Why does Bob Dylan not talk to the fans when he’s on stage?

By Tony Attwood

You’ll have heard about Bob stopping the show because of the flash lights going off at a recent concert.   The one where he said a few words which the media immediately called a “rant” before they showed us what a rant really is like, as they criticised Bob’s presentation of his songs at his concerts.

Anyway Bob turned away, slipped on an amp and then returned to face the audience.  Here’s the video

After that, as Pat reminded me, Dylan added Dignity to the set for a few gigs, including in the song of course this ending…

Someone showed me a picture and I just laughed
Dignity never been photographed
I went into the red, went into the black
Into the valley of dry bone dreams

So many roads, so much at stake
So many dead ends, I’m at the edge of the lake
Sometimes I wonder what it’s gonna take
To find dignity

Here’s a version that I really like – you might care to play it while reading on (if you want to read on that is)…

Anyway, this all feeds into the whole question of why Bob chooses not to speak to the audience very much these days.

And I say “these days” because I’m reminded of the long speech he used to give during the Christen period.  At that time no one seemed to listen – there was often more noise coming from the audience than from Bob.

Now when I put this point to a friend as I was thinking further on the topic, he replied simply that there was noise from the floor showing that the fans didn’t want to listen to his preaching.  Which is an interesting answer because it seems to suggest that those going to the concert should in some way be in charge of what happens – or at least be able to make a judgement.

And as one who makes judgements on Dylan all the time on this site, I don’t fancy that.  Judgements on blogs, fine.  But at the gigs?  No.

Take that further and perhaps a couple of days before a show we should vote for the songs we want Dylan to perform.  And yes of course I would love to hear Dylan do a live performance of “Tell Ol Bill” – but I still wouldn’t get it because most people would be voting for the regular favourites.

So that didn’t take us much further – as a second point occurred to me then: most musicians do speak on stage but they have very little to say.  Do we really want to hear Bob say, “Hello Nottingham how you doing?”   Probably not.

Or do we want him to be saying, “This is a song that I wrote in 1968; haven’t played it much since, but thought I’d give it one more run…”   Not really.

And so it goes on.  Few pop and rock musicians have anything to say of interest.  For Bob to say something of interest he would probably need ten minutes – ten minutes against members of the audience shouting out their favourite Dylan titles.  Is there any point?

In fact that led me on to the thought that a large number of people even talk through the songs, or shout or make whistles or noises.  I don’t know why they do it, but listen to any of the concert recordings and you will probably hear exactly that.

But there is more, because Dylan has on occasion presented us with some of his insights in lectures, and I am not too sure that the insights take us much further forward.  Perhaps the most informative speech is still the Musicare lecture which I have covered in some detail.  Really if you want to know what Bob thinks about his own writing read that – I don’t think he has gone much further since then.

In fact if you then go on to the Nobel lecture, we don’t really seem to go any further at all – if anything we go backwards.

And to be fair Bob has never presented himself as a speaker – even Theme Time Radio Hour had limited amounts of Dylan talk.  He has given some interviews but they are often contradictory and lacking in illumination.

But why should he be a speaker?  He doesn’t present himself as a speaker, he doesn’t offer to go on talk shows or lecture tours.  I think quite possibly he really doesn’t like talking in public, and that surely should be understandable to anyone.

During my time as a writer I have on occasion been asked to speak before a sizeable audience – that is my version of an audience, of maybe 500 at most, not Dylan’s 10,000 in an auditorium.  And I have had to talk for 50 minutes without notes, not least because on one occasion as I prepared myself to get up on the podium I was told that the key speaker of the event had said he wanted to talk on my subject, so could I talk on something else.

And OK I can do that, just as I can play in folk clubs and with small time rock bands.  But put me on stage in a play and I freeze –  I cannot do it at all.  So if Bob hates speaking in public, why should we demand that he has to do it?  The man is a genius songwriter and great performer; shouldn’t he have the right to stay quiet?

Besides the audience at Dylan shows know his work and most have seen him many times before.   Most, I suspect, know every line of every song.  So what do they expect Bob to say?   OK he might say, “You think this song is about my ex-lover but its actually about my friend’s dog.”   Maybe – but would you believe it?

So Bob doesn’t explain, and doesn’t give histories and in that regard he is probably unique – and I suspect he quite likes that.  And besides, really, what would you think if at the end of every gig he always said, “Thank you very much for coming?”   Is that what we want from Bob?

There was a time when every gig ended with “There must be someway out of here, said the joker to the thief…” and I used to wonder – is he trying to tell us something, or does he just like the song?  I never resolved that, and in a way I’m rather glad.  Either answer would be disappointing.

What else is on the site

You’ll find an index to our latest posts arranged by themes and subjects on the home page.  You can also see details of our main sections on this site at the top of this page under the picture.

