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Twenty years ago, in the midst of the best Grammy night of Bob Dylan’s career, things got weird. His Time Out of Mind was named album of the year and best contemporary folk album, plus his song “Cold Irons Bound” was named best male rock vocal. To top things off, his son, Jakob, won best rock song for “One Headlight.”
But when Dylan, then 56, sang the opening lyrics of “Love Sick,” performance artist Michael Portnoy — shirtless and with the words “Soy Bomb” painted on his chest — leaped up next to him and began dancing in a facially contorted, arms-flailing, crypto-robotic manner. Portnoy, then 26, had a $200 gig to be an extra. (The casting agent, who had put him in an Elton John video, used him again for the Grammys.) He later told the press he’d been hired “to stand behind Dylan with 50 or so Banana Republic-type model look-alikes ‘to give him a good vibe.’ ” He described the job as being a “head nodder” and said he used the words “Soy Bomb” because soy represents “dense nutritional life” and he wanted his art to represent “dense, transformational, explosive life.” He decided after landing the gig that he “needed to assert myself on national TV.” His main concern was “that there’d be a sniper in the control booth.” Portnoy danced a foot away from Dylan for 35 seconds.
“There was a moment when I thought it was part of the show,” says producer Ken Ehrlich. “But then I looked at Bob, and I could see it obviously threw him.” But at no point did the singer acknowledge or even look toward the prankster. He just kept playing. Security escorted Portnoy offstage and out of Radio City Music Hall. No charges were pressed, and he went home wrapped in a sheet. “I got put out in the cold with no top on, with no jacket or wallet,” Portnoy, now an internationally recognized “experimental comedy” artist, tells THR. “It was two very nice NYC policemen who gave me the sheet and let me into the subway to ride home.” He was never paid the $200.
Read an oral history of the 1998 Grammys on Billboard.com.
This story first appeared in the Jan. 25 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
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