The Audio: What Bob Dylan Really Said (About Life, the Universe, Barack Obama and Everything) On Election Night 2008 in Minnesota

Dylan Obama

Dylan Obama

No doubt everyone’s heard it already by now, but for the record, here is an mp3 file of Bob Dylan’s remarks at his gig in Minnesota on election night 2008:

He spoke during his encore, in between playing “Like A Rolling Stone” and “Blowin’ in the Wind.” He introduced his band members and made his fateful comments after naming the bass player and mainstay of his band all these long years, the estimable Tony Garnier. Here is my own scrupulously accurate transcript:

I wanna introduce my band right now. On the guitar, there’s Denny Freeman. Stu Kimball is on the guitar too. Donnie Herron as well, on the violin right now, playin’ on the steel guitar earlier. George Recile’s playin’ on the drums.

Tony Garnier, wearin’ the Obama button — [applause] alright! — Tony likes to think it’s a brand new time right now. An age of light. Me, I was born in 1941 — that’s the year they bombed Pearl Harbor. Well I been livin’ in a world of darkness ever since. But it looks like things are gonna change now …

These remarks have been referred to and partially quoted in a variety of established news outlets since Bob Dylan made them. None of these reports, as far as I’ve seen, included Dylan’s reference to Tony’s Obama button, or his references to what he says is Tony’s belief that “it’s a brand new time now” and “an age of light.” Leaving out this context alters the tone of Dylan’s comments and renders them incomprehensible. As I said the other day, the remarks as reported seemed “completely cockamamie” and “not the Bob Dylan I know.” (Not that I’ve ever met the guy, you understand.)

As opposed to the professional journalists in attendance at the concert who got this thing so wrong, a kind reader of my website who wishes to be known only as John W., and who was also in attendance at that gig, had emailed me a much more accurate rendering of Bob’s remarks, in advance of us being able to hear the audio. His accuracy and fairness in remembering and reporting Bob’s actual words leads me to also give great credence to his overall description of the moment. You may or may not do the same. It is not crucial to understanding what Bob was really saying, but in the absence of a good quality video it helps paint the picture. This is how John characterized it:

What seemed to prompt him to talk to the crowd more than anything was Tony Garnier’s donning of an Obama button. It was Tony’s turn to be introduced and Bob started to chuckle a bit and said something like, “Tony Garnier over there wearing his Obama button (raises his eyebrows)…..Tony thinks it’s gonna be an Age of Light (chuckling)…..Well I was born in 1941, the year they bombed Pearl Harbor. Been living in darkness ever since……Looks like that’s all gonna change now (chuckling a bit).” Then he broke into “Blowin’ In The Wind.”

On the bootlegger’s audio, I don’t detect the sound of Dylan chuckling, but there’s such a thing as a quiet and more visual kind of chuckle and that may be what John was picking up on. It’s far from crucial in any case.

The news reports of Dylan’s remarks that I have seen all portrayed them as being a sincere endorsement by Bob Dylan of the notion that President Barack Obama is going to change everything for the better. I didn’t see any attempt to explain what he meant by saying that he’s been living in a world of darkness since he was born in 1941, the year of the attack on Pearl Harbor. It just makes sense to some people, I guess, to think that Bob Dylan has been miserable in this world since birth but that Barack Obama is going to change all of that. I couldn’t understand it myself. In my original post I put forth just one conceivable explanation (based on Bob’s deep links to the black American experience) but concluded that really only Dylan himself could explain the remarks as reported in the press.

Now, knowing the full context and tone of his words, I no longer think that Dylan needs to explain anything at all. I don’t believe that his actual remarks are even at all mysterious or cryptic. I think that they are crystal clear and they are consistent with how this man and this artist has tried to carry himself throughout the long and crazy years he’s been on this planet. He is being faithful, and we should also remember that it’s not easy to be faithful — it’s not easy for any of us. The dignity of this man is something that is not often pointed out. But he is a man of very great dignity, and this moment on the stage in Minnesota on election night of 2008 — offhand though it may or may not have been — was a moment where he exhibited great dignity as well as respect for his fans and for things more important than fame and wealth.

But lest I choke up too much here, let’s also lighten up, because his remarks were first and foremost jocular ones. When he says that Tony Garnier with his Obama button believes it’s going to be a “brand new time” and “an age of light,” he is clearly needling Tony, but doing it affectionately. I hate to descend to the level of saying “listen to how he says” something, but there are actually people out there who — after hearing the audio — are still taking Dylan’s remarks completely seriously; so for them, please: listen to how he says “an age of light.” Does it sound like something he believes in? Be honest for a moment and have an ear to hear. (But no one can be forced to do so.)

Once it is understood that Dylan is joking around and does not seriously believe that all things will be made new by the incoming U.S. president, then his words about living in a world of darkness for his entire life become comprehensible in the context of what his songs have told us again and again.

This litany will be of necessity very incomplete, but consider: Dylan sings of living in a world of mixed-up confusion, where everything is broken. He’s hung over, hung down, hung up and a million miles from the one he loves. He longs to disappear past the haunted, frightened trees. He looks out with his lady from Desolation Row, and sings a lullaby that goes, “When the cities are on fire with the burning flesh of men, just remember that death is not the end.” He sees the cat in the well, with the wolf looking down. He’s knocking and trying to get to heaven before that door shuts. He wanders around Boston town but his heart is in the Highlands — he can’t see any other way to go. The times are always changing and changing, and yet nothing ever really changes. Don’t conclude that he is without solace, however: he’s liable to stand on the table and propose a toast to the King. He’s using all eight carburetors. The hills and the one he loves have always given him a song.

