“Judas!”

“Hello, yes,” came the voice with a British accent over my office answering machine early one October morning 18 years ago. “My name is Keith Butler and I’m looking for Scott Bauer. I’m the man who shouted ‘Judas!’ at Bob Dylan in 1966.”

dylan (Photo by Mark Makin)

Now, on the 50th anniversary of the concert where Keith Butler let loose with perhaps the most famous heckle in rock history, it seems like as good a time as any to recount the story of my small part in unraveling the mystery.

On May 17, 1966, Dylan was nearing the end of his first European tour with the Band where he played acoustic in the first set, then electric in the second. As has been well documented in the ensuing decades, the shift from acoustic folk (which was viewed as artistically pure) to electrified rock (which was dismissed as a commercial sell out) angered fans so much they booed Dylan and walked out of his shows.

The May 17 concert rose to prominence after being bootlegged in the late 1960s and improperly labeled as the Royal Albert Hall show, which actually took place over a week later. On the tape, after 40 minutes of catcalls and boos from the audience as Dylan played his electric set, he and the Band pause just before the last song of the show.

“Judas!” someone is clearly heard yelling, followed by a smattering of applause.

Dylan, or maybe Robbie Robertson, strum their guitars.

“I don’t believe you,” Dylan says back. “You’re a liar.”

And then, off mic but still audible, Dylan — or again maybe Robertson — urges the Band to “Play fucking loud!”

With a rocket-shot like kick of the drum by Mickey Jones, the Band opens up like a hurricane and Dylan sneers the opening lines of (in my humble opinion) the greatest rock song ever written: “Once upon a time you dressed so fine, threw the bums a dime in your prime, DIDN’T YOU?!!”

The Band, and Dylan, proceed to lay down a scathing, and utterly unmatched, performance of the song. There’s a reason why it gained so much fame and notoriety in the ensuing years.

In 1998, the bootleg was finally prepared for an official release. I was fortunate enough to propose writing a story for AP, and got to interview the drummer, Mickey Jones, and CP Lee, a British author who was there that night and wrote an entire book about the show called “Like the Night.” Dylan declined to be interviewed.

Dylan-Albert-Hall-cover

In the article, I described how a documentary crew on that tour interviewed some disgruntled fans as they left unidentified shows. Some of the footage ended up in a documentary called “Eat the Document.”

I ended the piece with a quote from one of them: “Any pop group could produce better rubbish than that. It was a bloody disgrace, it was. … He’s a traitor.”

And that was that. Or so I thought.

http://www.expectingrain.com/dok/cd/98/AP.html

A few days after the story moved worldwide on the wire, I came to work at our office in the Lincoln state Capitol. Back then, before voicemail, we used an answering machine. The light was blinking and I hit play. That’s when I heard Keith Butler’s voice.

butlerkeith

He lived in Canada and left me a phone number. He claimed to be the person who had yelled “Judas!” at Dylan. More than 30 years since the concert, no one had fessed up to the yell. But here was this Canadian banker on the other end of the phone, telling me that had hadn’t been able to sleep one night so he took a walk. He bought the Toronto Sun and saw my article. He read it all the way through, and when he saw the quote at the end, recognized his own words and recalled being interviewed by a film crew after the concert.

He also remembered yelling “Judas” and being regretful. He had no idea it had become “a thing.”

It was a story so incredible, but so hard for me to verify, I decided to enlist some help. I emailed CP Lee, the author of the book, who got in touch with Butler. Along with help from a British disc jockey, they brought him back to the Manchester Free Trade Hall where he sat in the balcony where he was that night and told his story.

“Judas” had been found.

The news was widely reported, and included in an update to Lee’s book. Keith Butler died in 2002, but he and I are now forever linked in Bob Dylan lore.

http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/judas-1075546.html

http://www.mtv.com/news/512709/fan-who-called-dylan-judas-breaks-33-years-of-silence/

http://expectingrain.com/dok/who/b/butlerkeith.html

http://www.expectingrain.com/dok/who/obituaries/butlerkeith.html

In the subsequent years others have come forward to claim they were the “Judas” shouter, but my money is on Keith. He was the first, and the most earnest. When Martin Scorcese put together a documentary on Dylan for PBS, he was able to find film of the moment at the concert when the yell is made, so now we can see Dylan as the band reacts.

