Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Bob on Bob: Geldof, Dylan and Live Aid

On this day in 1985, Bob Dylan almost sent Bob Geldof's Live Aid off the rails:

In his autobiography, "Is That It?", Geldof puts it this way
For me the biggest disappointment of the evening was Dylan. He sang three of his classics, including "Blowin' in the Wind", which ought to have been one of the greatest moments of the concert. Unfortunately, the performance was catastrophic. He had met Keith Richards and Ronnie Wood in a night club in New York the night before and they had offered to back him. So, there they were - pop music's seminal songwriter and the world's greatest rhythm guitarist and his partner. But they were out of time, they couldn't stay in tune and they seemed to treat the song with disdain. (I later heard that the curtain had dropped between them and their monitors, so that they couldn't hear themselves perform.) Then he displayed a a complete lack of understanding of the issues raised by Live Aid by saying, unforgivably, 'It would be nice if some of this money went to the American farmers." Something so simplistic and crowd-pleasing was beyond belief. 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, nationalistic thing to say. It was to have been the finale but thank God Ken Kragen had persuaded Lionel Richie to come and sing "We Are the World". Dylan left the stage and as he walked by his manager, he just looked up and said, "Sorry."

Author Michael Gray called it, "the most disheveled, debilitatingly drunk performance of his career" and refers to his remarks as "breath-takingly insensitive" but adds, "...there was nothing dishonourable in Dylan's being, as he visibly was, desperately embarrassed by the whole spectacle of these superstars patting themselves on the back while advancing their global profiles in the name of charity - so that one might not rush to judgment on Dylan's failure to "behave himself".

From his infamous speech to the National Emergency Civil Liberties Committee to his Newport '65 performance to his Born-again 'raps' of the late seventies to any one of his appearances on the Grammies, Dylan has proved that he will not "behave himself" in front of a crowd, especially one that expects him to play "voice of a generation". Maybe Gedof, who relished misbehaving in his role as the leader of the Boomtown Rats, should've seen it coming.

"Bob Dylan told me to look at Woody Guthrie, and I did. I took the name Boomtown Rats from his book, Bound For Glory."
Bob Geldof

P.S . For his 2005 compilation, Under the Influence, Geldof chose Dylan's "Visions of Johanna" so maybe all is forgiven...

So commenters, what do you make now, twenty-five years later (!) of Dylan's performance at Live Aid?

More Powerpearls compilations to come, regular readers but Marky Dread reminded me to tell you about all this...


  1. One of my favorite bootleg moments is in the recorded "rehearsal" for that show- which must have been the night before- w/ Dylan, Richards and Wood all sitting around talking shit and stumbling through songs.

    So they're talking about the rationale for the show, and whether any of the money will get to the starving people, and Wood- who sounds drunker than either of them and probably twice as dopey - says something about 'Careless Ethiopians', and Richards misses the reference and sort of reprimands him- no, it's really not their fault... But Ronnie starts singing it, the Toots and the Maytals song... and it's fucking gorgeous.
    They get done and Richards says, yeah, we should come out tomorrow dressed up as carrots, and sing that one... It would have been awesome if they did.

  2. Bob G must have forgiven Bob D. 'The Roads of Germany (After B.D)' was on "The Happy Club" solo LP.

  3. Oh, by the way, "Under the Influence" Is only a Bob Geldof album insomuch as he picked the songs. Its not a covers album - Its an album of songs by other artists that 'influenced' him. Still proves your point, I think.

  4. anonymous - you got any links for that there late night "rehearsal" recording?

  5. I remember this when I was a kid... Really dont think it's the "worst" bob dylan I ever heard (saw him mid nineties and that was pretty awful)... would love to see or hear the rehersel... Wood and Richards seemed like they were having a lot of "fun", after all what's wrong with that...
    great post.

  6. bob dylan is the greatest punk rocker of the 20th century

  7. hought you might be interested in this...



  8. Anon
    Holy crap I had no idea such a thing existed. Thanks for the summary and if you do have a copy let me know might make an interesting post!

    Just due to the weight of his achievements everyone has to forgive Dylan (and e did do Band Aid however humourlessly).

    Glad you enjoyed the post and the eighties Dylan-ness.

    Fuck yeah!

    red dirt
    That's a lot of extra 'eminence front', which is a damn fine late period Who song.

    Your correction is apt, thanks and I'm glad to see it doesn't spoil the point made.

  9. Hey, I guess I should have found this to link before. MU link is still good as of right now.

  10. Geldof expected too much of Dylan. He wanted an eternal moment of glory that would be remembered forever, he wanted Woodstock, he wanted to be remembered as the man who saved the world.

    Bob has put on much worse than this. 'Hollis Brown' and 'When My Ship Comes In' are uninspired but not unusual interpretations. 'Blowing In The Wind', the BIG moment, was a bad performance. But that doesn't make the lyrics any less brilliant. There were many other atrocious performances during the show by other bands as well.

    Dylan is just Dylan, he's human. As he said, don't follow leaders, watch the parking meters.

  11. Anon
    Thanks for the link and it's an actual bootleg -cool!

    All well-argued (and I do think "When the Ship Comes In" and "Hollis Brown" were inspired choices even if the performance wasn't so much so.)

    Re-reading "Is That It?" does remind you Geldof had a bit of a saviour thing going on.

  12. I was in London in '85 squatting in Elephant & Castle. Spend the day cutting steel on a building site. Caught the last few hours of the London gig back in the gaff. Got well gargled and stoned, but made sure I was woken up for Dylan as I was big into his music way back then. I though it was great on the night! but maybe that was the drink and dope. And it was the first time I'd seen Dylan live on TV. Some music critic wrote afterwords that "Only Dylan could do onstage in front of a worldwide audience of millons and manage to loose fans!" Well he didn't loose me that night. Geldof was spot on with his comments thought. It was much the same for a few other charity gigs Dylan's done , he could barely stand up for the "Friends of Chile" in 76.

  13. Anon
    Well-said (and a very readable little story too). Yeah The Friends of Chile thing that Ochs put together is ANOTHER example of how Dylan will not wear the Voiced of a Generation thing for anybody.


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