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THE BONO VOX INTERVIEW JULY 8, 1984 download this file here

THE BERT KLEINMAN INTERVIEW, JULY 30 1984† download this file here

Bill Flanagan interviewed Bob Dylan in New York in March 1985 for his 1985 book "Written In My Soul." download this file here

THE ROBERT HILBURN INTERVIEW NOVEMBER 17, 1985 download this file here



Found on John Howell's "Bringin' It All Back Home" site

Bono: You have been to Ireland before, haven't you?†

Dylan: Yeah, I was in Belfast and in Dublin, and we traveled around a little bit too.†

Bono: Have you ever spent any time here? Have you ever been here on holiday?†

Dylan: Yeah, well, when I was here, we traveled by car, so we stayed in different places - but Irish music has always been a great part of my life because I used to hang out with the Clancy Brothers. They influenced me tremendously.†

Bono: Yeah, they have so much balls as a sound, you know, when they sing, it's like punk rock.†

Dylan: Yeah, they were playing clubs as big as this room right here and the place - you couldn't put a pin in it, it would be so packed with people.†

Bono: You could smell their breath?†

Dylan: Yeah!†

Bono: I bet you could. They blow you over with their lungs! God, I'd love to sing like that.†

Dylan: Yeah, I spent years with them running around, 61, 62, 63.†

Bono: Greenwich Village?†

Dylan: All over the place, I played on the same bill with them once.†

Bono: Get their autographs? (laughs)†

Dylan: No, I didn't get their autograph. But you know one of the things I recall from that time is how great they all were - I mean there is no question, but that they were great. But Liam Clancy was always my favorite singer, as a ballad singer. I just never heard anyone as good, and that includes Barbara Streisand and Pearl Bailey.†

Bono: You got to be careful here!†

Dylan: He's just a phenomenal ballad singer.†

Bono: Yeah, you know what I envy of you is that my music, and the music of U2 is like, it's in space somewhere. There is no particular musical roots or heritage that we plug into. In Ireland there is a tradition, but I've never plugged into it. It's like as if we're caught in space. There's a few groups now who are caught in space...†

Dylan: Well, you have to reach back.†

Bono: We never did play a 12 bar.†

Dylan: You have to reach! There's another group I used to listen to called the McPeake Family. I don't know if you ever heard of them?†

Bono: The McPeake Family! I'd love to have heard of them, with a name like that.†

Dylan: They are great. Paddy Clancy recorded them. He had a label called Tradition Records, and he used to bring back these records; they recorded for Prestige at the time, and Tradition Records, his company. They were called The McPeake family. They were even more rural than the Clancy Brothers. The Clancy Brothers had always that touch of commercially to them - you didn't mind it, but it was still there, whereas the McPeake Family sang with harps. The old man, he played the harp - and it was that (gestures) big - and the drums.†

Bono: Were they a real family?†

Dylan: Yeah, they were a real family; if you go to a record store and as for a McPeake Family record, I Don't know, I'm sure you could still get them in a lot of places.†

Bono: Have you heard of an Irish group that are working now in this middle ground between traditional and contemporary music called Clannad? Clannad is Gaelic for family, and they've made some very powerful pieces of music, including a song called "Theme From Harry's Game", it's from a film, and it knocked over everyone in Europe. It didn't get played in the US. It's just vocal and they used some low bass frequencies in it as well - it's just beautiful. They're a family, they come from Donegal, and have worked from that same base of traditional music.†

Dylan: There's a group you have here, what's it called, Plankston?†

Bono: Planxty.†

Dylan: They're great!†

Bono: Another rock'n'roll band!†

Dylan: Yeah, but when I think of what's happening - I think they're great.†

Bono: There's another group called De Dannan. The name De Dannan has something to do with with the lost tribes of Dan. You heard of the disappearing tribe of Dan? They say they came from Ireland.†

Dylan: Yeah, I've heard that, I've heard that.†

Bono: I'm not a musicologist or expert in this area, but it would appear that this is true. Also, you know they say the Irish musical scale has no roots in Europe whatsoever, rather it comes from Africa and India. The Cartesian people, the Egyptian people, what gave them supremacy in the Middle East was the sail they developed. I forget what they call it, I forget the name of the sail, but this sail allowed them to become successful sea farers and traders and they dominated as a result of their reading, and that same sail which was used on those boats, is used on the West of Ireland.†

Dylan: Is that right?†

Bono: Bob Quinn made a film called Atlanteans in which this theory was elaborated. He suggests that the book of Kells, which is a manuscript, part of it has it's roots in Coptic script, not in Europe. It's not a European thing at all - it's linked from Africa, Spain, Brittany and Ireland, because that was a sea route. I'm not an expert. I shouldn't be talking about it really. But it's of interest when you think of it.†

Dylan: Sure it is.†

Bono: I might be able to send you over some tapes of that actually.†

Dylan: I'd like to have them. You know Planxty? I also like Paul Brady a lot.†

Bono: Yeah, he's great. He's a real song writer. Tell me - have you ever approached a microphone, not with words, but just to sing? I had to do this as a necessity once when some lyrics of mine were stolen - and I learnt to sing on the microphone just singing and working the words into it later. I find when I put a pen in my hand it gets in the way! Do you have words first?†

Dylan: I do at certain times.†

Bono: In Portland, Oregon a number of years ago two pretty girls walked in the dressing room, smiled and walked out with some of our songs, in a brief case.†

Dylan: I used to have that happen to me all the time, except they used to take clothes!†

Bono: Is that right?†

Dylan: They used to take all my best clothes, but never took my songs.†

Bono: After that we had to go in to record our second LP, October, without any songs - there was a lot of pressure. having to sing under that stress without any words, I found out a lot of things about myself that I didn't even know were there. I'd wondered, had some of the things that have come out of you ever been a surprise to you?†

Dylan: That usually happens at concerts or shows I'm doing, more than recording studios, Also, I never sit around, I usually play ... I'll play my guitar, rather than just have something to say, to express myself. I can express it better with my guitar.†

Bono: I wondered had the songs that you were writing ever frightened you in some way?†

Dylan: Oh yeah, I've written some songs that that did that. The songs that I wrote for the 'Slow Train' album did that. I wrote those songs. I didn't plan to write them, but I wrote them anyway. I didn't like writing them, I didn't want to write them. I didn't figure ... I just didn't want to write them songs at that period of time. But I found myself writing these songs and after I had a certain amount of them, I thought I didn't want to sing them, so I had a girl sing them for me at the time, and what I wanted to do was .... she's a great singer ....†

Bono: Who is this?†

Dylan: A girl I was singing with at the time, Carolyn Dennis her name was. I gave them all to her and had her record them, and not even put my name on them. But I wanted the songs out; I wanted them out, but *I* didn't want to do it because I knew that it wouldn't be perceived in that way. It would just mean more pressure. I just did not want that at that time.†

Bono: But are you a trouble maker? Is there something in you that wants trouble that an album like 'Slow Train' stirs up? Do you wanna fight? Do you wanna box!?†

Dylan: I don't know! I mean, I wanna piss people off once in a while, but boxing or fighting - it would be an exercise to do it. You know, I love to do it, but not with anything at stake.†

Bono: Chess, do you play chess?†

Dylan: Yeah, I play chess. Are you a chess player?†

Bono: I am a chess player.†

Dylan: I'm not that good actually.†

Bono: I'll challenge you to a game of chess.†

Dylan: I don't have it right now actually, I just don't have one on me, but the next time you see me!†

Bono: Oh, you can get these little ones you know, that you can carry around.†

Dylan: Yeah, I take them on tour all the time, but nobody in the band will play me.†

Bono: Really?†

Dylan: Yeah, they say it's an ego trip. They say I want to win, I don't want to win, I just like to play.†

Bono: When you put out a record that causes trouble - is it part of an overall plan, or do you just do it?†

Dylan: No, I don't ever put out a record to cause trouble - if it causes trouble, it causes trouble, that's apart from me. If it causes trouble, that's other people's problem. It's not my problem. I'm just not going to put out a record that I just feel - you know, if I feel like I'm inspired to make a statement, I'll make that statement. But what happens after I do it, I don't care about that.†

Bono: What's your opening game?†

Dylan: My opening game, you mean king's pawn up two - and all that? I don't know.†

Bono: You just takes it as it comes.†

Dylan: Yeah. I don't really play that seriously.†

Bono: Well, I thought I did until I played Adam's brother Sebastian - he was only about 13 years old and he beat me!†

Dylan: Somebody may have a chess game here.†

Bono: I'd love to play.†

searching for a chess board ... enter Van Morrison†

Bono: You haven't used any synthesizers on your records so far?†

Dylan: No, I've never used those machines.†

Bono: The Fairlight Music Computer - have you heard of that?†

Dylan: Fairlight?†

Bono: Van, what do you think of electronic music?†

Morrison: I like the music Brian Eno plays.†

Bono: He speaks very highly of you. He's producing our record right now.†

Morrison: Say hello.†

Bono: (to Bob) Do you know Brian Eno?†

Dylan: Brian Eno? I don't know Brian Eno, but I know some of his work.†

Bono: When you're working with a producer, do you give him the lee-way to challenge you?†

Dylan: Yeah, if he feels like it. But usually we just go into the studio and sing a song, and play the music, and have, you know ...†

Bono: Have you had somebody in the last five years who said "That's crap, Bob"?†

Dylan: Oh, they say that all the time!†

Bono: Mark Knopfler, did he say that?†

Dylan: I don't know, they spend time getting their various songs right, but with me, I just take a song into the studio and try to rehearse it, and then record it, and then do it. It's a little harder now though to make a good record - even if you've got a good song and a good band. Even if you go in and record it live, it's not gonna sound like it used to sound, because the studios now are so modern, and overly developed, that you can take anything good and you can press it and squeeze it and squash it, and constipate it and suffocate it. You do a great performance in the studio and you listen back to it because the speakers are all so good, but, ah, no!†

Bono: All technology does is - you go into a dead room with dead instruments and you use technology to give it life that it doesn't have, and then it comes out of the speakers and you believe it. What I've been trying to do is find a room that has life in itself.†

Dylan: Yeah.†

Bono: A 'living' room.†

Dylan: The machines though, can even take the life out of that room, I've found. You can record in St Peter's Cathedral, you know, and they still make it sound like, eh, ...†

Bono: Somebody's backyard.†

Dylan: Yeah.†

???: That's a good idea. I'd love to record in a cathedral.†

Dylan: You know the studios in the old days were all much better, and the equipment so much better, there's no question about it in my mind. You just walked into a studio, they were just big rooms, you just sang, you know, you just made records; and they sounded like the way they sounded there. That stopped happening in the late Sixties, for me anyway. I noticed the big change. You go into a studio now and they got rugs on the floor, settees and pinball machines and videos and sandwiches coming every ten minutes. It's a big expensive party and you're lucky if you come out with anything that sounds decent.†

Bono: Yeah, records haven't got better, have they?†

Dylan: No, you go in now, you got your producer, you got your engineer, you got your assistant engineer, usually your assistant producer, you got a guy carrying the tapes around. I mean, you know, there's a million people go into recording just an acoustic song on your guitar. The boys turn the machines on and it's a great undertaking.†

Bono: There's a system called Effanel which Mick Fleetwood from Fleetwood Mac brought to Africa. It was built for him because he wanted to get some real African drummin', for "Tusk". We've used that system. It comes in a light suitcase, very small, no bullshit studio, and it just arrives, you can literally bring it to your living room.†

