Bob Dylan is a man who needs no real introduction. His pedigree as an artist is unrivalled, except perhaps for the likes of The Beatles and Leonard Cohen. A deeply cerebral artist who has left no stone in the artistic realm unturned across his 60 years as an artist, Dylan has managed to cover serious subject matter while instilling it with his unique, surreal humour, and it has endeared him to fans for so long.
His career is akin to a musical Homer’s Odyssey. As well as covering many country’s and experiencing things we laymen never will, Dylan has also encompassed many different musical modes and genres across his career, including folk, jazz, gospel and hard rock, showing his true versatility as an artist.
The modern iteration of the wandering troubadour, Dylan’s life reads like many of the stories that instilled in him his perceptive and somewhat left-field worldview. There can be no surprise there exists so much discourse on his life. When we note that Dylan is often hailed as the ‘Voice of a Generation’, his heyday was undoubtedly the ’60s. He perfectly soundtracked that momentous time of cultural and societal upheaval, and clinically, his lyrics read like the Bible to the countercultural movement.
It’s safe to say that at the onset of the decade, the fuzzy-haired minstrel from Duluth, Minnesota, could never have imagined just how massive he would become. This status also unlocked many doors for Dylan, with him rubbing shoulders with the biggest names in music, fashion and art since he truly hit the big time with his sophomore outing, 1963’s The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan.
Due to the sheer amount of respect that his name garnered in the aftermath of its release, he would become close friends with the day’s other biggest name, Liverpool’s hottest export, The Beatles. Not only would he be credited with being the man who introduced the ‘Fab Four’ to marijuana, or would he be respected for coming out of retirement to play at George Harrison‘s Concert for Bangladesh, but later in his life, when all the ‘classic rock’ gods had hit middle age, in 1988 he joined the world’s ultimate supergroup, the Traveling Wilburys.
Formed by ex-Beatles guitarist George Harrison after recording his 1987 album Cloud Nine, the ‘Quiet One’ assembled an all-star team, the musical equivalent to the Harlem Globetrotters, if you will. Featuring Harrison, Dylan, Jeff Lynne, Roy Orbison and Tom Petty, on paper, their lineup was unrivalled. It’s a shame about the music, but that’s a story for a different day.
The most memorable feature of the supergroup is how each member adopted a pseudonym ending with the surname Wilbury, a prototype to Gene and Dean Ween. George Harrison was Nelson Wilbury, Petty was Charlie T. Wilbury, Jr., and Bob Dylan was Lucky Wilbury.
It is with the late Charlie T. Wilbury, Tom Petty, where we find our story today. Only it is relayed by another legend of the musical world.
Last week, on Marc Maron’s podcast WTF, super-producer Rick Rubin shared a story that Petty once told him. Be prepared for a shock, as you’re about to witness a side to Bob Dylan the world has never seen.
Rubin recalled: “I have a funny story that Tom Petty told me. They were working on the Traveling Wilburys record and it was him, Bob Dylan, and George Harrison sitting together and working on a song.”
The bearded production genius then said: “George got up to go to the bathroom or to step out the room to get a drink, and after he walked out Bob leaned over to Tom conspiratorially, seriously, not as a joke, and said, ‘You know, he was in the Beatles.'”
Who knew that George Harrison was in The Beatles? Obviously, context is essential, but this hilarious vignette doesn’t have any. We don’t know whether Dylan was under the influence of any substances or being deeply ironic or both, but the manner in which he revealed the “little” known fact to Petty is pretty hilarious.
When you recount the famous images of thousands of hysterical fans at the height of ‘Beatlemania’ all clamouring for the ‘Fab Four’, now instead of the droves of teenage girls, all we get now are thousands of screaming Bob Dylans all clawing for Harrison’s attention. How strange an image it is. It is likely one that will never be erased from our minds.
Listen to the Traveling Wilburys’ ‘End of the Line’ below.