The Bizarre 'Soy Bombing' Of Bob Dylan At The 1998 Grammy Awards

Folks who tuned in to the 1998 Grammy's might remember it as a marquee year for music. We had Erykah Badu's "Baduizm," Fiona Apple's "Criminal," Tool's "Aenima," Radiohead's "OK Computer," singles like "Candle in the Wind," "No Diggity," "Don't Speak," and of course, the album of the year, Bob Dylan's "Time Out of Mind" (per Rock on the Net). Bob Dylan's son Jakob Dylan even won for best rock song, "One Headlight." But at the Grammy's, one artist stood head and shoulders — and frantic, convulsive limbs — above all these exceptional musicians: the "Soy Bomb guy."

As we can see in a recording on YouTube, Bob Dylan and his band were grooving on-stage in a live performance of "Love Sick" off of "Time Out of Mind." It's a chill, bluesy, body-swaying kind of song with an angsty, gnarled undercurrent, and a perfect Dylan performance to boot. In other words, it's ideal for a shirtless dude who charges the stage unannounced, does this madcap, arm-flapping performative dance thing, and is escorted off after about 30 seconds. And written in big, bold, black block letters on his chest? "Soy Bomb."

Meanwhile, Dylan and his band didn't miss a beat — literally. He gave the Soy Bomber an irked look, but the whole thing was so absurd and comical that no one rushed to remove him. Viewers might have thought it was an intentional — if bizarre — part of the performance. But what in the world was going on, really? 

A dense, nutritional explosion

Viewers of the Soy Bomb performance (viewable above and on YouTube) might notice that there's a ring of non-musicians arrayed behind Bob Dylan and his band. As Hollywood Reporter states, these extras were paid $200 each to "give Dylan a good vibe." Requirements were apparently a bit more stringent than this, however. As the Soy Bomber himself, Michael Portnoy, says on Billboard, "The casting director put us through a rigorous series of auditions where we were tested on our ability to sway arrhythmically." Portnoy and the rest passed the test, got on stage, and sometime before that, Portnoy inscribed the words "Soy Bomb" on his chest. Then, he waited until about the two-and-a-half minute mark, defrocked, and stormed the stage to stand right next to Dylan and danced while Dylan languorously played on.

The first question in many people's minds is likely, "Why?" Portnoy "behaved fine" during rehearsal, as Billboard cites. No one had any idea what to do once he started flapping around totally at odds with the music, which allowed him to do his thing for way longer than he expected. Some thought he was part of the act, even though he didn't really fit. Portnoy, as it turns out, was a New York-based performance artist who just wanted to do his artistic thing. "Soy ... represents dense nutritional life," The Ringer quotes him. "Bomb is, obviously, an explosive destructive force. So, soy bomb is what I think art should be: dense, transformational, explosive life."

A professional stage crasher

Unintentionally or not, Michael Portnoy made a lasting impression on Grammy history. He might have faded in public consciousness, but his interlude was so off-kilter and wacky that it still stands out 25 years later. At the time, as The Ringer says, Portnoy made such a splash that he even got movie and promotional offers. He turned them down except for one offer from Richard Branson to bomb a speech Branson gave to record label executives. Branson asked Portnoy to write "SO Y VIRGIN?" on his chest (after doing it, Portnoy was quick to clarify that the idea was not his own). 

Portnoy, it should be noted, is an accomplished artist who continues working on performative shows, music, and avant-garde pieces to this day, as his website Stranger Games depicts. He's even something of an expert at stage crashing, saying on MTV that "the ultimate goal is to craft an interruption as a self-enclosed mini-spectacle" that shouldn't make complete sense and has to be inventive. He even critiques stage crashes by Courtney Love, Aubrey Plaza, and Will Ferrell.

As for Bob Dylan, he's never given an opinion about the Soy Bomb incident. Dylan's bandmates, however, had a good laugh about it when they ran into Portnoy some years later, as Portnoy says on Billboard. Judging by pictures on Billboard, Dylan — like the guy who physically picked Portnoy up to carry him off stage — might have been one of the few who didn't find the whole thing particularly amusing.