While the light at the end of the pandemic tunnel appears around the corner, we’re dipping back into the Far Out Magazine vault to bring you a reminder of the beauty of live music. With one of the most legendary performances of Bob Dylan’s illustrious career, we look back at his now-iconic Hard Rain TV special.
Bob Dylan is now famed for the awkward and agitated style and persona. Whether it is on stage or in an interview, Dylan has a knack for being able to create a spiky atmosphere in a world full of balloons with just the flash of his infamous silver tongue. Many think that this 1976 TV performance of the album Hard Rain on NBC is the beginning of that .
Sure, Dylan had been confrontational in interviews before, he’d been even been robustly aggressive with the defence of his artistic output in the face of adversity. However, this performance was different, this was Bob Dylan disrespecting the establishment in a whole new way. This was an answer to a question nobody was asking.
The NBC special, recorded in May but aired in September 1976, was a huge event for the American public and the network, even landing Dylan a coveted spot on the front of the TV Guide. It put Dylan, the former protest songwriter, front and centre for American music and iconography. This would, in many ways, be the performance to cement him as a mega-star, the culmination of the legendary Rolling Thunder Revue, with the debut TV performance of his long-awaited album Hard Rain.
In truth, what transpired is a performance without passion, without fire, and a kind of Frankenstein surgery approach to his most famous songs that would perplex so many of his waiting fans. Dylan, in fact, would only go on to feature four tracks on the live album ‘Maggie’s Farm’, ‘One Too Many Mornings,’ ‘Shelter from the Storm’ and ‘Idiot Wind’, would make it on to the recording which was released ten days before the special aired.
There are plenty of theories as to why The Rolling Thunder Revue, which had been steaming across the country with Dylan having seemingly found a new joy in touring, crashed and burned so badly on NBC. Rob Stoner even suggested that the band had been hitting the bottle a little too hard and that contributed to the performance’s subdued style.
Others would suggest Dylan and his soon-to-be ex-wife, Sara, had been arguing for the entire Colorado visit and Dylan was at the end of his respective tether personally which had affected him artistically. His performance of ‘Idiot Wind’ being one of the only impassioned track and seemingly spat in her direction.
However, others have made the claims that it was down to Dylan not enjoying the spotlight of ‘being Bob Dylan’ again, having spent the last months on tour as part of a wider group of musicians – the likes of Joan Baez, T-Bone Burnett, David Mansfield, Gary Burke, Roger McGuinn, Bob Neuwirth, Scarlet Rivera, Luther Rix, Kinky Friedman, Mick Ronson, Steven Soles, Rob Stoner, Howie Wyeth… to name, well, quite a few. He was now becoming frustrated with the spotlight, the interviews, the magazines. It had become tiresome again.
Whatever the reason, what remains is an awkward, agitated and almost disrespectful performance. Yet, however imperfect this gig may be, it is still an integral and important moment for any Dylan fan or indeed sociologist. This performance provides an insight into the mind of a true genius and the continued pressure of a public desperate to consume it all.
Watch Bob Dylan’s rarely seen Hard Rain NBC TV special, below.