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If there was one star created by the Grammys in 1998, it was the “Soy Bomb guy.”
Michael Portnoy was the New York-based performance artist who jumped onstage with Bob Dylan while he was singing “Love Sick.”
Portnoy had removed his shirt, and the words “Soy Bomb” were painted on his chest as he began dancing with his eyes closed in a contorted/robotic manner.
He later said he used those words because soy represents dense nutritional life and he wanted art to represent “dense, transformational, explosive life.”
Portnoy was onstage at Radio City for about 35 seconds before being removed by security.
During that time, Dylan paid no attention and just kept playing, but an estimated 20 million viewers saw the incident, plus many more in the following two decades via internet videos.
Portnoy, then 26, signed up for a $200 gig to be one of the extras who were in the background during the performance.
He’d been told to give Dylan “a good vibe.” However, during the rehearsal, he decided he “needed to assert myself on national TV” and did just that during the live CBS telecast.
Since then, he has gone on to be an internationally recognized performance artist. Though still based in New York, he spends roughly half the year abroad.
Portnoy spoke with The Hollywood Reporter from Munich, where he’s doing research for a film project.
What are you working on now?
Besides the film, a one-on-one, kind of abstract therapy project. You go to Wrixling.com online where you set up a 25-minute therapy session with one of my directors of behavior. It’s an ongoing thing. We’ve had it up since Jan. 1. We call it one-on-one, participatory psychic scrambling. It’s a form of confusion training.
But you’re still famous for the “Soy Bomb” incident?
I guess in a certain context. A lot of kids never heard of Soy Bomb, but it’s still out there. A friend told me that on The X-Files that just aired they have “Operation Soy Bomb” and it involved some kind of massive conspiracy and my picture is on their schizo board with all the connections going to it.
Why did you get up onstage with Dylan?
It was such a perfect format to do something inscrutable. To inject some confusion into the mainframe. It felt like I couldn’t get on that stage and not do something else. And at that point in my life, I was working as a comedian. It was almost like telling a joke with my body.
How do the Grammys feel about what you did?
Someone told me that the next year there were ads for the Grammys pitching them as “wild” and “unpredictable.” Maybe they realized the humor value, at least.
You once said your biggest fear was “that there’d be a sniper in the control booth.”
All sorts of weird things go through your head when you’re doing something like that. You never know.
What happened when they took you offstage?
One of the guys who worked with the casting director and knew it wasn’t supposed to happen came forward and picked me up. I had my eyes closed so I could get more into it. There was a funny moment where I tensed up my body when they lifted me and it’s like they’re carrying a piece of wood.
They escorted me backstage. They were very nice, nothing rough and they put me outside on 50th Street. It was February. I didn’t have a hat or coat on and some nice policemen let me onto the subway.
And the Grammys never paid you the $200?
I never pressed it. I feel like I got my money in other ways.
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