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Bob Dylan: A Restful Farewell to Tour ’74

The singer closes out his latest run with a relaxed, star-studded L.A. gig

Bob Dyland, The BandBob Dyland, The Band

Bob Dylan and the Band perform at Madison Square Gardens, (L-R) Levon Helm, Robbie Robertson and Bob Dylan, in New York, January 29th, 1974

Gijsbert Hanekroot/Redferns/Getty

LOS ANGELES—If you looked hard enough you could trace the grin on Bob Dylan, watching, then politely, clop, clop, applauding a jelly-belly dancer Bill Graham had hired to entertain. He had also clapped for the strolling trio—two violinists and an accordion—that had serenaded during dinner, schmaltzing up to each table with love songs like “Fascination,” “What Now, My Love” and “Somewhere My Love” on this Valentine’s Day.

The scene was the crew dinner, put together by Bill Graham for the 18 employees of his FM Productions. They had been in front of and behind Dylan and the Band—setting up and taking down the stage, sound and lighting through 39 shows in 21 cities since January 3rd in Chicago. Now, at 7:45 PM, the 39th show over only minutes before, they were gathered, along with Bob Dylan and the Band, at the Forum Club, a banquet facility within the Fabulous Forum, home of L.A.’s basketball Lakers and hockey Kings. They were here, in this spread of rooms usually held for big businessmen/season ticket holders, for a quick round of roast beef and congratulations.

Graham kept the back-patting short. One quick speech thanking the crew and “the six great musicians” for doing their jobs so well. And, to each musician, a handshake and a memento: a wooden plaque, in the shape of a guitar, embossed with the signatures of Graham and the FM Productions crew.

The stringed strollers and the belly roller gave dinner a leisurely glow. But, in fact, the room was cleared within another hour. Just before nine, everyone—except for other special guests like the wives of the performers—were off to the backstage area. There was one more to go.

Before the first concert in Chicago, Bob Hilburn, the music columnist for the L.A. Times, kept elbowing and tugging at me. “Don’t you feel the expectancy?” he asked repeatedly, awe-eyeing the crowd. “Don’t you feel the excitement?” The most obvious excitement came from inside Hilburn, and that was fine. But the audiences, if any generalization could be made, were simply calm, ready for anything.

But in Los Angeles, it had to be different. If there were a hard-ticket show on the tour, this would be the one. Roger McGuinn, the Byrd who showed Dylan how his folk lyrics could be rocked, was unable to get a ticket at the last minute. The previous evening, Jerry Garcia, who’d seen the concert two days before in Oakland, was at the Forum box office. Someone, he said, had claimed his will-call ticket, and he was standing there, copyrighted “What, me bummed?” smile on his recently shaven face. He was hoping to get word in to Bill Graham. He never did.

At the final show, the Fabulous Forum, which is in Inglewood near the airport, was dotted with stars; Carole King, Ringo Starr, Neil Young, David Crosby, Helen Reddy, Eric Burdon, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, Richard (“Cheech”) Marin, Dory Previn, Jack Nicholson, Warren Beatty and, off to the side, Joan Baez. Other celebs, at the first two shows, included Rick Nelson, Neil Diamond, Dan Hicks, Jackie DeShannon, and two of Dylan’s Village friends, now with him on Asylum Records: David Blue and Bob Neuwirth.

Joan Baez, once close to Dylan, prefers not to talk about him. “It always makes me feel miserable afterwards,” she told me in San Francisco. She saw the second of the two Oakland concerts and kept relatively still, swaying gently with her arms folded through the lights-up hoedown finale, “Like a Rolling Stone.” Tonight, she said, she’d dropped the expectations she’d carried into the Oakland Coliseum and seemed ready to roll with it. “You know, I like rock & roll.”

The last show began at 9:30, with bassist/vocalist Rick Danko running onto the stage, sporting his JC Penney Glen-plaid jacket and jeans outfit, while Dylan, who usually ignored the welcoming ovation by becoming immediately immersed in tuning up and getting on with the show, let the guitar wait for a few seconds while he greeted the crowd, raising both arms and doing a little 360-degree twirl. It was clear that the artists smelled victory.

