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Topic: Happy Birthday, Bob Dylan! Return to archive Page: 1 2
24th May 2006 07:12 AM

Books of the Times

'Bob Dylan: The Essential Interviews'; 'The Bob Dylan Encyclopedia'
How Does It Feel? Dylan on Everything, Everything on Dylan

Published: May 22, 2006

Bob Dylan will turn 65 on Wednesday to the strains of "Forever Young," a song likely to be played by radio stations as if it were the national anthem. What will this symbolize? What are its ramifications? Will reaching that milestone have resonance for an entire generation?

"Bob Dylan: The Essential Interviews," edited by Jonathan Cott

The Essential Interviews
Edited by Jonathan Cott.

447 pages. Wenner Books. $23.95.


By Michael Gray.

832 pages. Continuum. $40.

"The Bob Dylan Encyclopedia," by Michael Gray
This much is certain: He will hate hearing any of this stuff. "It's horrible," he told Playboy 40 years ago, on one of the countless occasions when he was asked if being a folk hero was a position of great responsibility. "I'll bet Tony Bennett doesn't have to go through this kind of thing. I wonder what Billy the Kid would have answered to such a question."

Billy the Kid didn't engage in a book's worth of verbal showdowns with the press. But Mr. Dylan has, and now those interviews have been invaluably collected. In an irresistible new anthology edited by Jonathan Cott, one of the original editors of Rolling Stone and arguably the most simpatico writer ever to converse with Mr. Dylan, the interview format remains eminently readable through more than 400 pages. And it yields far more than an extended conversation.

The mosaic of discussions found here (very first question: "Bob Dylan, you must be 20 years old now") is many things: biography, oral history, cultural time capsule, music lesson and psychodrama. It expands upon the mesmerizing portrait of Mr. Dylan that both his memoir, "Chronicles, Volume 1," and Martin Scorsese's documentary "No Direction Home" have lately provided.

Arranged chronologically, these interviews vary wildly. That accounts for much of their cumulative appeal. A lot depends upon who was asking the questions and how combative or cooperative Mr. Dylan happened to be feeling. "What do you think of people who analyze your songs?" he was asked at his only televised full-length news conference, in 1965. "I welcome them — with open arms," he replied, in much the same unwelcoming spirit on display in "Don't Look Back," the 1967 documentary he subsequently renounced.

Sarcasm is an understandable response, given what he found himself up against. Here's another sampling of the same session: Does he prefer songs with messages, like "Eve of Destruction?" A. "Do I prefer that to what?" Q. "I don't know, but your songs are supposed to have a subtle message." A. "Subtle message???" Q. "Well, they're supposed to." A. "Where'd you hear that?" Q. "In a movie magazine." A. "Oh — Oh God!"

Clearly, Dylan interviews are not entirely about their subject. Questioners reveal much about themselves just by talking to him. Jann S. Wenner, Rolling Stone's editor, managed to inform readers that he slept stark naked and found more importance in his Dylan run-in than might have been warranted. ("It somehow seemed appropriate enough that Judy Garland's funeral coincided with the interview.")

Nat Hentoff, writing for Playboy, gives Mr. Dylan's speaking voice a suave vocabulary and syntax it doesn't have elsewhere and remarks that the singer's "tonsorial tastes are on the conservative side," compared with those of other male performers of the 60's. "How do you feel about these far-out hair styles?" Mr. Hentoff wants to know.

Mr. Cott, whose own worshipful side emerged via Mr. Dylan ("his songs are miracles, his ways mysterious and unfathomable"), could easily have compiled a book's worth of comic absurdities. But he has sought and captured a broad spectrum of Mr. Dylan's thinking, and of others' efforts to engage him. The book finds the rising star visiting Kenyon College in 1964, in a precociously good school newspaper account written by the future film critic and screenwriter Jay Cocks. It views Mr. Dylan through the beady eyes of A. J. Weberman, who stalked Mr. Dylan, stole his garbage and treated him to the occasional political screed. "I went on & gave D a rap against Imperialism, Racism & Sexism (he didn't seem like he was listening)," Mr. Weberman declares.

Among those who best subvert Mr. Dylan to their own purposes is Sam Shepard, who turns an interview into a two-man, one-act play. It is terse, playful and then abruptly confessional, with a fade-out at the finale. ("Bob stays still, staring off right.")