The world of darkness, in other words, is not something foisted upon Bob by presidents of the United States or by political powers or anyone else in particular. For him (and maybe if we think about it for us too) it is just normality: it is the way things are. The world is a difficult place. Life is hard. People suffer and people die. The truth about anything that is of this world is ever-elusive and leaves one ultimately bereft of comfort.

Now, what I want to know is this: Is the new American president going to fix all that for Bob — all of the above? Is he going to take Bob out of this darkness he’s lived in since 1941? Does anyone think that Bob Dylan believes that, and that’s what he wanted to tell everybody on election night of 2008?

Bob Dylan is neither an idiot nor a crank, though he’s been called both on various occasions. He knew very well, singing to that University of Minnesota audience, how hyped up most of them were for Barack Obama’s election. His remarks were not a slam of Barack Obama, nor an endorsement of John McCain, or anything like that. In his own way, he was kindly alerting those with ears to hear that one should not have such high expectations of a politician or of any fellow human being. There will be no age of light; at least not until the real age of light, and that age will not be instituted by any president of the United States. All presidents, you see, sometimes have to stand naked.

Of-course, most at the gig heard what they were so desperate to hear: that change is a comin’ with Obama, and it’s all gonna be great.They heard “it looks like things are gonna change now” without the irony that the context provides. And Bob, dignified, gave them that respect. He didn’t mock them. Everyone has to come to their own understandings at their own pace. Some will think twice about what he said.

He then sang “Blowin’ in the Wind.” I love the current live arrangement of this song, which Bob and the band have been playing for quite a while. I wrote about it in a previous post here. It is indeed a buoyant and a joyous version. It is a version of the song which conveys — to this listener at any rate — how wonderful a thing it is that the answer is right there blowing in the wind in front of our faces. Thanks, Bob.


It is better to put trust in the LORD than to put confidence in princes. Psalm 118:9

Addendum: And one more thing. We all no doubt remember Bob’s quoted remarks in that interview with the U.K. Times last June. As they stood up to end the interview, the interviewer asked him “in a last aside” something about the coming U.S. election.

We don’t know exactly what the question was or what Dylan’s full response was. There is no pretence that we are being provided a complete transcript — it’s not that kind of an article. Dylan is quoted as crediting Barack Obama with “redefining the nature of politics from the ground up” and “redefining what a politician is.” He is quoted as saying that he’s “hopeful that things might change” and that “some things are going to have to.” Our fresh experience of seeing how journalists and newspapers missed the humor and irony of Bob Dylan on stage in Minnesota on election night — and gave us a completely different story — cannot but make me entirely reevaluate whatever I thought I knew about Dylan’s remarks in that interview. They may have been entirely ironic. Or maybe not. He also is quoted as saying, “You can’t expect people to have the virtue of purity when they are poor.” The remarks as quoted are, in the final analysis, incomplete and not fully comprehensible on their own — just like what was quoted in the Minnesota newspapers after the election night gig. So make of those quotes what you will, or, perhaps more wisely, make nothing of them at all.

Who’s That Girl (from the Red River Shore)?

A few days ago I wrote a little about the newly released song “Red River Shore” from Bob Dylan’s Tell Tale Signs collection.

Perhaps I was going a tad nuts implying that it might be the greatest thing Bob Dylan has ever done. After all, you could certainly argue that there’s nothing radical about the record. It’s not going to set the world upside down, or spark revolution in the streets, or spawn hundreds of imitators in the music biz trying to copy the “Red River Shore” sound. You could hardly imagine a simpler melody, and some might say that Bob Dylan can write a song like this in between rolling out of bed and brushing his teeth. And maybe he can, if the mood is right. Yet, the song and the performance moved me and shook me up in a way that is very rare; all the rarer, in fact, as I get older and bend a little from the weight of believing that I’ve heard it all already. And isn’t it nice to be able to get that excited about something again?

The song is stirring and poignant in direct proportion to the way in which it expresses feelings which are unspeakable. This also makes it difficult to write about, and likewise makes me personally not want to write about it too much.

There is one thing that the mind of the listener probably meditates upon, and goes back and forth about, when listening to the song, and that is the question of just who this girl is—the girl from the Red River shore. Of-course any given listener can believe that she is just a girl—some variation of an unrequited human love for whom the singer is pining. And there ain’t nothing wrong with that.

However, without wanting to speak too much to what perhaps can’t or shouldn’t be said outside of the song itself, I will say that it has crossed my mind, while listening to this song, that the girl from the Red River shore is perhaps the same “she” for this singer as the “she” of “Shelter from the Storm” is for the singer of that song. And I offer this not by way of trying to define an end to the meaning of the song, but rather to open up its possibilities (as if that’s even necessary).



In that song from Blood on the Tracks, the singer is by turns nurtured and comforted by this female figure; he is then alienated from her through his own failing ( “I took too much for granted, got my signals crossed”), and is finally left meditating at once optimistically and hopelessly on the ultimate possibility of truly knowing her or uniting with her.

Well, I’m livin’ in a foreign country but I’m bound to cross the line
Beauty walks a razor’s edge, someday I’ll make it mine.
If I could only turn back the clock to when God and her were born.
“Come in,” she said,
“I’ll give you shelter from the storm.”

“[W]hen God and her were born.” It’s one of those great lines: an imponderable line that you cannot help but ponder and ponder. It’s a poetic jump that takes the feeling of the song beyond normal expression. It sounds a little bit like some kind of secret key—like a Rosetta Stone line. But it defies being completely nailed down, and so its magic survives.

Taken in any kind of literal sense, it’s a big thing to say that someone or something has been around as long as God himself. You might be really hung up on an ex-girlfriend or boyfriend, but when you get into that kind of thinking then you’re going somewhere else entirely.

