Bob Dylan: Everybody Wants Me to Be Just Like Them

The songwriter's "George Jackson" is kicking up dust with radio and the press

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Michael Ochs Archives/Getty
Bob Dylan performs at the 'Concert For Bangladesh' in Madison Square Garden on August 1th, 1971 in New York City, New York.
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New York — Several AM top 40 stations are refusing to play Bob Dylan's "George Jackson," occasionally citing either the "philosophy" of the song or the use of the word "shit." Some stations have bleeped the word, and others are playing it with the tape reversed at that point. Rock and roll FM and college stations are giving the song heavy air play, most of which is uncensored.

The release of "George Jackson" spurred a proliferation of articles about Dylan, either welcoming him back to social involvement or examining his motives. Very few writers had anything more than the words of the new song to work with. One exception was Anthony Scaduto, whose article, "Won't You Listen to the Lambs, Bob Dylan?" appeared in the November 28th edition of The New York Times Magazine. Scaduto had just completed an "unauthorized" biography and in recent months met and talked to Dylan several times. (The biography will be appearing in a two-part serialization in this publication in February – Ed.)

Photos: Bob Dylan Captured at Home and on the Scene

The article answers certain basic questions about Dylan's recent activities. Scaduto cites this phone conversation: "I'm doing what I used to do in the old days. My music. Trying to keep my life simple. I'm making a new album, and I'm trying to devote all my energies to that. I'm helping people out, making records with them, helping one friend edit a film. I'm studying agriculture. Doing what you're doing, man, just standing in a phone booth. Hang out in the garment center a lot. Just trying to keep things nice and simple."

Walking in the Village one day with Dylan, Scaduto noticed that those who recognized Bob seemed to be aware of his desire for privacy and were inclined to let him pass without asking for an autograph or demanding that he explain a song – or himself – to them.

Commenting on his reluctant status as spokesman for a generation, Dylan said: "The pressures were unbelievable. They were just things you could never understand because they did such weird things to my head."

He was enthusiastic about the Concert for Bangladesh. "Did you see that concert, man? Wasn't it the most incredible show ever? The audience has changed. They're into the music now. They've grown up, and it's the music that's the most important. They just heard it and dug it. Just incredible."

The article gives one fascinating, if ambiguous picture of Dylan's political activities. "Among a certain element of the radical movement, a story is making the rounds concerning a meeting between Dylan and Black Panthers Huey Newton and David Hilliard. About a year ago attorney Gerald Lefcourt wrote a letter to Dylan at Hilliard's request, asking him to do a benefit or in some way to help raise funds for Panther trials. Eventually, Dylan met with Newton and Hilliard, the story goes, and as soon as they sat down Dylan began to lecture them on their anti-Zionist pronouncements. Within minutes, Hilliard leaped up, angry, and headed for the door shouting: 'Let's get out of here. We can't talk to this Zionist pig!' Newton asked him to 'cool it' and Hilliard returned. The conversation lasted another hour or more but was a standoff. 'I can't help you as long as the Panthers are against Israel,' Dylan is said to have told them.

"Asked about the story recently, Bob said: 'What meeting? Why don't you talk to Huey about it?' Newton was in China at the time, Hilliard in prison, and the story could not be confirmed by Panthers who are supposed to have been there. Dylan won't concede it took place."

Dylan's interest in Judaism reached a peak a little over a year ago. He attended several meetings of the Jewish Defense League. Rabbi Meir Kahane of JDL acknowledged that Dylan "came around a couple of times to see what we're about," but refused to comment further. "My enthusiasm has altered," Dylan said. "In this day and age one can't put one's faith in organizations and groups just like that. There has to be a certain amount of comradeship, root beginnings and moral justification to allow one to put his mind and body on the line."

Photos: Bob Dylan Hanging With Joan Baez, Allen Ginsberg and More

Dylan is in the midst of two large, time-consuming projects. One is his autobiography, which he's worked on intermittently over the last year. "I never thought of the past," he said, "now I sometimes do. I think back sometimes to all those people I once did know. It's an incredible story, putting together the pieces. It's like a puzzle, as far as stories go. I meditate on it sometimes, all that craziness . . . I really like to work on it."

The other major project is his new album which he is producing. He refuses to comment on the album but he did have an answer for those critics who would like to see him return to the role he played in the early Sixties. "I said not to follow leaders, to watch the parking meters. It was that simple. I wasn't going to fall for being any kind of leader. The media made up that crap – that Dylan, the Rolling Stones, the Beatles were leaders. We didn't know anything about it, and what's more, didn't want any part of it. Nobody should look to anybody else for their answers. But the times are tough. Everybody wants a leader. In fact, everybody wants to be a leader . . . "

This story is from the January 6th, 1972 issue of Rolling Stone.

From The Archives Issue 99: January 6, 1972