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
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)
I read somewhere that you wrote ďBlowin In the WindĒ in ten minutes, is
Just like that?
Whereíd it come from?
It just came, err it came from out of that well spring of creativity I
would think, you know.
That well spring of creativity has sustained Bob Dylan for more than 4
decades and produced 500 songs and more than 40 albums.
You ever look at music youíve written and look back at it and say Oh
that surprised me.
I used too. I donít do that anymore. Err I donít know how I got to write
What do you mean you donít know how?
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
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.
An you donít think you can do it today?
Does that disappoint you.
(shrugs) well you canít do something forever err, I did it once, an I
can do other things now. But I canít do that.
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
Did you have good life? A Happy childhood growing up?
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.
It wasnít in Minnesota.
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.
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
What made you different, what pushed you out of there?
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.
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?
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.
When we asked him why he changed his name, he said that was destiny too.
So you never saw yourself as Robert Zimmerman.
For some reason I never did.
Even before you started performing?
Nah even then. Some people get born you know to the wrong names, the
wrong parents. I mean that happens.
Tell me how you decided on Bob Dylan?
You call yourself what you wanna call yourself. This is the land of the
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
You feel like an imposter. When, when your, when someone thinks your
something an your not.
What was the image people had of you and what was the reality?
The image of me was certainly not a songwriter or a singer. It was more
like a threat to society in some kinda way.
What was the toughest part for you personally.
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
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
You may not have seen it like that but thatís the way it was for them,
How you reconcile those two things?
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.
Well they saw it.
Well they must not have heard the songs.
Itís ironic you know that the way people viewed you was just the polar
opposite of the way you viewed yourself.
Ainít that somethiní.
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.
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.
Spokesman of the generation, opposed to everything.
ďHe was especially opposed to the media which he says was always trying
to pin him down.ď
Clip from the SF Press Conference
Let me talk for a little bit about your relationship with the media. You
wrote the press, I figured you lied to it. Why?
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.
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?
An do what?
Wanna discuss things with me, Politics and philosophy. An organic
farming an things, you know.
What did you know about organic farming?
Nothin! Not a thing.
What did you mean when you wrote that the funny thing about fame is that
nobody believes itís you.
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.
You go out to restaurants now?
I donít like to eat in restaurants,
Because people come up an say are you him?
Thatís always gonna happen. Yeah.
Do you ever get used to it?
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
You said my wife when she married me had no idea what she was getting
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
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?
Well I seen all these titles written about me, you know.
An you started to believe them ?
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?
You really thought about quitting? Folding up the tent?
I had thought, hey, Iíll just put it away for a while. But then I
started thinking thatís enough, you know.
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
Oh maybe this week, but you know other lists they change names you know,
quite frequently. Really I donít pay much attention to that.
But its apat on the back Bob.
This week. It is. But, you know, whoís to say how long thatís gonna
Its lasted a long time for you. I mean your still out here doing new
songs. Youre still on tour.
I do, but I donít take it for granted.
Why do you still do it? Why you still out here?
Well it goes back to the destiny thing. I made a bargain with it, long
time ago an hmm Iím holding up my end.
What was your bargain?
To get where hmmm where I am now.
Should I ask who you made the bargain with?
Ha ha you know with the chief, the chief commander.
On this earth?
On this earth and in the world we canít see.
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.
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.
Grumpy old man
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."
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
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? ...
Dana Stevens (aka Liz Penn) writes on television for Slate and on
film and culture for the High Sign.