Now, the parallel with the girl from the Red River shore can perhaps be seen most clearly, likewise, in the final verse of that song. After singing about the “man full of sorrow and strife” (Is 53), whom — the singer has heard — used to be able to literally raise the dead, he sings:

Well I don’t know what kind of language he used
Or if they do that kind of thing anymore
Sometimes I think nobody ever saw me here at all
‘Cept the girl from the Red River shore

Well, when he sings about this man who used to raise the dead, we know—any listener knows, regardless of his or her own faith or lack thereof—that this singer is (just like that earlier singer) invoking none other than God himself. If this man he heard about actually did used to do that, then he was, at least in some inscrutable sense, God. Yet the singer then puts the girl from the Red River shore on a level beyond anyone else he’s ever known, and potentially beyond even that Man, when he indicates that she may have been the only one who ever actually saw him on this earth—the only one whose acknowledgment of his existence proved that he actually did exist. That is a heavy honor indeed, and quite a heavy burden for any girl from the Red River shore to bear.

Perhaps it’s worth summarizing some of the qualities of this figure—if it is one figure—this “she” who promised shelter from the storm, and this girl from the Red River shore.

Back when he was just a “creature void of form,” she was there for him. And then when he needed a “place where it’s always safe and warm,” she was there. Later, she walked up to him “so gracefully and took [his] crown of thorns.” She was there again when the entire world seemed to just pose a question that was “hopeless and forlorn.” This mysterious girl was the only one he ever wanted to want him—the one with whom he wishes he “could have spent every hour of [his] life.” He is a stranger in the land in which he is duty-bound to live, but she—and the hills—give him a song with which to get by. Although many saw them together at one time, when he goes back to inquire with them no one even knows what he’s talking about. Each day he lives is “just another day away” from that girl from the Red River shore.

So, she is the very source of song itself. From her comes comfort, protection and wisdom, at those times when he needs it most desperately. Yet she is somehow invisible to the world, and, although she has touched him, she remains just out of his reach: unattainable.

While she is an eternal presence for him, she is in some sense distinct from that other presumed eternal presence; i.e., God.

I don’t know necessarily what you might call such a being (if you’re not calling her the girl from the Red River shore). However, it cannot but strike me that, for Christians, there is actually a specific name that can be applied to a figure who meets all of these criteria. Indeed, it was that aforementioned man full of sorrow and strife who gave the figure a name, as in Luke 11:13:

If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children: how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him?

The Holy Spirit is believed, by Christians, to be at once God and a distinct person—in a sense that I’m distinctly unqualified to plumb. This is part of that theological mystery called the Holy Trinity, where God is believed by Christians to be at once Father, Son and Holy Spirit. But, relevant here, it does mean that the Holy Spirit is as old as—or, if you like, was born at the same time as—God, because the Holy Spirit is God, while still being in a real way the Holy Spirit. Interesting, no?

Now, am I saying that “Red River Shore” is “Bob Dylan’s song about the Holy Spirit”? By no means would I blandly state that. The heartbreak, the longing, the love and the mystery that inhabits “Red River Shore” can’t and shouldn’t be labeled, solved and neatly filed away like a doctrine. And we know that the writer of “Shelter from the Storm” is unlikely to have been self-consciously writing about a specifically Christian concept like the Holy Spirit. I’d also tend to believe that in his greatest songs, Bob Dylan is not deliberately writing about anything at all. When things are happening at that level, the song is always in some way expressing itself. I believe that he’s made much this point himself in interviews over the years.

Yet, it is one measure of the greatness of this song that amongst all of the various ways in which it works and holds true is also this quasi-theological sense. Pretty astounding.

Is it the greatest song that Bob Dylan has ever done, as I breathlessly intimated it might be a few days ago? Who the hell knows? But I can say without hesitation that it’s the greatest song by anybody that this listener has heard in a long, long time.

Bob Dylan, Barry Goldwater, etc

There’s a piece by Paul J. Cella at Redstate called “The irony of Bob Dylan.” It’s largely a reaction to a review of Chronicles written by Jim Kunstler. I guess it comes as a surprise to me that it is still a surprise to some others that Dylan, in Chronicles, names Barry Goldwater (R-Az) as his “favorite politician” around the period of 1961/62. But then it shouldn’t surprise me: his reference to Goldwater didn’t get the kind of attention it warranted in most of the reviews and publicity surrounding that memoir, probably because a whole lot of people didn’t know what the hell to make of it. A reminder of what exactly it was (from page 283 of the original hardcover):

There was no point arguing with Dave (Van Ronk), not intellectually anyway. I had a primitive way of looking at things and I liked country fair politics. My favorite politician was Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater, who reminded me of Tom Mix, and there wasn’t any way to explain that to anybody. I wasn’t that comfortable with all the psycho polemic babble.

Tom Mix was a star of silent westerns. Barry Goldwater of-course was the iconic Republican who wrote “The Conscience Of A Conservative” and was a formative influence on Ronald Reagan. Dylan was writing about the 1961/62 era.

Anyway, towards the end of his piece, Cella says the following:

Given that the counterculture of the Sixties, which tried to set up Dylan as its spokesman or poet-laureate, has conquered and is even now solidifying its preeminence in our society, there is a special and marvelous irony to note.

All the sneering revolt that churns through the great anthems of Dylan’s best work, “Like a Rolling Stone” being perhaps the most well-known exemplar; all the defiance, the fury of impudence; all the challenge thrown vaguely at some contemptible oppressor —

You used to be so amused
At Napoleon in rags and the language that he used
Go to him now, he calls you, you can’t refuse
When you got nothing, you got nothing to lose
You’re invisible now, you got no secrets to conceal.

