How Bob Dylan upset Paul Simon and what happened next.
THOUGH BOB DYLAN and Paul Simon would eventually forge a warm, respectful relationship and even tour together, there was an early, underlying strain between them dating back at least to the night Simon and Garfunkel played Gerde’s Folk City in March 1964. The word around Columbia Records was that Dylan offended Simon with loud talk and laughter during Paul and Art’s set, though it appears to have been a misunderstanding. Dylan was there, accompanied by Robert Shelton, the New York Times critic. In his 1986 biography No Direction Home: The Life And Music Of Bob Dylan, Shelton wrote that he and Dylan had been doing quite a bit of drinking that night and started giggling over nothing during Simon and Garfunkel’s set. “We weren’t laughing at the performance, but Simon was furious,” Shelton wrote. Years later, Simon disagreed with the assessment. “I wasn’t furious,” he said. “But I was hurt. Here was someone laughing during my performance – especially someone I admired.” Yet Simon certainly seemed to be taking a shot at Dylan in a song that he recorded on the Paul Simon Songbook album that Shelton called a “vicious burlesque” of Dylan, complete with “harmonica playing and shouts for ‘Albert’ [Grossman, Dylan’s manager].” The song, A Simple Desultory Philippic (Or How I Was Robert McNamara’d Into Submission), namechecked the then-current US Secretary Of Defence and was clearly a humorous jab at Dylan’s sometimes scattershot rhymes and his mishmashing of cultural images. Simon even barks some of the lyrics à la Dylan, adding to the track’s merriment. Years later, Simon said, not totally convincingly, that he was mostly channelling Lenny Bruce. “I was having fun,” he said. “I thought it would be funny to use those unusual words, ‘desultory’ and ‘philippic’, in a song title, and I also wanted to sneak in some Lenny Bruce, who was my favourite comedian. That line, ‘How I was Robert McNamara’d into submission,’ is pure Lenny.”