David Bowie and Bob Dylan: An unrequited admiration… And even with a sit-in

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Two legends. Two of the most influential musicians of all time. Each one, with a unique sound. They coincided in time and space. In New York. But, although David Bowie He expressed on multiple occasions his admiration for Bob Dylanonly six years older than him, Minnesota’s remains silent. It seems that this relationship was a bit unilateral. It cannot be said that the Londoner was reciprocated. To the point of declaring: “…I think he hates me.”

Bowie highlighted Dylan’s ability to reinvent himself. I wanted to learn from him. And in 1971 she dedicated a song to him, ‘Song for Bob Dylan’, which he included on his LP ‘Hunky Dory’. More than a song designed to lavish praise, it was actually a declaration of intent. In Melody Maker, in 1976, he recalled “There is even a song that exposes what I wanted to do rock. I recorded it at that time when I said ‘okay (Dylan) if you don’t want to do it, I’ll do it.’ “There was a leadership vacuum in that area.”

“Listen to this Robert Zimmerman, I wrote a song for you. About a young man named Dylan, with a voice like sand and rubber. Now, listen to this, Robert Zimmerman. Although I don’t think we’ll get to know each other.”Bowie sang. They didn’t know each other then. But they did have several meetings in the 70s. Rumors even circulated of a possible collaboration. The ‘Starman’ was asked about this matter in 1976, in Payboy magazine. “It is said that you have flown to Europe to spend a sabbatical with Dylan, what is true?” There was no truth to it: “That would be wonderful. I saw Dylan in New York seven or eight months ago. We didn’t have much to talk about. We are not great friends. In fact, I think he hates me.“.

Bob Dylan

Bob Dylan / NBC

That first approach between the two stars occurred in “very bad” circumstances, as the ‘White Duke’ acknowledged in the publication: “After a concert at a club, we went to someone’s house. I don’t remember who we had gone to see. And Dylan was there. I was very… chatty. and I talked for hours and hours and hours. The truth is that I don’t know if she was amused, or scared, or repulsed by me. I didn’t wait for him to respond. I just kept talking about everything and then said, ‘good night.’ He never phoned me”. Dylan was apparently not impressed by Bowie’s verbiage and, according to some musicians, He also did not like his colleague’s work, especially his 1975 album ‘Young Americans’.

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Apparently, Bowie didn’t care. Often, when asked to name colleagues for whom he had respect, Bob Dylan appeared in the conversation. In 2005, speaking to DJ Marc Riley for the BBC, she confessed that the two had worked together, discussing about a potential duetbut Bob Dylan stood him up. And he gave, as they say, ‘silence as an answer’: “I wrote a lot of stuff with Dylan. The truth is that It’s something that not many people know.. One time me and Dylan were going to do a duet. We had in mind to do something Simon & Garfunkel style, but the next morning, “I never heard from him again.”

However, the Nobel Prize winner in Literature has done duets on stage with Van Morrison, Bruce Springsteen, Eric Clapton, George Harrison, Patti Smith, Norah Jones, Joan Baez and Paul Simon… among others. With David Bowie, as far as is known, no. There are also no examples of Dylan singing Bowie songs. Yes the other way around. For example, in 1989, with his band Tin Machine, he covered ‘Maggie’s farm’which Dylan wrote and recorded in 1965. Bowie also provided vocals to the classic ‘Like a rolling stone’, which appeared on Mick Ronson’s posthumous album in 1994. O ‘Tryin’ to get to heaven’which was officially published on January 8, 2021, to commemorate the 74th anniversary of Bowie’s birth, five years after his death.

In 1985, Bob Dylan did have a gesture towards his admirer. On November 13, his label—CBS—hosted a party in his honor at the Whitney Museum in New York. The reason was to celebrate the release of ‘Biograph’, a five-disc retrospective box set. The guest list was personally compiled by Bob, who insisted that only one attend the event small group of rock and film figures.

In that ‘VIPS’ group, there were Pete Townshend, Lou Reed, Billy Joel, Roy Orbison, Little Steven, Dave Stewart, Ian Hunter, members of the E Street Band… And David Bowie. The – perhaps – only images that exist of Bob and David together, they are from that day. In all published snapshots, it is reflected Bowie’s enormous happinesswho never stopped smiling.


Written by

Christopher Johnson

Christopher Johnson is a dedicated writer and key contributor to the WECB website, Emerson College's student-run radio station. Passionate about music, radio communication, and journalism, Christopher pursues his craft with a blend of meticulous research and creative flair. His writings on the site cover an array of subjects, from music reviews and artist interviews to event updates and industry news. As an active member of the Emerson College community, Christopher is not only a writer but also an advocate for student involvement, using his work to foster increased engagement and enthusiasm within the school's radio and broadcasting culture. Through his consistent and high-quality outputs, Christopher Johnson helps shape the voice and identity of WECB, truly embodying its motto of being an inclusive, diverse, and enthusiastic music community.