltz).”
Personally, I think Ron Wood either misheard or misinterpreted the actual exchange, or just adjusted the truth to suit his own purposes.
The altercation, as Wood has described, just doesn’t seem to fit.
“You are right from your side and I am right from mine”
Any comparison of the two artists would be impossible, as they are both so unique and so stylistically opposed but in terms of album sales, Diamond has sold more and recorded slightly less than Bob Dylan. He is listed by RIAA (November 2012) as the fifth best-selling album artist of all time. Bob Dylan comes in eighth.
Diamond has released 30 studio albums (not including compilations) and 8 live albums.
Dylan has produced 35 studio albums (not including The Bootleg Series or compilations) and 12 live albums.
Ken Regan/Camera 5 – Backstage shots at The Last Waltz.
Levon Helm and Stephen Davis: This Wheel’s on Fire – 320 pages – William Morrow & Co. 1993 – ISBN 0-688-14070-X
‘He Is … I Say: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Neil Diamond’ by David Wild, Da Capo Press (October 6, 2009).
Rolling Stone magazine.
‘One Too Many Mornings’ – Copyright © 1964, 1966 by Warner Bros. Inc.; renewed 1992, 1994 by Special Rider Music
‘Just Like A Woman’ – Copyright © 1966 by Dwarf Music; renewed 1994 by Dwarf Music
‘A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall’ – Copyright © 1963 by Warner Bros. Inc.; renewed 1991 by Special Rider Music
Lyrics to Neil Diamond songs – Copyright © Stonebridge Music.
Thanks to Dag Braathen for photos and clippings.