How does it feel?
How does it feel
To be on your own
With no direction home
Like a complete unknown
Like a rolling stone?

— all this may be justly hurled with equal passion against the generation, now leading our country toward ruin, which wanted it as its slogan, and which unjustly hurled it against the basically sound social order preceding it.

And Bob Dylan himself may have even meant it that way.

Well, it might be tempting to hear the song as put-down of the then-emerging 60s generation, and you could probably take that interpretation a long way if you wanted to. But I personally would resist that temptation. I think the song works most profoundly as, ultimately, a reflection on the singer’s self. And this particular singer did happen to be breaking out and breaking through on an artistic level at the time that had to be both terrifying and exhilarating — two emotions that balance each other exquisitely in the song, I think. Of-course the song doesn’t have be nailed down, and maybe a lot of its power comes from the fact that it can’t be. I do think, though, that it is very often fruitful to look at songs where Dylan appears to be criticizing and taking apart someone other as potentially being reflections on the self instead. I find it difficult to hear, for example, “Just Like A Woman” or “Sweetheart Like You” other than in this way. (And let Todd Haynes make of that what he will.)



20/20 Hindsight (Outtakes from Bob Dylan’s 1985 Interview on ABC TV)

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:

Snippet:

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”:

Snippet:

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:

Snippet:

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:

Snippet:

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.

[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 …”]

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.]

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.

[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.]

Bob Dylan on politics and social change:

Snippet:

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:

Snippet:

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.

[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.]

. . .

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.)

. . .

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.

On Captain Jeter (of Bob Dylan’s “‘Cross The Green Mountain” video)

The title of this post does not refer to the talented Yankee baseball player who is also his team’s captain, but to the name which is on the tombstone of the grave which Bob Dylan visits in the video for ‘Cross The Green Mountain.

A photograph of the grave can be seen at findagrave.com.

The stone reads:

Capt. W.R. Jeter
13th VA Cav.
Born May 25, 1834
And fell in defense
of his country

Note: the website mistakenly says “fell in defense of his county;” I think that looking at the photograph closely confirms that the word is indeed “country,” of-course.

In the video, Dylan rides into the cemetery on horseback and places a framed photo or daguerreotype on the grave.

I have no speculation as to why Capt. Jeter’s grave was chosen, but naturally it does arouse curiousity as to any story surrounding this particular Confederate soldier. I don’t know if there are any Civil War buffs out there who might know anything about him. The power of Google, however, has given me this so far:

In 1903, a book was published called “A Virginia Girl In The Civil War 1861 – 1865,” self-described as “Being a record of the actual experiences of the wife of a Confederate officer. Collected and edited by Myrta Lockett Avary.” The complete text of the book is hosted on the web by the University of North Carolina at this link.

As described in the introduction, the book is basically the oral reminiscences of a then-elderly woman as provided to Ms. Avary, who edited and arranged the stories for publication. The woman was married to a Confederate officer, as the subtitle states, and herself spent time nursing the wounded in hospital wards.

I came across the text via Google because one of the woman’s friends is married to a Captain Jeter, who ultimately is mortally wounded and is tended to in his last hours by the storyteller herself.

If you read sufficiently through the text, you will discover that the storyteller’s husband is in the 13th Virginia Cavalry (the one named on Capt. W.R. Jeter’s grave stone). It seems at least highly likely that the Captain Jeter mentioned in this story is also in the same cavalry, because when he is wounded, the storyteller’s husband sends word to her to go to the hospital and tend to him.

But now a caveat; the book’s introduction also states:

Out of deference to the wishes of living persons, her own [i.e. the narrator’s] and her husband’s real names have been suppressed and others substituted; in the case of a few of their close personal friends, and of some whose names would not be of special historical value, the same plan has been followed.

So, we don’t know for sure if we can rely on the name “Jeter” after all. Was this one of the close personal friends whose name was changed? I can’t say.

Nevertheless, given the other circumstances which jibe with the information on the grave marker, it seems to me that there’s a better than even chance that this is the actual Captain Jeter of the 13th Virginia Cavalry whose grave Dylan visits in the video for ‘Cross The Green Mountain.

So, here is an extract of the text of this book, where the narrator learns of Captain Jeter’s wound, goes to tend to him, and later talks with his mother and his widow.

And now began for me the nursing in hospital wards that made up so large a part of our lives during the war.

“Jeter shot, perhaps fatally. Go to the hospital and see what you can do for him. I have telegraphed to his wife and mother. “DAN.”

The orderly who brought me this message from my husband said that Captain Jeter’s command had been in a skirmish that day, and that the captain had fallen, mortally wounded, it was thought.

I went to him at once. He was lying unconscious across the bed as if he had fallen or been dropped there, dressed in full uniform with his coat buttoned up to his throat, breathing stertorously, and moaning. There was a small black hole in his temple. I thought he must be uncomfortable with his clothes on, and proposed to the nurse that we should try to undress him, but she said he was dying and it would only disturb him. All that day and until late that night I stayed with him, changing the towels on his head, wiping the ooze from his lips, listening to that agonizing moaning, and thinking of the wife and mother who could not reach him. About ten o’clock he seemed to be strangling.

“It’s phlegm in his throat,” the nurse said. She ran her finger down his throat, pulling out a quid of tobacco that had been in his mouth when he was shot and that had lain there ever since.

He died at midnight, and his mother came the next day at noon. I don’t know which was the hardest to stand, her first burst of agony or her endless questions when she could talk.

“Did he suffer much, Nell?”

“Not much, I think. He was unconscious from the time he was shot.”

“Nell, did he send me any message? Did he call for me?”

