Bob Dylan isn’t an artist to suffer fools gladly and he’s also not an artist to compromise himself very readily. It means his appearances on television shows, however momentous, are few and far between. It appears as though Dylan would much rather keep his music either on record or on stage. It makes the few times he appeared on national TV all the more special, like his one and only showing on Saturday Night Live.
Digging into the Far Out Magazine vault we are taking a look back at Dylan’s one and only performance on the stage at Studio 8H. It will go down in history as the only moment the freewheelin’ troubadour ever graced that particularly famous stage. The episode was itself a heavy-hitter but everyone was outshone by the one and only Bob Dylan.
Dylan was the musical guest that evening and didn’t disappoint with his songs. The year was a slightly strange one for Dylan, his previous icon status was beginning to wane and the fervour of the sixties was clearly faltering. It meant for one of the first times, Dylan was on the lookout for opportunity and there is no bigger chance at widespread coverage than on SNL.
Hosted by Eric Idle, this episode of SNL from 1979 also included acts like Bill Murray, Andy Kauffman, and Harry Shearer as part of the huge ensemble that evening. It also saw the mercurial singer go one over the usual two tracks and deliver three songs for the baying crowd and the audience at home, enough to keep anybody sated.
Dylan performed three songs from his new record Slow Train Coming, including the huge songs ‘When You Gonna Wake Up’, ‘Gotta Serve Somebody’ and ‘I Believe in You’. Many other artists would jump at the chance to get on such an iconic show, we’re not sure Dylan cracks a single smile once during the entire performance—he is clearly compromising himself for the commercially of it all.
Much of the singer’s avoidance was likely to do with either timings or indeed Dylan’s own reluctance to be a part of such derivative shows, we think there may be another reason too. Dylan may only have appeared on SNL once but the team at Saturday Night Live has impersonated him on many occasions across the years.
While Dylan has likely been the butt of a lot of jokes in his time, and certainly a lot of impersonation, maybe the singer didn’t take too kindly to those acts. After all, everyone has a breaking point. But, the reality is likely far more akin to his general distrust of anything heavily commercialised.
It’s a shame that Dylan hasn’t graced the stage of Studio 8H in a long time. Especially, when you look at the kind of performance he gives. Watch Bob Dylan’s only SNL performance, below.