Here and elsewhere Mr. Cott identifies the major sea changes in Mr. Dylan's life via conversational format, without undue commentary. The book flags in overusing the interviewers' introductions, which rehash the same biographical details and voice-of-a-generation hyperbole.

In a book that extends from 1962 to 2004 (and shows that in September 2001 the voice of his generation was as speechless as any other), Mr. Dylan's assessments of his life and work are steadily illuminating. "There's just something about my lyrics that just have a gallantry to them," he remarked in 1991. "And that might be all they have going for them. However, it's no small thing." Passages like that reaffirm an overriding certitude: Nobody can explain Mr. Dylan as well as he, when he cares to do it, can explain himself.

Which is not to say that many, many others do not try. Michael Gray, who has spent years trying to capture Mr. Dylan's lightning in a bottle, has produced "Bob Dylan Encyclopedia" (coming in mid-June), a heavy, utterly idiosyncratic compendium. It's even up-to-date enough to make reference to "The Essential Interviews" and include a snarky reference to Mr. Cott. Among its many other categories: "book endorsements, unfortunate," "blues, inequality of reward in," "co-option of real music by advertising, the," "radical political activity in 1960s-70s US, the strange disappearance of" and "repertoire, Dylan's early, unsuited to commercial radio."

The many entries on individual songs and performers are arbitrary in their length. Sometimes they are Webermanesque in their fury. Under the heading "interviews and the myth of their rarity," Mr. Gray assails the claim by Mr. Cott and many others that Mr. Dylan is any sort of sphinx. According to Mr. Gray, Mr. Dylan has been averaging an interview a month for four and a half decades.

Neither book performs what would have been a vital function: providing annotations that refer back to Mr. Dylan's versions of events in "Chronicles." (Ray Gooch and Chloe Kiehl, the New York couple who supposedly made the young Mr. Dylan their houseguest amid a cornucopia of wonders, remain elusive in the extreme.) The facts of Mr. Dylan's life exist in many variations, and "Chronicles" tried to correct the record. If he had to be pigeonholed as the voice of a generation, surely he is entitled to the last word.
24th May 2006 08:39 AM
Phog Cheers to you, Bob! Happy 65th.
24th May 2006 09:59 AM
VoodooChileInWOnderl I made a mistake, the birthday of BdP the message board in Spanish is tomorrow and it can be seen in the board's member list, the list was created on May 23, 2005 but it became active on May 25, 2005
24th May 2006 10:02 AM
jb Happy Birthday...sadly, your concert down here was dreadful.
24th May 2006 10:24 AM
VoodooChileInWOnderl wrote:
I made a mistake, the birthday of BdP the message board in Spanish is tomorrow and it can be seen in the board's member list, the list was created on May 23, 2005 but it became active on May 25, 2005

BTW, Happy birtdhay Bob

24th May 2006 10:42 AM
PartyDoll MEG
VoodooChileInWOnderl wrote:
I made a mistake, the birthday of BdP the message board in Spanish is tomorrow and it can be seen in the board's member list, the list was created on May 23, 2005 but it became active on May 25, 2005

Well, thanks for the early preview anyway!! It was quite enjoyable looking at you!!

Oh and yes Happy BD Bob! His exhibit at Cleveland's Rock and Roll Hall of Fame just opened.
[Edited by PartyDoll MEG]
24th May 2006 10:54 AM
Saint Sway Happy Birthday Bob Dylan!!

Happy Birthday Rich Robinson!!

may you both keep rockin on and always stay forever young
24th May 2006 11:07 AM
Bruno How long are you going to wait till posting pics with Dylan and the Stones??? There are pics with all the Stones with him, come on, start it!
[Edited by Bruno]
24th May 2006 11:19 AM
Saint Sway I concur.

but lets also keep in mind that its Rich Robinson's birthday so we need to post pics of him with the Stones as well. And pics of Dylan & Rich too.

I have a few. Someone please give me the 411 on how to post pics, as I am webtarded.
24th May 2006 11:25 AM
time is on my side Happy Birthday Bob!!!! Happy 65th!!

Thanks for the delightful concert you gave down here a few weeks ago!!! Incredible show!!! Fans jumping up and down wanting, praying for more as you left the stage.

