In 1985 Bob Dylan did an interview for ABC’s 20/20 TV show. He was interviewed by Bob Brown. The broadcast segment was less than 15 minutes, and only about half of that was actual interview footage. Now, on YouTube (uploaded by the generous Dylan collector “rankflv”) are the outtakes from that interview. I’d actually seen these before, on a VHS tape, thanks to someone else’s generosity, but had never gotten around to doing anything about it. Now there’s no excuse. So, below are links to each of the seven segments on YouTube [UPDATE: The videos have been deleted from YouTube] along with transcriptions of some interesting snippets, and the odd comment from Yours Truly.
Bob Dylan on Empire Burlesque, the studio, song writing 1985:
Q: Are there any tracks that are your favorites on your new album, Empire Burlesque?
Dylan: I like that song “I’ll Remember You”, and um … I like ’em all really. That one stands out.
Q: For any particular reasons?
Dylan: Well, it stands out because I still feel exactly the same way as I did when I wrote it, and I figure I said what I had to say and I said it in a way that was very concise and very brief, and then it was over, y’know?
Q: All through your career, there have been tons of material written by people who don’t know you and who are either trying to figure out what you’re saying, or—I suppose worse—believing that they know what you’re saying and then writing about that. It must be strange to read those things or look at them and realize they’re writing about you.
Dylan: Yeah, sometimes they don’t—they write about me instead of what it is that I’m doing, y’know? But I don’t think it can be helped. I don’t think anybody can change it, that’s just the way people are.
Bob Dylan on “Dark Eyes”:
Q: There’s a line in Dark Eyes that says, I believe it’s: “I live in another world where life and death are memorized / Where the earth is strung with lovers’ pearls / And all I see are dark eyes.” It’s one that people have picked up on …
Dylan: It’s very simple—that line, I was thinking of changing that line. I wasn’t sure I was happy with it. But I wrote up the whole song so quickly that I just left it, and it seemed to sing right. A song like that, usually I’m not sure how effective it would be on paper, to read, y’know. The stuff I do you have to listen to, you have to hear it being sung. I’m not sure if it comes off on paper for somebody to read.
Q: That particular one does, actually I think you can read it visually and get a sensation from it.[…]
Q: Did the line itself come—was there some literal meaning behind it—or do lines like that come to you from another direction?
Dylan: That whole song came from another direction. I just picked up my guitar and I started playing and that song just came right out.
Bob Dylan on “Clean Cut Kid” and Vietnam:
Dylan: … I know some guys that were in Vietnam, even today if you ask them why they fought there they don’t really know. They just went because they were asked to go or they were told to go. They don’t really know why they went, whereas usually in a war, if it’s a real war, every man, woman and child is in the army. There’s no getting away from that. If you’re attacked, if you’re in a war, that’s for keeps. Everybody’s a soldier in a war. It’s not like you can have a standing army and send them somewhere, y’know to fight somebody else’s battle.
If people don’t believe and know why they’re fighting, they can’t win.
Bob Dylan on the Messianic Kingdom, “Trust Yourself” and Myth:
[Drudge Report headline tomorrow: Bob Dylan says the world will end in 2185.] [It should be noted, related to the above comments, that this interview took place well after much conventional wisdom posited that Dylan had turned away from the beliefs expressed on what we call his gospel albums. The song “Trust Yourself,” in particular, was seen by some as Dylan’s repudiation of former songs that praised a God of time and space, and a God of the Bible. But it seems some listeners had missed the import of the line: “Don’t put your hope in ungodly man …”]
Q: Some people have used the word “apocalyptic” to describe some of your songs […] is that a word that you’d use …?
Dylan: Apocalyptic. Yeah, I guess so. But apocalyptic is just the end of, of — what would come next would be the new beginning. So apocalyptic to me isn’t necessarily a negative type word.
Q: Do you think that there will be a new beginning, some kind of new beginning?
Dylan: Oh yeah, sure. I think this whole thing’s gotta end. Yeah.
Q: What would the new beginning be like?
Dylan: Well, there’s a Messianic kingdom that will be coming in. That will be — when it comes in. Some people say tomorrow. I don’t particularly think it’s gonna be tomorrow, but I believe it’s gonna happen.
Q: Do you have a guess as to when, or how?
Dylan: Yeah, I have a guess as to when. It’s just a guess as to when, but all the calendars look like it’s gonna be in two hundred years.
Q: The calendars … biblical calendars?
Dylan: Yeah, the calendar even we’re on now.[…]
Q: There’s a song on your new album that’s called “Trust Yourself”, that some people have interpreted as essentially a message to people who’ve made a kind of myth out of you. Is that an accurate interpretation?
Dylan: A myth?
Q: That it’s a message to people to trust their own instincts and not to follow, not to put so much stock in …
Dylan: That’s pretty accurate, yeah.
Q: Did you write it with people in mind or […]?
Dylan: No, I didn’t have anybody specific in mind when I wrote that. I just felt like writing that particular type of song with an attitude like that. It might seem contradictory to some other songs I’ve written but if you listen to all the lyrics I don’t think it really is.
Bob Dylan on LiveAid & Sun City:
Snippet:[Strangely, someone apparently associated with Little Steven’s Sun City project butts in during this segment to get a quote from Dylan, apparently to use in promoting that record.]
