L4LM contributing writer Bob Wilson recently interviewed Grateful Dead and Bob Dylan author/mega-fan Howard F. Weiner to discuss his latest book Dylan & the Grateful Dead: A Tale of Twisted Fate. The book delves into how the Dead were responsible for reviving Dylan’s career in the 1980’s, a time when the icon’s career was in a downward spiral and needed a reawakening. Check out what the author had to say in this recent interview:
In his 2017 release, Dylan and the Grateful Dead: A Tale of Twisted Fate, author Howard F. Weiner documents the trails blazed by the Grateful Dead and Bob Dylan. This new title follows on the heels of Weiner’s earlier title, Tangled Up in Tunes: Ballad of a Dylanhead (2016). Though the six stadium run in 1987 that brought the Grateful Dead and Bob Dylan together has been derided thoroughly by the majority of critics, Weiner re-examines this moment in history and its impact on both iconic acts, boldly recounting how the Grateful Dead helped to revive a listless Dylan from his now-legendary 1980’s malaise.
When asked about the official live album of the tour (1989), Weiner didn’t want to look back. The official record may be left heavily tainted in large measure by this release. “The Dylan & the Dead album is a travesty”, the author winced. “It seems almost like self-sabotage. There is no reason to get excited about it, and the song selection included the poorest performances of the tour.”
The Grateful Dead, it seems, wanted to use many songs recorded at the Giants Stadium show on July 12th, 1987. This is regarded as the finest show on the tour and featured some of the best renditions of classic Dylan songs. Instead of the rare gem “Joey” performed at its zenith, Dylan chose the version from the show at Foxborough Stadium on July 4th, 1987. This version had blown lyrics and was far inferior to the rendition from New Jersey. Weiner also relates that a low-on-confidence Dylan had his voice “way down in the mix,” almost as if he was hiding behind the music.
Although not many will dispute the concert album being mishandled, the author emphasizes that “touring with the Grateful Dead changed the next thirty years of Dylan’s career.” Dylan’s releases like Knocked Out Loaded (1986) featured some decent tunes among the tracks but paled compared to his Nobel-worthy 1960’s catalog of songs. Dylan understandably needed something to help him carry the burden of his earlier self to new work, and perhaps the Grateful Dead helped the iconic rocker realize that performing could be both his mission and his salvation.
Within Dylan and the Grateful Dead, Weiner adds some tasty anecdotes to the mix, such as Levon Helm inquiring backstage at the Brooklyn Academy of Music on New Year’s Eve, 1971, when Dylan would bring The Band back on tour. During that earlier time, Dylan replied that he was considering touring with the Grateful Dead. “I don’t think he really meant that in 1971, it was something he just shot out, but it eventually happened,” notes the author. While Dylan would tour with The Band in 1974, Dylan’s statement near a decade-and-a-half prior forces readers to consider how long such a collaboration had been in the works.
On February 12th, 1988, Dylan called the offices of the Grateful Dead in San Rafael, CA, and asked to join the band. “It’s a burden being Bob Dylan,” explains Weiner, “There is no way around that.” It only required one nay vote to nix Dylan’s candidacy, and it wasn’t Jerry Garcia or Bob Weir, nor was it Brent Mydland, who was still the new guy. It may have been one of the drummers, or Phil Lesh. Weiner goes on to muse, “Whoever it was, it was a blessing. Dylan went to New Orleans with Daniel Lanois, and wrote and recorded Oh Mercy (1989).”
Inspired by the touring machine that the Grateful Dead had become, Dylan became a road warrior on June 7th, 1988. In their career, the Dead performed about 2,350 shows, and Dylan would eclipse that number in the second half of his career alone. “”I’ve got to go out there and play these songs. That’s just what I must do”, said Dylan in Newsweek in 1997. The tour still has not ended for Bob Dylan as of this date in 2017.
Howard Weiner is also the author of Grateful Dead 1977: The Rise of Terrapin Nation; and Positively Garcia. Howard is the creator and host of Visions of Dylan, a series of two-hour programs that airs on 99.5 FM, WBAI, New York. Dylan & the Grateful Dead: A Tale of Twisted Fate is available and can be purchased via Amazon.
Take a listen to Bob Wilson’s podcast with Howard F. Weiner as a guest:
[cover photo via Larry Hulst, Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images]