Bob Dylan delivered a memorable, riveting 30-minute acceptance speech at last week’s all-star MusiCares Person of the Year ceremony, thanking his early supporters and the artists who covered his work and denouncing “detractors” like Merle Haggard and songwriting duo Leiber & Stoller. As a postscript to his epic, career-spanning monologue, Dylan chatted with author Bill Flanagan to elaborate further on the MusiCares speech and clear up a few misconceptions.
One of the more surprising moments of Dylan’s speech came when he called out Haggard, an artist he toured with in 2005. Haggard himself was surprised at Dylan declaring that he’d rather have Buck Owens’ approval than Haggard’s. In the conversation with Flanagan, Dylan clarified his Haggard comments and downplayed any hint of a feud between the two.
“I wasn’t dissing Merle, not the Merle I know,” Dylan said. “What I was talking about happened a long time ago, maybe in the late Sixties. Merle had that song out called ‘Fighting Side of Me’ and I’d seen an interview with him where he was going on about hippies and Dylan and the counterculture, and it kind of stuck in my mind and hurt, lumping me in with everything he didn’t like.
“But of course times have changed and he’s changed too. If hippies were around today, he’d be on their side and he himself is part of the counterculture… so yeah, things change. I’ve toured with him and have the highest regard for him, his songs, his talent – I even wanted him to play fiddle on one of my records and his Jimmie Rodgers tribute album is one of my favorites that I never get tired of listening to. He’s also a bit of a philosopher. He’s serious and he’s funny. He’s a complete man and we’re friends these days. We have a lot in common.”
Dylan also talked about the process of handpicking which performers would play his star-studded fete, including Neil Young, Beck, Jack White, Willie Nelson, Bonnie Raitt and Crosby, Stills & Nash covering tracks from the Dylan songbook. “Most all of them had recorded versions of those songs over the years,” Dylan said. “Garth [Brooks, who performed via satellite] had made ‘Make You Feel My Love’ a number one hit. Tom Jones had done an incredible version of ‘What Good Am I.’ Beck had recorded ‘Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat.’ Neil [Young] of course, he’s been doing ‘Blowin’ In the Wind’ for a while and he does it the way it should be done and that song needed to be there.”
While Dylan also raved about Alanis Morissette’s “Subterranean Homesick Blues” and Aaron Neville’s “Shooting Star,” he was particularly blown away by Bruce Springsteen’s “Incredible!” performance of “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door,” which also featured Rage Against the Machine guitarist Tom Morello.
“[Springsteen] did that song like the record, something I myself have never tried. I never even thought it was worth it. Maybe never had the manpower in one band to pull it off. I don’t know, but I never thought about it. To tell you the truth, I’d forgotten how the song ought to go,” Dylan said of the performance. “Bruce pulled all the power and spirituality and beauty out of it like no one has ever done. He was faithful, truly faithful to the version on the record, obviously the only one he has to go by.”
For the rest of Dylan’s remarks about his MusiCares speech, including who he had in mind when he criticized his “critics,” check out the official Bob Dylan site.