Tom Junod writes about Bob Dylan and what we know and don't know about him and what that says about our ability to know anything about anyone. Maaaaan. *toke*
Bob Dylan is either the most public private man in the world or the most private public one. He has a reputation for being silent and reclusive; he is neither. He has been giving interviews-albeit contentious ones-for as long as he's been making music, and he's been making music for more than fifty years. He's seventy-two years old. He's written one volume of an autobiography and is under contract to write two more. He's hosted his own radio show. He exhibits his paintings and his sculpture in galleries and museums around the world. Ten years ago, he cowrote and starred in a movie, Masked and Anonymous, that was about his own masked anonymity. He is reportedly working on another studio recording, his thirty-sixth, and year after year and night after night he still gets on stage to sing songs unequaled in both their candor and circumspection. Though famous as a man who won't talk, Dylan is and always has been a man who won't shut up.
In 1963, Studs Terkel interviewed a 21-year-old Bob Dylan, before he was famous.
In the spring of 1963 Studs Terkel introduced Chicago radio listeners to an up-and-coming musician, not yet 22 years old, "a young folk poet who you might say looks like Huckleberry Finn, if he lived in the 20th century. His name is Bob Dylan."
Dylan had just finished recording the songs for his second album, "The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan", when he traveled from New York to Chicago to play a gig at a little place partly owned by his manager, Albert Grossman, called "The Bear Club". The next day he went to the WFMT studios for the hour-long appearance on "The Studs Terkel Program".
Bob Dylan is a notoriously tough person to interview and that's definitely the case here, even this early in his life as a public persona. On the other hand, Terkel is a veteran interviewer, one of the best ever, and he seems genuinely impressed with the young man who was just 21 at the time and had but one record of mainly covers under his belt. Terkel does a good job of keeping things on track as he expertly gets out of the way and listens while gleaning what he can from his subject. It's an interesting match-up.
Dylan seems at least fairly straightforward about his musical influences. He talks about seeing Woody Guthrie with his uncle when he was ten years old (Is this just mythology? Who knows?), and he mentions Big Joe Williams and Pete Seeger a few times.
Much of the rest is a little trickier. Terkel has to almost beg Dylan to play what turns out to be an earnest, driving version of "A Hard Rain's a-Gonna Fall." Dylan tells Terkel that he'd rather the interviewer "take it off the disc," but relents and does the tune anyways.
Mr. Lehrer might have kept his job at The New Yorker if not for the Tablet article, by Michael C. Moynihan, a journalist who is something of an authority on Mr. Dylan.
Reading "Imagine," Mr. Moynihan was stopped by a quote cited by Mr. Lehrer in the first chapter. "It's a hard thing to describe," Mr. Dylan said. "It's just this sense that you got something to say."
After searching for a source, Mr. Moynihan could not verify the authenticity of the quote. Pressed for an explanation, Mr. Lehrer "stonewalled, misled and, eventually, outright lied to me" over several weeks, Mr. Moynihan wrote, first claiming to have been given access by Mr. Dylan's manager to an unreleased interview with the musician. Eventually, Mr. Lehrer confessed that he had made it up.
I've been working my way through these Folkways Podcasts for months and they're fantastic: I figure with the new Todd Haynes Dylan flick making it's way around in very slow release, you might even have a chance to catch up to the two Dylan-focused episodes by the time I'm Not Therehits your part of the world.
The difficulties of interviewing Bob Dylan. "Dylan is rarely concerned about sounding polite, and he says things, but he sometimes makes them up. He also contradicts himself, answers questions with questions, rambles, gets hostile, goes laconic, and generally bewilders."