A few years later, when I was doing a story on “The Last Waltz,” I was lucky enough to get to interview Robbie Robertson. Even though it had nothing to do with the story I was working on, I just couldn’t resist asking him about the “Judas” shout. Now here, transcribed for the first time since my 2002 interview, is his complete answer.

Give it a read while listening to the May 17, 1966, Manchester concert tonight, its 50th anniversary.

Me: “The famous comment is when the audience member yells ‘Judas!’ out from the crowd. Do you remember that actual moment?”

Robbie: “Yes.”

Me: “Do you remember who said ‘Play fucking loud’?”

Robbie: “No, I don’t.”

Me: “OK. I know people always wonder if it was you or Dylan and I mean it’s been 40 years ago, I’ve got you on the phone I had to ask.”

Robbie: “Oh right. I know what you’re talking about now. I haven’t listened to the ….”

Me: “A guy yells ‘Judas!’ and Dylan says ‘I don’t believe you’ and someone off mic says ‘Play fucking loud.'”

Robbie: “Right. I don’t remember if that was me or one of us just kind of lashing out. I don’t know. By the time we got to this part of that tour we had been booed all over United States and Canada and Australia and all over Europe. It wasn’t like our skins hadn’t gotten a little thicker and we hadn’t built some character by then. It might have been under those circumstances. At Albert Hall, and it’s questionable how much of this is from Albert Hall and how much is from Manchester, I guess that was one of the questions in the whole thing. At Albert Hall they have all these boxes there and they were all filled with the British music scene. The Beatles were in one box, the Who was in another box and the Stones were in another box. It was like all the whole music world was there for this.

It might have brought out a little bit more pepper in somebody in that they were just like, `Fuck you.’ We did play loud, you wanted to hear this bullshit.”

manchester(Photo by Mark Makin)

The best rock movie, other than “The Last Waltz,” is….

Image

It’s perhaps the most debated, argued, discussed and deliberated questions among music fans: What is the best rock movie?

It’s a question that elicits strong emotions, not unlike asking what the best record of all time is. Or the best band. Or the best song, etc.

Before we take a closer look, or listen, at what makes for a great rock movie,  let’s think about all the different types that are out there. There are essentially three main types: The rocukmentary, where the story of the band is told with a healthy dose of concert footage, the straight-up concert film, wherein a night or two or perhaps a whole tour is replicated on screen, and the more traditional movie that either attempts to tell a true story about a band or musical era, or is entirely made up but still dealing with rock music. These may or may not feature musicians, and possibly their own music, in prominent roles.

For each category, some classics come to mind immediately. But there are others less well known that deserve a look as well. And for every one I describe, there are five other great ones. But enough with all that, let’s take a look:

1. Rockumentary: Of course, the first one that comes to mind isn’t real at all, but it’s one of the all-time best rock films ever made. We’re talking about “This is Spinal Tap.” This is one of those that everyone has seen and has a favorite line they can recite. It’s so ubiquitous, sometimes it’s hard to imagine that it never existed. There are so many things that make Spinal Tap so great. Any music fan can see shades of their favorite bands in the tales told: the over-seriousness of the songs/stage production/attitude, the desperation of an act unwilling or unable to call it quits, the behind-the-scenes inane arguments and squabbles.

But Spinal Tap wasn’t the first of its kind. Six years before Spinal Tap was released, in 1978, “All You Need is Cash (The Rutles)” told a similar tale, although this one was a send-up of the Beatles. George Harrison himself helped finance it for his pals in Monty Python. Harrison even makes a great cameo as a reporter interviewing a character played by Michael Palin.

 

 

Now, both Spinal Tap and The Rutles are fake rock documentaries. What about real ones? Well, if we’re going to go there, the must-see cue fills quite quickly.

“The Kids Are Alright”: The Who has one of the most compelling, and entertaining, stories out there, and this 1979 film tells it with aplomb. Anyone unfamiliar with the story of the Who should treat themselves and take the time see watch this film. The scenes with a manic Keith Moon are worth the price of admission alone. And the concert footage, well, it’s unparalleled.

