1976 was a strange time in the history of Bob Dylan. As he finished up his legendary Rolling Thunder Revue tour, which would later be turned into a Martin Scorcese documentary that appeared on Netflix last year, he also took part in a TV special titled ‘Hard Rain’ where he brought the tour to NBC which dramatically fell short of the sky-high expectations.
The special was recorded at the tail end of the mammoth tour and, during the penultimate night of the string of live dates, general fatigue issues appeared to be taking its toll. Arguably having spent too much time on the road, coupled with substances that made the performance such a non-event, was shrouded in disappointment.
The NBC special, recorded in May but aired in September 1976, was a seismic event for the American public. The network, as well as for Dylan himself, had huge expectations as the planned show landed him 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.
Instead of winning over the masses with a performance that would go down in history for all the right reasons, it is rather remembered as the turning point in Dylan’s public persona where he became a stand-off-ish figure who was now no longer concerned about appeasing the masses. This was something made abundantly clear on the biggest platform of them all.
Dylan barely cracked a smile during the whole special, rumours swirled that he and his soon-to-be ex-wife, Sara had been arguing for the entire Colorado visit and Dylan, weighed down by stress, was at the end of his respective tether which had affected him artistically. Rob Stoner has also spoken about how the band may have hit the bottle a little too hard before they took to the stage on that fateful evening.
After the final show in the tour later that week, Dylan would not perform live for another 21-months and wouldn’t release new material for two years. His decision to step back from the public eye half confirms that he was just tired of being Bob Dylan the superstar and, at this point, needed some time to himself following a strenuous tour which would cultivate at the end of his marriage.
The Rolling Thunder Revue tour was really a game of two halves, it started in euphoric style with Dylan from all accounts in the form of his life but, by the end, he was a different artist, one who needed to reset and get away from the hustle and bustle that comes along with being a stadium conquering troubadour.
The footage of his performance of ‘Shelter From The Storm‘ is truly fascinating and really exemplifies how troubled Dylan had become by the end of this run of shows.