Bob Dylan's Star-Studded Homecoming

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Happy and Artie are folk fixtures in New York – writers, composers, guitar teachers and performing artists. Happy, with John Cohen, did the excellent interview with Dylan in Sing Out in late 1968, then sang harmony on a couple of tracks that ended up in Dylan's Greatest Hits, Volume 2 album: "I Shall Be Released" and "You Ain't Goin' Nowhere." He visited with Dylan at Dylan's hotel, the Plaza, after the concert, and both Traums were invited to the St. Moritz party, but they chose to go back to Woodstock instead. (The party, intended as a gathering of Dylan's old friends, was, like opening night, dominated by celebrities, including Art Garfunkel, Cavett, Midler, Nicholson, and several music-biz moguls. Like the few other parties on the tour, this one was small and sober.) Later, we reached Artie Traum. Artie used to have to sneak into Gerde's (because he was underage) to see Dylan and liked Dylan for the "emotional quality about his performances" and for his long, humorous talks between numbers. At Madison Square – Traum's first time at a "big concert," he said – he was on his feet at the end of the show, "clapping along with all the teenyboppers."

He was surprised by his own reaction, he said. "When it started, the first three or four songs, I didn't like it, and then I realized why. I had expectations, and it occurred to me that if I'd just hear it as what it was – I got into it, and I thought it was fantastic."

Photos: Bob Dylan Captured at Home and on the Scene

Still, Traum missed the Dylan of the Gerde's days. "I felt there was no emotion in the concert," he said. "It was powerful in a certain way. And there was some kind of emotion, maybe it was anger that I felt, which is very powerful, but maybe there was a lack of gentleness. But I'm afraid it really would have wiped people out, because those are the most powerful songs. Other than that, I was knocked out.

Tony Scaduto also saw Dylan, first at Gerde's, in Dylan's first paid performance, opening for John Lee Hooker. "He was terrible, trying to sing like a black man," Scaduto said.

"I turned onto him when he went electric." At the Madison Square show Thursday night, Scaduto saw a Dylan in much more control than he was during the 1965-1966 tour with the Band (then the Hawks). "The manic edge from back then was gone," he said. For Scaduto, the concert "worked marvelously, the new interpretations. Let's see: On 'Gates Of Eden' he was singing almost as if he was reading from the Bible. 'Baby Blue,' going through it quickly, like he was reading the New York Times, you know, saying, 'We've gone through all this before."'

Dylan's three concerts at Madison Square Garden were recorded by Phil Ramone, the engineer who previously recorded the Band's Rock Of Ages, from the Academy of Music concerts that featured a visit from Dylan on New Year's Eve, 1971. For Rock Of Ages, Ramone had been warned not to expect much rehearsing from the Band; this time, he had all of a ten-minute sound check at 5:00 PM opening night. The session was kept short so that the musicians could be fresh for the first concert.

According to Geffen, concerts in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Seattle, were also going to be recorded, and a live album would be released – possibly as early as April, but only if the recordings were "really great," not just good. Meantime, Planet Waves shot to Number One on the Billboard album charts, just two weeks after release. While Dylan has received 12-gold albums, he had never reached the top spot before. Once again, while Dylan himself is avoiding publicity, forces around him seem to be doing their work.

In New York, media center of the country, Dylan granted no interviews. Reporters representing ABC and CBS had been jostling for position, but Dylan remained sheltered. The only media breakthrough was scored by WNBC-TV, whose crew somehow slipped by the guards at Nassau Coliseum and shot portions of Dylan's acoustic set. The footage was aired on the station's parent network, NBC, on two newscasts and on the Today show. Filming of Dylan had been forbidden, according to Geffen, and at press time, he was still threatening legal action against WNBC.

At Madison Square Garden, all security was calm. Outside, local promoter Ron Delsener, who worked with Graham, said security on surrounding streets was as beefed up as for, say, a Rolling Stones or Led Zeppelin concert, but no more. Neither the promoter nor the Garden would give information on just how many guards were stationed, but wooden-sawhorse barricades were set up to screen out non-ticketholders and possible gatecrashers. We passed through three guards at three different points before being admitted. Inside, it was the usual complement of cops, guards and ushers for a rock concert. Audiences complied with Graham's request to keep aisles clear; a few people crept up near the stage to take a snapshot, but immediately went back to their seats. As Graham said, "They don't want to conquer that terrain. This is not a physical dexterity contest." Joe Cohen, a Madison Square Garden employee, said that there were fewer security personnel inside the Garden than there were at the Ali-Frazier superfight.

At the Garden, Jim Farber, 16, of Hartsdale, New York, sat in the third row. "I want to grab Dylan's respect," he said. "I don't want him to think that I'm a teenybopper. I want him to feel that his audience is intelligent."

Classic Black and White Shots of Bob Dylan

The only foul-up in New York was over tickets. Madison Square Garden announced, two weeks before the concerts, that they had several thousand tickets for sale, through city-wide Ticketron box offices, this after the announcement, in early December, that the Garden had received 20 requests for every seat they had and were returning tens of thousands of checks. The Garden, according to Graham, simply assumed that each envelope would contain requests for four tickets. Opening the envelopes, a month later, they discovered many requests for only one or two tickets, and announced the availability of tickets. The move angered thousands who had rushed their mail orders in and been refused. As Graham put it: "They say, 'Ticketron?! I took my envelope at 12:01 to the main post office. I spoke to my rabbi. I waited every day for my mailman. Now they're putting them in Ticketron!' It was so stupid and ugly. But it was their fuck-up."

Still, Graham, as tour producer, was ultimately responsible. "That's why I get these calls. 'Mr. Graham, I always had faith in you, and then you do this to me.' I should have stayed a waiter."

The Bob Dylan tour winds up on St. Valentine's Day at the Forum, where it all began seven weeks before, with the first formal rehearsal of Bob Dylan and the Band.

This story is from the March 14th, 1974 issue of Rolling Stone.

To read the new issue of Rolling Stone online, plus the entire RS archive: Click Here

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