Why did David Bowie think Bob Dylan hated him?

There is no doubt that David Bowie respected and revered Bob Dylan. In fact, in 1971, the British singer even penned the folk icon an ode in the form of ‘Song for Bob Dylan’, a track later featured on the now-lauded album Hunky Dory. However, their relationship always felt a little one-sided, with Bowie even believing that the freewheelin’ troubadour hated him.

Besides the aforementioned song, it feels almost strange to consider the two legends interacting. Dylan and Bowie seemed to dominate two very different spheres while both sitting at the top of their class and defining the 1970s, ‘80s, and onwards. In the 1960s, Dylan was the king of country and folk, pioneering the use of electric guitar after his controversial 1965 Newport Folk Festival appearance.

Meanwhile, in the 1970s, Bowie was soaring to the top of the rock world with his artistic take on the genre. Defying the rock ’n’ roll sound of the decade before, Bowie was striving for something more theatrical and broad, looking towards pop, early punk and blues for more inspiration.

As the two leaders of their time, you’d be forgiven for thinking that Bowie and Dylan would’ve been fast friends. Imagine what could’ve happened if the duo had got in the studio together or collaborated at all. But instead, their first meeting didn’t quite go as smoothly as Bowie had hoped.

“I saw Dylan in New York seven, eight months ago,” Bowie told Playboy in 1976. “We don’t have a lot to talk about. We’re not great friends. Actually, I think he hates me.”

Describing the circumstances of their meeting as “very bad”, an overly talkative, under-the-influence Bowie came across Dylan at a party. Seemingly ranting away at Dylan in a kind of stream-of-consciousness drawl, the Englishman didn’t make a great first impression.

“We went back to somebody’s house after some gig at a club,” Bowie continued. “We had all gone to see someone, I can’t remember who, and Dylan was there. I was in a very, sort of … verbose frame of mind. And I just talked at him for hours and hours, and whether I amused him or scared him or repulsed him, I really don’t know. I didn’t wait for any answers. I just went on and on about everything. And then I said good night. He never phoned me.”

But it didn’t seem to be a one-way stream of annoyance. While Dylan seemed totally unimpressed by Bowie, giving him a rather frosty reception upon their first meeting, Bowie also left feeling pretty underwhelmed by the artist.

Despite respecting Dylan, Bowie admitted to not being impressed by his counterpart on personal terms. “I like meeting other artists, but they rarely impress me,” he said. “Regular people do, people who aren’t playing power games. I know power plays immediately and I’m better at it than most of them, so I discount them in a flash.”

However, Bowie clearly still wanted to know what the artist thought of him or get his praise or respect in return. “I’d just like to know what the young chap thought of me,” he said.

But in the haze of the ‘70s and the context of their meeting, it wasn’t exactly the ideal set-up for a conversation of deep importance or mutual admiration. Leaving Bowie doubting his conversational skills, he said, “I was quite convinced that what I had to say was important, which I seem to feel all the time. It’s been quite a while since somebody really impressed me, though.”

Later down the line, that mutual admiration would shine through with Bob Dylan proving he did, in fact, like and respect Bowie. In 1997, Bob Dylan covered Bowie’s ‘Tryin’ To Get To Heaven’. Maybe it was an olive branch apology for this uncomfortable first encounter.

Leave a Reply

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