When Bob Dylan‘s five concerts in the San Francisco Bay Area were scheduled in December 1965, the idea was proposed that he hold a press conference in the studios of KQED, the educational television station.
Dylan accepted and flew out a day early to make it.
He arrived early for the press conference accompanied by Robbie Robertson and several other members of his band, drank tea in the KQED office and insisted that he was ready to talk about “anything you want to talk about.” His only request was that he be able to leave at 3 p.m. so that he could rehearse in the Berkeley Community Theater where he was to sing that night.
At the press conference there were all sorts of people. The TV news crews of all the local stations were there; so were reporters for three metropolitan dailies (their stories were subsequently compared to the broadcast of the interview by a University of California journalism department class) plus representatives of several high school papers, and personal friends of Dylan including poet Allen Ginsberg, producer Bill Graham and comedian Larry Hankin.
Thus the questions ranged from standard straight press and TV reporters’ questions to teen age fan club questions to in-group personal queries and put ons, to questions by those who really had listened to Dylan’s songs.
He sat on a raised platform facing the cameras and the reporters and answered questions over a microphone all the while smoking cigarettes and swinging his leg back and forth. At one point he held up a poster for a benefit that week for the San Francisco Mime Troupe (the first rock dance at he Fillmore Auditorium and one of the first public dances featuring the Jefferson Airplane). At the conclusion of the press conference, he chatted with friends for a while, jumped into a car and went back to Berkeley for the rehearsal. He cut the rehearsal off early to go to the hotel and watch the TV program which was shown that night and repeated the following week.
This is the only full length press conference by Dylan ever televised in its entirety. The transcript was made from an audio tape of the conference, and the only editing has been to take out statements concerning ticket availability and times of the local concerts – R.J.G.
I’d like to know the meaning of the cover photo on your album, Highway 61 Revisited?
What would you like to know about it?
It seems to have some philosophy in it. I’d like to know what it represents to you – you’re a part of it . . .
I haven’t really looked at it that much.
I’ve thought about it a great deal.
It was just taken one day when I was sittin’ on the steps y’know – I don’t really remember too much about it.
I thought the motorcycle was an image in your songwriting. You seem to like that.
Oh, we all like motorcycles to some degree.
Do you think of yourself primarily as a singer or a poet?
Oh, I think of myself more as a song and dance man, y’know.
Oh, I don’t think we have enough time to really go into that.
You were quoted as saying when you’re really wasted you may enter into another field. How “wasted” is really wasted and do you foresee it?
No, I don’t foresee it, but it’s more or less like a ruthless type of feeling. Very ruthless and intoxicated to some degree.
The criticism that you have received for leaving the folk field and switching to folk-rock hasn’t seemed to bother you a great deal. Do you think you’ll stick to folk-rock or go into more writing?
I don’t play folk-rock.
What would you call your music?
I like to think of it more in terms of vision music – it’s mathematical music.
Would you say that the words are more important than the music?
The words are just as important as the music. There would be no music without the words.
Which do you do first, ordinarily?
Do you think there ever will be a time when you will paint or sculpt?
Do you think there will ever be a time when you’ll be hung as a thief?
You weren’t supposed to say that.
Bob, you said you always do your words first and think of it as music. When you do the words can you hear it?
The music you want when you do your words?
Yes, oh yes.
Do you hear any music before you have words – do you have any songs that you don’t have words to yet?
Ummm, sometimes, on very general instruments, not on the guitar though – maybe something like the harpsichord or the harmonica or autoharp – I might hear some kind of melody or tune which I would know the words to put to. Not with the guitar though. The guitar is too hard an instrument. I don’t really hear many melodies based on the guitar.
What poets do you dig?
Rimbaud, I guess; W. C. Fields; The family, you know, the trapeze family in the circus; Smokey Robinson; Allen Ginsberg; Charlie Rich – he’s a good poet.
In a lot of your songs you are hard on people – in “Like A Rolling Stone” you’re hard on the girls and in “Positively 4th Street” you’re hard on a friend. Do you do this because you want to change their lives, or do you want to point out to them the error of their ways?
I want to needle them.
Do you still sing your older songs?
No. No. I just saw a songbook last night, I don’t really see too many of those things, but there’s a lotta songs in those books I haven’t even recorded, y’know. I’ve just written down, and y’know and put little tunes to and they published them. I haven’t sung them, though. A lotta the songs I just don’t even know anymore, even the ones I did sing. There doesn’t seem to be enough time, y’know.
