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Bob Dylan: An Intimate Biography, Part Two

Page 15 of 15

In our conversation seven months after Self Portrait, Dylan appeared to be of two minds about the attacks on him the album had provoked. As a popular artist trying to reach a wide audience he emphasized that the disillusioned are in the minority. "You can talk to some radicals who are up on me, right?" he asked at one point. "I hope you just don't paint me on one side of the radical thing." He is, of course, correct. Dylan continues to be meaningful to many of those he reached back in 1964 and 1965, while at the same time affecting younger listeners with both his earlier albums and his latest work.

Dylan is absolutely certain about the worth of Self Portrait: "It's a great album," he said to me. "There's a lot of damn good music there. People just didn't listen at first."

Dylan also seems to feel that, like at Newport, he will eventually be understood, that his audience will follow him into his next stage. "I still have a lot of talent left," he said. "I can still do it. None of it has left me. All those people who are down on me, they'll catch up. They'll understand someday. They've got a surprise coming."

* * *

And suddenly there was another Dylan album, only a few months after Self Portrait. Almost as if Dylan was so concerned with the dislocation of the Dylan myth that he had to show the world he could still affect it. Or, as one critic said, perhaps Dylan was hoping to distract us from Self Portrait.

New Morning was released in October, 1970, and the critics and fans immediately hailed the album. An autobiography, that's the feel of it. Dylan is once again writing about himself, giving us a few preview pages from his autobiography.

Dylan also told me he is working on his autobiography. "I never thought of the past," he said. "Now I'm doing it. Now I realize that you should look back sometimes. Back then I didn't look at the past because today was important. But now the past seems meaningful and I'm getting a kick at looking back."

One minor indication of what has happened to Bob's head since those insane years of his first big fame, came while we were sitting in his studio on a January afternoon. By 4:30 it had begun to grow dark. I suggested we turn the lights on, and he did. When he sat down again he was practically smack against the bamboo blinds that offered no protection from a street filled with pedestrians and rush hour traffic. I asked him:

"Don't you have any problems with people gawking in at you?"

"No, man, not at all," Dylan replied. "If you're uptight about it we can move to the back."

At this writing, Dylan's search for personal salvation seems to be coming around full circle, back to the religion of his fathers. Bob has started to study Judaism, and Hebrew. Dylan, who gets so Gemini-enthusiastic about everything, has made several trips to Israel in the last year or so to "sniff the breeze," as a friend puts it. He has reportedly donated some of his funds to help support at least one kibbutz there. Folksinger Theo Bikel adds: "Dylan has told me that Israel appears to be one of the few places left in this world where life has any meaning." He has even attended several meetings of the militant Jewish Defense League. The JDL's head, Meir Kahane, will say only that Dylan has "come around a couple of times to see what we're all about" and has promised to donate money to the organization. Dylan refuses to discuss it. But it is obvious that his search for his past has led him back to the heritage he was denying since Minneapolis.

Most fans and critics understand a part of what Dylan has been saying, for he has scattered many clues. But the understanding does not run deep. They're looking for a leader, as Dylan has said, and many of them continue to expect Dylan to provide solutions to the problems that trouble them most deeply. Since New Morning there has been an attempt to fit him with a greening of America's politico-religious cloak, an attempt to deify him again as the Prophet leading us into Consciousness III: "Dylan has been, from the very beginning, a true prophet of the new consciousness," Charles A. Reich writes in his Utopian primer of the new world acoming; and, as has been their habit since his name began to be whispered around the Village, Dylan freaks are once more seeking to immortalize Bob.

And so Dylan's battle to escape canonization (and the martyrdom that comes with it) continues.

"It's rough times," Dylan commented during one of our talks. "Everybody needs a Father."

Reprinted from Bob Dylan by Anthony Scaduto © 1970, 1972 by Anthony scaduto. Published by Grosset & Dunlap, Inc.

This is a story from the March 16, 1972 issue of Rolling Stone.

To read the new issue of Rolling Stone online, plus the entire RS archive: Click Here

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Song Stories

“Bird on a Wire”

Leonard Cohen | 1969

While living on the Greek island of Hydra, Cohen was battling a lingering depression when his girlfriend handed him a guitar and suggested he play something. After spotting a bird on a telephone wire, Cohen wrote this prayer-like song of guilt. First recorded by Judy Collins, it would be performed numerous times by artists incuding Johnny Cash, Joe Cocker and Rita Coolidge. "I'm always knocked out when I hear my songs covered or used in some situation," Cohen told Rolling Stone. "I've never gotten over the fact that people out there like my music."

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