When Columbia Records threw a party to celebrate Bob Dylan’s 30th anniversary with the label, it was a weird occasion, even then. Dylan was still only 51 years old, on that night on Oct. 16, 1992. Rock and royalty’s was present o sing Dylan’s great tunes and honor their hero.The luminaries stretched from people like George Harrison, Johnny Cash, Levon Helm, Rick Danko, Lou Reed and Richie Havens.
Today, what binds those disparate talents is the fact that they’ve all passed away since that Friday evening in Madison Square Garden.
What’s the lesson here: We should appreciate Bob Dylan and everyone else that we revere in music. You never know when they may leave us.
Dylan’s people have re-released the 30th-anniversary concert album. It contains more fantastic performances than I could list here. It is a treasure trove of great singers and pickers (even though my favorite moment of the show, which I attended in 1992, is absent somehow: George Thorogood covering Dylan’s gem “Wanted Man”).
The evening in honor of Dylan was held at a time when he was keeping a low profile, playing college campuses and the like. He was down and out in the music industry.The Grammy folks had kindly thought to give him a Lifetime Achievement Award the previous year, a nice way of saying, Thanks for the memories, pal. Now take your mug and your coffee cake and hit the road.
Dylan knew he wasn’t exactly washed up. It took five more year for him to enter the recording studio and five the world Time Out of Mind, which eventually won the Grammy (karma!) for Best Album of the Year. He eventually won an Oscar for Best Song (Things Have Changed, form Wonder Boys) and a slew of additional honors — even a Pulitzer Prize.
Dylan may look back on that golden musical evening in 1992 and say, Why’d you bother? After all, I wasn’t going anywhere.
Dylan, a generally unassuming global and timeless icon, would probably have preferred to have a root cancel without Novocaine than to sit there and be feted at the Garden.
But he also must’ve felt an element of pride (or a “foot of pride,” to quote the title of one of the best songs performed that evening — by Lou Reed) to watch his peers and followers accord him so much respect.
The performances are filled with appreciation for Dylan’s songs. Yes, we have always recognized him as a brilliant lyricist. But there is a lot more than words to hail. Dylan’s melodies also stand out, as we can see here. In his book “Chronicles,” Dylan gently makes the point that he is much more than a wordsmith. Now we can plainly see the point.
The high point of the evening was the rendition of “My Back Pages” — a song of Dylan’s from 1964 that people for some reason don’t always recognize as a work of brilliance — as performed by Dylan, Roger McGuinn, Tom Petty, Neil Young, Eric Clapton and George Harrison. Think about it. There is a lot of tread on those tires!
Again, we should remember to appreciate all of these artists while they can appreciate our appreciations. As John Lennon, who might have been there that night in 1992 if he could have,once put it: Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.
Jon Friedman is the author of “Forget About Today: Bob Dylan’s Genius for (Re)Invention, Shunning the Naysayers, and Creating a Personal Revolution” (Penguin, 2012)