Obama, Dylan, and Audience Confrontation

Hearing Rep. Joe Wilson (R – SC) shout out “You lie!” at the President last night reminded me of a similar confrontation between Bob Dylan and a hostile audience at the Free Trade Hall in Manchester, England recorded on May 17, 1966.

Often mis-billed as the “Royal Albert Hall” Concert, the bootleg documents Dylan a week before his 25th birthday, enduring the tail-end of an ill-fated “World Tour.” Throughout Europe (and particularly in Britain) he had met with widespread distaste at his choice to tour with a full rock band (the Hawks here would later become The Band with the original and incomparable Levon Helm on drums. Sitting in here is Mickey Jones). Many fans who had deeply admired Dylan’s earlier folk music saw the electric set as crass if not an outright betrayal.  In a scene from Marty Scorcese’s excellent documentary “No Direction Home”, a prying fan hounds Dylan, asking to inspect his left fingertips for callouses, somehow indicating that he’d been playing acoustic guitar rather than electric or, God forbid, the piano.  Dylan bristles, “Left fingertips? I wouldn’t even show you my right hand.”

Dylan caught the same flack from an American audience of folkies at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival after playing in front of the very loud Paul Butterfield Blues Band.  It seems fans thought they were owed something from Dylan and so anything apart from their expectations was angrily dismissed as selling out.

So in May 1966 when Dylan sat down at the piano with the Hawks behind him and rolled out a rock-n-wailing version of “Ballad of a Thin Man” the sold-out crowd chafed madly.  Amidst the intense between-song grumbling, someone (probably not Billy Bragg) shouted out “Judas!” and was met with loud cheering and clapping of agreement.  And Dylan, not a quarter century old, couldn’t comprehend it: “I don’t believe you…you’re a liar!”  His only advice for the set closer “Like a Rolling Stone” is “Play it fucking loud!”

There’s no specific analogy to the altercation at the joint session of congress last night.  They just both seemed like similar moments of intense anxiety: one in politics and one in art.

Bob Dylan – “Ballad Of A Thin Man” and “Like A Rolling Stone” from The Bootleg Series, Vol. 4: The “Royal Albert Hall” Concert (1966)

Buy the concert recording

Posted by Jordy

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2 Comments

Filed under 1960s

2 responses to “Obama, Dylan, and Audience Confrontation

  1. I thought of this same incident after hearing that last night. I was waiting for Obama to say “I don’t believe you…” That would have been cool.

  2. Dave

    Every once in a while, when I’m in a very peculiar mood I will respond to a ridiculous statement made my someone else with
    “I don’t beeeelleeeeeeeiiive you..” in my best Bob Dylan voice. The other person will usually just look puzzled and wondering if they should ask what that meant and I will smile cause inside my head I can hear the thunderous collision of rock and roll that is the encore of “Like A Rolling Stone” from that concert.

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