When Hard Rain, Bob Dylan’s much ballyhooed NBC TV special aired on September 14, 1976, I was nine years old. I’d “discovered” Dylan earlier that year and owned his Greatest Hits album and the single of “Tangled Up in Blue,” which I thought was the greatest song ever recorded. I eagerly anticipated the night that a Hard Rain was a-gonna be broadcast.
However, Hard Rain just perplexed me. I was expecting something more… professional, I suppose, and this was really loose and informal, the opposite of a slick rock show. I couldn’t understand why he didn’t do more of his hits or play his songs the way the audience wanted to hear them, the “right way.”
I’d also been reading about how the Rolling Thunder Revue tour was supposed to have all of this crackling, joyous onstage energy and musical camaraderie among the musicians (Joan Baez, T-Bone Burnett, David Mansfield, Gary Burke, Roger McGuinn, Bob Neuwirth, Scarlet Rivera, Luther Rix, Kinky Friedman, Mick Ronson, Steven Soles, Rob Stoner, Howie Wyeth), but as you can see, the energy is downright subdued, barely a smile is cracked. By the time this performance was shot—May 23, 1976 at Hughes Stadium in Fort Collins, Colorado—the Revue seems to have run out of steam. Only four of the eleven performances actually heard in the broadcast (“Maggie’s Farm”, “One Too Many Mornings”, “Shelter from the Storm” and “Idiot Wind”) were included on the Hard Rain live album released ten days before the special aired. Rob Stoner would later remark that Dylan had been “hitting the bottle all weekend” and speculated that the album’s sloppy “punk” energy was a result of that bender. The fact that Dylan and his soon-to-be ex-wife, Sara, had been arguing for the entire Colorado stay may have also contributed to what went down onstage (Watch him spit out “Idiot Wind. It’s easy to interpret this performance as a “fuck you” to her.)
Although the program was highly touted in advance by NBC—Bob Dylan even made the cover of TV Guide, it doesn’t get anymore mainstream than that—it fared poorly in the ratings and has never been released on DVD. Below is Hard Rain as it was recorded off air in 1976, when it was presented by Craig Audio. Dylan thanks Arthur Rimbaud at the end and there’s a credit to poet Anne Waldman for the “headgear.”
Although this was posted a year ago, as often happens with videos we link to on this blog, I wouldn’t expect this one to last forever…
Thank you Michael Simmons!