[You would think there could be no more, um, black and white issue for most people in 1985 than apartheid in South Africa. Yet, even on this issue (and we know full well where he stood on issues of racial oppression in the U.S.) Dylan is unwilling to just be a puppet and say what Little Steven and his cohorts want him to say, something along the lines of, “I think it’s grossly immoral of any artist to even think of playing Sun City while the oppression in South Africa continues.” He’s just not willing to accept someone else’s characterization of how simple the issue is — in this case the issue of playing at Sun City. He did end up contributing some vocalizing to the record, as he had agreed to do, but, judging from the above, it seems it was more about doing a favor for some friends (Little Steven and Arthur Baker) rather than making a big political statement.]
Q: […] Can you tell us why you would be involved in it and what you feel about the South African situation?
Dylan: I’ve never been in South Africa — I don’t know what the scene is there. A few whites rule over lots of blacks, I guess. So this is a record that Steven and Arthur [Ed: Arthur Baker, who had just worked on mixing Dylan’s new album] wrote, and sent it and I listened to it, and I’ll probably next week put some kind of thing on it. I haven’t listened that closely to the song. That’s all I know. Uh, want me to say something else?
Q: They asked me to ask you for something for something that they’re doing — they’re gonna try to do a little video about the making — they just wanna try and get a statement from each of the artists that they could use as part of the — y’know why artists are doing it, so I just want to try and get some — he asked me to see if I can get some positive statement from you about it.
Dylan: I don’t know why artists are doing it. I don’t know — I mean is money from the record going to go to South Africa or …?
Q: […] but it’s not for money, it’s mostly for awareness about the problem.
Dylan: I think everybody knows about the problem.
Q: It’s for artists to say that they’re not going to play there, that they’re going to stay away and not play in South Africa.
Dylan: OK. Well I don’t think any artists are going to be playing in Sun City. But a lot of artists have played Sun City.
Q: And you?
Dylan: No, I’ve never played Sun City—I’ve never been asked to play Sun City, but, uh, some artists have been asked to play Sun City and haven’t, and others have been asked to play and have.
Q: Uh —
Dylan: [smiling] I don’t know what the point is.
Q [Bob Brown interjects]: It sounds like with all this going on, that there’s a lot of pressure being Bob Dylan.
Dylan: I don’t feel the pressure of being Bob Dylan. I wish I could think of something relevant to say about it. I’m not quite sure of what the idea of the Sun City record is … [interjection off camera] yeah … because I heard the song and I called him and I said, “What do you want me to do on this?” It was full. It was full up. Y’know.
Bob Dylan on politics and social change:
Q: … I think a lot of people were inspired—if you want to use the word—to get involved in the civil rights movement, the anti-war movement as a result of having listened to you, and listened to your songs, like The Times They Are a-Changin’, songs like that.
Dylan: Yeah, possibly. I wrote that in early sixty-something though, so there again they might have picked up on it two or three years after it was done. Which—that happens with a lot of my stuff. But I’m not one to really say that this one affected this or this song affected that. I really don’t know. Once something gets done it’s just for whoever wants to pick it up, y’know. It’s hard to say what really causes anything to happen. I don’t know if a song can really do that but they say it might, I don’t know.
Q: Do you think there’s any hope at all for any political system that would appeal to you, that you would be happy with? [Ed: Now that’s some question.]
Dylan: I don’t think any political system, really. I’d be happy living under a king, really, if he was the right king. I mean, I don’t really think about systems …
Bob Dylan on names, the afterlife, and record sales:
[People always wonder why Dylan doesn’t talk more, and more clearly, about his faith, especially in recent years. I think you’ve got more than a clue in that segment as to what he sees as the reasons for his reserve.]
Dylan [taking up after a break in the film] … I wouldn’t assume to know that. But, um … at a certain time, all the people from history will stand up. And, ah … I believe in the resurrection. And, ah, there are certain things, there is certain knowledge that I’m not sure it’s available right now on a mass level, maybe, sometime, because some of it is a little extreme—it might go against what a lot of people already think and what a lot of—which, a lot of what’s happening today throughout the world operates under something like a spiritual, religious order, but is actually happening more in terms of financial … it’s more like a financial empire. And, ah—[smiling] this is from what I can see, y’know—and has nothing really to do with spirituality or the next world or the soul, y’know, the trip that the soul’s on. Um, ah, I don’t know—we don’t have much—I could go deeper, but it’s more of a—I’m not sure how much of it I want to just state right out and say because I’m not sure how much it applies here. Um, then again you have to be very very sure of what you’re saying in this area because there’s so much—people believe so many different things and there’s a lot of wrong things you can say. But—uh [visibly giving up], I don’t know.
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The parts of the interview that were actually broadcast in the 20/20 show (which are not included in these outtakes) are also available on YouTube at [video since deleted]. (I had previously transcribed that interview here.)
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Seeing it all together, it occurs me that Bob Brown actually did a pretty good job, didn’t he? Dylan is visibly very wary, but Brown — despite the occasional goofy question — has done his homework and comes across as both sensitive and intelligent, and draws Bob out quite a bit. Taken as a whole, in fact, with both the parts that were broadcast and the outtakes, I think this interview stands as one of the most strikingly revealing ones of Dylan’s career.