Morrison: I think all the same they'll go back to 2-track eventually.†

Bono: There's a guy called Conny Plank, who lives in Germany. He's a producer I think. He produced Makem and Clancy and some Irish traditional bands, also orchestral and funnily enough a lot of the new electronic groups, DAF, Ultravox, and so on. He used to record orchestras by just finding a position in the room where they were already balanced and he applies this in his thinking, in recording modern music: he finds a place in the room where it's already mixed.†

Morrison: I don't know, when I started we didn't think about that! You didn't even think about recording ... (laughs)†

Bono: You didn't even think!†

Morrison: You didn't even know what was on the cards. One day you were in the room, they turned the tape on. After about eight hours or so, they'd say, 'OK, tea break, it's over'.†

Dylan: Yeah, next song, next song!†

Morrison: And that was that - it was an album.†

Dylan: Yeah, you'd make an album on three days or four days and it was over - if that many! It's that long now ... it takes four days to get a drum sound.†

Bono: Do you know the Monty Python team, they're comedians, British comedians, 'Monty Python and the Holy Grail'. They have a sketch that reminds me of you guys - sitting back talking of days gone by: "You tell that to the young people of today and they'd never believe you". But you can't go backwards, you must go forward. You try to bring the values that were back there, you know, the strength, and if you see something that was lost, you got to find a new way to capture that same strength. Have you any idea of how to do that? I think you've done it by the way ... I think 'Shot Of Love', that opening track has that.†

Dylan: I think so too, You're one of the few people to say that to me about that record, to mention that record to me.†

Bono: That has *that* feeling.†

Dylan: It's a great record, it suits just about everybody.†

Bono: The sound from that record makes me feel like I'm in the same room as the other musicians. I don't feel like they're over *there*. Some of our records, I feel like they're over there because we got into this cinema type sound, not bland like FM sound, but we got into this very broad sound. Now we're trying to focus more of a punch, and that's what we are after, this intimacy .... I've never interviewed anybody before, by the way. I hate being interviewed myself.†

Morrison: You're doing a good job!†

Bono: Is this OK?. Good! What records do you listen to?†

Dylan: What records do I listen to? New records? I don't know, just the old records really. Robert Johnson. I still listen to those records that I listened to when I was growing up - they really changed my life. They still change my life. They still hold up, you know. The Louvain Brothers, Hank Williams, Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, Charlie Patton, I always liked to listen to him.†

Bono: I just bought Woody Guthrie's 'Bound For Glory'. I'm just a beginner when it comes to America. I mean, it's changed me. When you go the US, coming from this country, it's more than a different continent ....†

Morrison: It's shell shock.†

Bono: Yeah, coming from troubled Ireland, it's the real shell shock! I'm just getting acquainted with American music and literature. Do you still see Allen Ginsberg?†

Dylan: I run across Allen from time to time, yeah, Gregory Corsos's back now, he's doing some readings, I think he's just published a new book.†

Bono: I've just been reading this book 'Howl'.†

Dylan: Oh, that's very powerful. That's another book that changed me. 'Howl', 'On the Road', 'Dharma Bums'.†

Morrison: (to Bono) Have you read 'On the Road'?†

Bono: Yes I have, I'm just starting that. You have a reference in one of your songs to John Donne, 'Rave On John Donne'. Have you read his poetry?†

Morrison: I was reading it at the time.†

Dylan: (to Bono) You heard the songs - Brendan Behan's songs?†

Bono: Yeah.†

Dylan: 'Royal Canal', you know the 'Royal Canal'?†

Morrison: His brother wrote it. His name is Dominic.†

Dylan: Oh, Dominic wrote 'Royal Canal'?†

Bono: You know Brendan's son hang out around here in Dublin. He's a good guy, I believe.†

Dylan: I know the solo lyrics to the 'Royal Canal'. I used to sing it all the time.†

Bono: How does it go?†

Dylan: (sings) 'The hungry feeling came over me stealing, as the mice were squalling in my prison cell'.†

Bono: That's right, yeah!†

Dylan: (continues) 'That old triangle went jingle jangle, all along the banks of the Royal Canal'.†

Bono: That's right, when did you read that?†

Dylan: (there's no way stopping him now) 'In the female prison there's seventy women. It's all over there that I want to dwell. And that old triangle goes jingle jangle, all along the banks of the Royal Canal'.†

Bono: Have you been to the Royal Canal?†

Dylan: No I used to sing that song though. Every night.†

Bono: Our music - as I was saying earlier - it doesn't have those roots.†

Morrison: Yeah, there was a break in the lineage. I sussed that out when I went to see Thin Lizzy years ago, the first night in L.A. and I was watching at the back of the stage and I realized that the music was a complete cut in the connection between the end of the Sixties and the middle of the Seventies - a severing of the traditional lineage of groups.†

Bono: I like to know more about roots music. I'm hungry for a past.†

Morrison: You know you should listen to some of that stuff.†

Bono: I will. I've been listening to some gospel music, you know, like the Swan Silvertones, and stuff like that.†

Dylan: That's US stuff though.†

Morrison: US stuff, but the British stuff you should listen to, you know, like some of the old stuff, like the Yardbirds.†

Bono: Yeah, I've got some of their tapes recently, some real good tapes.†

Dylan: You can still hear the McPeakes. The next generation may not be able to though. Who knows? I would hate to think that. Listen we're gonna have to get ready to play. Are you gonna stay for the show?†

Bono: Certainly, that's what I'm here for actually.†

Dylan: To record it, HA!†

Conducted at the Slane Castle, Dublin, Ireland prior to Dylan's show. Both Bono and Van Morrison were later guests at the show, Van Morrison doing his usual It's All Over Now, Baby Blue and Bono joining Dylan on Blowin' In The Wind.†

Published in the Irish music paper 'Hot Press'.

Reprinted in the bookleg 'Talkin' Bob Dylan ... (1984)'†

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B.K.: Is it true that you taught yourself guitar and harmonica?†

Dylan: Well, nobody really teaches themselves guitar and harmonica, you know, when you don't know anything first of all you get yourself a book or something. What I remember is learning a couple of chords from some books and then going out to watch people, you know, to see how they're doing it. You don't go so much to hear 'em ... you just go to see how they do what they do, get as close as you can, see what their fingers are doing. In those early stages it's more like a learning thing, and that can sometimes take ... years, many years. But to me I kind of picked it up fairly quickly, I didn't really play with that much technique. And people really didn't take to me because of that, because I didn't go out of my way to learn as much technique as other people ... I mean I know people who spent their whole lives learning John Lee Hooker chords, just hammering on, you know, on the E string, and that was all. But they could play it in such a beautiful way it looked like a ballet dancer. Everybody had a different style, they had styles and techniques, especially in folk-music, you know there was your southern mountain banjo, then flat picking, then your finger picking techniques, and just all of these different runs you know, different styles of ballads. Folk-music was a world that was very split-up ... and there was a purist side to it. Folk people didn't want to hear it if you couldn't play the song exactly the way that ... Aunt Molly Jackson played it. And I just kind of blazed my way through all that stuff (laughter). I would hear somebody do something and it would get to a certain point that you'd say, what do you want from that, you'd want to see what style they were playing ... I don't know I just stayed up day and night just barnstorming my way though all that stuff. And then I heard Woody Guthrie, and then it all came together for me ...†

B.K.: Do you remember the first Woody Guthrie record you heard?†

Dylan: Yeah, I think the first Woody Guthrie song I heard was "Pastures Of Plenty". And "Pretty Boy Floyd" and another song ... he used to write a lot of his songs from existing melodies, you know "Grand Coulee Dam". They just impressed me.†

B.K.: Got to you?†

Dylan: Oh, yeah. Because they were original, they just had a mark of originality on them, well the lyrics did. I just heard all those songs and I learned them all off the records. All the songs of Woody Guthrie that I could find, anybody that had a Woody Guthrie record or that knew a Woody Guthrie song. And in St. Paul at the time, where I was, there were some people around who would not only had his records but who knew his songs. So I just learned them all, some of the best records that I heard him make were these records that he made on the Stinson label, with Cisco Houston and Sonny Terry. I don't know if Leadbelly was on there too, I learned a bunch of Leadbelly's stuff too and learned how to play like that. But one of the biggest thrills I ever actually had was when I reached New York, whenever it was, and I got to play with Cisco Houston, I think I got to play with him at a party someplace. But I used to watch him, he used to play at Folk City. He was an amazing looking guy, he looked like Clark Gable, like a movie star.†

Mogull: He reminded me a little of Tennessee Ernie actually.†

Dylan: Yeah.†

Mogull: Also very unheralded.†

Dylan: Oh, completely. He was one of the great unsung heroes. One of the great American figures of all time, and no one ... you know you can ask people about him and nobody knows anything about him.†

B.K.: When do you think you started to develop something that was uniquely yours? You were talking about playing Woody Guthrie ...†

Dylan: Well, when I came to New York that's all I played - Woody Guthrie songs. Then about six months after that I'd stopped playing all Woody Guthrie songs. I used to play in a a place called Cafe Wha?, and it always used to open at noon, and closed at six in the morning. It was just a non stop flow of people, usually they were tourists who were looking for beatniks in the Village. There'd be maybe five groups that played there. I used to play with a guy called Fred Neil, who wrote the song " Everybody's Talking" that was in the film "Midnight Cowboy". Fred was from Florida I think, from Coconut Grove, Florida, and he used to make that scene, from Coconut Grove to Nashville to New York. And he had a strong powerful voice, almost a bass voice. And a powerful sense of rhythm ... And he used to play mostly these types of songs that Josh White might sing. I would play harmonica for him, and then once in a while get to sing a song. You know, when he was taking a break or something. It was his show, he would be on for about half an hour, then a conga group would get on, called Los Congeros, with twenty conga drummers and bongoes and steel drums. And they would sing and play maybe half an hour. And then this girl, I think she was called Judy Rainey, used to play sweet Southern Mountain Appalachian ballads, with electric guitar and small amplifier. And then another guy named Hal Waters used to sing, he used to be a sort of crooner. Then there'd be a comedian, then an impersonator, and that'd be the whole show, and this whole unit would go around non stop. And you get fed there, which was actually the best thing about the place.†

Mogull: How long a set would you do?†

Dylan: I'd do ... oh, about half an hour. If they didn't like you back then you couldn't play, you'd get hooted off. If they liked you, you played more, if they didn't like you, you didn't play at all. You'd play one or two songs and people would just boo or hiss ...†

B.K.: This wasn't your own stuff you were singing there?†

Dylan: No, I didn't start playing my old stuff until ... much later†

B.K.: Well, when did you start to perform your own stuff?†

Dylan: Well, I just drifted into it you know, I just started writing. Well I'd always kinda written my own songs but I never played them. Nobody played their own songs then. The only person that did that was Woody Guthrie. And then one day I just wrote a song, and the first song I ever wrote that I performed in public was the song I wrote to Woody Guthrie. And I just felt like playing it one night - and so I played it.†

B.K.: Was writing something that'd you'd always wanted to do?†

Dylan: No, not really. It wasn't a thing I wanted to do ever. I wanted just a song to sing, and there came a certain point where I couldn't sing anything. So I had to write what I wanted to sing 'cos nobody else was writing what I wanted to sing. I couldn't find it anywhere. If I could, I probably would have never started writing.†

B.K.: Was the writing something that came easy to you? Because it is a craft that you do very well and you talk about it so causally.†

Dylan: Well, yeah, it does come easy. But then ... after so many records sometimes you just don't know anymore whether ... am I doing this because I want to do it or because you think it's expected of you. Do you know what I mean? So you'd start saying, well, it's time to write a song - I'll write a song . And you'll try to do something but sometimes it just won't come out right. At those kind of times it's best just to go sing somebody's songs.†

B.K.: Was it a lot of work writing? Was it a labour?†

Dylan: No. it was just something I'd kinda do. You'd just sit up all night and write a song, or ... in those days I used to write a lot of songs in cafes. Or at somebody's house with the typewriter. "A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall" ... I wrote that in the basement of the Village Gate. All of it, at Chip Monck's, he used to have a place down there in the boiler room, an apartment that he slept in ... next to the Greenwich Hotel. And I wrote "A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall" down there. I'd write songs people's houses, people's apartments, wherever I was.†

B.K.: Were you much of a polisher, I mean did you write it and then pour over it?†

Dylan: Pretty much I'd just leave them the way they were ...†


Dylan: Well, I don't know why I walked off that show [Ed Sullivan 1963]. I could have done something else but we'd rehearsed the song so many times and everybody had heard it. They'd run through the show you know and they'd put you on and you'd run through your number, and it always got a good response and I was looking forward to singing it. Even Ed Sullivan seemed to really like it. I don't know who objected to it, but just before I was going to sing it they came in, and this was show time you know. They came in, there was this big huddle, I could see people talking about something. I was just getting ready to play you know ... and then someone stepped up and said I couldn't sing that song. They wanted me to sing a Clancy Brother's song, and it just didn't make sense to me to sing a Clancy Brother's song on nationwide TV at that time. So ... I just left.

