REMINISCENT MONDAY: Bob Dylan Gets Soy Bombed
    • MONDAY, FEBRUARY 13, 2017

    • Posted by: Robert Steiner

    It's hard to imagine that Bob Dylan ever needed a comeback. While he's currently a highly-respected artist who receives endless praise from anyone with ears, and he has more classics in his songbook than most people will write in a lifetime, Robert Zimmerman has spent a good portion of his long career pissing his fans off. In 1965, he went electric, so Pete Seeger came at him with an ax (a story for another day). In 1966, fans wanted to hear more acoustic protest music, so he got in a motorcycle accident, disappeared to a farm in Woodstock, and didn't release any music for nine years (again, story for another day). He became a born-again Christian and only sang cheesy gospel songs, he rapped on a Kurtis Blow song, and most recently, he responded to winning the highest award in literature with a symbolic "that's nice" by not showing up to accept it (I could really just start a segment called "Bob Dylan's Weird-Ass Life" at this point).

    By the late 90s, fans' collective annoyance in Dylan was finally catching up to him, and after spending the better part of two decades releasing some of his worst music, it was clear he needed something to win back the good graces of his listeners. He finally turned things around with 1997's Time Out Of Mind, a back-to-basics album that showcased Dylan's signature ability to weave intricate stories and raw emotion with such uncanny simplicity, and proved the then-56 year old still had some good songs in him. The record received high marks across the board, and it was even enough to land the singer-songwriter some major nominations at the 1998 Grammy Awards, including Album of the Year. While it was exciting enough that he was expected to show up, the moment everyone was waiting for was Dylan's live performance scheduled for the evening. A notoriously reclusive artist, Dylan performing on live TV is always an event, but being that this was his comeback year, the stakes were surprisingly high for the music legend to deliver something memorable, the much-sought after "Grammy moment," if you will.

    Long story short, Dylan found his "Grammy moment," but probably not in the way he or anyone had expected. With a full band and a crowd of hired extras onstage, Dylan tore through Time Out Of Mind's heavy opener, "Love Sick," giving arguably one of his strongest performances in years. Things took a rather strange turn, however, when one of the extras ran to the stage next to Dylan, ripped off his shirt to reveal the words "SOY BOMB" written across his chest, and started dancing like he was at an Exorcist-themed disco party. While the appearance of a contorting soy enthusiast bewildered viewers, and would usually be a sure-fire way to throw a performer off their game, the least surprised person in the room was apparently Bob Dylan. The band literally didn't miss a beat, and all Dylan did was look over to the Soy Bomber flailing next to him, give him the look of a man who's seen much weirder shit than this, and continue singing the song without a second thought. Eventually, security came and dragged the Soy Bomber offstage, and Dylan carried on with a solid guitar solo, again only giving the song-crasher a passing glance.

    While Dylan was amazingly unfazed by the incident, everyone else who watched the performance wanted to know what the hell that was. In fact, Dylan's stone-faced ambivalence convinced some that the event was actually planned, that maybe Dylan was about nose-dive into an avant-garde performance phase. Thankfully, the Soy Bomb was completely unplanned, and it was later discovered the man responsible was Michael Portnoy, an experimental artist and self-described "Director of Behavior." Portnoy was hired as one of the extras jamming out to the song in the back, but seeing as this was the closest he would ever get to being on national television, he took the chance to show his profound and mind-altering art to the world. Except of course, there seemed to be one problem to Portnoy's scheme: No one knew what a "soy bomb" was. "Soy bomb" was never a thing until he wrote it on himself and started dry-heaving next to Dylan. Portnoy came out of anonymity to explain his message to Entertainment Weekly, saying, "Soy represents dense nutritional life. Bomb is, obviously, an explosive destructive force. So, 'soy bomb' is what I think art should be: Dense, transformational, explosive life." So there you have it: "Soy Bomb" was, in fact, a two word poem about the current state of art, written on a pasty white guy's chest. You got all that from the performance, right?

    Portnoy seemed proud of his self-proclaimed "act of pure revolution," even while the artistic commentary would've been slightly more convincing as a Peta campaign to eat more soy meat substitutes. At the very least, the artist got his live TV moment and subsequent 15 minutes of fame, but even while he thought he was the future of art, he's since become an odd footnote in a long list of Grammy moments. Meanwhile, Dylan went on to win Album of the Year plus two more Grammys that night, and he closed out the 90s by successfully cementing his rank as a musical legend. You can watch the official video of Dylan performing "Love Sick," but with a soy bomb nowhere to be seen thanks to clever editing. But honestly, just from listening to Dylan and his band do their thing, you would've never even guessed anything happened.

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