To me it’s got to be the single greatest collection of superstar artists ever gathered together on one stage, giving one of the most memorable performances of a song to boot. It was October 16, 1992 at The World’s Most Famous Arena (otherwise known as Madison Square Garden) on the occasion of the 30th anniversary tribute concert to Bob Dylan. As they set forth into Dylan’s 1964 classic ‘My Back Pages,’ the procession of participants taking a turn went as follows (in order): Roger McGuinn, Tom Petty, Neil Young, Eric Clapton, Bob Dylan, and George Harrison. Talk about a murderers’ row! And interspersed, of course, were ripping guitar solos, first from Clapton then closing with Young. With each contributor stepping forward to the mic the crowd seems to pause a beat or two before the realization hits of just who it is that’s begun has fully sunk in, and a growing roar bursts out. The sequence, too, seems significant: even the guest of honor himself saved George for the last lead vocal: the quiet Beatle receives the loudest reaction.
Now I know what you’re thinking, the greatest collection ever…what about the various (blank) Aid events and the like, or even just the obvious Traveling Wilburys? Well, I’d say Live Aid or Farm Aid or whatever other huge benefit concert can’t count in the same category – such a mixed bag of artists, let’s face it – not always all A-listers, and maybe only performing together as a group in a clumsily-arranged hodgepodge finale. Nah. As for the Wilburys, a very interesting comparison in that three star-studded members (Dylan, Harrison and Petty) overlap. But for starters, the Traveling Wilburys never performed live. Period. So, so much for that. And even so, if I had to break things down beyond the three names in common, I’d be compelled to give the tandem of Eric Clapton and Neil Young the nod over remaining Wilburys, Roy Orbison and Jeff Lynne (no disrespect whatsoever to those two magnificent greats), and that’s before you even count in the bonus appearance of Byrds founder Roger McGuinn here. Maybe if the Wilburys could’ve thrown in a Stephen Stills or a Ray Davies, or even an early round draft pick, we could at least talk.
Amidst its outpouring of engrossing and ruminative lyrics, ‘My Back Pages’ is held together, as so many Dylan songs were, by a repeated line to close out each verse, this one, in my estimation, a particularly resonant couplet:
“Ah, But I was so much older then / I’m younger than that now”
In that one incredible, insightful line, it has been said, Dylan lays bare his disillusionment, disenchantment, and, above all, his doubts, with the counter-culture and the ‘60’s protest movement he had helped to champion. Amazing. For me, though, I have no such doubts about the event and the moment exquisitely captured that night at The Garden. All icons, singing a masterpiece, a legendary live lineup with no equal in rock music history.