Mogull: Do you remember that time you were down in San Juan, Puerto Rico, at the CBS convention. And ... it was being held at the San Juan Hilton I guess ... this huge record convention, and it was just as Bob was beginning to hit. And the President of CBS at the time was a fabulous man named Goddard Lieberson. And ... they wouldn't let Bob in the hotel, because he was not wearing a tie or a jacket ...†

Dylan: Yeah, or a shirt!

Mogull: And Lieberson, to his credit, told the hotel manager either he comes in the hotel or I'm pulling the whole convention out of here. Have I told the story right?†

Dylan: Yeah, he was a big supporter of mine. Goddard Lieberson, as was John Hammond. Without those people like that I don't think anything would have happened for me. If I was to come along now, in this day, with the kind of people that are running record companies now, they would ... you know ... bar the doors I think. But you had people back then who were more entrenched in individuality.†

Mogull: And also not as insecure in their jobs.†

Dylan: No, they ran things, you know they made decisions and it stuck. Now, I mean, it seems like everybody chats with somebody else, it's like well, I'll tell you tomorrow, call me back later, yeah we almost got deal, stuff like that.†

B.K.: Did you get along with Lieberson okay ...?†

Dylan: Oh, yeah, he was great ... he even used to come to some sessions of mine. He stop in and say hello you know ...†

B.K.: Was there ever any pressure on you? I mean some people considered your music almost subversive. Although I always considered it very American.†

Dylan: I guess they did ... I don't know. But, like I said, they seemed to run things. You know other people may have been talking under their breath or something, behind their back, and things like that. But at this time their big acts were Mitch Miller, Andy Williams, Johnny Matthis. I didn't really begin to sell many records until the second record ... and the "Subterranean Homesick Blues" that made the charts.†

B.K.: That was an amazing single when you think of what the singles were like at the time.†

Dylan: They made some good records then, that you know were good pop records. Not on Columbia though. Phil Spector was doing a lot of stuff at the time, and Jerry Lieber and Mike Stoller ...†

B.K.: Were you listening to a lot of pop stuff at the time?†

Dylan: Yeah, I listened to a lot of pop stuff, but it never influenced what I was doing. At least to any great degree. It had earlier, like the really earlier stuff, when rock 'n' roll came in after Elvis, Carl Perkins, Buddy Holly, those people. Chuck Berry, Little Richard, that stuff influenced me ... You know, nostalgia to me isn't really rock 'n' roll. Because when I was a youngster the music I heard was Frankie Laine, Rosemary Clooney, Dennis ... what's his name? Dennis Day? And you know, Dorothy Collins ... the Mills Brothers, all that stuff. When I hear stuff like that it always strikes a different chord than all the rock 'n' roll stuff. The rock 'n' roll stuff I had a conscious mind at that time, but ten years before that it was like "Mule Train" and ... Johnny Ray knocked me out. Johnny Ray was the first person to actually really knock me out.†

B.K.: What was it? What do you think it was about Johnny Ray?†

Dylan: Well, he was just so emotional, wasn't he? I ran into him in an elevator in Australia ... he was like one of my idols you know. I mean I was speechless, there I was in an elevator with Johnny Ray! I mean what do you say?†

B.K.: When you started to move from the pure folk style into a more electric style, was that a tough one?†

Dylan: We're getting into a touchy subject. (laughter).†

B.K.: Well, I mean today you go on stage and both of those things co-exist. Nobody thinks twice.†

Dylan: Yeah, they always did co-exist ...†

B.K.: I'm not talking so much about that, but at least what it seemed like from the outside was that people were trying to tell you how to make your music.†

Dylan: Oh ... there's always people trying to tell you how to do everything in your life. If you really don't know what to do and you don't care what to do - then just ask somebody's opinion. You'll get a million different opinions. If you don't want to do something, ask someone's opinion and they'll just verify it for you. The easiest way to do something is to just not ask anybody's opinion. I mean if you really believe in what you're doing ... I've just asked people's opinion and it's been a great mistake, in different areas. In my personal life, I've asked people what do you think about doing this and they've said ... Oh Wow! ...! You know, and you end up not using it or else using it wrong.†

Mogull: As a matter of fact I think the artist has to make the innate decision about their ...†

Dylan: Yeah, you know what's right. When those things come you know what's right. A lot of times you might be farming around and not knowing what's right and you might do something dumb, but that's only because you don't know what to do on the first place. But if you know what's right and it strikes you at a certain time then you can usually believe that instinct. And if you act on it, then you'll be successful at it. Whatever it is.†

B.K.: Recording is a whole other thing from being on stage. And you, from what I've read, try and record as spontaneously as possible ... ?†

Dylan: I have yeah, I have, but I don't do that so often anymore. I used to do that ... because recording a song bores me, you know, it's like working in a coal-mine. Well I mean it's not really as serious as that, you're not completely that far underground! Maybe not in a literal sense, but ... you could be indoors for months. And then what you think is real just is just not anymore, you're just listening to sounds and your whole world is just working with tapes and things. I'm not ... I've never liked that side of things. Plus I've never gotten into it on that level, when I first recorded I just went in and recorded the songs I had, That's the way people recorded then. But people don't record that way now, and I shouldn't record that way either because they can't even get it down that way anymore. To do what I used to do, or to do what anybody used to do you have to stay in the studio a longer time to get that right. Because you know technology has messed everything up so much.†

B.K.: It's messed it up?†

Dylan: Yeah, it's messed it up. Technology is giving a false picture. Like if you listen to any of the records that are done now they're all done in a technology sort of way. Which is a conniving kind of way, you can dream up what you want to do and just go in and dream it up! But you go see some of that stuff live and you're gonna be very disappointed, because ... er ... I mean if you want to see some of it live. You may not want to you know. Well, I think it's messed it up, but that's progress you know. You can't go back the way it used to be. For a lot of people it's messed things up, but then for a lot of other people it's a great advantage. In other words you can get something right now, it doesn't have to be right but you can get it right. You know, it can be totally wrong but you can get it right! And it can be done just with sound and ... We were just recording something the other night and we were gonna put some handclaps on it. And the guy sitting behind the board, he was saying 'Well do you guys wanna go out there and actually clap ...? I got a machine right here that can do that.' And the name of this thing was Roland or something. (laughter). So we went out and clapped instead. It wasn't any big deal, we could have had some machine do it ... But that's just a small example of how everything is just machine oriented you know.†

B.K.: You talk almost like ... I don't really know how to put it ... like the world's gone here and you're old fashioned.†

Dylan: Well, I feel I'm old fashioned, but I don't believe I'm old fashioned in the way that I'm not modern fashioned. You know on a certain level there is no old fashioned and there's no new fashioned ... really nothing has changed. I don't think I'm old fashioned in the kind of way that I feel I'm a passe person that's sitting somewhere ... you know out in Montana ... just watching it snow. But even if I was, I'm sure that would be okay.†

Mogull: Yeah, Bob, but you can't go to a concert like Wembley and get that kind of ...†

Dylan: Yeah, okay ... but life is like that, you don't get that many years to live, right? So how long can you manage to keep up with things ...? And when you're keeping up with things what are you keeping up with? Who buys most of the records nowadays? 12 year old kids? Who buys Michael Jackson's records? 12 year olds. 14 year olds. 16, 20 ... I don't know who buys 50 million records of somebody. You know you can't compete with a market that's geared for a market for 12 year olds. You know you have rock 'n' roll critics that are 40 years old writing about records that are geared for people that are 10 years old! And making an intellectual philosophy out of it.†

B.K.: But you don't listen to that stuff?†

Dylan: No I don't listen to that stuff, and I don't listen to those critics. I've come up with a lot of people who should know whole a lot better, who have made a career about writing about rock 'n' roll. Writing about rock 'n' roll ...! I mean ... you know, how indecent can you be? Well, I'm not saying that it's all bad, people have to express themselves. So rock 'n' roll gives them a thrill, or did give them a thrill. Well most of the people that I can think of as rock 'n' roll authorities, are people who have documented down what I remember growing up with as it started ... right? So everybody knows where the roots of rock 'n' roll are. Everybody knows who does what, but to make such an intellectual game out of it is beside the point, you know it's not really going to add anything to the history of popular music. It's just going to feed a lot of cynical people and self-righteous people who think they've got a claim on a rock 'n' roll goldmine ... or whatever. So I find that very distasteful.†

B.K.: Do you have ... I'm going to ask you which ones ... but are there any things that you look back on and say 'Jesus, that was a good one'...'†

Dylan: Oh, yeah. Some of the songs you're talking about, you know I can't write those songs today. No way. But I look at those songs, 'cos I sing 'em all the time, I wonder where they came from and how they came ... how it's constructed. Even the simpler songs, I look at them that way. I couldn't do them now, and I don't even try, I'd be a fool to try. I think there are lot of good song-writers though, what I've done I've done all alone, but there's a lot of other good song-writers ... of my era.†

Mogull: Like who, Bob?†

Dylan: Randy Newman writes good songs, Paul Simon's written some good songs, I think "America" is a good song, I think "The Boxer" is a good song. I think "Bridge Over Troubled Water" is a good song. I mean he's written a lot of bad songs too, but everybody's done that. Let's see ... some of the Nashville writers ... Shel Silverstein writes great songs. Really. Like he's one of my favorite song-writers. You know, whatever you're expressing it out of the amount of knowledge and light and inspiration you're giving on it. If you're just given an inch you know ... well you've just got to make of that as much as you can.†

B.K.: Have you ever tried your hand at any of the other arts?†

Dylan: Yeah, painting.†

B.K.: Really, do you do much of it?†

Dylan: Yeah, well not so much in recent years, but it's something that I would like to do if I could ... you've got to be in the right place to do it, you have to commit a lot of time ... because one thing leads to another and you tend to discover new things as you go along. So it takes time to develop it, but I know how to do it fundamentally so once I get into the rhythm of it, and if I can hang with it long enough ...†

B.K.: Do you take time for yourself?†

Dylan: Oh, yeah, I take time for myself. I don't have any public time. People think I do but that's my time.