Two and a half hours later, at five after midnight, Dylan had done “Rolling Stone” and just about completed the show, structured just like most of the previous 39. It was evident that the music had tightened; that the Band’s Danko and Richard Manuel had lost their singing voices; that Dylan continued to get looser with his re-reads of his classics, putting new italics into old songs—”Ya say yer lookin’ for someone” . . . “It still ain’t me, babe” . . . “You don’t know what it is, do you, Mister Jo-hones” . . . and “You should be made to wear tele-phones.”

Dylan offered more and fancier bows, front, rear, all around him. And even a new sign to replace the V and the fist. He formed circles with thumb and index finger—the old OK signal—and hoisted up both arms, Richard Nixon-style. He was doing it now, having played the encore, “Maggie’s Farm,” with the house lights still up from “Rolling Stone,” and this should have been his departing gesture. But no, Dylan had one final surprise: He spoke to the audience for more than his usual one or two sentences (i.e., “Don’t go away; we’ll be right back!” and “Good to be back in New York; you’re a great audience,” or “Good to be in Seattle, home of Jimi Hendrix!”).

“We’re gonna play one more,” he announced, shouting out each part of each sentence. “But before we do, I’d like to introduce the man responsible for this tour! He’s been behind the scene! Bill Graham!” A surprised Graham was hustled up to get his. Dylan shouted into the mike: “Barry Imhoff, too!” Imhoff, Graham’s aide and tour coordinator, stepped out and wrapped an arm around Graham.

Dylan: “These guys put the show together! We couldn’t have done it without them!” And he began the intro for “Blowin’ in the Wind,” rearranged into a bouncy, swaying little number, with Danko and Robbie Robertson sharing a mike, early Beatles-style, on the harmonies.

At 12:12 AM, it was over. A fan with a bouquet of a dozen red roses positioned herself in the front row, ready to proffer. “Thank you!” Dylan shouted to the stomping madness. “On behalf of the Band, I want to say thank you, good night!” Danko patted him on the back, and they split.

The roses were left untaken.

At 12:30, one final get-together took place, all the celebrities crowding up the Forum Club, toting glasses and praising Dylan and the Band. Dylan made a quick visit; Robbie Robertson acknowledged the difference between the last show and all the ones previous. “We felt great up there,” he said, “knowing we were coming onto the end, and that we had done it.

“Yes, we’re very tired. With me, it’s not my voice, but my fingers.” Robertson, who usually stays away from pop gatherings, looked over the crowd—movie stars, pop stars, record producers, company presidents, clustered together in minor constellations, waiters scurrying about filling drink orders.

“So this,” said Robbie, “is Hollywood!”

And, around 2 AM, the true final gathering took place at the Beverly Wilshire hotel, set in the heart of Beverly Hills.

This time around, no stars. Just Dylan with his quiet wife Sara, Robbie Robertson, David Blue, Bobby Neuwirth, Lou Kemp, Dylan’s Minnesota boyhood friend, and a few others. Kemp, who still lives and works in Duluth, Minnesota, had been on the entire tour, keeping Dylan company and protecting Dylan’s privacy with a Ziegler-like zipper-lip zeal. Between shows in Oakland I asked him about the 36 shows he’d seen so far. Did any of them particularly stand out?

“I’d rather not say.”

I heard the matinee show in New York had been outstanding.

“Well … they’ve all been good.”

So it was a very private party, a restful farewell to what, on backstage passes, was called TOUR ’74, and it lasted past four in the morning, the men in the band feeling free. They were finally out of their job and headed for a rest at their homes in nearby Malibu.

Bill Graham was in and out of the Beverly Wilshire suite that morning, a part of the party but, as he did throughout the tour, maintained what he saw as a respectful distance.

A week later, he was back in his San Francisco office, on the phone again, dealing with Premier Talent Agency for Black Oak Arkansas, Spooky Tooth, King Crimson and Mott the Hoople for Winterland dates.

Graham and FM Productions moved last year out of the Fillmore West building, into a roomy building in midtown San Francisco, at one tip of the industrial sector. Graham’s office is modest, modern furniture on light creme carpeting. The walls are filled with photos and gold records and a huge county-town map of the US, all the Dylan/Band stops marked with little paper flags. Near the door is a framed letter from Elvis Presley’s manager, signed “The Colonel.” Tom Parker had sent an “energy lamp” for Graham and Dylan’s use, “to light your way in ’74,” along with the best from Elvis for the upcoming tour.

