Chicago, actress Sarah Bernhardt said, is "the pulse of America." A burgeoning, changing city with a background of Al Capone and South Side blues, Chicago today, on the eve of the return of Bob Dylan, was paranoia, ignorance and small-time, small-town fanaticism.
The paranoia was in the papers – 864 murders in 1973, second only to New York, twice Chicago's population; more killings than in four years of war in Northern Ireland, the paper said.
The papers heard the word about Dylan through a local gossip column, then waited, like most people, for the December 2nd announcement. They dutifully reported the response: 37,000 tickets gone in two days, "thousands of requests unfilled." And yet, when three weeks later the Stadium found a way to squeeze in another 500 at each show, no one thought to advertise, and no one thought to offer them to those who'd missed out on the first 37,000. The sound and light crew didn't need as much room as they thought they would. Somehow no one placed any ads and only a last-minute announcement brought the ticket-buyers to the box office, some as late as the day of the concert. (Bill Graham even announced the availability of the second 500 seats at the end of the first show.)
In the weeks before the concert, the newspapers' coverage of the coming event conveyed little sense of excitement. Reporters grumbled about the location of the stadium: "You have to go past the wino district to get there," said one. "It's in this depressed black shit area, where it seems that there are rifle scopes looking down on you."
The last time Dylan played Chicago, in 1965, he played the Arie Crown. "That's when he was doing that half-hour show," said a woman who saw him there and, later, in Miami. "The purists booed him in the rock part. But not as bad as Forest Hills." Since '65 the Arie Crown has burned to the ground and been rebuilt.
Another spot might have been the Arie Crown Theater. But it was ruled out by Geffen and Bill Graham. "Chicago," said Geffen, "is one of the three largest cities, and it seemed unfair to play to just 8000."
This time Dylan came into town wanting anything but exposure. David Geffen ran down the turndowns: cover stories in "all the big magazines" including Paris Match and Der Spiegel; an hour-long Cronkite news special for CBS; a $3 million guarantee to let a major studio do a feature film of the tour; a $100,000 guarantee to sell buttons in the lobby, and "at least a dozen books." All together, Bill Graham said, the tour had received ticket requests amounting to $92 million via 5.5 million pieces of mail in 21 cities.
Dylan's reaction to it all, said Geffen, is "kind of amazed. He's flattered and he would've liked for more people to be able to see him." So he may tour again? "I frankly doubt it."
But one thing was certain, Geffen maintained: "He's not going to cater or pander to the media. He feels it's nothing more than a concert tour. He considers himself, still, a songwriter, period."
"Well," Geffen conceded, "he's not being realistic. But then, he doesn't have to be realistic. I mean, he knows he's a big star, but all he knows is that every time he sees his name in print, there's some weirdness with it. At least if he says nothing, people won't misquote him."
At best the thinking is simplistic, and, in fact, by the day of the second concert things had loosened up considerably at Dylan's hotel. He chatted with one reporter from a news magazine and, lounging around, obviously at ease, asked another reporter about the audience – what the age range was. Told that some critics and fans had expressed disappointment that he hadn't done more of a solo spot, he shrugged: "Well, you can't have everything." But, he said, he'd add the reporter's suggestion "Love Minus Zero/No Limit." And he did. He also hinted at what did happen that night: A re-ordering of his set with the Band. As for the choice of "Hero Blues" as an opener, Dylan smiled: "Gotcha, huh?" In case you thought there was some significance to be found in the lyric.
Over the hotel phone, at two in the morning, Geffen summed it up: "This particular event," he said, "has drawn more response from the people than any event in media, bigger than Woodstock, Watkins Glen, any of those. You know, the Japanese chartered a jet here. A whole jetful of people, and I don't know how they could've gotten tickets, and now I've gotta go to radio stations and scrounge up tickets for them. I mean, they chartered a plane to get over here. I can't not give them tickets."
Who else, we asked, has asked him for tickets? "All the Beatles, the Kennedys, the Rockefellers, Mayor Lindsay."
The Kennedys wanted a dozen tickets. Will they get them?
"Well, now," Geffen laughed. "You can't turn down the Kennedys!"
This story is from the January 31st, 1974 issue of Rolling Stone.
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