B.K.: That's a great place to be.†

Dylan: Well, that's the place you were at when you were born. That's the place you should be. I mean what's there to make you not be in that place? Do you have to be part of the machine ... so what if you're not part of the machine?†


Dylan: I don't know if I've ever been happy if we're talking straight. I don't know ... I mean ... happy? I don't consider myself happy and I don't consider myself unhappy, I've just never thought of life in terms of happiness and unhappiness. It just never occurred to me.†

B.K.: Do you think of it in terms of growth?†

Dylan: No! I never think in terms of growth, I tell you what I do think though, that you never stop anywhere, there's no place to stop in. You know them places at the side of the road that you can stop, they're just an illusion.†

B.K.: The road goes on ...†

Dylan: Yeah, you've got to get back on the road. And you may want to stop but you can't stay there.†

B.K.: When you talk about getting back on the road, isn't that in a sense growth ... or at least it's movement. From point A to point B.†

Dylan: Yeah, that's growth. But what's growth? I mean everything grows, that's just the way life is, life just grows. You know, it grows and it dies, it lives and it dies. Whenever you get to a plateau, that's not it, you got to go on to the next one. You can't stay nowhere, there's no place to stay, there's no place that will keep you.†

B.K.: Because of boredom or because that's the way it is?†

Dylan: No, because that's just the nature of things ...†

B.K.: So you see yourself just moving onward?†

Dylan: I see everybody like that, I see the whole world that way. That which doesn't do that is stuff that's ... that's just dead.†

B.K.: Ha ... what's that line? Those that are not busy being born are ...†

Dylan: ... busy dying? What a line!

B.K.: Didn't somebody write that?†

Dylan: Classic line that ... You know people say, well isn't it great to be able to do what you do? Well it is to a degree but they forget that an artist ... a touring artist, anybody that is out touring ... playing live from town to town night after night. They think that's easy. It's not easy. People think you're having a ball, they say howya doin'? I say 'I'm in Schenectady! (laughter). And they say, oh well you're having a great time and I'm stuck here in Orlando. But it's not ... you know you just have to get up and then you just have to do what you're supposed to do. I know that when I get off the road, oh man! For the first two or three weeks ... I mean you can get up any time you want! You don't have to go to sleep at this hour and get up at that hour, and get yourself lined up to do this, and be there at that certain place, and go through this and go through that, and get back and get the proper amount of sleep. You know, eat right ... in case you're afraid you'll get sick, or afraid you're gonna hurt yourself somewhere along the line. All those things ... they just disappear on the last show, then you can do anything you want. It's a high feeling.†

B.K.: You go sailing? long pause†

B.K.: Yeah?†

Dylan: Yeah.†

B.K.: I mean do you want to talk about anything you like to do other than ...†

Dylan: I like to do a lot of things but I don't want to talk about the things I like to do ...†

B.K.: Okay.†

Dylan: I'll talk about things I don't like to do!†

B.K.: You said that you consider yourself a pretty regular kind of a guy, would you say you're just like anybody else?†

Dylan: Well, sure, you know I breathe the same air as everybody else does. I have to do the same things most people do.†

B.K.: Well ... in a lot of the earlier songs there's a sense of separation ...†

Dylan: Oh, well ... there's always a sense of separation, I mean even in the later songs. There wouldn't be any point to it if there wasn't a sense of separation. I mean if I didn't have anything different to say to people then what would be the point of it? I mean ... I could do a Ronnettes album!†

Mogull: I think the most interesting you've said so far, Bob ...†

Dylan: Have I said anything interesting?†

Mogull: One thing that was exceedingly interesting to me was when you started writing because nobody was writing the songs you wanted to sing.†

Dylan: Yeah, that's when I started writing ... and that's why I'm still writing ... I wish someone would come along and give me some songs that I could do. I mean it would be such a burden taken off my shoulder, I mean it's heavy man! (laughter).†

B.K.: There's still a lot of expectation. Have you been able to get beyond that, to stop worrying about what people expect from you?†

Dylan: Who expects what? I mean anybody that expects anything from me is just a borderline case. Nobody with any kind of reality is going to expect anything from me. I've already given then enough you know, what do they want from me. You can't keep on depending on one person to give you everything.†

What I usually do is say, okay, I'm gonna write a song, whether it's a lyric or a rhythm ... but for me, I have to go out and play, and er ... I'm not an admirer of stuff like videos. I mean I don't mind making videos, but it's nothing for me to try and attempt to do ... because it's fake you know ... it's all about how good it looks ... anybody can make a video. Anybody. As long as you have a camera, what kind of camera do you want? 16mm, video camera, anybody can do it. And anybody can make a good one, and ... er ... people will like it. Everything is done in a technological kind of way ... you can dress it up in so many different kind of ways. So people don't know what to think. Nobody's gonna sit there and say oh this is bullshit, or this is awful ... this don't make any sense at all ... it's been a long time since I've even seen one of those things, but the last time I saw one, I mean I was appalled. And then when you go see some of these groups, and I've seen some of them, they aren't anything, you know they're just nothing. That's because they go for the faking thing so much, and you know ... in the other arena, you have to do it live or you just don't do it. I've always played live since I started out, and that's where it's always counted for me. It don't count on a video or a movie, I don't care about being a movie star or a video star or any of that stuff you know.†


Dylan: I'm usually in a numb state of mind before my shows, and I have to kick in at some place along the line., usually it takes me one or two songs, or sometimes now it takes much longer. Sometimes it takes me up to the encore! (laughter).†

B.K.: The band I would image has an effect on that.†

Dylan: Oh, absolutely. I've played with some bands that have gotten in my way so much that it's just been a struggle to get through the show Oh yeah ... at certain times it gets ridiculous you know.†

B.K.: I'd image the flip side too, have there been bands that turn you on?†

Dylan: Yeah, this last band ... I thought they were pretty good.†

B.K.: Rolling Thunder was an interesting tour, it wasn't just the performing but the whole idea of the thing. There was a spontaneity of a kind to it.†

Dylan: Yeah ... there was definitely a lot of spontaneity to that.†

B.K.: Was it scary or exciting?†

Dylan: A little of both. We were doing double shows on the Rolling Thunder shows. We'd be in a hall say for ... 14 hours. You know Rolling Thunder shows were 6 hours long! [sic]†

B.K.: That had to be people loving making music.†

Dylan: Well ... (laughing) ... there were so many people ... you know the people in the audience came and went ... people would bring their lunch or dinner or something.†

Mogull: Like a Grateful Dead concert?†

Dylan: Yeah, yeah.†

B.K.: Was that your idea, did it come from you?†

Dylan: No, it just happened. We started out with a small show and it just evolved into the ...†

B.K.: That's an amazing thing to me, that you're able to maintain that ... a lot of people when they get to a certain place in the business ...†

Dylan: I thought the Rolling Thunder shows were great, I think someday somebody should make a movie out of them!†

B.K.: And call it ...†

Dylan: Rolling Thunder!†

B.K.: (laughter). You've been smiling a lot and laughing a lot here, but you don't do that much on stage. But you say you really enjoy yourself ... you look so serious.†

Dylan: Well, those songs take you through different trips you see. I mean what's there to smile about in singing "A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall", or "Tangled Up In Blue", or "With God On Our Side" ... or "Mr Tambourine Man", or "Like A Rolling Stone", or "License To Kill", or "Shot Of Love", or "Poisoned Love" ... any of that. How can you sing that with a smile on your face? I mean it's be kind of hypocritical.†

You'll do things on certain nights, which you know are just great, you'll know they're great, and you'll get no response. And then you'll go someplace else and it'll be ... you just don't have it that night, you just don't have it, for a variety of reasons. You don't have it and you're just trying to get through it ... but it's really always got to be consistent, you've got to get it to a place where it's consistent. Then it stays on that level ... it can get great, which is really you know triple consistent ... You know I've done things where I might have had a temperature of 104, or you know, I might have been kicked in the side that day and couldn't hardly stand up. I have done shows where I could hardly stand up, you know where it's been painful to stand there. And that's kind of humiliating in a way, because you know there's no way that you can be as good as you wanna be. Before it even starts you know you're not gonna be as good, not even as you wanna be, as you can be. There's only been one time when I've wanted to replay one show, that was in Montreal. We played a show in Montreal in 1978, I had a temperature of 104, couldn't even stand up ... but the promotor said, well you gotta play the show ... And we played the show and I didn't have nothing, nothing! And the response ... you'd think the Pope was there! (laughter). And I've played other shows where I've had everything happening, I mean I just rewrote the book, nothing - no response.†

When I do whatever it is I'm doing there is rhythm involved and there is phrasing involved. And that's where it all balances out, in the rhythm of it and the phrasing of it. It's not in the lyrics, people think it's in the lyrics, maybe on the records it's in the lyrics, but in a live show it's not all in the lyrics, it's in the phrasing and the dynamics and the rhythm. It's got nothing whatsoever to do with the lyrics, I mean it does - the lyrics have to be there, sure they do. But ... you know there was this Egyptian singer Om Khalsoum, have you ever heard of her? She was one of my favorite singers of all time - and I don't understand a word she sings! She'd sing one song - it might last for 40 minutes, same song, and she'll sing the same phrase over and over and over again. But in a different way everytime. I don't think there's any US or Western singer that's in that kind of category ... except possibly me! (laughter). But on another level, do you know what I mean?†


Dylan: To me it's not a business, and to the people who have survived along with me - it's not a business. It just isn't. It's never been a business and never will be a business. It is just a way of surviving you know, it's just what you do you know. It's just like somebody who's trained to be a carpenter, that's what they do, it's what they do best. And that's how they make a living I guess.†

B.K.: Were you ever going to be anything else ... were you ever going to be an insurance salesman?†

Dylan: I was never gonna be anything else, never. I was playing when I was 12 years old, and that was all I wanted to do - play my guitar. I was always going to these parties where all these biggest guys were ... you know ... and it was a way of getting attention and whatever ... It starts out that way but I never really knew where it was going to lead. Now that it's lead me here - I still don't know where it is.†

B.K.: You sound like ... well obviously you're older than you were in the sixties, but also you seem to have a degree of self-knowledge and certainty of where you're going as a person ...†

Dylan: I don't know where I'm going as a person ...

