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Knockin' On Bob Dylan's Door

Page 6 of 6

As for the rearrangements of songs, the harder, snappier way he's singing some of the older songs: "You'll always stretch things out or cut it up, just to keep interested. If you can't stay interested that way, you'll have to lose track. But I'm me now, that's the way it comes out."

What? You're meaner now?

"What? Oh, no. I'm me now." Dylan laughed. He could just see the headline.

Is Dylan planning to stay in Malibu?

"No," he said, "we're just there temporarily. It was cold in New York and we didn't want to go back there after Mexico [and the shooting of Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid]. I can't stay away from New York!"

How did he get the role of Alias in the Sam Peckinpah film?

"Just one thing into another. [Pause] They took me on because I was a big name. I've seen myself on screen; movies don't impress me. That part didn't scare me off at all. I just hoped I didn't get shot during the movie.

"I don't know who I played. I tried to play whoever it was in the story, but I guess it's a known fact in history that there was nobody who was the character I played in the story.

"No, I don't want to be a movie star," he continued, "but I've got a vision to put up on the screen. Someday we'll get around to doing it. The Peckinpah experience was valuable, in terms of getting near the big action."

Would Dylan do more films before tackling his "vision"?

"The Peckinpah movie brought me as close as I'll get," he said. "I've been on sets of movies and TV shows, but they were small-time compared. They spent $4.5 million on Billy The Kid, had all the top people. So that was really heavy, gave me that vibration. When I finally do mine, it'll have that vibration."

What about his latest business moves?

Photos: The Evolution of Bob Dylan

"I don't think about it," said Dylan. "Just had to get out of some legal hassles from back in the old days."

Dylan, in earlier announcements, had planned to have his own label, ironically named Ashes & Sand, the name of the holding company he'd set-up back in the old, Albert Grossman days. Dylan smiled, laughing at himself:

"That only lasted a quick few minutes," he agreed.

What were the advantages to having his own label? Was Dylan advised by an outside party to form his own company? "I advised myself it was a good thing, and then I advised myself that it wasn't. I just didn't need it."

Dylan does, however, maintain an interest in spotting — and helping — new talent. If Ashes & Sand were a reality, Dylan said, he'd want Leon Redbone.

"Leon interests me," he said. "I've heard he's anywhere from 25 to 60, I've been this close" — Dylan held his hands out, a foot and a half apart — "and I can't tell, But you gotta see him. He does old Jimmie Rodgers, then turns around and does a Robert Johnson." Redbone has surfaced at various folk festivals in the past years and is every bit the mystery that Dylan indicates.

And the other Leon, Leon Russell, who produced only a couple of cuts with Dylan?

"Leon and I, we didn't do that much." Dylan couldn't remember exactly what they'd done, beyond "Watching the River Flow" and "When I Paint My Masterpiece."

"It went fine, it was as good as it could've been expected to be. But the producers that have meant the most to me are Tom Wilson, John Hammond and Bob Johnston. They were there. They were there when . . . well, it's like a small group of friends."

What about the Dylan album, the collection of Self-Portrait outtakes Columbia had released on the eve of the Dylan tour, after Dylan split from the label to go with Ashes & Sand, and then Asylum? Dave Geffen had charged Columbia with holding the album over Dylan's head, threatening to release it unless he re-signed his contract. "That's when they sealed their doom," he said. Geffen, speaking on Dylan's behalf earlier in the tour, had characterized Dylan's response to the album as utter repulsion. "He disclaims it," Geffen said. "He doesn't know that Dylan."

(Columbia's vice president of A&R, Charles Koppelman, denied Geffen's allegations. The album was delayed, at Dylan's request, during contract talks, he said, but Dylan had never expressed disapproval with the album itself. "He called Goddard [Lieberson, president of Columbia] and said he didn't mind us at all putting out the album," Koppelman said. The executive couldn't offer much explanation for the sloppiness of the album: the lack of information on dates of recording, backup musicians and even composers' credits. "We had a lack of information ourselves," he said. Columbia, Koppelman said, will continue to release Dylan material. "We have a fairly good amount of tape," including live concerts and "a group of tapes where he performed with other well-known performers. We have a good few albums," said Koppelman.)

Dylan described the material on Dylan as outtakes, sung "just to warm up," he said. "They were just not to be used. I thought it was well understood." But, he said, he couldn't understand all the critical downgrading of the album.

"I didn't think it was that bad, really!" he said.

Dylan said he thought Clive Davis, the president of Columbia Records, fired last May for alleged "financial malfeasance," was "a scapegoat." But even if Davis was still at Columbia, he said, he would've left the label. "It was long overdue," he said. "Just a gut feeling it was time to go on. I suspected they were doing more talk than action. Just released 'em and that's all. I got a feeling they didn't care whether I stayed there or not."

As for David Geffen: "He's there." What does "there" mean?

"Whatever it takes to be there."

Has he signed a contract with Asylum, as Geffen said?

"I'm not so sure we signed one. I don't sign anything these days."

It's been a tour of luck and coincidences, running into Neil Young's father, Ronnie Hawkins and Bob Dylan himself. But there was also the leaflet I picked up outside the Nickelodeon, blood-red headlined: 40 Days! And Nineveh Shall Be Destroyed. It was dated November 12th and distributed by the Children of God, a local religion franchise. "40 Days," of course, was Ronnie Hawkins' first major hit, dated June, 1959.

Here, sitting with Dylan, I also thought about the headlines that had surfaced upon his arrival in Philadelphia and Toronto. In Philly, the Evening Bulletin carried a story: "Fewer Jews Reported in Philadelphia Area" (population decreased 7% in the last year). In Toronto, Dylan was greeted with this headline in the Globe and Mail: "Apathy, Alienation Reported Rampant Among Young Jews."

"It is not the slightest bit surprising (but nonetheless shocking and depressing) that no less than 88% [of converts to Christianity] consider the Jewish religion 'valueless,"' said the report issued by P'eylim of Canada, a Toronto Jewish organization.

Religious images have long been part of Bob Dylan's music. In 1971, he visited the Wailing Wall in Israel. Now, on tour, he was rumored to be planning on handing over his cut of the profits to the Israeli cause; that he was an "ultra-Zionist."

"I'm not sure what a Zionist really is," he said, putting down the rumors as "just gossip." As for the religious images that surface regularly in his music, he commented, after a good pause: "Religion to me is a fleeting thing. Can't nail it down. It's in me and out of me. It does give me, on the surface, some images, but I don't know to what degree.

"Like da Vinci going in to paint the Last Supper. Until he finishes it, no one knows what the Last Supper is. He goes out and finds 12 guys, puts them around this table, and there's your Last Supper. Or Moses. He found a guy and painted him, and, forever, that guy will be Moses. But why Moses or the Last Supper? Why not a flower? Or a tree?"

Dylan had earlier mentioned an astrological influence on his return to active performance, the removal of an obstacle, Saturn, in his planetary system. I asked him to elaborate.

"I can't read anybody's chart," he said, "but the thing about Saturn is, I didn't know what it was at the time, or I would've gone somewhere away. It's a big, heavy obstacle that comes into your chain of events that fucks you up in a big way. It came into my chart a few years ago and just flew off again a couple of months ago."

Who'd clued him in on Saturn?

"Someone very dear to me."

This story is from the February 14th, 1974 issue of Rolling Stone.

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

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