Watch Bob Dylan Play Punk Version Of “Jokerman”
via Peter Stone Brown Archive / Youtube
Bob Dylan’s reinvention of himself in the music industry was something unique and worthy to be studied. The folk legend tried to go religious with his songs and even once tried to go punk in a 1984 guest appearance of The Late Night with David Letterman.
40 years ago, Dylan walked into the Late Night studio just as he and the host were speeding out in opposite ways. Two years into his stint as a host of this late-night show, Letterman was already a comedy phenomenon, bringing a new level of irony, sarcasm, and humor to a late-night format that once adored the Johnny Carson style of hosting. And for Dylan, after alienating listeners with a string of polished but preachy evangelical Christian albums in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, he was as unimportant as he’d ever been. In fact, in the year 1984, Dave was more of a cultural icon than Bob.
Even so, it was quite a success to secure the services of the freewheelin’ troubadour, one of the most well-known artists at that time. There have been notable performances at Studio 6A before, such as R.E.M.’s network debut, but no one of Dylan’s stature. It may be indicative of Dylan’s declining stardom that he was booked on a very new late-night talk program.
Dylan performed three songs that night, including the ferocious “Jokerman” and the perfectly raucous “License to Kill,” both from his then-new semi-return-to-form album Infidels, as well as a swaggering cover of Sonny Boy Williamson’s “Don’t Start Me Talking,” backed by guitarist J.J. Holiday, drummer Charlie Quintana, and bassist Tony Marsico, both members of the L.A punk band the Plugz.
“I always thought Bob found the punk scene cool and refreshing,” Quintana shared. “Punk was just modern folk — a little political, a little sarcastic, telling real stories about the shit going down. Bob was into that.”
Check out Bob Dylan and the Plugz’s performance of “Jokerman” in the punk version below.