Mogull: I hear contentment ...†

Dylan: Well, in certain areas - yeah, I hope so. I don't know what's gonna happen when I'm not around to sing anymore. I hope somebody else comes along who could pick up on what I'm doing and learn exactly what it is ... that makes it quite different. I keep looking for that somebody ... not necessarily to cover me, but to take it a step further. I've already taken it as far as I can take it, maybe I won't see that person - I don't know. But somebody, sometime will come along and take it that step further. But I haven't seen anyone ... now I don't want to say that in a bragging sort of way, it just hasn't gone any further.†

B.K.: But there is something ... that's why you go back to the stage.†

Dylan: Yeah, well I'm just thankful I can play on stage and people will come and see me. Because I couldn't make it otherwise, I mean if I went out to play and nobody showed up, that would be the end of me. I wouldn't be making records I'll tell you that. I only make records because people see me live. So as long as they're coming along to see me live I'll just make some more records.†

Conducted by Bert Kleinman at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in New York. Also present was old time friend Artie Mogull who in 1962 signed Dylan up with Witmark & Sons. Released on DYLAN ON DYLAN, Westwood One (Radio Station Discs), Nov 17 1984.†

Sources: Tape. Transcription in "Talkin' Bob Dylan 1984 & 1985 (Some Educated Rap)" by Stewart P. Bicker.†

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Bill Flanagan interviewed Bob Dylan in New York in March 1985 for his 1985 book "Written In My Soul."†

Found on John Howell's "Bringin' It All Back Home"

"I'm not going to write a fantasy song. Even a song like 'Mr. Tambourine Man' really isn't a fantasy. There's substance to the dream."†

Bob Dylan†

In November of 1985 Columbia Records threw a party for Bob Dylan at New York's Whitney Museum. Banks of video screens were illuminated with images of the Ages of Dylan. There was the scrawny protest poet who wrote "Blowin' in the Wind" and "The Times They Are a Changin'," the wild-haired rock & roll legend who screamed "How does it *feel*?" and "Everybody must get stoned," and all the other Dylans: the pastoral daddy of "Lay Lady Lay" and "Knockin' on Heaven's Door," the anguished gypsy of "Blood on the Tracks" and the Rolling Thunder Revue, the righteous evangelist of "Slow Train Coming" and "Neighborhood Bully." That week the newspapers were running front page stories about the release from prison of Rubin "Hurricane" Carter, the boxer whose cause Dylan had championed a decade earlier, and whose murder conviction had finally been overturned. Carter's claim to fame in most of the articles was that he was the subject of a Bob Dylan song.†

Downstairs, circling around Dylan himself were old folkies (Judy Collins, Arlo Guthrie, Roger McGuinn), the first wave of punk (Lou Reed, John Cale, Iggy Pop), literate British rockers (Pete Townshend, David Bowie, Ian Hunter), American traveling bands (the Band, the E Street Band), and all manner of New Yorkers - Martin Scorsese, Robert De Niro, Harvey Keitel, Yoko Ono, the Talking Heads - whose art grew out of the lower Manhattan bohemia that Dylan brought into the center of American consciousness. There were older legends, too, such as Roy Orbison and John Hammond, Sr., and Jerry Wexler. "Every one of us here," Ian Hunter said, "owes Dylan thanks for something."†

A gaggle of television reporters buttonholed guests at the door and asked about Bob Dylan's significance. No one had an adequate answer. I said that Dylan refused to accept any limits on rock & roll and thus showed everyone else that the form could expand to include all sorts of ideas. Billy Joel said that Dylan was at least the greatest American songwriter, period.†

The next afternoon I was with Pete Townshend. He joked about the futility of trying to offer a concise explanation of Dylan's significance. "They asked what effect Bob Dylan had on me," he said. "That's like asking how I was influenced by being born."†

Joni Mitchell put it this way: "When I head Bob Dylan sing, 'You got a lotta nerve,' I though, 'Hallelujah, man, the American pop song has grown up. It's wide open. Now you can write about anything that literature can write about.' Up until that time rock & roll songs were pretty much limited to, 'I'm a fool for ya, baby,'"†

It would be a mistake to claim that Dylan had completely overcome the prejudice that some advocates of the separation of "high" from "low" art still have against anything that rides into town on the back of rock & roll. There are still some critics and academics who claim that Dylan's lyric talent was not as extraordinary as has been alleged; that his greatest gifts were self-promotion and good fortune. These holdouts are fighting a losing battle. For while they roll their eyes and groan that Dylan is, after all, just a rock singer, Dylan's praises are sung by those he's inspired who have themselves triumphed in arts accepted by the old guard. If Dylan is not a great artist then playwrights such as Sam Shephard, filmmakers such as Scorsese, poets such as Allen Ginsberg, actors such as De Niro are not capable of recognizing great art. Sometime between Jimmy Carter's quoting of the "great American poet" at the 1976 Democratic Convention and Dylan's trip to Moscow's International Poetry Festival in 1985 (he represented the United States, at the invitation of Soviet poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko), most of those who *just don't get it* shut up and sat down.†

When we spoke, Dylan, whose musical style owed a great deal to country and folk singers such as Hank Williams, Woody Guthrie, and the Stanley Brothers, traced his poetic roots to the Black bluesmen who crossed paths with Willie Dixon and inspired Chuck Berry. "Those blues guys from the thirties and forties," Dylan said, "just used two-line couplets. You can't say things any better than that really. You can say it in a different way, you can say it with more words, but you can't say anything better than what they said. And they covered everything."†

Recalling his own early days in New York he said, "All these black guys would come up from south of the border and recite poetry in the park. Now they'd call them rappers. The best was a guy named Big Brown who had long poems. Each one was about fifteen minutes long. They were long, drawn-out badmen stories. Romance, politics, just about everything you could imagine was thrown into his stuff. He came out of Texas, I think, and he was in jail a lot. I always though that was the best poetry I ever heard. Streetwise poetry. There were quite a few of those guys around in the sixties. I heard them at Mardi Gras, too. They were just brilliant speakers."†

The following interview took place in New York in March 1985. Hearing that Dylan was mixing what would become his "Empire Burlesque" album in Manhattan, I left a letter for him explaining about this book. I got a message a couple of days later that Dylan would be happy to talk to me. I expected perhaps an hour of his time and prepared for Dylan's historic reluctance to explain his work. To my delight I found Dylan warm, cooperative, and as talkative as anyone I've interviewed. Dylan expressed enthusiasm for the idea of a book of interviews with songwriters and amazement that no one had done it before.†

He asked about different songwriters I'd interviewed, and when I mentioned Lou Reed, Dylan talked about Reed's "Doin' the Things That We Want To" and its reference to Sam Shephard's play "Fool For Love." He said that Reed's song had inspired Dylan and Shephard to write a sort of response - which emerged in 1986 as "Brownsville Girl." Dylan said that just as Reed's song opened with the narrator at the play, the Shephard/Dylan song would open with the narrator at the movie. Maybe what's most surprising about Bob Dylan is that once you connect with his vision, everything he says makes sense.†

After a couple of hours of intense conversation Iíd exhausted my questions. I switched off the tape recorded and thanked my host for his generosity. Dylan kept talking, and soon I was turning the recorder back on to catch his amendments.†

In "Tangled Up In Blue" Dylan wrote, "She opened up a book of poems and handed it to me / Written by an Italian poet in the fifteenth [sic] century / And every one of them words rang true and glowed like burniní coal / Pouriní off of every page like it was written in my soul."†

Posterity is a contrary old bitch, but if she remembers any rock & roller to future generations, it will probably be Bob Dylan.†

BILL FLANAGAN: In "Donít Fall Apart On Me Tonight" (Infidels) you wrote, "Itís like Iím stuck inside a painting thatís hanging in the Louvre." In "I And I" (Infidels) you said, "If she wakes up now sheíll just want me to talk / And I got nothiní to say, 'specially about whatever was." People come to you with so much expectation, do you have a hard time finding people who can relate to you normally?†

BOB DYLAN: No, not really. I donít know how other people write their songs. I write them lots of different ways. Once they get put into a perspective, they all fall into the same dimension. But they really come out of different dimensions. Sometimes youíll write a song where youíll just stick with it and get it done. Youíll feel that itís not coming from anyplace, but itís for you to do. Thereís nothing to base it on. Youíre in an area where there isnít anybody there and never was. So you just have to be real sensitive to where youíre walking at the time. Not try to go one way or the other, just stay balanced and finish it. "Every Grain of Sand" is a song like that. Writing that song was like, "This is something that Iím going to have to stay steady with." Otherwise it could get out of hand. You must keep it balanced. And thereís no footnotes around. Itís the kind of an area where thereís no precedent for it.†

A lot of times youíll just hear things and youíll know that these are the things that you want to put in your song. Whether you say them or not. They donít have to be your particular thoughts. They just sound good, and *somebody* thinks them. Half my stuff falls along those lines. *Somebody* thinks them. Iím sure, when Iím singing something, that Iím not just singing it to sing it. I know that Iíve read it. Somebodyís said it. Iíve heard a voice say that. A song like "Donít Fall Apart on Me Tonight" sort of falls into that category: "Iíll take you to a mountaintop and build you a house out of stainless steel." That kind of stuff just passes by. A guyís getting out of bed saying donít talk to me; itís leaving time. I didnít originate those kinds of thoughts. Iíve felt them, but I didnít originate them. Theyíre out there, so I just use them.†

BILL FLANAGAN: Are there thoughts that go by that you resist writing about?†

BOB DYLAN: Everything Iíve written about I can relate to. Thereís a lot of stuff I hear that I wouldnít write about, because it donít mean anything to me. You hear people talk every day, and most of it goes in one ear and doesnít even come out. Or it goes in then out the other. Bill Monroe once said he got his best thinking done when people were talking to him. I always liked that.†

Not a whole lot of real thought goes into this stuff. Itís more or less remembering things and taking it down. Sometimes youíre just taking notes on stuff and then putting it all together. Sometimes itís just the opposite. A lot of people ask, "What comes first, the words or melody?" I thought about that. Itís very rare that they donít come together. Sometimes the words come first, sometimes the melody comes first, but thatís the exception. Most of the time the words and melody come at the same time, usually with the first line. With me itís usually the first line. I know Bob Seger writes from hooks and titles. A lot of people do that. They come up with a line that sums up everything and then they have to go backwards and figure out how to fill it in. With me I usually start right at the beginning and then wonder where itís going. I sometimes fill in the middle and the end at some other time, but I donít usually work *backwards*.†

BILL FLANAGAN: What do you mean when you say that with something like "Every Grain of Sand," you have to be careful to not let it get out of hand?†

BOB DYLAN: Youíre not *conscious* of it. In a song like that, thereís no consciousness of any of this stuff having been said before. "Whatís this like?" Well, itís not like anything. "What does it represent?" Well, you donít even know. All you know is that itís a mood piece, and you try to hold onto the mood and finish. Or not even finish, but just get it to a place where you can let it go. Because those kinds of things youíll never finish if you donít do them all at one period of time. Iíve done a lot of stuff where I said, "Iíll finish it next week. " Well, next week never comes. And then you go back and look at the stuff and say, "Wow, this is great." but you canít get connected to it again.†

The saddest thing about songwriting is when you get something really good and you put it down for a while, and you take for granted that youíll be able to get back to it with whatever inspired you to do it in the first place - well, whatever inspired you to do it in the first place is never there anymore. So then youíve got to consciously stir up the inspiration to figure what it was about. Usually you get one good part and one not-so-good part, and the not-so-good wipes out the good part.†

BILL FLANAGAN: Would you ever sit on something for months or years, waiting until you could connect to it again?†

BOB DYLAN: No, I donít have any expectations, if Iím putting something down, that itíll be something great if only I can get back to it. I keep it in front of me for a while, and if I donít have it done by a certain time... Iíll go back and itíll still be there, but I wonít be able to relate to it.†

BILL FLANAGAN: "Mr. Tambourine Man" can be interpreted a hundred ways, but it could be about a specific real thing: wanting to keep going when youíve been out all night and everyone else has gone home, and the only other person left awake is some guy standing on the corner banging a tambourine. Do all your songs have a literal reality to you?†

BOB DYLAN: Well, songs are just thoughts. For the moment they stop time. Songs are supposed to be heroic enough to give the illusion of stopping time. With just that thought. To hear a song is to hear someoneís thought, no matter what theyíre describing. If you see something and you think itís important enough to describe, then thatís your thought. You only think one thought at a time, so what you come up with is really what youíre given. When you sit around and *imagine* things to do and to write and to think - thatís fantasy. Iíve never been much into that. Anybody can fantasize. Little kids can, old people can, everybodyís got the right to their own fantasies. But thatís all they are. Fantasies. Theyíre not *dreams*. A dream has more substance to it than a fantasy. Because fantasies are usually based on nothing, theyíre based on whatís thrown into your imagination. But I usually have to have proof that something exists before I even want to bother to deal with it at all. I must exist, it must have happened, or the possibility or it happening must have some meaning for me.†

