Article

Dylan returns to The Ed Sullivan Theatre for Letterman performance

Words By: Sam Pethers | May 21st, 1965

Dylan returns to The Ed Sullivan Theatre for Letterman performance Dylan rehearsing for The Ed Sullivan show in 1963

A lot has been said and written over the last few days about Bob Dylan's final performance on The Late Show With David Letterman. Colin Gorenstein, for example, wrote (for salon.com) that it has "been nearly 22 years since Bob Dylan last graced the 'Letterman Stage'"; and that his performance on Tuesday night was "bizarre".

But perhaps Dylan had good reason for appearing agitated and off-kilter during his performance of "The Night We Called It A Day" on Tuesday night. See, to Dylan, the "Letterman stage" is surely not the "Letterman stage" at all, but "The Ed Sullivan Theatre" stage.

It's easy to imagine that when the cameras started rolling for Tuesday's taping of Letterman, the gravity of the situation would've hit a 73 year old Dylan pretty square-on. After all, the Letterman backstage area was virtually the same spot where a 22 year old Dylan (in 1963) had argued with executives about his choice of song for The Ed Sullivan Show -- "Talkin' John Birch Paranoid Blues". The argument escalated to the point where Dylan refused to perform altogether, and instead went storming from the theatre.

Dylan returns to The Ed Sullivan Theatre for Letterman performance Dylan performing on The David Letterman Show in 2015

But more than that, CBS's Ed Sullivan Theatre represents a raft of iconic memories that have loomed large over the cultural landscape throughout the course of Dylan's career. So, then, drawing the curtain on Letterman also signified the drawing of a curtain on an iconic stage that had surely influenced and inspired Dylan a great deal. Not to mention, it was a stage that had played host to many of Bob's long since departed comrades through the years, including Richard Pryor, Buddy Holly, Johnny Cash, Roy Orbison, Sam Cooke, Janis Joplin and Marvin Gaye. It was also the arena where Elvis Presley first shared the leg shaking moves Forest Gump had taught him; where The Beatles' made their first American TV performance; where the Animals performed "House Of The Rising Sun"; and where Jim Morrison sang "girl we couldn't get much higher" after being strictly warned off doing so.

Dylan returns to The Ed Sullivan Theatre for Letterman performance Elvis Prelsey, at rehearsals before his performance on The Ed Sullivan Show.

Then again, it's just as easy to imagine that Dylan's mind was some place else altogether.. Perhaps the whole thing was simply further affirmation of his place as a singular artist who always defies expectations; or to put it in the words he sang at Frank Sinatra's 80th birthday celebration:

"I’ll make my stand,
And remain as I am,
And bid farewell and not give a damn."


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