In this trailer, the Who even enlist the aide of another famous musician to help tell their story:

 

 

“Don’t Look Back”: Frequently on the list as one of the best rock films of all time, this look at Bob Dylan‘s 1965 tour of England just before he came back home and went electric is an amazing look into both Dylan’s inner circle and the spell he cast on audiences during his last all solo, acoustic tour.

D.A. Pennebaker pioneered the rock movie with this film and, amazingly, nearly 50 years later this one still holds up. Perhaps the most endearing, and famous, part of the film is the opening music video-like sequence of Dylan standing in a New York City alley flipping cards with the lyrics of “Subterranean Homesick Blues” written on them as the song plays. It’s been repeated, parodied and copied ad nauseam ever since.

Here is Weird Al’s take on it:

 

 

But that’s not the only memorable scene. This one, where Dylan utterly destroys Donovan in a “song-off” is one of my favorites. After listening to Donovan’s take on “To Sing for You,” Dylan takes the guitar and lays down “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue.” As the camera scans the room, finally landing on Donovan, you can almost feel his pain. He’s no match for this Dylan guy. Check it out:

 

 

Less widely known, but awesome in its own way, is “Heavy Metal Parking Lot,” a  cult classic filmed in the parking lot before a 1986 Judas Priest concert at Landover, Maryland. According to legend, a bootleg version of the film was a favorite on Nirvana’s tour bus. Maybe this clip from the movie will help explain why:

 

 

2. Rock Stars as Movie Stars. This is a rather broad and nebulous category that catches a lot of movies, including “The Buddy Holly Story,” “La Bamba,” “Quadrophenia,” “The Wall,” and “Almost Famous.” The best and most famous of the bunch, of course, is “A Hard Day’s Night”. Like “The Last Waltz”, there’s no arguing its greatness and there’s also no reason to spend a lot of time talking about it.

So instead let’s talk about “Purple Rain,” the debut film for Prince that was a wild hit in 1984 and even won an Academy Award for its music. Now, don’t get me wrong. Most of the music still holds up today, especially the Prince songs. But nearly every other second of the movie when Prince isn’t singing, well, doesn’t age well. Did I mention plot? There really isn’t one. Or acting. “Purple Rain” is essentially an extended music video of Prince playing a version of himself named The Kid. Still, it’s a fun watch (and listen), and even Prince himself can’t resist when it pops up on TV, apparently.

 

 

3. Concert film. By far the biggest category of rock movie, the number of classic rock concert films are staggering. “Woodstock”. “Gimme Shelter”. “Stop Making Sense”. “The Song Remains the Same”. “The Last Waltz”, of course. That one, The Band‘s farewell concert, is by far the most commonly named greatest rock movie of all time and I have no reason to disagree. But because it’s so well-documented, and so much has been written about it, there’s little I can add other than to say that like most rock films, it indeed does improve when played at a high volume.

One of the highlights of my journalism career to date was when I got to write a story about “The Last Waltz”, when it was being released for the first time on DVD. It was a big deal, trust me. At least it was a big enough deal that The Associated Press decided it was worth a story. Rather than re-tell it all, here is a link to that story. Perhaps the tale of what it was like to interview Robbie Robertson will have to wait for another blog on another day:

http://www.berkeleydailyplanet.com/issue/2002-04-04/article/11176

With so many great concert films out there, which one less well-known than “The Last Waltz” deserves some attention? Let me put my 2 cents on “Hail, Hail Rock and Roll”. This 1987 movie, which tells the story of Keith Richards staging a 60th birthday concert for the notoriously prickly Chuck Berry, has several great threads going on. Aside from the concert footage of Berry ripping it up with Richards, Eric Clapton, Etta James and others, what sets it apart are the confrontations between Berry and Richards as the Stones guitarist actually plays the disciplinarian, trying to get Berry into shape for the show. One of the most fun rock moments ever captured on film, in my humble opinion, comes during “Roll Over Beethoven” when, as you can see, Berry asks Richards midway through the song to change the key. The response is perfect.

 

 

Perhaps Richards’ unwillingness to call an audible is understandable, given the tension that preceded that actual concert:

 

 

There you have it. But with any list like this, there are just as many great films (“The Devil and Daniel Johnson” for starters) that got left off that probably should be on there. But you have to stop someplace, and this is it for now. Got some that are too good to ignore? Feel free to tell me what I’ve missed…