Iím not going to write a fantasy song. Even a song like "Mr. Tambourine Man" really isnít a fantasy. Thereís substance to the dream. Because youíve seen it, you know? In order to have a dream, thereís something in front of you. You have to have seen something or have heard something for you to dream it. It becomes *your* dream then. Whereas a fantasy is just your imagination wandering around. I donít really look at my stuff like that. Itís happened, itís been said, Iíve heard it: I have proof of it. Iím a messenger. I get it. It comes to me so I give it back in my particular style.†

BILL FLANAGAN: Thatís what I mean about songs having a literal reality: the images arenít just random.†

BOB DYLAN: Right. It does have a literal reality. I donít think it could stand up if it didnít. Because other people can identify with it, and they know if itís true or not.†

BILL FLANAGAN: Youíve changed the lyrics to "Tangled Up in Blue" since you first recorded it on "Blood on the Tracks".†

BOB DYLAN: That was a peculiar record. I always wanted it to be the way I recorded it on "Real Live", but there was no particular reason for it to be that way, because Iíd already made the record. That was another one of those things where I was trying to do something that I didnít think had ever been done before. In terms of trying to tell a story and be a present character in it without it being some kind of fake, sappy attempted tearjerker. I was trying to be somebody in the present time while conjuring up a lot of past images. I was trying to do it in a conscious way. I used to be able to do it in an unconscious way, but I wasnít into it that way anymore. That particular song was built like that, and it was always open to be cut better. But I had no particular reason to do it because Iíd already made the record.†

However, thereís a version we used to do on stage with just electric guitar and a saxophone - keeping the same lyrics, thinking that maybe if I did that to it it would bring it out in an emotional way. But it didnít hold up very well that way. So I changed the lyrics, to bring it up to date. But I didnít just change it 'cause I was singing it one night and thought, "Oh, Iím bored with the old words." The old ones were never quite filled in. I rewrote it in a hotel room somewhere. I think it was Amsterdam. I wanted to sing that song so I looked at it again, and I changed it. When I sang it the next night I knew it was right. It was right enough so that I wanted to put it down and wipe the old one out.†

That was another of those songs where youíre writing and youíve got it, you know what itís about, but half of it you just donít get the way you wanted to. Then I fixed it up, and now I know itís where it should be. I think it makes a big difference, too.†

BILL FLANAGAN: One immediate difference is that itís no longer clear if itís only one guy telling the story. It now starts off in the second person, and goes into the first person when he meets the woman in the bar. The earlier section is now isolated, and the events it described may have happened to someone else.†

BOB DYLAN: Yeah, exactly. See, what I was trying to do had nothing to do with the characters or what was going on. I was trying to do something that I donít know if I was prepared to do. I wanted to defy time, so that the story took place in the present and past at the same time. When you look at a painting, you can see any part of it or see all of it together. I wanted that song to be like a painting.†

BILL FLANAGAN: Have you ever put something in a song that was too personal? Ever had it come out and then said, "Hmm, gave away too much of myself there"?†

BOB DYLAN: I came pretty close with that song "Idiot Wind." That was a song I wanted to make as a painting. A lot of people thought that song, that album "Blood on the Tracks", pertained to me. Because it seemed to at the time. It didnít pertain to me. It was just a concept of putting in images that defy time - yesterday, today, and tomorrow. I wanted to make them all connect in some kind of a strange way. I've read that that album had to do with my divorce. Well, I didnít get divorced till four years after that. I thought I might have gone a little bit too far with "Idiot Wind." I might have changed some of it. I didnít really think I was giving away too much; I thought that it *seemed* so personal that people would think it was about so-and-so who was close to me. It wasnít. But you can put all these words together and thatís where it falls. You canít help where it falls. I didnít feel that one was too personal, but I felt it *seemed* too personal. Which might be the same thing, I donít know. But it never was *painful*. 'Cause usually with those kinds of things, if you think youíre too close to something, youíre giving away too much of your feelings, well, your feelings are going to change a month later and youíre going to look back and say, "What did I do that for?"†

BILL FLANAGAN: But for all the power of "Idiot Wind," thereís part of it that always cracked me up. You talk about being accused of shooting a man, running off with his wife, she inherits a million bucks, she dies, and the money goes to you. Then you say, "I canít help it if Iím lucky." (Laughter.)†

BOB DYLAN: Yeah, right. With that particular set-up in the front I thought I could say *anything* after that. If it did seem personal I probably made it overly so - because I said too much in the front and still made it come out like, "Well, so what?" I didnít really think it was too personal. Iíve never really said anything where I thought I was giving away too much. I mean, I give it all away, but Iím not really giving away any secrets. I donít have that many secrets. I donít find myself in that position.†

BILL FLANAGAN: What about "Ballad in Plain D" [an early song in which Dylan described, in painful detail, his breakup with Susan Rotolo]?†

BOB DYLAN: Oh! Yeah. That one... That one I look back and I say, "I must have been a real schmuck to write that." I look back at that particular one and say, of all the songs Iíve written, maybe I could have left that alone. But if thatís the only one I look back and say maybe I shouldnít have written, I think thatís a pretty good record. Thatís maybe five hundred to one.†

BILL FLANAGAN: Now, you *had* temporarily split with your wife before "Blood on the Tracks". That album must be at least somewhat about that.†

BOB DYLAN: Yeah. Somewhat about that. But Iím not going to make an album and lean on a marriage relationship. Thereís no way I would do that, any more than I would write an album about some lawyersí battles that I had. There are certain subjects that donít interest me to exploit. And I wouldnít really exploit a relationship with somebody. Whereas in "Ballad in Plain D," I did. Not knowing that I did it. At that time my audience was very small. It overtook my mind so I wrote it. Maybe I shouldnít have used that. I had other songs at the time. It was based on an old folk song. But I know what you mean. If youíre going through some relationship and itís not working out well and thatís the way you feel, no matter what else you see or what else you do you keep getting back to that: "Oh, I feel lousy." So you try to take it out and write a song about it. A lot of people canít do that. They have nobody to sing it to. So a person in my position says, "Well, I got this available information, this is the way I really feel; I think Iíll write it and say how I feel."†

I donít do that. I donít like feeling those kinds of feelings. Iíve got to think I can do better than that. Itís not going to positively help anybody to hear about my sadness. Just another hard luck story.†

BILL FLANAGAN: In Nikos Kazantzakisís "Report to Greco", he wrote that, like every man, as his life drew to a close he had to drag the cross he had made up his own Calvary - and that the work a man leaves behind on that ascent is just the blood on the tracks. Did you read that, or was that just a cosmic connection?†

BOB DYLAN: Must have been, I hadnít read that. All the words have been used; itís just how we put them together. And even that - though we might think weíve come up with something super, fantastic, I think if you look in the right place youíll find somebody else has done it.†

BILL FLANAGAN: "Blood on the Tracks" was such a powerful work that itís amazing that you followed it with an album, "Desire", on which you collaborated with a second lyricist, Jacques Levy. Why didnít you try to sustain what youíd tapped into with "Blood on the Tracks?" Why not try to keep it going?†

BOB DYLAN: I guess I never intended to keep that going. It was an experiment that came off. I had a few weeks in the summer when I wrote the songs. I wrote all the songs for "Blood on the tracks" in about a month and then I recorded them and stepped back out of that place where I was when I wrote them and went back to whatever I was doing before. Sometimes youíll get what you can out of these things, but you canít stay there.†

Cowriter. That was probably an album where I didnít have anything and I wasnít even thinking about making a record. I think I ran into Jacques downtown and we went off and just wrote some songs. The people from the Hurricane Carter movement kept calling me and writing me. And Hurricane sent me his book, which I read and which really touched me. I felt that the man was just innocent, from his writings and knowing that part of the country. So I went to visit him and was really behind him, trying to get a new trial. So that was one of the things I brought to Jacques, too. I said, "Why donít you help me write this song and see if we can do something?" So we wrote "Hurricane," and then we just wrote a bunch of others. An album came out of it.†

BILL FLANAGAN: Have you been in touch with Hurricane Carter recently?†

BOB DYLAN: No, I havenít seen him since the seventies. He got re-incriminated or whatever. I heard a lot of stories, good and bad, about what really happened. It just got a little out of hand, a little too complicated. But as I understand, he was set up again. They knew what buttons to push [note: Shortly after this conversation, Hurricane Carterís conviction was overturned.]

BILL FLANAGAN: Anything youíve ever tried to write about and been unable to do?†

BOB DYLAN: Yeah. *Anything* I try to write about, I canít do it. If I try to write *about* something - "I want to write about horses" or "I want to write about Central Park" or "I want to write about the Cocaine industry" - I canít get anywhere with that. I have to always take it out. Itís like that "Hurricane" song. I wanted to write a song about Hurricane Carter, I wanted to spread the message. It really doesnít come out about Hurricane. Really, the essence of it is never what itís about. Itís really about you. Unless youíre standing in somebody elseís shoes you just donít know what it feels like. You donít know what itís about.†

You can go to a movie and say, "Whatís this about?" A movie is something that gives the illusion of stopping time. You go someplace and you sit there for a while. youíre looking at something. Youíre trapped. Itís all happening in your brain and it seems like nothing else is going on in the world. Time has stopped. The world could be coming to an end outside, but for you time has stopped. Then someone says, "What was it about?" "Well, I donít know. It was about two guys who were after the same girl." Or, "It was about the Russian Revolution." Well, yeah, that was what it was about, but that wasnít *it*. Thatís not what made you stay there and stare at the screen, at a light on the wall. In another way you could say, "Whatís life about?" Itís just going by like a movie all the time. It doesnít matter if youíre here for a hundred years, it still goes by. You canít stop it.†

So you canít say what itís about. But what you can do is try to give the illusion of the moment of it. And even thatís not what itís about. Thatís just proof that you existed.†

Whatís anything about? Itís not about anything. It is what it is.†

BILL FLANAGAN: Jackson Browne said that he thought "Every Breath You Take" was kind of unfair to the woman to whom it was directed, 'cause the song is told so powerfully from Stingís point of view and itís so inescapable.†

BOB DYLAN: Oh, I donít think so. That was a good song. Sort of reminds me of "Stand By Me." You can take any side you want. You donít have to tell the other personís side. Thereís no law that says you have to do that. I think he said whatever he had to say in that song pretty bluntly and right to the point. He didnít try to make it cute or clever or anything. He did it and was gone. I think that was a really good song.†

BILL FLANAGAN: Do you think itís appropriate to write in the voice of a killer, as Bruce Springsteen did in "Nebraska?"†

BOB DYLAN: Iím not too familiar with that particular song of Bruceís. But itís not inappropriate to put yourself in somebody elseís place. Thatís a quite common thing to do. Folksingers used to do that all the time, and Iíve done a bit of that, too. "House of the Rising Sun" is written from a womanís point of view, and up until Eric Burdon did it, men used to sing it from a womanís point of view. That was something that you just did. if you go back and listen to the Stanley Brothers or the Country Gentlemen or Jim and Jesse, any of the bluegrass groups, thereís quite a few songs where they put themselves into the first person. Iíve done that myself. Iíve written songs from the first person. I havenít recorded too many of them, but I have done it. Thatís legitimate.†

