Dylan Released and Unreleased 3 – “Hard to Handle” – the full one hour video

By Aaron Galbraith and Tony Attwood

Aaron: If you’ve never seen Dylan’s 1986 VHS concert movie Hard To Handle you could do worse than find an hour in your day and settle down with Bob, Tom and the Heartbreaker boys and enjoy the whole thing here:

Aaron: But if you don’t have an hour let me and Tony present you with a 3 track highlight reel.

The show kicks off with a song for Bob’s “hero”, In The Garden.

Tony: In terms of the music this is one of the most extraordinary compositions by Dylan – I can’t think of anything that sounds like this.  Taking a musical phrase and then repeating it a tone higher is unusual enough.  But then to do it again is amazing.

And most amazing of all is that it works brilliantly.  And in case you are a musician and this means something to you, just look at this (source Eyolf Østrem)

          B                   F#               G#m      G+
When they came for Him in the garden, did they know?
          Cm                  G+               Eb       F
When they came for Him in the garden, did they know?
         G               C/g                  G7               C/g
Did they know He was the Son of God, did they know that He was Lord?
         G                 C/g           G7                 C/g
Did they hear when He told Peter, "Peter, put up your sword"?
          A                   D/a              A7      D/a
When they came for Him in the garden, did they know?
          B                   E/b              B7      E/b
When they came for Him in the garden, did they know?

F#   B/f#    F#

It really is an extraordinary piece of writing, and delivered with absolute conviction – and really unusually for Dylan out of the six lines of lyrics, four of them are identical – which shows just how much the song relies on the music.  When you think of this, it is the absolute reversal of normal Dylan, where we get musical lines repeated but the lyrics change.   A one-off oddity, but no less powerful for that.

Aaron: The acoustic section of the show contains an extraordinary version of It’s Alright Ma

Tony: Again an incredibly powerful performance and the only thing that puts me off this version is the delivery of the lyrics at the start – but fortunately Dylan does move the melody on (or maybe I should say, recovers the melody).  However, this is a trivial comment in the face of an incredibly dramatic version of the song delivered so fast that I felt utterly blown away.  And I love the way he suddenly puts in pauses in the lines – there seems no reason, it just happens.  Maybe he just runs out of breath.

I really don’t think there is another performance like this – no hold on, having written that I am sure there is.  It is just that I don’t have a good enough memory to transport myself away from this performance back to another one. I just want to enjoy this.   It is amazing.

Aaron: I could have picked any track from the rest but I’ll finish off with I’ll Remember You


Tony: This is something of a rarity in my view, as Bob really looks as if he is meaning the lyrics while performing – normally I feel that the music takes him over rather than him thinking of the lyrics.  But not this time.

OK I am now going to settle down and watch the whole production.  Thank Aaron, certainly not for the first time, I am totally indebted to you for what you have come up with.

Aaron: As one of very few home movies released by Bob over the years it’s a damn shame they never upgraded the vhs to DVD or Blu-Ray but at least we have the YouTube version to enjoy whenever you want!



  1. Hard to Handle was directed by Gillian Armstrong who may be best known for My Brilliant Career and Mrs Soffel. At the time it was released I remember admiring the direction, in particular the long swooping crane shots that characterize the piece. They still work for me today.

  2. There are a couple CD’s from that tour: “Dylan & Petty Live On The Radio ‘86,” and “1986-02-24: Across The Borderline: Sydney, Australia.” While both do a decent job capturing the energy, neither has great audio. It would be good if an sound engineer would go to town and clean them up. But hey, Bob opens “It’s Alright Ma,” by commenting that a reviewer wrote how he sounded like a parody of himself and how he, “…can’t sound like anybody else. I don’t know how to. If I did, I would.”

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