During Thanksgiving 1968, George Harrison visited Bob Dylan at his home in Woodstock, New York. Dylan was tentatively reemerging from his self-imposed exile, which started in 1966 following a motorcycle accident that left him with a broken neck.
At first, Dylan’s closed-off attitude made George feel uncomfortable. However, Dylan’s barriers crumbled once the pair started writing a song. George shouldn’t have thought Dylan’s behavior was strange. His exile and resulting attitude were his choices. Dylan’s confidence in himself didn’t waver, nor did his decision to leave music behind.
What George Harrison found strange during his visit with Bob Dylan
During a 1977 interview with Crawdaddy (per George Harrison on George Harrison: Interviews and Encounters), George explained that his friend was unusually quiet and shy when he arrived at the Dylan residence. He thought it was strange, considering Dylan had always seemed confident. However, playing music got him out of his shell.
“I was with Bob and he’d gone through his broken neck period and was being very quiet, and he’d didn’t have much confidence, anyhow—that’s the feeling I got with him in Woodstock,” George said. “He hardly said a word for a couple of days.
“Anyway, we finally got the guitars out and it loosened things up a bit. It was really a nice time with all his kids around and we were just playing. It was near Thanksgiving.
“He sang me that song and he was, like, very nervous and shy, and he said, ‘What do you think about this song?’ And I’d felt very strongly about Bob when I’d been in India years before—the only record I took with me along with all my Indian records was ‘Blonde on Blonde.’
“I felt somehow very close to him, or something, you know, because he was so great, so heavy, and so observant about everything. And yet to find him later very nervous and with no confidence….”
George thought it was good that Dylan took a break
Dylan did no wrong in George’s eyes. Even when the “Blowin’ in the Wind” singer stopped making music in the late 1960s, George applauded him for doing what he wanted. That was the most significant thing George liked about Dylan, apart from his music. He liked that Dylan marched to the beat of his own drum. At least as a Beatle, George couldn’t afford that luxury.
“But the thing that he said on Blonde on Blonde about what price you have to pay to get out of going through all these things twice—’Oh, mama, can this really be the end.’ … So, I was thinking, ‘There is a way out of it all, really, in the end,'” George continued.
“He sang at Woodstock that song, ‘Love is all you need [singing]/makes the world go round/ Love and only love can’t be denied/ No matter what you think about it/ You’re just not going to be able to live without it/Take a tip from one who’s tried.’
“And I thought, ‘Isn’t it great, because I know people are going to think, ‘S***, what’s Dylan doing?” But as far as I was concerned, it was great for him to realize his own peace; and it meant something. You know, he’d always been so hard … and I thought, ‘a lot of people are not going to like this.’ But I think it’s fantastic because Bob has obviously had the experience.”
Then, George explained that getting Dylan to write a song got him to open up during their time together. They wrote “I’d Have You Anytime.” George explained, “I was saying to him, ‘You write incredible lyrics,’ and he was saying, ‘How do you write those tunes?’ So I was just showing him chords like crazy. Chords. Because he tended just to play a lot of basic chords and move a capo up and down.
“And I was saying, ‘Come on, write me some words,’ and he was scribbling words down. And it just killed me because he’d been doing all these sensational lyrics and he wrote: ‘All you have is yours/ All you see is mine/ And I’m glad to hold you in my arms/ I’d have you any time.’ The idea of Dylan writing something like … so very simple.”
The Beatle supported Dylan earlier too
George supported Dylan years before he chose to take a step back from music in 1966.
George was present at Dylan’s performance at London’s Royal Albert Hall in May 1965. In Here Comes The Sun: The Spiritual And Musical Journey Of George Harrison, Joshua M. Greene wrote that Dylan’s electric guitar prompted boos from fans. They “viewed the switch from acoustic as a betrayal of his folk purity.”
He continued, “George called those who walked out of the concert ‘idiots’ and argued ‘it was all still pure Dylan, and he has to find out his own directions. If he felt he wanted electrification, that’s the way he has to do it. Who’s laying down the rules?’
“Dylan had started his career with folk songs and protest music but by 1966 had moved away from pointing fingers at others and begun examining himself,” Greene continued. Dylan realized he wanted a break.
George was entering a period of self-examination around that time as well. Only he found answers through spirituality. However, they both eventually realized there was something better off the beaten path.
So, George shouldn’t have been confused about Dylan’s behavior during his 1968 visit. Dylan was just exploring other things, just as George explored spirituality.