BILL FLANAGAN: Sure. What Iím wondering about is, once you get in that person, once you give that person a voice, do you have a moral responsibility not to give voice to evil, not to say, "Whyíd I kill all these people? I guess thereís just a meanness in this world?"†

BOB DYLAN: Is that what "Nebraska" says?†


BOB DYLAN: I donít know. I donít know why you give a voice to one person and not another. But everybodyís got a voice and thereís *somebody* who can get inside of everybody and be their lawyer. Why not write a song for the guy who killed all the people at the McDonaldís out in San Diego? Iím sure heís got a voice, too. And if he talked from the grave Iím sure he could get a lot of people to feel sorry for him, to sympathize with him. It depends on what your *cause* is. Is your cause to just go out and randomly shoot people? Kinky Friedman, I think, wrote a song about the guy who went up on the Texas tower and did that. But itís hard to tell.†

Usually you do that if somebodyís been given a bad rap and you sort of know it. But I donít know what Bruceís intentions were. That song was about Charlie Starkweather? Well, I grew up in the same area as Charlie Starkweather and I remember that happening. That affected everybody out there. And everybody pretty much kept their mouth shut about it. Because he did have a sort of a James Dean quality to him. He was in the papers a lot. I must have been about seventeen or eighteen when that happened. I donít recall how most people felt about it. Nobody glorified him, though.†

BILL FLANAGAN: Did you see "Badlands", Terence Malickís movie about it?†

BOB DYLAN: Yeah, I love Martin Sheen, I think heís a fantastic actor. But that didnít really remind me of Charlie Starkweather. I donít think it had anything to do with Charlie Starkweather. I went through that period of time and I remember it firsthand. I remember what the impact of that was. I donít think thereís any way you can elevate Charlie up above what he did or what happened.†

BILL FLANAGAN: Mark Knopfler told me that you wrote a song called "Prison Guard" about a complete skunk, and Mark took that song to be a sort of reaction to "Nebraska."†

BOB DYLAN: Oh, yeah, Mark heard that song. (Smiles.) I did write a song like that but I never recorded it. I didnít think I needed to record it. It was a talking thing about this prison guard whoís just sort of [a?] rough character. He doesnít mind throwing people off the fourth tier and busting anybodyís head in. And then it goes on to describe his family and his town. Then when I got done I just thought it was pretty pathetic. The whole picture was just too pathetic. I donít know what was in my mind when I was doing that.†

BILL FLANAGAN: But it wasnít inspired by or a takeoff on "Nebraska?"†

BOB DYLAN: Uhhh. I donít know what inspired it. No. It was more or less one of these things where somebody in a uniform can get away with something that somebody whoís not wearing a uniform canít.†

BILL FLANAGAN: "Masters of War" is a very harsh song: "Iíll stand oíer your grave 'til Iím sure that youíre dead." "Neighborhood Bully" is equally hard, yet a lot of critics expressed surprise at its militancy. I donít understand why so many people assume youíre a pacifist. The critic Mark Rowland said you were always more concerned with justice than politics.†

BOB DYLAN: (Laughs.) Yeah. I donít know why people choose to think whatever they think. Is pacifism a philosophy? Iím not really sure what it is.†

BILL FLANAGAN: If someone strikes you, you turn the other cheek.†

BOB DYLAN: Thatís not pacifism, though. Turning the other cheek is an aggressive move, actually. There is some strategy where if someone pushes on you, you can go with their push and make their strength work against them.†

Pacifism. I know Iím not comfortable with those words and I wonder if other people are as comfortable with those broad terminologies like *pacifism*, *rightism*, *leftism*, *militarism*, *republicanism*. In this country a Republican is one thing: you can go to Ireland and say youíre a Republican youíll get a different reaction. You can use all these words *here*. Itís pretty safe to say anything you want to say. But whether thereís any meaning to it or not, I donít know. I donít comprehend those terms simply because I donít think other people do. They talk about humanism and secularism, everythingís got an *ism*. Not that Iím so stupid that I canít understand what they mean, but I donít think anybody else knows what they mean. To be perfectly honest, I donít think people know what theyíre talking about when they use all these words. They have no idea what theyíre saying. Itís like saying, "I saw a house yesterday." Oh yeah, I saw one, too. But it probably wasnít the same one you saw.†

But I hear that a lot. People seem to think they know all about me. Maybe they donít. Maybe everything Iíve done has been one side of something. One part. Certainly nothing that Iíve written defines me as a total person. Thereís no one song that does that. Nothing I do really should surprise anybody. It seems like Iíve been doing it for so long I canít remember when I wasnít doing it. Thereís nothing I could say that isnít documented somewhere in the past so you could think, "Yeah, he would say something like that."†

BILL FLANAGAN: Itís funny. When I was growing up people would always say, "Bob Dylan, oh, he writes a lot of songs against the Viet Nam War" and I had all those albums and Iíd always say...

BOB DYLAN: Which ones? (Laughs.)†

BILL FLANAGAN: Right, 'cause the songs theyíd cite - like "Hard Rain" and "Blowiní in the Wind" - all predated Viet Nam. "I Dreamed I Saw St. Augustine" has that very powerful image, "I dreamed I was amongst the ones that put him out to death." Itís human nature to point at other people. Itís rare an artist takes the position of saying, "Weíre all capable of being the villain."†

BOB DYLAN: Well, I donít mind taking that position. Because thatís just a true statement. Weíre all sinners. People seem to think that because their sins are different from other peopleís sins, theyíre not sinners. People donít like to think of themselves as sinners. It makes them feel uncomfortable. "What do you mean sinner?" It puts them at a disadvantage in their mind. Most people walking around have this strange conception that theyíre born good, that theyíre really good people - but the *world* has just made a mess of their lives. I had another point of view. But itís not hard for me to identify with anybody whoís on the wrong side. Weíre all on the wrong side, really.†

BILL FLANAGAN: You integrate your faith into the songs more subtly than at the time of "Slow Train Coming."†

BOB DYLAN: Now Iím just writing from instinct. I do that most of the time anyway. I just write from instinct and however it comes out is how it comes out. Other people can make of it what they choose to. But for me I canít expound too much on what Iím doing because I really donít have any idea what Iím doing. But Iíll tell you one thing, if youíre talking just on a scriptural type of thing, thereís no way I could write anything that would be scripturally incorrect. I mean, Iím not going to put forth ideas that arenít scripturally true. I might reverse them, or make them come out a different way, but Iím not going to say anything thatís just totally *wrong*, that thereís not a law for.†

BILL FLANAGAN: One of the nice things about "Sweetheart Like You" is that anyone brought up with the Bible will hear that song one way, but the song will still work on a different level for someone else.†

BOB DYLAN: Oh, I think so, yeah. Because the Bible runs through all U.S. life, whether people know if or not. Itís the founding book. The founding fathersí book anyway. People canít get away from it. you canít get away from it wherever you go. Those ideas were true then and theyíre true now. Theyíre scriptural, spiritual laws. I guess people can read into that what they want. But if youíre familiar with those concepts theyíll probably find enough of them in my stuff. Because I always get back to that.†

BILL FLANAGAN: Do people you know recognise themselves in your songs?†

BOB DYLAN: Oh, yeah, a lot of people do. They tell me theyíre so-and-so. They used to anyway. "Einstein disguised as Robin Hood" would be in the hallway. A lot of people would tell me they were this person or that person. Not so much anymore. It used to be more common than it is now.†

BILL FLANAGAN: Did people sometimes get it right?†

BOB DYLAN: No. Not really. But a lot of people can identify with the feelings I have and what I describe something as. I donít think itís anything more than that.†

BILL FLANAGAN: A reporter for "Time" magazine named Jones went around saying that he was the inspiration for "Ballad of a Thin Man." He got some articles written about him. I thought, "Geez, what a thing to brag about!"†

BOB DYLAN: Yeah, there were a lot of Mister Joneses at that time. There obviously must have been a tremendous amount of them for me to write *that* particular song. It wasnít just one person. It was like, "Oh, man, hereís the thousandth Mister Jones."†

BILL FLANAGAN: Letís talk about the mechanics of writing. Do you write on guitar or piano, and does the music come into your head before you go to your instrument?†

BOB DYLAN: Yeah, a lot of times *riffs* will come into my head. And Iíll transpose them with the guitar or piano. A lot of times Iíll wake up with a certain riff, or itíll come to me during the day. Iíll try to get that down, and then lines will come from that. Or it could come on any instrument I can play. Electric guitar is different from acoustic guitar. Banjo style is really good, you can write good songs on the banjo. These are all real instruments. Then they have all the technological instruments, these little keyboard things. They give you all kinds of sounds. Those are - sort of - okay.†

BILL FLANAGAN: Youíre not completely sold?†

BOB DYLAN: They sound real good, but I havenít been too successful at using any of that stuff. But I write with a combination of instruments. My melodies are usually very simple. They have to be simple. Otherwise I couldnít remember them. If they were a little more complicated I couldnít remember them. So they have to be simple. And thatís really about it.†

And then I write lines down. I have notes scribbled all over the place. Sometimes I'll go out and say, "Whatever else I do today, I'm going to write down all the lines that seem interesting to me. Either that I think of or that I overhear." I'll try to stay committed to that for a certain period of time. Because most of the time you don't do that. The stuff that goes by, you think of and then say, "Okay, I thought about it. Big deal. Who cares?" Or you'll hear something amusing and then forget that, too. Sometimes I'll make an effort to just go out and get that stuff and see if it means anything. And sometimes it does. I'll just put it somewhere and then get back to it sometime. Usually if it has meaning for me, it's important. There's a lot of great things you hear that aren't really that relevant. That's really about it. There's no real complicated deep genius quality to it.†

BILL FLANAGAN: That's easy for you to say, you've written all these great songs.†

BOB DYLAN: Well, I think it has more to do with instinct. There's nothing studied about it. I think you just have to trust your own instinct.†

BILL FLANAGAN: You sang at Martin Luther King, Jr.'s march on Washington. Did you ever meet him?†

BOB DYLAN: No. I heard him speak but I never met him.

BILL FLANAGAN: Did you know John Coltrane?†

BOB DYLAN: I've *seen* John Coltrane. Yeah. I watched him play. I've seen him, I've seen Monk, Miles a lot, Horace Silver. I did some sessions once with Don Cherry and Billy Higgins. I really don't know what happened to that stuff. There were a lot of jazz guys around in the coffeehouse scene in the Village. The folk music and jazz clubs and poetry were all kind of the same thing back then. I used to see those guys a lot. What they had that I picked up on in my singing - I can hardly even call myself a *singer* - was a sense of phrasing and dynamics.†

BILL FLANAGAN: I heard Bill Cosby say one night that when he was starting out as a comic in the Village he'd walk back and forth across the street and hear you playing in one club and John Coltrane in another. Were you conscious of how much ground was being broken?†

BOB DYLAN: No. Nobody was really conscious of what was happening. But there were a lot of different people on the street. I remember when Bill Cosby came to town. He used to work at the club I worked at. He was a stand-up comedian then. He was just another one of the guys, another entertainer. He got work a little faster than most people, I think, but I'd already started playing. I used to eat with Bill all the time.†

BILL FLANAGAN: You're famous for going into the studio and recording very quickly to catch the moment. But a couple of your recent albums, "Slow Train" and "Infidels", were more labored over.†

BOB DYLAN: See, when I started to record they just turned the microphones on and you recorded. That was the way they did it back in the sixties. Whatever you got on one side of the glass was what came in on the controls on the other side of the glass. It was never any problem. What you did out front was what you got on the tape. And it always happened that way. Whether you played by yourself or played with a band didn't really matter - there'd be leakage and that stuff, but you were pretty much guaranteed that whatever you did on that side of the glass was going to be perceived in the same kind of way. That was never any problem. So what happened to me was, I kept working that way through the seventies. I didn't realize things had changed! (Laughs.) I really didn't. I don't think I knew you could do an overdub until 1978. I just didn't think about it. Maybe I was *so* outside of it that I hadn't realized that. The problem is, you can't record that way anymore. If you go into a studio now, the technology is so different that you might have a live sound that you want and you'll put that live sound down, but it won't sound that way on the other side of the glass. So then you have to contrive the sound to make it sound the way you really want. in other words, if you want to sound a certain way, whatever that way is, it'll never happen in the studio.†

There's a kind of an outdated thing called "live excitement in the studio." It doesn't happen anymore, because people don't record that way. A lot of people put things down one track at a time. Things are so advanced that you'll be able to *phone* in your parts pretty soon. Anyway, the problem with it is that no matter what you do, it's not going to come out that way anyway. People try. Some people use a certain studio because it used to have a certain sound. But they might have changed all the equipment in the place, so it's not going to have that sound anymore. I like the old sound, but it's done. It's never going to come back. So you just have to deal with what the modern way is.†

A lot of my records have been made because it's - quote - time to make a record. "When's your new record going to be delivered?" "Oh, next month." Time for me to go in and make a record. I never used to think about it during the year. I had other things to do. Some of the seventies records were made on just one block of time. "This month I'm going to block all this time out, write the songs, record the songs, mix 'em, press 'em, get a cover together, and it's all out in a month or two." It took me a long time to get off that particular style. I didn't really enjoy it that way.†

Sometimes I've never done the songs before - I'll just write 'em and put 'em somewhere. Then when I'm making a record I'll need some songs, and I'll start digging through my pockets and drawers trying to find these songs. Then I'll bring one out and I've never sung it before, sometimes I can't even remember the melody to it, and I'll get it in. Sometimes great things happen, sometimes not-so-great things happen. But regardless of what happens, when I do it in the studio it's the first time I've ever done it. I'm pretty much unfamiliar with it.†

In the past what's come out is what I've usually stuck with, whether it really knocked me out or not. For no apparent reason. I've stuck with it, just from lack of commitment to taking the trouble to really get it right. I didn't want to record that way anymore. Now I'm recording more than I used to record. About two years ago I decided to get serious about it and just record. Because I do need records out and I do have deadlines and commitments. It's been a big struggle to come up with them at certain times. So rather than do that, what I do now is just record all the time. Sometimes nothing comes out and other times I get a lot of stuff that I keep. I recorded this album ["Empire Burlesque"] for a long time. I just put down the songs that I felt as I wanted to put them down. Then I'd listen and decide if I liked them. And if I didn't like them I'd either re-record them or change something about them. I wanted to be the first one to judge it rather than put them out there to the people and have them do it.†

BILL FLANAGAN: Does the producer make a big difference?†

BOB DYLAN: I produce my own records, really. I don't even know what a producer does. Producers usually get in the way. They're fine for picking you up at the airport and making sure all the bills are paid at your hotel. If they're really good producers, they'll find songs for you to sing that really make sense for you. But the producers I have aren't even really like producers. They make a record sound right, but I haven't run into any that know any more about what I'm doing than I do.†

BILL FLANAGAN: You've mentioned a couple of times how much you value conciseness but you're more responsible than anyone for breaking out of tight, structured song forms.†

BOB DYLAN: Yeah. Well, I come out of that folk music/rock & roll structure. So that's the only kind of structure I really deal with. I don't consider myself a pop songwriter like Burt Bacharach/Hal David, even Lionel Richie. I think you have to be too relaxed a person, you have to have too much patience (laughs) to do that sort of thing. But I don't know what I've done. I usually think of myself as last. When I think of songwriters I don't really think of myself. I think of other people. I know I'm doing it, too. But it gives me more of a kick to see somebody else do it. I *need* to do it. Like that Jonathan Richman. I get a kick out of that. I'd rather listen to that. Whereas my stuff, I need to do it, I have to do it, I'm inside it all the time. So I've got a get *out* of it. When I hear my old stuff I just think of how badly it was recorded.†

BILL FLANAGAN: Has there ever been a time when you didn't want to write, to perform? There've been periods when we didn't hear from you.†

BOB DYLAN: I've tried to get away from it, but I never could. It's all I've ever done, really. I'm still hearing stuff that was made in the fifties and the sixties that maybe I heard once and forgot about or maybe I never heard.†

BILL FLANAGAN: Do you ever think maybe you'd like not to be tuned into it all the time, not receiving? Maybe the muse could give you a break?†

BOB DYLAN: No. That would scare me. I wouldn't know what else to do. I would be lost.†

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Found on John Howell's "Bringin' It All Back Home" site

Maybe it's because he did not give interviews at all for years, or maybe it is just that he is the most important songwriter of the modern pop era, but I cannot imagine passing up the chance to talk to Bob Dylan - even if strings are attached.†

The interview invitation from Columbia Records suggested that Dylan only wanted to discuss his latest album: "Empire Burlesque", the studio collection from last summer and "Biograph", the ambitious retrospective set that just hit the stores.†

Dylan himself quickly cut the strings. He showed little interest in those subjects as he sat on a chair in the backyard of his Malibu home.†

"The new releases?", Dylan asked almost sheepishly, "I hope you don't make this look like some carny trying to hawk his own records. I don't know if you even want to hit on the records. When people think of me, they are not necessarily going to buy the latest record, anyway. They may buy a record from years ago. Besides I don't think interviews sell records".†

So why did Dylan agree to a series of interviews, including his first formal network TV interview (for "20/20")?†

"I really haven't had that much connection or conversation (over the years) with the people at Columbia" he said, referring to his record label for most of two decades. "Usually I turn in my records, and they release them. But they really like this record ("Empire Burlesque"), so they asked me to do some videos and a few interviews to draw attention to it".†

"But that doesn't mean I want to sit around and talk about the record. I haven't even listened to it since it came out. I'd rather spend my time working on new songs or listen to other people's records. Have you heard the new Hank Williams album, the collection of old demo tapes? it's great".†

About the project, Dylan said: "Columbia wanted to put out (a retro- spective) album on me a few years ago. They had pulled out everything (from earlier albums) that could be classified as love songs and had it on one collection. I didn't care one way or another, but I had a new record coming out, so I asked them not to it then".†

"I guess it's OK for someone who has never heard of me and is looking for a crash course or something. But I've got a lot of stuff that is lying around all over the place in cassette recorders that I'd put out if I was putting the set together".†

One thing about "Biograph" that does please Dylan is a 36-page booklet written by Cameron Crowe, who wrote numerous Rolling Stone magazine profiles and the book and then the screenplay "Fast Times at Ridgemont High". The "Biograph" text is a brief, affectionate look at Dylan's life with generous quotes from the songwriter.†

Dylan, 44, is not being open just to the press these days. For years he has tended to be isolated even when doing a benefit concert - avoiding photographers and, often, other artists backstage by arriving just before showtime and leaving quickly after the last number.†

At September's Farm Aid benefit at the University of Illinois however, he was almost leisurely hanging out with Tom Petty, whose band backed him on the show, and chatting with other performers including Randy Newman. Lou Reed and Emmylou Harris. Normally camera-shy, Dylan did not even turn away when a TV crew and a few photographers pointed their lenses at him as he sat on steps outside his dressing room trailer.†

One reason for the naturalness, a backstage observer joked at Farm Aid, was that Dylan wanted to prove - after his disastrously spacey performance with the Stones' Keith Richard and Ron Wood at Live Aid - that he still had his faculties.†

"Yeah", Dylan grumped about July's Live Aid concert in Philadelphia, "They screwed around with us. We didn't even have any (sound) monitors out there. When they threw in the grand finale at the last moment, they took all the settings off and set the stage up for the 30 people who were standing behind the curtain. We couldn't even hear our own voices (out front), and when you can't hear, you can't play; you don't have any timing. It's like proceeding on radar".†

Dylan's Malibu home, on a bluff overlooking the ocean, is quite secluded and a guard shack at the only entrance to the property keeps the curious away. The atmosphere is rural. A dirt driveway runs through the property, and lots of small animals, including chickens and a few large dogs roam around.†

On this cool afternoon, Dylan was wearing the same outfit that he has always seemed to be wearing in recent years. jeans looking as if they were ready for the hamper, a wrinkled T-shirt and motorcycle boots. Except for Europe last year, he has not toured much in the 80's. Still he is on the road so much - Minnesota, New York, London or some more isolated exotic places - that he does not really call any place home.†

"I'm just not the kind of person who seems to be able to settle down", he said as two dogs edged against his chair. "If I'm in L.A. for say, two months, I'll be in the studio for maybe a month out of that time, putting down ideas for songs".†

"On The other days I'm usually recuperating from being in the studio. I usually stay in a long time, all night, part of the day. Then I'll go off to New York or London and do the same thing. I'm going to London soon to work on some stuff with Dave Stewart".†

Stewart, one half of the Eurythmics, joined Dylan on guitar on the Emotionally Yours video.†

Dylan expects to concentrate on performance videos because he has not been pleased with concert clips based upon his songs - either the arty 'Jokerman' video or more conventional narrative of 'Tight Connection'.†

He would probably just as soon not do videos at all, but realizes their importance in the market place.†

"It used to be that people would buy a record if they liked what they heard on the radio, but video has changed a lot of that", he said. "If someone comes along now with a new song, people talk about 'Well, what does it look like?' It is like 'I saw this new song'".†

One continuing question for Dylan is his much-publicized 'born-again' Christian phase. He has said he does not like the term 'born-again', and his music has moved away from the aggressive dogma of the 'Slow Train Coming' album. But Dylan still refuses to define his exact religion.†

"I fell like pretty soon I am going to write about that", he said. "I feel like I got something to say but more than you can say in a few paragraphs in a newspaper".†

He did smile at the mention of the hostile reactions generated during his 'born-again' Christian tours of 1979 and 1980. "If you make people jump on any level, I think it is worth while, because people are so asleep".†

Beyond music, Dylan's special interest these days is art. He maintains an artist's studio behind his Malibu house and showed off his character sketches, with the nervous excitement of a proud parent. He hopes to put them in a book and write something to go with each drawing. Dylan is also thinking about a book of short stories. "That may sound presumptuous", he said, "but there are a lot of things, I'd like to say that I can't say in songs".

On his continued energy he said: "It's kinda funny. When I see my name anywhere, it's (often) the '60's this or the '60's that. I can't figure out sometimes if people think I'm dead or alive".†

This man who has been hounded, dissected, idolized and ridiculed over the years, stepped outside the studio. The sun had set and the dogs raced over to him. He paused - as if searching for a summary statement.†

"I've had some personal ups and downs, but usually things have been pretty good for me", he finally said. "I don't feel old", but I remember in my 20's (when) I'd think about people in their 30's as old. The thing I really notice now is time".†

"Things used to go a lot slower. The days now go by so very fast. But I've never felt numb (about life). There is something about the chords, the sound of them that makes you feel alive. As long as you can play music, I believe you'll feel alive".†

Published in L.A. Times November 17, 1985.

My source: "Talkin' Bob Dylan 1984 & 1985 (Some Educated Rap)" by Stewart P. Bicker.†

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