Fourteen years ago on this day in 1998, Bob Dylan scooped up his first Grammy for Album of the Year, and he immortalized a party crasher with the words Soy Bomb painted in block letters on his bare chest. Just like so many times before, this was a mind out of time moment in Dylan folklore.
Seven years before Soy Bomb, as American bombs rained down on Iraq, Dylan bombed on the Grammy stage. Sure, “Masters of War” was a gutsy song choice, but regardless of the spin that any Dylanologist puts on it, Dylan’s 1991 performance was abrasive. On that night, Jack Nicholson presented Dylan with a Lifetime Achievement Award. Dylan’s improvised acceptance speech was a hoot, but it was obvious he had seen better days.
After six more years of touring, and overcoming a freak heart ailment, Dylan released Time Out of Mind to the thunderous roar of writers, critics, and loyalists. Dylan was a shoe in to win at the 1998 Grammy Awards. The only suspense was the live performance: what would Dylan play, and what did the Grammy Gods have in store for him.
Dylan looked dashing in a gray suit as his band broke into “Love Sick,” the tune I was pulling for. A funky crew of hired cool cats circled the band as the Hibbing Hipster let it rip: “I’m walking, through streets that are dead; I’m walking, with you in my head.” Dylan was in the hypnotic zone. TV land was at his command until Soy Bomb burst upon the scene—a half-naked man with his arms a-flailing. Dylan noticed him from behind and shot him a look of absolute bewilderment.
It took security over a minute to remove the intruder, but the bomb was lit. Dylan laced into the best guitar solo of his career. Dylan’s focused performance became sublime, the adrenaline rush elevated the drama for everybody. Dylan’s band was smiling in unison. Bob closed “Love Sick” with a poignant verse filled with attentive vocal inflections. By itself, the audio track is a Dylan classic.
With the Eyes of the World watching, this became one of the most riveting moments in history of live entertainment. And we were yet to hear that gripping acceptance speech where Dylan talked of how he was inspired by Buddy Holly’s spirit during the recording of Time Out of Mind because of a vibe Dylan had picked up on when he saw Buddy in Duluth as a young man.
Dylan keeps on keepin’ on. If Soy Bomb hadn't existed, somebody would have had to an invent a Soy Bomb Theory to explain Dylan's career renaissance that is still raging fourteen years later.
Tangled Up in Tunes: Ballad of a Dylanhead
available at www.tangledupintunes.com