Why Van Morrison Doesn’t Like Being Compared To Bob Dylan
via Van Morrison / YouTube
For seven decades, Van Morrison has graciously exhibited his skills to a global audience. Over this extended period, he achieved numerous honors, receiving two Grammy Awards and a Brit Award.
His remarkable contributions to the world of music earned him a place in both the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Songwriters Hall of Fame. In 2016, in acknowledgment of his substantial influence on the music industry, he was knighted.
Despite occasional parallels drawn to renowned figures like Bob Dylan, Morrison, expressing gratitude for the acknowledgment, recently recognized that he and Dylan are undeniably distinct as artists.
“Bob Dylan and I are, like, worlds apart. What he does and what I do, you know, it’s nowhere near,” the “Brown Eyed Girl” singer said in a recent interview.
“I am a singer who writes songs”
In a conversation with Vintage Rock about his career, Morrison took a moment to discuss Bob Dylan, characterizing him as a “songwriter who sings”. Reflecting on his own identity, Morrison emphasized that he sees himself primarily as a singer.
He clarified, “Well, I’m just nothing like Bob Dylan, so I guess what I was trying to say was, like, I’m coming from the place that I’m a singer first. I’m a singer. Right? And I write songs. So Bob Dylan and I are, like, worlds apart.”
Mindful of avoiding any misinterpretation of his remarks about Dylan, Morrison elaborated on his perspective, stating:
“What he does and what I do, you know, it’s nowhere near. I am a singer who writes songs, so I was comparing myself more to the singer who writes songs, rather than a songwriter who sings.”
A common belief in pursuing a passion
While Morrison emphasizes his stark differences from Dylan, both artists share a common belief in pursuing one’s passion. Despite the extensive time spent performing and composing, Morrison asserted that he exclusively engages in projects that ignite his inspiration.
Disregarding external expectations, he stated, “I’m not interested in what other people want me to do or what they expect. I think if you’re successful, then you should be able to do what you want.
“So I enjoy doing this music. I have always enjoyed it. I just do what I like with music that inspires me and has always inspired me,” the iconic Irish singer added.
In 2008, Rolling Stone recognized Morrison as the 24th Greatest Singer of All Time, and Paste positioned him 20th among the 100 Greatest Living Songwriters. Regardless of whether he is behind the microphone or penning lyrics, Morrison transcends the labels of singer or songwriter—he is truly an icon.
When Van first met Bob
Following the dissolution of his old band Them in 1967, Morrison relocated to Woodstock, drawn by the presence of Dylan who resided there. Seeking a fresh start and looking to distance himself from the British music scene, Morrison believed that Woodstock would be populated by kindred maverick spirits, prompting him to cross continents in pursuit of his aspirations.
Confident in his own abilities, Morrison initially perceived himself as peerless, but his ex-wife, Janet Rigsbee, recalled his admiration for Dylan, stating, “Van fully intended to become Dylan’s best friend, Every time we’d drive past Dylan’s house… Van would just stare wistfully out the window at the gravel road leading to Dylan’s place. He thought Dylan was the only contemporary worthy of his attention.”
In a 2000 interview, Morrison reflected on his first encounter with Dylan’s music, recalling, “I think I heard [The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan] in a record shop in Smith Street. And I just thought it was just incredible that this guy’s not singing about ‘moon in June’ and he’s getting away with it… The subject matter wasn’t pop songs, ya know, and I thought this kind of opens the whole thing up.”
Eventually, the two musicians embarked on a global tour together, frequently covering each other’s songs in a testament to their artistic connection.
Two iconic singers, one stage
Two of the most memorable live collaborations of the iconic singers were probably Dylan’s 1984 Real Live tour and the 1989 performance on a hilltop in Athens, both of which were surprise acts.
During the 1984 summer tour with Santana, Morrison made unanticipated appearances at three concerts. In Paris and London, the two musicians collaborated on “It’s All Over Now Baby Blue”, a track previously covered by Van Morrison’s band Them in 1966. The final show of the tour, hosted in Van’s native Ireland, featured a rendition of Morrison’s own “Tupelo Honey”.
Their most renowned collaboration, however, didn’t unfold on stage but on the aforementioned hilltop. The encounter took place during the filming of a BBC Arena documentary on Van Morrison. Initially planned for New Orleans while Bob Dylan was recording Oh Mercy, the collaboration was postponed as Dylan didn’t feel prepared.
The BBC initially intended to film the duo at an ancient monument in Athens but hesitated due to a £10,000 fee. Instead, they opted for a picturesque hillside with the Acropolis in the background. The documentary, One Irish Rover, was broadcast in 1991.