The New York Times
December 9, 1975
Dylan Returns to Garden With Rolling Thunder
Revue in Benefit for Carter
By JOHN ROCKWELL
Late on Jan. 31, 1974, at the end of his last show at Madison
during his tour with the Band, Bob Dylan made a promise. Dressed in a blue
and white Toronto Maple Leafs jersey, he leaned into the microphone just before he
dashed offstage and said, "See ya next year."
For a while, it didn't look as if he would keep that promise.
And then even after news
of his furtive Rolling Thunder Revue tour of the Northeast leaked out, the word from
the Dylan camp was that New York wasn't on the itinerary.
But last night Mr. Dylan, the entire Rolling Thunder Revue and
a host of
celebrities--some onstage and some in the audience--did indeed give a concert at the
A benefit for Rubin (Hurricane) Carter, the imprisoned former
boxer, it simultaneously
called attention to Mr. Carter's plight, rekindled the links between artists and politics
that had been shaky since the 1960's and made a notable climax to one of the most
significant tours in Mr. Dylan's extraordinary career.
What the concert lacked in consistency it made up as a broadly
of musicians united in a cause. For all of the inevitable slow moments when guests
shunt in and out of the spotlight, it made for a long, relaxed yet--in Mr. Dylan's parts,
at least--zany, high-energy, high- intensity good time.
Achieved Its Purpose
Mr. Carter had said last week from his prison in Clinton,
N.J., that the prime purpose
of the event was to attract attention, and to judge from the number of celebrities and
press on hand, the concert achieved attention in full measure.
Prominent political figures on the guest list included
Representatives Edward I. Koch,
Herman Badillo and Charles B. Rangel; Mayor Kenneth A. Gibson of Newark; Percy
Sutton, Borough President of Manhattan; Comptroller Harrison J. Goldin, Paul
O'Dwyer, President of the City Council. Coretta King was a last-minute addition to
Athletes on the guest list included several New York
Knicks--Earl Monroe, Walt
Frazier, Bill Bradley--and Joe Frazier, the boxer. Among the show-business
personalities were Candice Bergen, Ellen Burstyn, Dyan Cannon and Melba Moore.
The concert itself had been anticipated with a rare interest
by Mr. Dylan's many
admirers. Tickets were sold out within half a day, even with minimal publicity, a limit of
two a person and sales only at the Garden box office. Scalping was reported active
through brokers and yesterday in the vicinity of the Garden, with $12.50 tickets going
for as high as $75.
Inside, the tension was high, although as in all pop concerts,
the audience filed in late
and the Garden wasn't full when the concert began at 8:18 P.M. One had the
impression that the vast bulk of the young crowd had come to see and hear a concert
with a lot of big names, not out of any particular belief in Mr. Carter's cause.
The concert fell roughly into the same pattern as all the
shows on the tour from the
very first, in Plymouth, Mass., on Oct. 30, although nearly everything sounded tighter
and more purposeful than it had been, with really good sound, at least from this
There was an hour of songs by the various members of the
back-up band led by Bob
Neuwirth and joined successively by Ronnie Blakley and Joni Mitchell, who had
canceled another engagement in Los Angeles in order to be there. Miss Mitchell sang
three songs on her own and one with the band.
The overtly political portion of the bill took up the next 20
minutes. Muhammed Ali
spoke briefly and cheerfully, commending the predominantly white crowd and saying
that it had "the connections and the complexion to get the protection" for Mr. Carter.
Mr. Ali then spoke with Mr. Carter by telephone, the
prisoner's voice amplified for the
audience to hear. There was a brief round of introductions of other figures in the
Carter cause, including his wife and daughter, and the musical show continued with
Jack Elliott, the sweet-voiced country cowboy from Brooklyn. (Roger McGuinn, the
ex-Byrd, had joined the band on banjo.)
Mr. Dylan himself, in white face and a lavishly flowered,
feathered Pat Garrett hat,
shirt out and weaving playfully about the stage, came on at 9:57 o'clock. He joined
Mr. Neuwirth in a duet of "When I Paint My Masterpiece" and continued with six
more of his own songs before the intermission. Robbie Robertson joined in for one of
them on guitar.
After the break, Joan Baez and Mr. Dylan did some duets,
followed by Miss Baez on
her own, more confident than five weeks ago but still oddly out of place. And then
Roberta Flack--hardly an artist one associates with Mr. Dylan--and her musicians
offered three songs. The original band returned, first with Mr. McGuinn as lead singer,
then with Miss Baez again. Mr. Dylan then took the stage for another long, final set of
his own, ending with a communal rendition of Woody Guthrie's "This Is Your Land,"
as all these shows have done.
Rolling Thunder Revue shows in previous cities have lasted up
to five hours, but last
night's concert lasted four and one half hours exactly.
Rumored appearances by John Lennon, George Harrison, Ray
Charles and Marvin
Gaye did not materialize, although Richie Havens did show up for the finale.
Mr. Carter was imprisoned along with John Artis in 1967 for
the slaying of three men
in Paterson, N.J. in 1966. The principal witnesses in the case have since recanted their
testimony, but Mr. Carter has been denied a new trial.
George Lois, executive director of the Hurricane Fund, said
that Mr. Carter's defense
hoped to net $100,000 from last night's concert.
The real gain for Mr. Carter's friends was publicity, however,
and that had been
achieved even before the concert. "We already had good New York and New Jersey
press," Mr. Lois said, "But this concert has given us national and international
The Carter people's desire for publicity and the Dylan
secretiveness, inspired by the singer himself, have caused some unusual clashes, with
the press rebuffed by one side even as it was being encouraged by the other.
"I think it goes against Bob's grain," Mr. Lois
said. "He doesn't want that kind of
attention, but he wants attention for Rubin. It has been a little weird, but I love him for
doing it at all."
When word about the Rolling Thunder Revue first came out, it
seemed as if it would
play mostly in clubs and small halls. In fact, it has played 30 performances in 22 cities
in all (counting last night but not counting the Clinton prison date), split fairly evenly
between halls seating around 3,000 and arenas seating between 10,000 and 20,000.
The tour's size has provoked some cynicism and charges of
hypocrisy, especially since
Mr. Dylan's friends and tour members have been more enthusiastic than usual with
their populist rhetoric and assertions of Mr. Dylan's selflessness.
There are reportedly three films being made, at least some
which may well make
money, and Mr. Dylan is apparently thinking of renewing the tour in Europe two
months from now. The stories of warm good feelings among tour members have been
partially purchased by a skulking, in-crowd exclusivism, and there have been
persistent tales of dissension and ego clashes, too.
That shouldn't obscure the tour's virtues, both musical and
symbolic. Like the
Bangladesh concert in 1971 and the Chile benefit in 1974, this concert kept the flames
of artistic involvement in political causes alive for the 1970's. And the whole tour and
Mr. Dylan's "Hurricane" single have indicated a resurgence of his own interest in such
questions, long eclipsed by more personal, private matters.
Similarly the tour was a reaffirmation of the old Dylan
rootlessness, and an indication
that he hadn't allowed the spontaneous, prankster, hippie side of his nature to be
squashed by the pressures of fame. And the several new Dylan songs are the most
promising indication yet that Mr. Dylan has more to give as a writer.
With this tour and with last night's marathon concert, Mr.
Dylan has reinvigorated the
flagging New York folk-rock scene, and he may well have reinvigorated the fashion of
political commitment among artists. Most important of all, however, he has