And beside Graham is his briefcase, stickered with the logos of the Grateful Dead and the Stones, along with a bumperstrip issued a couple of years ago by David Geffen, chairman of Elektra/Asylum Records, asking: WHO IS DAVID GEFFEN AND WHY IS HE SAYING THOSE TERRIBLE THINGS ABOUT ME?

Geffen and Graham did not appear to get along particularly well on the tour. Now, Geffen was at the peak of his lightning-quick trip to the top of the record business, celebrating his 31st birthday February 21st with a party reportedly hosted by Dylan, with the news that his three most recent album releases—Dylan, Joni Mitchell and Carly Simon—were all in the Top Ten, and with a profile piece in Time. Geffen is quoted: “‘The record business is the only part of show business where names are still important. It’s still the star system. And this is one of the few places in show business where an executive like me can be a star, too.”‘

Geffen also made the cover of Movie Mirror magazine, out the same week Sonny Bono filed for divorce from Cher. The headline, with an arrow pointing to the photo of Geffen, read: CHER IS RUSHING INTO MARRIAGE WITH THIS MAN! Geffen, between parties and other celebrations, could not be reached for comment.

Bill Graham, meantime, is not thinking about Geffen. “I’m full of superlatives,” he said. “It’s not that I’m hiding negatives; it’s that I don’t have anything negative to say.”

Graham recalled most of the stops on the tour: “Denver was great,” he said. (Dylan apparently felt the planet waves and declared from the stage: “It’s a full moon!”) “The second show,” Graham continued, “they were super-energetic, and I don’t mean they just yelled and screamed. They were very attentive. It was like the last audience at Fillmore East, people who really came to listen to the music. It didn’t feel like 12,000 people. It was like a hootenanny. They really let it out verbally at the end of the songs, and the Band, when they finished the first half, they finished with ‘Cripple Creek.’ It was just this tumultuous ovation. Very seldom was the reaction out of kilter in relation to the quality of the music that night. And that says something about the audience that Dylan and the Band drew. They drew, I think, a very knowledgeable audience. And I think a lot of people who came to revere didn’t revere; they listened.

“Seattle,” he continued, “was the only place other than Miami that was festival seating [no reserved seats], which means the earlier you get there the closer you’re going to get to the stage, but the people were very orderly, very friendly. Montreal, the energy there was great. Boston … a very attentive audience. In Houston, great response. We played a little football with the students once we set up the stage, outside in the soggy grass.” A ticket controversy dampened the Ann Arbor concerts at the University of Michigan’s Crisler Arena; the local promoter, Bob Begaris, was accused of holding off a block of choice arena-floor tickets that ended up selling for up to $100. Graham called Begaris “a good promoter, a good friend. Because it was a college campus we didn’t do mailorder, and supposedly X amount of tickets—I’d say 500—were held back for VIP treatment, and a scalper got hold of them. I haven’t gotten to the bottom of that yet.”

The Madison Square Garden concerts—aside from another ticket mess—gave Graham his “non-music high” for the concert: “I’d never produced a show in the Garden and I know what the cost of union men is. The union can strangle this town. In many large buildings they make it almost impossible to be creative. They have a reputation for being hard, by-the-book.

“The beginning of the day was almost ‘the fastest gun in the West’: ‘We’re the fastest guns in the East. You have to prove yourself to me before I prove myself to you.’ And I suggested, ‘Let’s relax and enjoy the day. Let’s get along. Let’s play ball. You guys play ball?’ And they said, ‘Yeah, we play ball.”‘ Graham had a backstage storage area cleared out and set up a basketball half-court, out of a forklift, pipes and masking tape. “And they got four guys and it was early in the day and we had a couple of games, and they said, ‘Holy shit! This is great. We won’t have to hang around and listen to that goddamned rock & roll.’ And the foreman, when we left, he said, ‘Hey, Billy, we got to have this in our contracts from now on.’ They saw that we weren’t just hippies earning money on the road with rock & roll freaks. It mellowed everything out. It wasn’t ‘We love one another,’ but for two days we got along. We got along because they respected us as people. And for New York it was a great feeling.”

