George Harrison said he always tried to “be straight” with his friend and collaborator, Bob Dylan, because the “Blowin’ in the Wind” singer was often “surrounded by a tidal wave of bulls***.” The Beatle recognized that Dylan had to put up with a lot, just as he did.
George Harrison was honest with Bob Dylan during one of their first hangouts
In 1968, George visited Dylan at his home in Woodstock, New York.
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. He thought it was strange, considering Dylan had always seemed confident.
However, George was straight with Dylan. He knew that to get Dylan out of his shell, they had to write or play some music.
“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…
“He sang me that song and he was, like, very nervous and shy, and he said, ‘What do you think about this song?’… 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 knew what to say to Dylan to make him feel comfortable. He was skilled at it because he knew what Dylan went through.
George always tried to ‘be straight’ with Dylan
George used his skill of talking to Dylan during an important moment a couple of years later. In 1971, George’s longtime friend and mentor, legendary sitarist Ravi Shankar, came to him for help with a humanitarian crisis in his native Bangladesh.
George quickly got to work organizing the Concert for Bangladesh. He asked all his friends to come out for two nights at New York’s Madison Square Garden, including Dylan. During an interview on VH1, John Fugelsang asked George how he got Dylan to be a part of the event, especially since Dylan was in seclusion at the time.
George replied that he just had to “be straight” with his friend. “I just asked him really, and, I don’t know, my relationship with Bob is … I don’t know, it’s … I’ve always tried to be straight with him because he’s also been surrounded by a tidal wave of bulls***. [Chuckles.] I just always tried to be straight with him, and he responded.”
George convinced Dylan to come to the Concert for Bangladesh. However, at the rehearsals, Dylan had his doubts. So, again, George had to use his skill of speaking with Dylan.
“The night before the show, it was a bit tricky because we went down to Madison Square where they were setting it up, and we stood on the stage, and suddenly it was a whole, frightening scenario, and Bob turned to me and said, ‘Hey man, I don’t think I can make this, I got a whole lot of things to do in New Jersey,’ or something like that.
“And by that time I was so stressed out because I’d just been on the telephone for like, I think it was three weeks about, three weeks of setting the entire thing up. I’d been on the phone about twelve hours a day. And at that point I said, ‘Look, don’t tell me about that. At least you’ve been onstage on your own, that’s all you’ve ever done. You know, I’ve never—I’ve always been in a band—I’ve never stood out front, done that….'”
Thankfully, George’s words seemed to work because Dylan showed up to perform. He ended up liking it too.
The former Beatle didn’t think he was a good friend to Dylan
George possibly thought he was too straight with Dylan sometimes because he doubted whether he was a good friend to the singer/songwriter.
In a 1987 interview with Creem Magazine, George said, “I don’t know how good a friend I am; he’s my good friend, but I don’t know how good I am to him. But I love him, I really do, and I think he’s funny.
“I don’t want to embarrass him because I’d like to meet him again some day, but he’s special. And there’s not a lot of people I’d say that about.”
Then again, George was straight with Dylan once more when they became bandmates in The Traveling Wilburys. He told Dylan to leave his ego at the front door before they worked together. Dylan responded respectfully.
George knew Dylan like the back of his hand, whatever kind of relationship they had.