In one of the most surreal musical moments at the White House this year (second only, perhaps, to Jack White’s tribute to Paul McCartney in the East Wing), Bob Dylan performed his 1964 anthem “The Times They Are A-Changin'” in front of President Obama and the First Family back in February for a celebration of the civil rights movement. Even watching the show via webcast made for an enjoyably odd experience, and now we have a firsthand account by the president himself. From the latest Rolling Stone cover story on Obama:
Here’s what I love about Dylan: He was exactly as you’d expect he would be. He wouldn’t come to the rehearsal; usually, all these guys are practicing before the set in the evening. He didn’t want to take a picture with me; usually all the talent is dying to take a picture with me and Michelle before the show, but he didn’t show up to that. He came in and played “The Times They Are A-Changin’.” A beautiful rendition. The guy is so steeped in this stuff that he can just come up with some new arrangement, and the song sounds completely different. Finishes the song, steps off the stage… comes up, shakes my hand, sort of tips his head, gives me just a little grin, and then leaves… That was our only interaction with him. And I thought: That’s how you want Bob Dylan, right? You don’t want him to be all cheesin’ and grinnin’ with you. You want him to be a little skeptical about the whole enterprise.
If you’re like me, that quote makes you want to revisit Dylan footage from the event, so let’s enjoy the poet laureate of rock ‘n’ roll not “cheesin’ and grinnin'” here: