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Dylan cartoon

   60 Minutes
   For Bob



by Chris Cooper


 

Some months I confess that something original to place here can be hard to find. Life has certainly been pushing my back to the wall lately and inspiration at times has deserted me. But this month, people, we once again have cause for celebration. In the last few days Bob has given his first TV interview in some time (almost twenty years actually) so that seems a suitable thing to cover. So I do, and here it is. Bob Dylan on Sixty Minutes from December 5th speedily rushed to us by the modern wonder of bitorrent. (An if you donít know what that is then I know you havenít been reading my stuff.) Press reports suggest its not so good (see one attached but I dispute that vigorously). You really need to see this as his facial expressions and body language add enormously to the whole. So, here it is.

Ed Bradley
For as long as Iíve been here on 60 minutes Iíve wanted to interview Bob Dylan. Over his 43 year career thereís no musician alive whoís been more influential. His distinctive twang and poetic lyrics have produced some of the most memorable songs ever written. In the sixties his songs of protest and turmoil spoke to an entire generation. While his life has been the subject of endless interpretation, heís been largely silent. Now at age 63 heís written a memoir called Chronicles volume 1. An I finally got to sit down with him in his first television interview in nearly 20 years. What you will see is pure Dylan, mysterious, elusive, fascinating just like his music

Clip of Blowin In the Wind (Bangla Desh)


EB
I read somewhere that you wrote ďBlowin In the WindĒ in ten minutes, is that right?
BD
Probably.
EB
Just like that?
BD
Yeah.
EB
Whereíd it come from?
BD
It just came, err it came from out of that well spring of creativity I would think, you know.
EB
That well spring of creativity has sustained Bob Dylan for more than 4 decades and produced 500 songs and more than 40 albums.
EB
You ever look at music youíve written and look back at it and say Oh that surprised me.
BD
I used too. I donít do that anymore. Err I donít know how I got to write those songs.
EB
What do you mean you donít know how?
BD
Well those early songs were like almost magically written. Hmm Darkness at the break of noon, shadows even the silver spoon, the hand made blade, the childs balloon..

Clip from DLB Its Alright Ma

BD
Well, try to sit down and write something like that, thereís a magic to that an itís not a Siegfried and Roy kind of magic its a different kind of a penetrating magic an err I did it at one time.
EB
An you donít think you can do it today?
BD
Huh huh.
EB
Does that disappoint you.
BD
(shrugs) well you canít do something forever err, I did it once, an I can do other things now. But I canít do that.
EB
Dylan has been writing music since he was a teenager in the remote town of Hibbing Minnesota. The eldest of two sons of Abraham and Beatty Zimmerman.
Did you have good life? A Happy childhood growing up?
BD
I really didnít consider myself happy or unhappy. I always knew there was something out there hmm that I needed to get to. An it wasnít were I was at that particular moment.
EB
It wasnít in Minnesota.
BD
No.
EB
ďIt was in New York City. As he writes in his book he came alive when at age 19 he moved to Greenwich Village which at the time was the frenetic center of the sixties counter culture. Within months he had signed a recording contract with Columbia Records.ď
You referred to New York as the capitol of the world. But when you told your father that he thought that it was a joke didnít he? Did your parents approve of you being a singer-songwriter. Going to New York.
BD
No. They wouldnít have wanted that for me but my parents never went anywhere. My father probably thought the capitol of the world was wherever he was at the time. It couldnít possibly be, be anywhere else. Where, he an his own wife were in their own home that was the capitol of the world.
EB
What made you different, what pushed you out of there?
BD
Well I listened to the radio a lot, hung out in record stores and slam banged around on the guitar an played the piano and learned songs from , err a world which didnít exist around me.
EB
ďHe says even then he knew he was destined to become a music legend, I was heading for the fantastic lights, he writes. Destiny was looking straight at me an nobody else.ď You use the word destiny over and over throughout the book, what does that word mean to you?
BD
Itís a feeling that you have that you know something about yourself that nobody else does, The picture you have in your mind of what youíre about will come true. Thatís a kind of thing you have to kind of keep to your own self. Because itís a fragile thing. An you put it out there somebodyíll kill it. So itís best to keep that all inside.
EB
When we asked him why he changed his name, he said that was destiny too.
So you never saw yourself as Robert Zimmerman.
BD
For some reason I never did.
EB
Even before you started performing?
BD
Nah even then. Some people get born you know to the wrong names, the wrong parents. I mean that happens.
EB
Tell me how you decided on Bob Dylan?
BD
You call yourself what you wanna call yourself. This is the land of the free.
EB
ďBob Dylan created a world inspired by old folk music, with piercing and poetic lyrics as in songs like A Hard Rains A-Gonna-Fall. Songs that reflected the tension and unrest of the Civil Rights and anti-war movements of the sixties. It was an explosive mixture that turned Dylan by age 25 into a cultural and political icon. Playing to sold out concert halls around the world and playing to people wherever he went. He was called the voice of his generation. And was actually reffered to as a prophet, a messiah. Yet he saw himself simply as a musician. ď
BD
You feel like an imposter. When, when your, when someone thinks your something an your not.
EB
What was the image people had of you and what was the reality?
BD
The image of me was certainly not a songwriter or a singer. It was more like a threat to society in some kinda way.
EB
What was the toughest part for you personally.
BD
It was like being in an Edgar Allen Poe story. Your just not that person everybody thinks you are who. They call you that all the time. Youíre the prophet, your the saviour. I never wanted to be a prophet or a saviour. Elvis maybe. I could easily see myself becoming him, but prophet? No.
EB
I know and I accept that you donít see yourself as a voice of that generation. But some of your songs did stop people cold. An they saw them as anthems an they saw them as protest songs, it was important in their lives. It sparked a movement.

Clip of Times from Donít look Back

EB
You may not have seen it like that but thatís the way it was for them, How you reconcile those two things?
BD
My stuff were songs you know. They werenít sermons. If you examine the songs I donít believe youíre gonna find anything in there that says Iím a spokesman for anybody or anything really.
EB
Well they saw it.
BD
Well they must not have heard the songs.
EB
Itís ironic you know that the way people viewed you was just the polar opposite of the way you viewed yourself.
BD
Ainít that somethiní.
EB
ďDylan did almost anything to shatter the lofty image people had of him, he writes that he intentionally made bad records. Once poured whiskey over his head in public and as a stunt he went to Israel and made a point of having his picture taken at the wailing wall wearing a skull capĒ When you went to Israel you wrote the newspapers overnight changed me into a Zionist and this helped a little. How did it help.
BD
Look if the common perception of me out there in the public eye was that I was either a drunk or I was a , a sicko, a Zionist or a bhuddist or catholic or mormon, all this was better than archbishop of anarchy.
EB
Spokesman of the generation, opposed to everything.
BD
Yeah.
EB
ďHe was especially opposed to the media which he says was always trying to pin him down.ď

Clip from the SF Press Conference

EB
Let me talk for a little bit about your relationship with the media. You wrote the press, I figured you lied to it. Why?
BD
I realized at the time that the press the media, theyíre not the judge. Godís the judge. An the only person you have to think twice about lying to is yourself or to God. The press isnít either of them. An I just figured theyíre irrelevant.
EB
ďBob Dylan tried to run away from all that in the mid sixties, he retreated with his wife and three young children to Woodstock New York. But even there he could not escape the legions of fans who descended on his home begging for an audience with the legend himself. ď So people would actually come to the house?
BD
Hmm hmm
EB
An do what?
BD
Wanna discuss things with me, Politics and philosophy. An organic farming an things, you know.
EB
What did you know about organic farming?
BD
Nothin! Not a thing.
EB
What did you mean when you wrote that the funny thing about fame is that nobody believes itís you.
BD
People will say ďAre you who I think you are?Ē An youíll say I dunno, you know. An theyíll say ďyour himĒ an youíll say OK, an you say yes, An the next thing theyíll say is ďNo youíre really him? Youíre not him. ď An you know, that can go on and on.
EB
You go out to restaurants now?
BD
I donít like to eat in restaurants,
EB
Because people come up an say are you him?
BD
Thatís always gonna happen. Yeah.
EB
Do you ever get used to it?
BD
No.
EB
ďAt its peak fame was taking itís toll on Bob Dylan. He was heading towards a divorce from his wife Sara. In concerts he wore white makeup to mask himself but his songs revealed the pain.Ē

Clip of Tangled Up In Blue from Renaldo & Clara

EB
You said my wife when she married me had no idea what she was getting herself into.
BD
Well she was with me back then through thick and thin you know? It just wasnít the kind of life that she had ever envisioned for herself. Anymore than the kind of life that I was living that I had envisioned for mine.
EB
By the mid 1980ís he felt he was burned out and over the hill. You also wrote Iím a sixties troubadour, a folk-rock relic, a wordsmith from bygone days. Iím in the bottomless pit of cultural oblivion. Those are pretty harsh words?
BD
Well I seen all these titles written about me, you know.
EB
An you started to believe them ?
BD
Well I believed that anyway you know? I wasnít getting any thrill out of performing, I thought it might be time to, err packing it up you know?
EB
You really thought about quitting? Folding up the tent?
BD
I had thought, hey, Iíll just put it away for a while. But then I started thinking thatís enough, you know.
EB
ďBut within a few years Dylan told us he had recaptured his creative spark an he went back on the road. Performing more than 100 concerts a year. In 1998 he won three Grammy Awards, At age 63 Bob Dylan remains a voice as unique and powerful as any there has ever been in American music. His fellow musicians paid tribute to him when he was inducted into the Rock n Roll Hall Of Fame, joining him in a rousing rendition of his most famous song. ď
As you probably know Rolling Stone magazine just named your song Like A Rolling Stone the number one song of all time. 12 of your songs are in their list of the top 500. That must be good to have as part of your legacy.
BD
Oh maybe this week, but you know other lists they change names you know, quite frequently. Really I donít pay much attention to that.
EB
But its apat on the back Bob.
BD
This week. It is. But, you know, whoís to say how long thatís gonna last.
EB
Its lasted a long time for you. I mean your still out here doing new songs. Youre still on tour.
BD
I do, but I donít take it for granted.
EB
Why do you still do it? Why you still out here?
BD
Well it goes back to the destiny thing. I made a bargain with it, long time ago an hmm Iím holding up my end.
EB
What was your bargain?
BD
To get where hmmm where I am now.
EB
Should I ask who you made the bargain with?
BD
Ha ha you know with the chief, the chief commander.
EB
On this earth?
BD
On this earth and in the world we canít see.
EB
Bob Dylan has been nominated this year for the Nobel prize in literature. For his song writing. His new book has been a best seller for the past 6 or 7 weeks. It was published by Simon and Schuster who are owned by Viacom the parent company of CBS. Dylan is planning to write 2 more volumes of his memoirs.


Till  Next Time.
 



A CBS promo for last night's 60 Minutes interview with Bob Dylan asked portentously: "Why is Bob Dylan giving his first television interview in nineteen years?" After the 15-minute segment was up, viewers might still be asking the same question, since neither of the participants seemed to much care about the proceedings. Dylan displayed the flat affect of the clinically depressed, avoiding eye contact, mumbling evasively and sometimes visibly wincing at Ed Bradley's questions, which were not just toothless but gumless. Not that there's any need to put the 63-year-old artist through the wringer, but for God's sake, at least ask him something that rises to the level of mildly interesting cocktail chatter.

Bob Dylan

Grumpy old man

For example, when Bradley asked Dylan about Rolling Stone magazine's recent selection of (surprise) "Like a Rolling Stone" as the number one song of all time, Dylan was characteristically unimpressed: "Well, the lists, they change names pretty frequently ... I don't really pay much attention to that." Follow-up question that would be asked by ANY SENTIENT INDIVIDUAL at that moment: So, Mr. Dylan, what do you think is the greatest song of all time? Had the focus shifted for a moment off himself and his status as a legend, Dylan might have opened up a little, smiled, maybe even picked up a guitar and sung a Woody Guthrie song or something. But Bradley neglected to ask his subject anything about music, current events, pop culture or religion. Instead, the interview dwelled awkwardly on Bradley's amazement at the fact that Dylan might not enjoy being a celebrity. The basic Q & A template went something like this: Bradley: "Many regard you as a prophet/god/savior/genius. What do you say to that?" Dylan: "Argh, erm, well, hmmm." Bradley: "Wow, you're so enigmatic."

Indeed, you could catch a more revealing glimpse of Dylan in the fake interview on last night's episode of The Simpsons. When Marge's archrival, the hyper-urbane journalist Chloe Talbot (voiced by Kim Cattrall) asks the animated Bob what religion he's converting to next, he responds in a twangy burst of incomprehensible Dylanese, ending with the word  "Shalom."

So why was Dylan doing his first interview in nearly 20 years? The answer may lie in something Steve Kroft told viewers at the top of the hour, before the Dylan segment aired: Dylan's new autobiography, Chronicles: Volume One, is published by Simon and Schuster, which, like CBS, is owned by Viacom. Earlier this year, 60 Minutes took heat for failing to tack on a similar disclaimer after an interview with Richard Clarke about the publication of his new book, also with Simon and Schuster. The newsmagazine has featured recent stories on Viacom properties like Comedy Central's Jon Stewart and Dave Chappelle, as well as Jim Carrey, whose upcoming film Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events comes from Paramount, another Viacom company. Was this uninspired interview just another compulsory stop on the press junket? ... 11:42 p.m.

Dana Stevens (aka Liz Penn) writes on television for Slate and on film and culture for the High Sign.

 
 
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