They say Bob Dylan is the most secretive and elusive person in the entire rock and roll substructure, but after doing this interview, I think it would be closer to the point to say that Dylan, like John Wesley Harding, was “never known to make a foolish move.”
The preparations for the interview illustrates this well. About 18 months ago, I first started writing Bob letters asking for an interview, suggesting the conditions and questions and reasons for it. Then, a little over a year ago, the night before I left New York, a message came from the hotel operator that a “Mr. Dillon” had called.
Two months later, I met Bob for the first time at another hotel in New York: . . . he casually strolled in wearing a sheepskin outfit, leather boots, very well put together but not too tall, y’understand. It was 10 A.M. in the morning, and I rolled out of bed stark naked— – sleep that way, y’understand —– and we talked for half an hour about doing an interview, what it was for, why it was necessary. Bob was feeling out the situation, making sure it would be cool.
That meeting was in the late fall of 1968. It took eight months – —until the end of June this year – —to finally get the interview. The meantime was covered with a lot of phone calls, near misses in New York City, Bob’s trips to California which didn’t take place and a lot of waiting and waiting for that right time when we were both ready for the show.
The interview took place on a Thursday afternoon in New York City at my hotel, right around the corner from the funeral home where Judy Garland was being inspected by ten thousand people, who formed lines around several city blocks. We were removed from all that activity, but somehow it seemed appropriate enough that Judy Garland’s funeral coincided with the interview.
Bob was very cautious in everything he said, and took a long time between questions to phrase exactly what he wanted to say, nothing more and sometimes a little less. When I wasn’t really satisfied with his answers, I asked the questions another way, later. But Bob was hip.
Rather than edit the interview into tight chunks and long answers, I asked Sheryl to transcribe the tapes with all the pauses, asides and laughs left in. So, much of the time, it’s not what is said, but how it is said, and I think you will dig it more just as it went down.
To bring us up to date after all that, August through September was spent trying to get Baron together with Bob to get some new photographs of him, in a natural, non-performance situation. But it proved fruitless. Perhaps if we had had another six months to work on getting the photographs, but Bob was simply not to be rushed or pushed into something he really didn’t feel like doing at the time. (“I’ll have Baron meet you in New York tomorrow.” “Well, tomorrow I might be in Tucson, Arizona,” “Baron will fly to Tucson,” etc.)
The photographs we have used are from rehearsals for the Johnny Cash show and from the Isle of Wight, ones you probably have not seen yet, and some photos of Bob from a long time ago. Bob promised that we would get together soon to take some photos, and if we do, you’ll see them as soon as we get them. But don’t hold your breath.
Meantime, here’s the interview.
When do you think you’re gonna go on the road?
November . . . possibly December.
What kind of dates do you think you’ll play – concerts? Big stadiums or small concert halls?
I’ll play medium-sized halls.
What thoughts do you have on the kind of back-up you’re going to use
Well, we’ll keep it real simple, you know . . . drums . . . bass . . . second guitar . . . organ . . . piano. Possibly some horns. Maybe some background voices.
Girls? Like the Raylettes?
We could use some girls.
Do you have any particular musicians in mind at this time?
To go out on the road? Well, I always have some in mind. I’d like to know a little bit more about what I’m gonna do. You see, when I discover what I’m gonna do, then I can figure out what kind of sound I want.
I’d probably use . . . I’d want the best band around, you know?
Are you going to use studio musicians or use some already existing band?
I don’t know . . . you see, it involves putting other people on the bill, full-time. I’d only probably use the Band again . . . if I went around.
And they’d do the first half of the show?
. . . Sure . . . sure . . .
Are you thinking of bringing any other artists with you?
Well, every so often we do think about that. (laughter) We certainly do. I was thinking about maybe introducing Marvin Rainwater or Slim Whitman to “my audience.”
Have you been in touch with either of them
No . . . no.
What did you think when you saw yourself on the Cash show?
(Laughs) Oh, I’d never see that . . . I can’t stand to see myself on television. No.
Did you dig doing it?
I dig doing it, yeah. Well, you know, television isn’t like anything else . . . it’s also like the movie business, you know, where they call you and then you just sit around. So by the time you finally do something, you have to do it three or four times, and usually all the spirit’s gone.
You didn’t watch it on TV?
(Laughs) I did watch it on TV . . . just because I wanted to see Johnny. I didn’t realize they slowed Doug Kershaw down, too. They slowed his song down to . . . his song was like this . . . (taps out steady beat) . . . and they slowed him down to . . . (taps slow rhythm) . . . you know?
Just by slowing down the tape?
They just slowed him down. I don’t know how. I don’t know what happened. I think the band slowed him down or something, but boy he was slowed down. During rehearsals and just sitting around, he played these songs . . . the way we was going at it, maybe 3/4 time, and they slowed him down to about 2/3 time, you know?
Did you have any difficulty working with the TV people doing something like that?
O no, no, they’re wonderful people . . . they really are. It was by far the most enjoyable television program I’ve ever done. I don’t do television just because you get yourself in such a mess . . . so I don’t do it.
You told me once that you were going to do a TV special?
That’s what I’m talking about.
No, I’m talking about CBS.
In New York?
Well, we don’t know that yet. They don’t have in mind exactly what they would like. They kind of leave it wide open, so we’re trying to close the gap now.
What do you have in mind for it?
Oh, I just have some free-from type thing in mind. A lot of music.
[Q] Presenting other artists?
Sure. . . I don’t mind. I don’t know who, but. . .
Why haven’t you worked in so long?
Well, uh . . . I do work.
I mean on the road.
On the road . . . I don’t know, working on the road . . . Well, Jann, I’ll tell ya— – I was on the road for almost five years. It wore me down. I was on drugs, a lot of things. A lot of things just to keep going, you know? And I don’t want to live that way anymore. And uh . . . I’m just waiting for a better time– – you know what I mean?
What would you do that would make the tour that you’re thinking about doing different from the ones you did do?
Well, I’d like to slow down the pace a little. The one I did do . . . the next show’s gonna be a lot different from the last show. The last show, during the first half, of which there was about an hour, I only did maybe six songs. My songs were long, long songs. But that’s why I had to start dealing with a lot of different methods of keeping myself awake, alert . . . because I had to remember all the words to those songs. Now I’ve got a whole bag of new songs. I’ve written ’em for the road, you know. So I’ll be doing all these songs on the road. They’re gonna sound a lot better than they do on record. My songs always sound a lot better in person than they do on the record.
Well, I don’t know why. They just do.