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Music

George Harrison's memories of visiting Bob Dylan at Woodstock

@SamWKemp

George Harrison first met Bob Dylan in 1964. With the furious poetry of The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan still ringing in everyone’s ears, the folk singer must have seemed like a god. The Beatles, meanwhile, were churning out number one singles as if they were going out of fashion. And yet, they couldn’t help feeling that Dylan had raised the bar. It was no longer enough to be a pop sensation; their songs needed to say something – something real. It was this desire to shift their trajectory that led The Beatles to Dylan in 1964, a meeting that famously saw the folk singer mistake a lyric in ‘A Hard Days Night’ for “I get hiiiigh”. After swallowing his laughter, Dylan gave a knowing look that seemed to say: “Well, do you?” And just like that, The Beatles were introduced to pot.

Following that first meeting, Harrison and Dylan struck up a close friendship; one that saw Dylan serve as a sounding board for many of Harrison’s earliest songwriting attempts. Four years down the line, Dylan and his backing group, The Band, were recording near Woodstock. Harrison also happened to be in the area and made a point of dropping by. “He seemed a little nervous and I felt a little uncomfortable,” Harrison reflects in his book I Me Mine. “Anyway, on the third day we got the guitars out and loosened up and I was saying to him, ‘write some words.’”

Just two years earlier, Bob Dylan had been involved in a near-fatal motorcycle accident. After crashing his 500cc Triumph Tiger 100, the folk star was forced to put his career on hold, although many believe Dylan overplayed the extent of the crash in order to have some time off. Indeed, he gave only minor details of the accident in interviews and, apparently, no ambulances were called to the scene. By the time he sat down to write Chronicles, however, he was ready to admit the truth: “I had been in a motorcycle accident and I’d been hurt, but I recovered,” he wrote. “Truth was that I wanted to get out of the rat race. Having children changed my life and segregated me from just about everybody and everything that was going on. Outside of my family, nothing held any real interest for me and I was seeing everything through different glasses.”

When he arrived in Woodstock, Harrison immediately noticed something different about his friend: “He’d gone through his broken neck period and was being very quiet, and he didn’t have much confidence anyhow—that’s the feeling I got with him in Woodstock,” George said in 1977. “He hardly said a word for a couple of days. It was really a nice time with all his kids around, and we were just playing. It was near Thanksgiving. He sang me that song and he was, like, very nervous and shy and he said, ‘What do you think about this song?'”.

For years, Harrison had looked up to Dylan. In his mind, the singer’s talent existed on some infinitely higher plain. But, at that moment, the roles were reversed and Harrison found that he was the one being asked for advice: “I’d felt very strongly about Bob when I’d been in India years before – the only record I took with me along with all my Indian records was Blonde On Blonde,” Harrison continued. “I felt somehow very close to him or something, you know because he was so great, so heavy and so observant about everything. And yet, to find him later very nervous and with no confidence. But the thing that he said on Blonde On Blonde about what price you have to pay to get out of going through all these things twice—’Oh mama, can this really be the end.’ So I was thinking, ‘There is a way out of it all, really, in the end.'”

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