We spend a lot of time here at Far Out Magazine bringing you some of music history’s greatest duets. When two legends come together on stage to cover an illustrious song it can make for some special moments for everyone in attendance and, if they’re recorded, it offers a document of two careers crossing paths. However, when Bob Dylan was joined by U2’s Bono for a performance of ‘Blowin’ in the Wind’ it was a car crash.
Bob Dylan’s summer tour of Europe in 1984 would culminate in a huge show at Ireland’s Slane Castle, with the iconic singer bringing a star-studded ensemble to the eagerly awaiting 40,000 fans for the first time since his 1966 electric tour with the Hawks. The stage was most certainly set.
With such a hot ticket in town, Irish rock magazine Hot Press sent U2 frontman Bono to interview the mercurial wordsmith. A notably nervous Bono, (who wouldn’t be?) entered the dressing room to not only find the freewheelin’ Bob Dylan sitting there but also the legendary singer Van Morrison turning the interview into an unlikely threesome. It must’ve been a daunting moment for the young man.
During the interview, with Van Morrison and Dylan offering the young whipper-snapper some advice on recording among other industry nods, the latter offered Bono the chance to join him on stage to sing the encore numbers ‘Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat’ and ‘Blowin’ in the Wind’. Never one to turn down the spotlight, the singer was flattered by the offer and dutifully readied himself to arrive on stage for the final tunes of the gigantic evening.
First up though, Van Morrison arrived with all the suave energy of a man who has seen and done it all and delivered a stunning rendition of ‘It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue’ and ‘Tupelo Honey’ for the adoring crowd. In Ireland, following someone like Van Morrison is not an easy thing to do, even if you are Bono in the white-hot beginnings of U2’s career. Yet that was the pathway that faced Bono.
With a path to glory laid out in front of him, the singer tripped at nearly the first hurdle. The first issue came with the cover of ‘Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat’ in which Bono arrived on stage without a single lick of the lyrics ingrained in his memory. Doing his best to sing along, the U2 man exited the stage rather hastily to let Dylan sing ‘Tombstone Blues’ alone. A wise move.
Now, we know it must be hard to stand next to Bob Dylan—easily one of the most widely acclaimed singer-songwriters of all time—and sing one of his most widely loved songs, but following his blunder on ‘Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat’ and knowing that another performance was mere moments away, wouldn’t you read up on the lyrics of your next number? Even if it is one of Dylan’s most famous tunes?
Bono did no such thing and returned to the stage for the performance of ‘Blowin’ in the Wind’ on a wing and lyrical prayer. The singer was given the instruction to take the microphone for the “how many times must a man look up” verse, yet Bono chose to take the song in a different direction.
Instead, the U2 singer sang out to 40,000 cheering Dylan fans, “How many times must a bombsman last,” he sang. “How many times must people cry? How many newspapers must we read before we go to sleep?” That’s about all you can hear on the tape below before singing turns to mumbling which then turns to a repetition of an impassioned call of “How many times?” While we’re sure Bono’s political statement was imbued with good intentions, they seemingly feel rather flat.
Dylan, a man not famed for sticking to the rules of music, did his best to keep order. Once Bono had finished, Dylan stepped in and sang the actual lyrics for the crowd, not necessarily a thing Dylan liked to do himself. It was an act which may have stopped a lesser man, but not Bono.
No, he then took to the mic to add and deliver a fourth verse for Bob Dylan’s iconic ‘Blowin’ in the Wind’, singing: “I want to see your heart shine. I want to see your faces. I want to see your hands wave… My friend, it’s blown’ in the wind. It’s blown’ in the wind!” With the image of Bono somehow cajoling the audience into an unknown verse of his own adapted Dylan lyrics lasting long into the night, the evening’s proceedings came to a close.
Bob Dylan’s star wouldn’t lose any shine from the show, the singer is still widely thought of as the greatest of his generation and it would take far longer for people to question Bono’s musical motives. But at this point, as two of the biggest artist in the world, two stars converged and instead of something bright and spectacular we got a lyric black hole.
Listen below to Bob Dylan and Bono’s car crash duet of ‘Blowin’ in the Wind’ from a performance in 1984 at Slane Castle, Ireland.