“He was unconscious,” I repeated gently, “and we must be thankful that he was. If he had been conscious he would have suffered more.”

“Yes, yes; I reckon I am thankful. I don’t know how I am now. But I’m trying to submit myself to the will of the Lord. Nellie, you don’t know what a sweet baby he was! the prettiest little fellow! as soon as he could walk, he was always toddling after me and pulling at my skirts.”

I turned my head away.

“Last night I dozed for a minute and I dreamed about him. He was my baby again, and I had him safe in my arms, and there never had been any war. But I didn’t sleep much. I couldn’t come as soon as I got the telegram. I had to wait for a train. And I was up nearly all night cooking things to bring him.”

She opened her basket and satchel and showed me. They were full of little cakes and crackers, wine jellies and blanc-mange, and other delicacies for the sick.

“Do you think if I had gotten here in time he could have eaten them?” she asked wistfully.

“He could not eat anything,” I sail choking back my tears.

“You don’t think he was hungry at all Nell? The soldiers have so little to eat some times – and I have heard it said that people are sometimes hungry when they are dying.”

“Dear Mrs. Jeter, he looked well and strong except for the wound. You know the troops had just returned from the valley where they had plenty to eat.”

“I am glad of that. I was just getting a box ready to send him full of everything I thought he would like. And I had some clothes for him. I began making the clothes as soon as I heard the troops had come back to Culpeper. You say he was wounded in the head?”

Neither of us closed our eyes that night. She walked the floor asking the same questions over and over again, and I got so I answered yes or no just as I saw she wanted yes or no and without regard to the truth.

Several months after this I saw Captain Jeter’s widow. She was surrounded by his little children – none of them old enough to realize their loss.

“Nell,” she said, “you remember the day in Petersburg when we stood together and watched the troops start off for Norfolk – and everybody was cheering?”

“Yes.”

“Well, war does not look to me now as it did then. God grant it may spare your husband to you, Nell!”

I shivered.

I called on another widowed friend. Her husband – a captain, too – had been sent home, his face mutilated past recognition by the shell that killed him. Her little ones were around her, and the captain’s sword was hanging on the wall. When I spoke to her of it as a proud possession, her eyes filled. His little boy said with flashing eyes:

“It’s my papa’s s’ode. I wants to be a man. An’ I’ll take it down and kill all the Yankees!”

“H-sh!” his mother put her hand over his mouth. “God grant there may be no war when you are a man!” she said fervently.

“Amen!” I responded.

“Oh, Nell,” she said, “when it’s all over, what good will it do? It will just show that one side could fight better than the other, or had more money and men than the other. It won’t show that anybody’s right. You can’t know how it is until it hits you, Nell I’m proud of him, and proud of his sword; I wouldn’t have had him out of it all. I wouldn’t have had him a coward. But oh, Nell, I feel that war is wrong! I’m sorry for every Northern woman who has a circle like this around her, and a sword like that hanging on her wall.”

The little boy put his arm around her neck. “Mamma,” he said, “are you sorry for the Yankees?”

“My dear,” she said, “I am sorry for all little boys who haven’t got a papa, and I’m sorry for their mammas. And I don’t want you ever to kill anybody.”

NOTE: This work is the property of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. It may be used freely by individuals for research, teaching and personal use as long as this statement of availability is included in the text. (Click here to go to the UNC website and access the complete text.)

So, there you have it. Captain Jeter is just one of some 500,000 soldiers who died during the U.S. Civil War.

Not Enough Guns (1993 MTV interview with Bob Dylan and Carlos Santana)

Somehow I had not seen this, and thanks to Sue for e-mailing and apprising me of it. It’s an interview, which is on YouTube, with Carlos Santana and Bob Dylan from August 21st, 1993, in Memorial Stadium, Seattle — done for MTV, apparently. See below, and then below that are some remarks from Yours Truly and notable quotes from the interview.

If you haven’t seen it, the first question that might occur to you—as it did to me—is “Why is Bob doing this?” He seems spectacularly uncomfortable and edgy, even by his standards, and gives the interviewer (who in any case is pretty misguided) the hardest time imaginable. It can only be that Carlos Santana strong-armed Dylan into doing it; “Hey man, you gotta come over with me and do this, man, it’s for MTV, y’know they really want to talk to you, c’mon, it’ll be good publicity, do it for me.”

But, regardless of the reason for Dylan doing it, the end result is hilarious. The first question to Bob:

Q: Let’s talk about the tour. Has it been enjoyable to be on tour together?

Dylan: [in a taciturn tone] So far.

And it gets better. Carlos Santana is at the same time a dramatic study in contrast, dishing out smooth, articulate, politically correct patter to every question that Dylan, for his part, vaults into the Andromeda galaxy. Dylan’s facial expressions and rolling eyes are just priceless. Watch it all and bust a gut, but here are some transcribed extracts:

Q: Let’s talk about current music. Is there any current music that you listen to, that you particularly like?

Dylan: Ah, current music. What would that be? Ah, really, a lot of it sounds defective to me. It makes me restless.

[…]

Q: This is directed to Bob. You’ve given permission to have Like A Rolling Stone sampled for the first time. How did that ever come about?

Dylan: Who did that?

Q: It’s a group called “Mystery Tramps.”

Dylan: Oh.

Q: Hip-hop version.

Dylan: Really. [shaking his head] Beats me.

Q: Ok. Y’know, Bill Cutler, the producer of that, says that you being the first street poet, were really the first rapper. How do you feel about that?

Dylan: Ah, everybody’s the first somebody, y’know. [scratching his chin]

Q: In the context of that, do you see the relationship between politically aware rap and some of the stuff you were doing years ago?

