Jacques Levy on Collaborating with Bob Dylan on Desire

Very recently uploaded to YouTube by “Prism Films” (who I presume owns the footage) is an interview from 2004 with the late Jacques Levy, a lyricist and theater director who is familiar to Bob Dylan fans as the co-composer of many of the songs from Dylan’s 1975 album Desire.

It’s divided into nine clips of roughly four minutes each. Part 1 is at this link. I’ll embed Part 2 below, which is where Levy starts getting into the nitty gritty of the collaboration. That goes through parts 4 or 5, and then he starts talking about the Rolling Thunder tour, where he engaged in the role of director.

It’s very interesting stuff for a fan of that era of Dylan’s career (and who isn’t?) and Jacques Levy is likeable and engaging and unpretentious. Two things which I took away on first hearing: (1) The whole mood of the collaboration seems to have emanated from “One More Cup of Coffee,” which Dylan had already written and played to Levy early on. (2) In writing the songs, Dylan and Levy didn’t stop and analyze everything and try to nail down what things meant to one or the other; they were rather two wordsmiths coming up with lines that either sounded good or not so good and they were content to let the mystery of meaning recline in its special place.

Levy also has some nice observations about musical details, including Emmylou Harris’s harmony vocals on the album. Her singing on Desire is so otherworldly, so ethereal and so heartbreaking … and, as Levy describes, all the more amazing because it was utterly spontaneous.

Also interesting: While writing a song about Rubin “Hurricane” Carter was Bob Dylan’s idea, writing about Joey Gallo was apparently Jacques Levy’s idea. “Joey,” I think, actually stands up as the better song, after all these years, and is the one that Dylan still (occasionally) plays in concert.