Did you change your program when you went to England?
No, no, I finished it there. That was the end of my older program. I didn’t change it, it was developed and by the time we got there it was all, it was more or less, I knew what was going to happen all the time, y’know. I knew how many encores there was, y’know, which songs they were going to clap loudest and all this kind of things.
In a concert tour like this do you do the same program night after night?
Oh, sometimes it’s different. I think we’ll do the same one here in this area, though.
In a recent Broadside interview, Phil Ochs said you should do films. Do you have any plans to do this?
I do have plans to make a film but not because anybody said I should do it.
How soon will this be?
Next year probably.
Can you tell us what it will be about?
It’ll be just another song.
Who are the people making films that you dig, particularly?
Truffaut. I really can’t think of any more people. Italian movie directors, y’know, but not too many people in England and the United States which I really think that I would dig.
You did a Chaplain bit as an exit in a concert once.
I did!!!??? That musta been an accident. Have to stay away from that kind of thing.
What do you think of people who analyze your songs?
I welcome them – with open arms.
The University of California mimeographed all the lyrics from the last album and had a symposium discussing them. Do you welcome that?
Oh, sure. I’m just kinda sad I’m not around to be a part of it.
Josh Dunson in his new book implies that you have sold out to commercial interests and the topical song movement. Do you have any comment sir?
Well, no comments, no arguments. No, I sincerely don’t feel guilty.
If you were going to sell out to a commercial interest, which one would you choose?
Bob, have you worked with any rock ‘n roll groups?
Or just sitting in or on concert tours with them.
No, no, I don’t usually play too much.
Do you listen to other people’s recordings of your songs?
Sometimes. A few of them I’ve heard. I don’t really come across it that much though.
Is it a strange experience?
No, It’s like a, more or less like a, heavenly kind of thing.
What do you think of Joan Baez‘ interpretations of your earlier songs?
I haven’t heard her latest album, or her one before that. I heard one. She does ’em all right, I think.
What about Donovan‘s “Colors” and his things? Do you think he’s a good poet?
Ehh. He’s a nice guy, though.
Well, you needn’t be.
Are there any young folksingers you would recommend that we hear?
I’m glad you asked that. Oh, yeah, there’s the Sir Douglas Quintet, I think are probably the best that are going to have a chance of reaching the commercial airways. They already have with a couple of songs.
What about Paul Butterfield?
Mr. Dylan you call yourself a completely disconnected person.
No, I didn’t call myself that. They sort of drove those words in my mouth. I saw that paper.
How would you describe yourself? Have you analyzed . . .
I certainly haven’t. No.
Mr. Dylan, I know you dislike labels and probably rightfully so, but for those of us well over thirty, could you label yourself and perhaps tell us what your role is?
Well, I’d sort of label myself as “well under thirty.” And my role is to just, y’know, to just stay here as long as I can.
Phil Ochs wrote in Broadside that you have twisted so many people’s wigs that he feels it becomes increasingly dangerous for you to perform in public.
Well, that’s the way it goes, you know. I don’t, I can’t apologize certainly.
Did you envision the time when you would give five concerts in one area like this within ten days?
No. This is all very new to me.
If you were draftable at present, do you know what your feelings might be?
No. I’d probably just do what had to be done.
What would that be?
Well, I don’t know, I never really speak in terms of “what if” y’know, so I don’t really know.
Are you going to participate in the Vietnam Day Committee demonstration in front of the Fairmont Hotel tonight.
No, I’ll be busy tonight.
You planning any demonstrations?
Well, we thought – one. I don’t know if it could be organized in time.
Would you describe it?
Uh – well it was a demonstration where I make up the cards you know, they have – uh – they have a group of protesters here – uh – perhaps carrying cards with pictures of the Jack of Diamonds on them and the Ace of Spades on them. Pictures of mules, maybe words and – oh maybe about 25 – 30,000 of these things printed up and just picket, carry signs and picket in front of the post office.
Oh, words: “camera”, “microphone” – “loose” – just words – names of some famous people.
Do you consider yourself a politician?
Do I consider myself a politician? Oh, I guess so. I have my own party though.
Does it have a name?
No. There’s no presidents in the party – there’s no presidents, or vice presidents, or secretaries or anything like that, so it makes it kinda hard to get in.