Dylan: Maybe there’s some kind of correlation but whatever it is it wouldn’t be [inaudible] for me to say that.

Q: It seems kind of ironic that Sinead O’Connor was booed off of your concert [30th Anniversary shindig], it seems ironic because they’re honoring someone who pioneered protest music and they seemed to be booing her for protesting. What do you say about that?

Dylan:
[shaking his head and smiling] Y’know, she’s grown-up. Y’know, people do whatever they want to do, y’know. Shouldn’t really take it as an insult though, y’know, uh, Elvis even got booed. So, that’s no big deal.

Q: In the current issue of Rolling Stone one of the writers criticize [Bob starts violently grimacing] a $65 top ticket and called it whopping and obscene and all of that stuff and says that you should suck on soap. How do you respond to somebody who writes something like that?

Dylan:
No kind of way. He never got up there and sing anything. Connoisseurs, y’know, they’re all over the place, but, y’know, it’s different when you’re getting up there and you’re doing it. Anybody can be talking about it.

Q:
Now —

Dylan: How’s that for a response?

[…]

Q: This is for a thing we’re doing on violence. I’m going to ask some general questions. Do you think teen violence is a big problem in today’s society?

Dylan: Television causes a lot of that violence. That’s my opinion. People see it on TV and they wanna do it. That’s just my opinion. Whatever people see—TV in my mind forms people’s opinions. Y’all know that anyway [looks into the camera momentarily].

The pièce de resistance, for sure, is the exchange about guns:

Q: Do you think the availability of guns is a big problem today?

Dylan: [shaking his head] I don’t think there’s enough guns.

Q: What about guns among kids? Do you think it’s just too prevailing?

Dylan:
Toy guns [widens his eyes humorously at the interviewer]. They got more toy guns than real guns, really.

Q: Where do you think kids get these guns?

Dylan: [smiling] They get ’em in a toy store.

Carlos gives a politically correct and to-my-mind idiotic pro-gun control answer to a similar question ( he talks about letting people have guns but banning bullets). When he’s finished, Bob moves forward with his mouth open to say something, but the interviewer interrupts him with a question about his new record.

Q: One more question. Your new album is basically an acoustic album, done mostly in one takes. What led you to do that? Is it the unplugged trend?

Dylan:
Well, it was just easy for me to do that, to make an album by myself. Anybody would do it if they could, really. Ah, Mick Jagger if he could get in a studio and record an album all by himself, y’know, he’d be probably the first one to do it.

And so there it ends.

Another reference point, by the way, with regard to Bob Dylan’s view on guns and gun control is his 1981 interview with (the late) Dave Herman. Herman—clearly of the left himself—presses Bob on several political issues and each time gets gently but firmly pushed back. With regard to guns, there is the following exchange:

Herman: Are you on one side of the gun control issue or another? Do you think this business of all the guns we have in America … I notice here in London, the policemen don’t even have guns on their hips, they don’t carry weapons.

Dylan: But they have a much lower crime rate over here too. Well, you can’t change the States in that kind of way. It’s too many people. It didn’t get off on the right start … You know the United States is like gun crazy, always has been gun crazy. White man used to shoot the Indians with guns. Guns have been a great part of America’s past. So, there’s nothing you can do about it. The gun is just something which America has got, lives with. I don’t think gun control is making any difference at all. Just make it harder for people who need to be protected.

(Emphasis added)

Bob Dylan’s 1985 interview on the ABC TV show 20/20

I believe the interviewer’s name is Bob Brown. I include the voice-over (v/o) statements of the show, in order to fairly provide the context of what was a highly edited segment on a magazine program, and also because assertions are sometimes made during the voice-overs that seem to refer to things that Dylan said during the interview, but which we are not shown on camera. I paragraphed parts just for readability’s sake.

Throughout, various footage was inserted by ABC; mainly musical clips. I only refer to them when it seems necessary for continuity’s sake. The entire segment was a little over 15 minutes. I’m confident about this transcription, which I made from a digitized file of the show which is in circulation amongst collectors, but if anyone thinks I mis-heard any words, do let me know.

So here it is:

Opening credits over the promotional video for "“When The Night Comes Falling From The Sky”."

ABC: Do your children have an idea of what you meant?

BD: I think so, on some kind of level, but, when I was growing up – say in the fifties – the thirties to me didn’t even exist. I couldn’t even imagine them in any kind of way, so I don’t expect anyone growing up now is gonna even understand what the sixties were all about, anymore than I could the thirties or twenties.

ABC v/o: Dylan’s lyrics summarized the times with enormous influence. For this 1969 appearance at England’s Isle Of Wight music festival, spectators included Ringo Starr, John Lennon and George Harrison of the Beatles. (footage rolls)

Voice of Kurt Loder: Well, the cliche is that he speaks for his generation, that he’s the voice of a generation, so (ABC v/o: Kurt Loder is a senior editor of Rolling Stone Magazine).

Kurt Loder continues: Popular music – popular culture – seemed to have no relationship to anything really human. Then you have Bob Dylan come along and he’s singing in this strange voice and this real loud rock’n’ roll and he’s actually talking about things, about how repressed everything is now, and how stifled people are, and you say "yeah, that’s exactly how I felt, why couldn’t I put it like that?" And that breakthrough is something that never be taken away from him and it’s really made a tradition of its own in pop music to communicate with people directly like that.

ABC v/o: Even when they were new, it seemed as if some of Dylan’s songs had been with us forever. Blowing In The Wind became an anthem of the civil rights’ movement. And like all balladeers, he wrote first person accounts of relationships, and the roads that they take. Among the generation that followed him, millions adopted The Times They Are A’ Changin’ as a manifesto to a system they protested. His lyrics were studied and analyzed as poetry. Fans waited for what he would say next – what he would do next. Hardcore supporters were sometimes outraged when he changed his music from folk to rock or rock to country. His rhymes, his reclusive life, his changing appearance, added to the mystery.