In Oakland, Dylan and the Band had shows at 6 and 10 PM and seemed to hurry through the first show, starting only eight minutes past six, skipping the usual half-hour wait, and, altogether, trimming the normal two-and-a-half-hour show by some ten minutes. He looked particularly defiant, having mastered a head-down, eyes-glaring-up posture. “Isn’t he wearing eyeliner and pancake make-up?” one woman noticed through binoculars. (He was; a make-up artist was found on each stop to treat Dylan’s face.) And in “Wedding Song,” Dylan spat out the phrase, “The past is gone,” spit showering his microphone.

Dylan seemed looser for the second show. In the audience was the San Francisco pop scene, members of the Grateful Dead, Santana, the Airplane and the Doobie Brothers, along with the dread, full staff from the home office of Rolling Stone. On the first number, “Most Likely You Go Your Way and I’ll Go Mine,” he broke a string, smiled, and, after the song, roared into the mike: “Back in San Francisco—at last!”

In San Francisco, Graham took Dylan and the Band on a visit through his warehouse district offices, then up to Marin County, where he showed them his home in Mill Valley and took them to the original dockside restaurant in Sausalito, the Trident, where they stayed two hours past the midnight closing.

In the Bay Area, Graham also helped prevent Dylan from seeing an open letter to Dylan, written by Mimi Farina, singer (and sister of Joan Baez). Published in the San Francisco Chronicle two days before the group’s arrival, the letter questioned Dylan about a rumor that had followed his entire tour. The rumor was that Dylan was sending part of his tour profits—Dylan is reported to be getting between 50 and 60% of the expected $3-million net—to Israel to aid in the Mideast war. Another rumor had Dylan sending money to a kibbutz in Israel, for the purchase of food and clothing.

Dylan, in the few interviews he gave during the tour, either denied the rumor or side-stepped the question. He responded to one reporter’s question: “That’s like asking if I’m doing this tour to raise money to go to the moon in 1983.” He told Rolling Stone (February 14th) the rumors were “just gossip.”

Farina, who works with her sister, a founder of the Institute for the Study of Nonviolence, was married to the late Richard Farina, musician and novelist who had been a friend of Dylan in the early Sixties in New York. In her letter she said she doubted the rumors, partly “because of your compassionate understanding for those who suffer.” But, she wrote, “The money you earn is the money we are willing to give you . . . if it is going to support the taking of more lives, we should know that before we buy our tickets. Perhaps the question could be clarified by a statement to the press.”

Joan Baez said she approved of the letter, but added: “I don’t know if it’s even our business. But when there’s that much money involved, there are bound to be questions.”

Mimi did attend an Oakland concert—as Joan’s guest—and had an ambivalent response.

“I was glad to see him,” she said. “I had dreams later surrounding the concerts. But I wished he’d have communicated more with the audience. Most people were satisfied with the music, but it bothered me that someone with so much power would flippantly ignore it. There was a branch of that old nastiness coming through, by the intonation of his voice. It was snarly, a put-down, even, in tone.

“I brought Kleenex with me. I was ready to cry. But I never had an inkling of emotion, of the poetry behind the songs.”

In a national audience of just less than 658,000, Mimi’s was a minority voice. Despite the ticket hassles, some obstructed views for several hundred customers in several cities, and an unanswered political question, Tour ’74 was a triumph for Bob Dylan, the Band, the producers, the crews and the audiences. If you didn’t have expectations left over from the last time you saw Dylan, eight or 13 years ago; if you could give the man room to do what he wished with his songs—songs that changed the direction of popular music so many times; if you could stand inside his shoes for just one moment, you would have been a satisfied customer. I remember the young girl in Oakland, a Joni Mitchell-like beauty in long jeanskirt outfit, standing with her hands clasped as if in prayer, while the rest of the Coliseum went crazy.

Graham was watching the audiences, too. “You could say, ‘greatest thrill of my life,’ ‘greatest event.’ You can’t say those things. But it was the kind of thing … years from now you remember that picnic; that game where we beat Notre Dame … a very special cluster of events that will be with a lot of people. If I don’t ever do anything again, I will have thought that I was a part of something very special.

“It’s those faces at the end. Those beautiful faces.”

In This Article: Bob Dylan, Coverwall


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