Hearing Bob Dylan for the first time is something that most of us aren’t lucky enough to recall as it happened so early in our lives that there is no memory attached to the event. Dylan is an immovable structure in everybody’s life to differing degrees, and when Van Morrison first heard him during the 1960s, everything suddenly made sense for the first time.
Morrison is a hard man to impress. He’s perpetually pissed off, but Bob Dylan is one of the few things in life that he wholly appreciates. The two artists share a similar hostile attitude, and unsurprisingly they have a friendship that has spanned decades since the swinging sixties were in full flow.
The advent of their bond is a peculiar one, and Morrison could have found himself with a restraining order if Dylan didn’t take to him. The Irish singer moved out to Woodstock in 1967 after the break up of Them, mainly because it’s where Dylan lived. He found himself searching for something new, and the British scene was something that he wanted to flee. He assumed that Woodstock would be flooded with similar maverick characters and swapped continents to seek his dream.
Naturally, Morrison has never been short of confidence in his own ability and simply didn’t think that anybody else was on his level, so he left London to start a new chapter. Even though the English capital was a hotbed of mercurial talent, and the counter-culture scene in the city was at its creative height, Morrison sought pastures new.
“Van fully intended to become Dylan’s best friend,” his then-wife, Janet Rigsbee, later recalled. “Every time we’d drive past Dylan’s house … Van would just stare wistfully out the window at the gravel road leading to Dylan’s place. He thought Dylan was the only contemporary worthy of his attention.”
The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan was Morrison’s first introduction to his hero, and it spun his head. The Irishman couldn’t fathom how Dylan had made a pop record, which was nothing like a pop record in the traditional sense, and the sensation of inspiration immediately swept over him from the very first listen.
“I think I heard [The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan] in a record shop in Smith Street,” he recalled in 2000. “And I just thought it was just incredible that this guy’s not singing about ‘moon in June’ and he’s getting away with it… The subject matter wasn’t pop songs, ya know, and I thought this kind of opens the whole thing up.”
Little did he know back then that he’d go on to follow Dylan to America, tour with each other countless times, and the love he held for the bohemian singer would be replicated. Furthermore, Dylan even covered Morrison’s ‘Carrying A Torch’ six times during one concert in 2002. If that doesn’t speak volumes about the esteem that he holds Van Morrison in, nothing will.
Both artists share a tempestuous streak and have deliberately made it difficult for their fans to love them. They don’t seek endearment from others, and from that first moment that Van heard Dylan, he understood they were kindred spirits.