The index to the 500+ Dylan compositions reviewed is now on a new page of its own.  You will find it here.  It contains reviews of every Dylan composition that we can find a recording of – if you know of anything we have missed please do write in.

We also have a discussion group “Untold Dylan” on Facebook.  Just type the phrase “Untold Dylan” in, on your Facebook page or follow this link 

And please do note   The Bob Dylan Project, which lists every Dylan song in alphabetical order, and has links to licensed recordings and performances by Dylan and by other artists, is starting to link back to our reviews.

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Why does Bob Dylan not talk to the fans when he’s on stage?

  1. JG says:

    Dylan is as much about myth as he is about anything. Not speaking during his shows perpetuates the myth. Grateful Dead hardly ever said anything during their shows either. The current incarnation of Grateful Dead, Dead & Co., also rarely speak during shows except for Phil Lesh’s organ donor 2 minute speech. Interestingly, a good portion of the audience for both are Deadheads and Dylanheads, who as you point out, are rowdy and loud throughout the shows. Maybe the choice to not speak is a way for each of the artists to respond to the audience. “Fuck it…keep talking and yelling. We’ll crank up the volume, but I’m not going to try to talk over you.”.

  2. jon mintz says:

    I’ve heard Dylan talk many tmes to the audience. He even came over to me one day and started talking. I’ve heard him tell jokes. Heard him introduce the band. Say somehting about a song. But being alone with him once standing together, he talked but he doesn’t say a lot. He doesn’t know you. it’s like you talking to me on a deserted street. would you want to talk to me? to the audience today? dn’t know. it puzzles me because I have heard him talk a lot. and druing his Christians shows, I never heard him make speeches. He would just say something about Jesus and how bad our lives are. But it wasn’t preaching or a speech. Unfortunately, most pop shows attract the dregs of society. People are high. People are drunk. People think Dylan is the leader of some movement. and they bring their dumb phones. So maybe he feels disconnected to his audience. Most of his audience today is probably leftists. Dylan isn’t a leftist. He doesn’t relate to that. He quit that in the later 60s. But people haven’t caught on yet. Maybe he’s just there making money because life is boring. He told me life was boring. He is doing this for his band and crew. No kidding. He will leave them all financially secure. If you ever meet him, act normal. He does talk. But he also knows you want to hear him talk in concert!!!!!! He’s playing everyone. He’s not really Dylan anymore. He is an older Robert Zimmerman just playing some songs. I think he wishes his audience was more sophisticated. Quiet. Knowledgeable. Not on phones all the time.

  3. Richard says:

    I’ve seen Bob a few times. The last two he didn’t speak to us (just through the songs, which is enough for me.) The last time I heard him speak he said, “Thank you friends. I’m gonna introduce my band right now….” I don’t need him to say Hello Toronto how you doing tonight?

  4. Allen says:

    Because he made an ass out of himself by delivering whacko sermons in 70, 80, and 81?

  5. Jessica Waterston says:

    I went to two shows last fall, one in Phoenix, and one at the Beacon in NYC. At both concerts, the audience was quiet and respectful. We listened to every word and every note in every song. There was the occasional phone taken out, or even the phone photo taken, but the security was on it immediately. We, the audience, showed respect and gratitude to the great artist that was before us. It was awesome. Maybe the crowds in Europe are different, I don’t know.

  6. Robert Ford says:

    Bob Dylan began touring again in 1974 and has been on the road in 75,76,78,79,80,81 and 84. He resumed touring in 1986 and this became a never ending tour. Dylan is first and foremost a performer. So he performs. Sorry, it really is that simple. We can all speculate and have our own opinions as to why Dylan no longer says anything during his performances, or prefers not to introduce his band, but only the artist himself knows why. I remember not too long ago someone who had been to see Dolly Parton stating that she talked so much on stage that the talking became half of the concert. We have all seen the crowd pleasers that get the audience singing for them. Bob Dylan is different. Perhaps we have had some small clues from the artist himself “it breaks my concentration ” or more recently ( as above ) ” we can pose or play “. As for the audience…”the dregs of society” , “leftists ” ,”sophisticated “, I do know that Bob Dylan hates labels. Indisputably, Dylan continues to perform all around the world for all languages and cultures…there are truly different ways of showing respect for the performer, for example someone who is deeply moved by a magnificent, haunting harmonica solo may involuntarily shout out their delight at being so moved or hearing Dylan sing an almost solo piano version of ‘Don’t think twice, it’s alright ” may cause someone who cherishes this song to shout out their joy at this performance ( so new , so inventive, so beautiful… ). I believe Bob Dylan would adore this response. Most importantly, Bob Dylan will always be Bob Dylan.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *