Bob Dylan: Master of the Fine Art of Pissing People Off

by Jon Friedman

Bob Dylan is still a master at The Fine Art of Pissing People Off. And, as ever, the maestro is making the unorthodox practice pay off. Dylan is remaining in the news, on his terms. As usual.

In 1966, Dylan infuriated audiences from Sydney to Newcastle. In the acoustic portions of his concerts, he debuted ethereal-sounding songs from the then-unreleased Blonde on Blonde. His whispery, melodramatic singing perplexed audiences that hoped to hear, instead, “Blowin in the Wind and The Times They Are A-Changin.

If that wasn’t bad enough for the masses, Dylan opened the electric set with a blistering tune called Tell Me Momma, which was as indecipherable as it was loud.

That set the tone for a loud set, which the concertgoers couldn’t fathom or appreciate. The Hawks, Dylan’s backup band, played brilliantly night after night and Dylan sang like like a banshee.

And still, the people booed. Every night. They still hoped to hear Dylan sing Masters of War and Chimes of Freedom. They yelled “Judas” at him. He wouldn’t have been out of bounds to shout back, “Idiots!”

You can hear exactly how explosive, dynamic and violent the music sounded, show after show, on the terrific new Sony Legacy 36-disc release. It contains the stuff Dylan and the Hawks played on the world tour — and it is worth every penny and every minute of listening.

Fast-forward to 50 years later: 2016. Now, Dylan is back in the news for getting a Nobel Prize for Literature — and deciding, after a torturous few weeks, not to accept it in person in Stockholm.

For Dylan’s trouble, a member of the Nobel board called him “rude” because he didn’t initially return the Noble group’s phone calls. As it turned out, Patti Smith, who might be receiving a Nobel Prize for Literature herself one of these days, will read from Dylan’s speech on Dec. 10 at the official ceremony in Stockholm.

Dylan must be sitting back at home in Malibu, laughing his head off. Think about it. By doing NOTHING, he managed to stay on the front pages of newspapers, week after week, whether he wanted to or not.

He is a master of public relations and not because he tries to trick or manipulate people. He is just that much smarter thsn everyone else.

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)