Is there any right wing or left, wing in that party?
No. It’s more or less in the center – kind of on the Uppity scale.
Do you think your party could end the war with China?
Uh – I don’t know. I don’t know if they would have any people over there that would be in the same kind of party. Y’know? It might be kind of hard to infiltrate. I don’t think my party would ever be approved by the White House or anything like that.
Is there anyone else in your party?
No. Most of us don’t even know each other, y’know. It’s hard to tell who’s in it and who’s not in it.
Would you recognize them if you see them?
Oh, you can recognize the people when you see them.
How long do you think it will be before you will finally quit?
Gee, I don’t know. I could answer that you know, but it would mean something different probably for everybody, so we want to keep away from those kind of sayings.
What did you mean when you said . . .
I don’t know, what things were we talking about?
You said I don’t think things can turn out on a . . .
No, no, no – it’s not that I don’t think things can turn out, I don’t think anything you plan ever turns out the way you plan.
Is that your philosophy?
No, no. Doesn’t mean anything.
Do you think that it’s fun to put on an audience.
I don’t know, I’ve never done it.
You wrote a song called “Baby You Been On My Mind.” Do you sing it in concerts?
No I haven’t. No I haven’t.
Are the concerts fun still?
Yeah. Concerts are much more fun than they used to be.
Do you consider them more important than your albums, for instance?
No. It’s just a kick to do it now. The albums are the most important.
Because they reach more people?
No, because it’s all concise, it’s very concise, and it’s easy to hear the words and everything. There’s no chance of the sound interfering, whereas in a concert, we’ve played some concerts where sometimes they have those very bad halls. You know, microphone systems. So it’s not that easy for somebody to just come and just listen to a band as if they were listening to one person, you know.
Do you consider your old songs less valid than the ones you are putting out now?
No, I just consider them something else to themselves, you know for another time, another dimension. It would be kind of dishonest for me to sing them now, because I wouldn’t really feel like singing them.
What is the strangest thing that ever happened to you?
You’re gonna get it, man.
What is the weirdest thing that ever happened to you?
I’ll talk to you about it, later. I wouldn’t do that to you.
What areas in music that you haven’t gotten into do you hope to get into.
Writing symphony – with different melodies and different words, different ideas – all being the same which just roll on top of each other and underneath each other.
Mr. Dylan, when would you know that it was time to get out of the music field into another field?
When I get very dragged.
When you stop making money?
No. When my teeth get better – or God, when something makes a drastic – uh – when I start to itch, y’know? When something just goes to a terrifying turn and I know it’s got nothing to do with anything and I know it’s time to leave.
You say you would like to write symphonies. Is this in the terms that we think of symphonies?
I’m not sure. Songs are all written as part of a symphony – different melodies, different changes – with words or without them, you know, but the end result being a total . . . I mean they say that my songs are long now, y’know, well sometime it’s just gonna come up with the one that’s going to be one whole album, consisting of one song. I don’t know who’s going to buy it. That might be the time to leave.
What’s the longest song you’ve recorded?
I don’t know. I don’t really check those things, they just turn out long. I guess I’ve recorded one about 11 or 12 minutes long. “Ballad of Hollis Brown” was pretty long on the second record and “With God on Your Side” was kind of long. But none of them, I don’t think, are as much into anything as “Desolation Row” was, and that was long, too. Songs shouldn’t seem long, y’know, it just so happens that it looks that way on paper, y’know. The length of it doesn’t have anything to do with it.
Doesn’t this give you a problem in issuing records?
No, they are just ready to do anything that I put down now, so they don’t really care.
What happens if they have to cut a song in half like “Subterranean Homesick Blues”?
They didn’t have to cut that in half.
They didn’t have to but they did.
No they didn’t.
No. You’re talking about “Like A Rolling Stone.”
They cut it in half for the disc jockeys. Well, you see, it didn’t matter for the disc jockeys if they had it cut in half because the other side was just a continuation on the other side and if anybody was interested they could just turn it over and listen to what really happens, you know. We just made a song the other day which came out ten minutes long, and I thought of releasing it as a single but they would have easily released it and just cut it up but it wouldn’t have worked that way so we’re not going to turn it out as a single. It’s called “Freeze Out.” you’ll hear it on the next album.
This story is from the December 14th, 1967 issue of Rolling Stone.