In 1979 Dylan took the most dramatic and controversial turn of his career: to born-again Christianity, reflected in songs like Shot Of Love, and performances with an evangelical fervor. He believes in the resurrection, he says, but he also delved intensely into his own religious heritage: Orthodox Judaism. Spiritual messages are still present in some of his music. But he has also returned to the popular mainstream: to Rock’n’Roll. Said one writer: "Any attempt to tie him down, musically or lyrically, is bound to fail."

BD: I used to think it’s better if you just live and die and no one knows who you are.

ABC v/o: From the beginning, Dylan, now 44 years old, has shied away from publicity, granting few print interviews, never agreeing to television network news interview until now. We spoke with him on a hillside, and on his estate in Malibu, California, where the wind blew in from the Pacific, just below his house. Because the mythology surrounding Dylan has been so embroiled in change and controversy, it was interesting to find him low-key, cordial, soft-spoken.

ABC: Depending on how your music has evolved, there have been people who’ve actually got angry, because they felt it had changed. Did that ever bother you?

BD: Well, it’s always disappointing, you know, when people decide for one reason or another that they don’t like your work anymore, but uh, you know, it’s just one of those things. You can’t try to please people in that kinda way, because then you’re just going to be doing – you’ll never live it down, y’know it’ll always be dogging you around – you might be being a fake about the whole thing.

ABC: So it’s sort of a no-win situation, I guess …?

BD: It’s not important what other people call you. If you yourself know you’re a fake, that’s tougher to live with.

ABC: Is "protest song" an accurate description of some of the things you were doing?

BD: Yeah. Um, I guess so, but the real protest songs were written mainly in the thirties and forties – "Which Side Are You On," mining type songs, union kind of songs – that’s where the protest movement developed from. There’s still a strain of that type of thing in what I do – it’s just more broad now. (dog barks in background)

ABC: Do you view the lyrics that you write as poetry?

(apparent cut, then:) BD: I always felt the need for that type of rhyme to say any type of thing that you wanted to say, but then again, I don’t know if I call myself a poet or not. I would like to, but I’m not really qualified, I think, to make that decision, because I come in on such a back door, that I don’t know what a, y’know, a Robert Frost or a Keats or a T.S. Eliot would really think of my stuff. (another apparent cut, then:) It’s more of a visual type of thing for me. I can picture the color of the song, or the shape of it, or who it is that I’m trying to appeal to, in the song, and what I’m trying to, almost, reinforce my feelings for. And um, I know that sounds sort of vague and abstract, but I’ve got a handle on it when I’m doing it.

ABC v/o: He first began to attact notice in New York’s Greenwich Village in 1961 when he performed at a place called "Gerde’s Folk City." In those early years, he was developing a style of phrasing his lyrics that would become a Dylan trademark.

Listen for the emphasis he places on the syllables in his lines – then for the way he strings out the sounds in a phrase, almost reciting them (followed by a clip of Dylan singing "To Ramona" in the early 1960s).

BD: The phrasing I stumbled into. Some of the old folk singers used to phrase things in an interesting way, and then, I got my style from seeing a lot of outdoor-type poets, who would recite their poetry. When you don’t have a guitar, you recite things differently, and there used to be quite a few poets in the jazz clubs, who would recite with a different type of attitude.

ABC v/o: Among those poets: Allen Ginsburg and Lawrence Ferlinghetti, two of Dylan’s friends. Listen to this recording of Ferlinghetti, and you can hear a strong resemblance to the style Dylan developed (followed by clip of Ferlinghetti reciting his poetry, which is turn followed by a clip of Dylan singing "Hard Rain" from the 1970s’ Rolling Thunder tour).

ABC v/o continues:

This vision of a nuclear apocalypse, A Hard Rain’s A Gonna Fall, began as folk ballad Dylan wrote during the Cuban missile crisis.

Although Dylan has made powerful protest statements, and people have expected him to speak out for change, he has personal doubts about how politically effective those statements can be.

BD (joined in mid-statement): No, people can change things and make a difference. Uh, there’s a lot of false prophets around though, and that’s the trouble. People say they think they know what’s right and other people get people to follow them because they have a certain type of charisma, and there’s always people willing to take over, y’know, people want a leader. And y’know, there will be more and more of them.

ABC: There have been times when born-again Christianity, Orthodox Judaism, both those were important to you?

BD: Yeah.

ABC: Or is it a broader thing for you?

BD: No. I want to figure out what’s happening, you know? And ah, so I did look into it all.

ABC: Did it make life easier?

BD: Not necessarily.

ABC: Did it make it clearer?

BD: Definitely made it clearer. (apparent cut, then:) This is a place where you have to work certain things out.

ABC: What is it you do have to work out?

BD: Well, you have to work out where your place is. And who you are. But we’re all spirit. That’s all we are, we’re just walking dressed up in a suit of skin, and we’re going to leave that behind.

ABC v/o: Dylan says he believes there will be a new beginning, a Messianic Kingdom eventually. In these times through his music, he continues to add his voice to the causes that artists in the ’80s are taking up with their songs. Most recently, Dylan sang on an anti-apartheid record called, "Sun City."

It features a collection of artists protesting policies in South Africa, dubbed together this month in a New York recording studio. Dylan was also one of the unmistakable voices on the "We Are The World" recording for African famine relief. Producer Quincy Jones wanted a sample of Dylan’s unique phrasing, and when there was some question as to exactly what Jones was after, Dylan fan Stevie Wonder sat at a piano to coach Dylan’s reading.

