It is quite an oddity in the unfurling life of Bob Dylan that the beloved and seismic star has actually found himself on the receiving end of vicious boos from time to time. He was lambasted as ‘Judas’ when he moved from folk to electric rock star, and during his Born-Again Christian phase, he was castigated at an Arizona University show for not playing the hits and responded: “If you want rock ‘n’ roll you can go see Kiss, and rock ‘n’ roll all the way down to the pit!”
In short, the point is that being booed does not necessarily make you a bad performer – at least in some cases. Far from it, in fact, it often proves that an artist has the integrity to do their own thing and disavow the demands of the gallery. And as David Bowie once said, that is often when an artist does their best work.
Sinead O’Connor is also no stranger to public wrath, albeit sometimes for her own unique wayfaring reasons. In an excerpt from her memoir, Rememberings: Scenes from my Complicated Life, she recalls the time that she received a wave of abuse at a 1992 concert in honour of Bob Dylan.
The show was to celebrate 30 years since the folk troubadour had released his self-titled debut album. Only 13 days prior to her appearance on Dylan’s star-studded bill, O’Connor had been banned by NBC for life for tearing up a picture of the Pope on live television. Thus, things were already a bit cagey when she was due to perform amid the likes of George Harrison, Tom Petty, Neil Young, Johnny Cash, Stevie Wonder, the Band, Lou Reed, Chriss Hynde, Tracy Chapman and others.
As it happens, Kris Kristofferson took the stage and announced: “I’m real proud to introduce this next artist whose name became synonymous with courage and integrity. Ladies and gentlemen, Sinead O’Connor.” Instantly, the boos rang out as though it was Pavlovian conditioning on the audience’s part to respond to her name that way. After a solid awkward minute in which she faced an intense barrage, the boos subsided just enough for her band to begin playing ‘I Believe in You’.
However, it would seem that the Dylan fans in attendance were merely catching their breath as, once again, the intensity of the onslaught increased. The noble Kristofferson emerged on stage and whispered some words of encouragement to the visibly saddened Irish star. He departed, and after a few more bars of music, the boos continued.
At this point, O’Connor called a halt to her band and, just as she had done during her SNL Pope fouling debacle, she sang a section of Bob Marley’s ‘War’ before bolting off stage and into the arms of Kristofferson. Naturally, this created a tricky atmosphere to conquer, but Eddie Vedder and Mike McCready almost instantly got the crowd back on board with their now-iconic cover of ‘Masters of War’.
The excerpt to her book concludes: “A lot of people say or think that tearing up the pope’s photo derailed my career. That’s not how I feel about it. I feel that having a number-one record derailed my career and my tearing the photo put me back on the right track. I had to make my living performing live again. And that’s what I was born for. I wasn’t born to be a pop star. You have to be a good girl for that. Not be too troubled.”
The recording from the concert’s rehearsal below shows what could’ve been.