Stevie Wonder in interview clip: So I was basically saying to him, hey, I have a love and respect for you, and more so to just loosen the situation up. Which it did, ‘cos he did an incredible job.

ABC: How did you phrase the line for him?

Stevie Wonder: It’s almost like kind of the minister poet. It’s very unique.

(Followed by clip of Wonder singing at his keyboard and apparently imitating Dylan, in turn followed by clip of Dylan singing his phrase from the USA For Africa record.)

ABC v/o: Dylan supported the cause for African famine relief, but not without a kind of spiritual fatalism about it.

BD: People buying a song and the money going to starving people in Africa is, you know, a worthwhile idea, but I wasn’t so convinced about the message of the song, to tell you the truth. I don’t think people can save themselves, y’know.

ABC: Save themselves, in any sorta …?

BD: Yeah, I just don’t, I don’t agree with that type of thing.*

ABC v/o: But there’s still a sense of immediacy in Dylan’s approach to problems. He provided the inspiration for this artists’ benefit, Farm Aid, when he suggested at the Live Aid famine relief concert that some of the money raised should go to farmers (clip of Farm Aid is playing).

Although people still search for meanings in his songs, the message in one of his newest is simply, "Trust Yourself."

And almost as if to deflate the myths made out of him, Dylan’s lyrics also read, "Don’t trust me to show you the truth."

BD: I like the fans, but I don’t feel an obligation that I have to be an example to them, like say maybe a baseball player would, or a football player or maybe some other type of musicians. I don’t feel I have to really set an example that somebody else has to live up to.

ABC: What kind of beliefs do you have in yourself to write the kinds of songs you write?

BD: Ahh, not really a belief. I have very little belief in myself to do anything. I just pull it off, y’know, and it’s amazing to me that I do.

ABC v/o: At the end of the summer, before the Farm Aid concert, Dylan was on an empty motion picture soundstage, for a rehearsal that at times turned into a kind of jam session with a popular rock band called Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers. When the other musicians took a break, we asked Dylan if he’d do one of his older songs – whatever song he chose. He thought for a moment, and then, this artist who has both angered and inspired his followers, whose doubts may go hand-in-hand with his convictions, chose a song from 1974 that was a kind of prayer when he first recorded it. He was joined unrehearsed by the keyboardist and vocal group. The song is "Forever Young." (followed by Dylan playing electric guitar and singing a part of that song with his backing singers, which is the end of the piece).

 

 

*Note: The line Dylan sang in that Jackson/Richie composition was: "There’s a choice we’re making, we’re saving our own lives /It’s true we make a better day, just you and me." More on that subject here.


Some thoughts on the interview:

I think this interview is significant for a few reasons. It was Dylan’s first ever proper television interview, and the only one he has done to date other than December 2004’s interview with Ed Bradley for CBS’s “60 Minutes.” Indeed, that show was promoted as Dylan’s “first TV interview in 20 years.” This is the previous interview to which they were referring.

Like the “60 Minutes” segment, it’s disappointing in its brevity (15 minutes, much of which is old footage being played) and the relative lack of knowledge of the interviewer. Nevertheless, it probably is more substantive than Ed Bradley’s piece, in that Dylan appears less wary of and/or hostile to the interviewer, and some fairly significant topics are touched upon.

Especially interesting to me are some things mentioned in the voice-over, where the ABC newsman seems to be referring to things which Dylan said during their discussion, but which are not actually seen during the part of the interview which is aired. E.g.:

“He believes in the resurrection, he says, but he also delved intensely into his own religious heritage: Orthodox Judaism.”

And:

“Dylan says he believes there will be a new beginning, a Messianic Kingdom eventually.”

Bear in mind that this was in 1985, and some argued (and some inexplicably still argue) that Dylan had shed his belief in Jesus Christ after 1981’s Shot of Love album like some kind of worn-out fad. It’s clear enough to people who have ears to hear that this wasn’t the case, but anyhow, here apparently was an example of Dylan going on-the-record both about Christ, and about his simultaneous acceptance of his own Jewishness—but ABC just choosing not to make that part of the on-air interview.

What else to say? There’s the bit about the “We Are The World” record and Live-Aid concert, which I already wrote about here. There is the direct question about whether Dylan considers his own work to be “poetry,” and his rather straightforward and quite humble response. This, by the way, is a part of the interview that appears to be significantly edited. What a shame—and one wonders what else was left on the cutting-room floor, and even now may be in a can somewhere at ABC.*

Y’know, it’s funny – on these two occasions that Dylan did a TV interview, much was made of the idea that he’s some kind of hermit or recluse (far from true, considering all of the print interviews he’s done) and what a big occasion this was as a result. Yet, in both instances, they ended up taking a few brief clips from apparently longer interviews and filling up the rest of a mere quarter-hour segment with old footage and editorializing.

Kinda sums it up, doesn’t it? That is, it sums up the mainstream media’s attitude to Dylan through the years. “We want you Bob! Tell us what you think, talk to us.” Then when he does, it’s, “Well, OK, that’s not we expected. We’ll use a little bit of that but mainly we’ll just continue telling people what we think you’re about.”

What was it you wanted
You can tell me, I’m back,
We can start it all over
Get it back on the track,
You got my attention,
Go ahead, speak.
What was it you wanted
When you were kissing my cheek?

* 07/06/2005 09:36:40 am: Someone who is much better informed than I tells me that there are outtakes from this interview in circulation. So, down the road we may revisit this …

July 2007 update: And click here to see my notes on the fascinating outtakes from this interview.