Your voice especially was in strong, powerful form. Thanks again!!
24th May 2006 11:28 AM
Saint Sway wrote:
Happy Birthday Bob Dylan!!

Happy Birthday Rich Robinson!!

may you both keep rockin on and always stay forever young

Isn't there a Black Crowes board you could contain this boredom too?
24th May 2006 11:49 AM
Saint Sway Tele, that was funny.... WHEN I SAID IT.

Just so you are aware, all of my lines are copyrighted. On this glorious day I'll let you slide. But please show restraint in the future.

thank you for your cooperation

© Saint Sway 2006
24th May 2006 12:46 PM
Ten Thousand Motels
24th May 2006 02:21 PM
sirfito Happy Birthday, Bob!
I will play Blonde On Blonde, Blood On the Tracks, Highway 61 Revisited,Desire, Before The Flood, Infidiels, and many others tonight.
I was there when Bob sang Like A Rolling Stone with The Stones here in Argentina.
Such a night!!!
24th May 2006 02:40 PM
Ten Thousand Motels BUMP

[Edited by Ten Thousand Motels]
24th May 2006 03:22 PM
MrPleasant I can shit and fuck, make pussies squirt...

Er... Sorry.



I'll start with the crummiest: Knocked Out Loaded, pass through the so-sos (Hard Rain, Oh Mercy) and crumble myself up with the wonderfully belly-aching sorrowful beauty of SAVED! Let's see WHAT KIND OF effects will result from all this submission. Devid Blaine, my fucking ass!!
24th May 2006 03:29 PM
keefjunkie happy birthday to bob and me!
24th May 2006 03:58 PM
PartyDoll MEG wrote:
Well, thanks for the early preview anyway!! It was quite enjoyable looking at you!!

LOL Dolly it ain't me babe that's noted philospher, music producer, Stones book author, TV and Radio conductor per excellence Señor Cucho Peñaloza
24th May 2006 05:14 PM
Sir Stonesalot Happy birthday Bob!

Hope you get your knob gobbled.

Yer XM show needs some work though....
24th May 2006 06:12 PM
Saint Sway wrote:
Tele, that was funny.... WHEN I SAID IT.

Was it grammatically incorrect and misspelled when you said it, or were those Telly's contributions?

One of you guys better brush up on yer Anglais or you'll end up getting deported!

It's also the birthday of Queen Victoria. Where are the pictures of the Stones with Queen Victoria?

[Edited by FPM C10]
24th May 2006 10:24 PM
Soldatti Happy Birthday Bob!
24th May 2006 10:56 PM
*ginda Happy Birthday, Bob. And you WERE the voice of my generation whether you like it or not. We couldn't have found a more eloquent spokesman.
25th May 2006 09:02 AM
Factory Girl Happy Birthday, Bob!
25th May 2006 09:19 AM
GotToRollMe Happy Birthday Uncle Bob!
25th May 2006 01:58 PM
PartyDoll MEG wrote:
Well, thanks for the early preview anyway!! It was quite enjoyable looking at you!!

Oh and yes Happy BD Bob! His exhibit at Cleveland's Rock and Roll Hall of Fame just opened.
[Edited by PartyDoll MEG]

Hey Meg! How the hck are you? Great I trust. :-) Are you going up to see the exhibit? I have to get back there for that......knew it was coming in, but Seattle kept it longer than first anticipated so I missed out....but I'll be BACK!



25th May 2006 02:00 PM
Sir Stonesalot wrote:
Happy birthday Bob!

Hope you get your knob gobbled.

Yer XM show needs some work though....

Work? I LOVE the radio gig Stonesy. I woke up to the baseball theme show 8 am on Bob's 65th....since I didn't get an invite to his party this was a second best option for me.

Take me out to the ballgame!

31st May 2006 11:13 PM
Kilroy Sorry I'm Late folks and Mr Jones.......Happy Birthday Bob, Thank you for your life.
1st June 2006 08:13 AM
Sir Stonesalot I dunno Martha, I guess I was expecting more from the XM thing. By that I suppose I mean that I thought he would be more obscure. Most of what he plays I own, or I'm framiliar with. I suppose my preconcieved notion was that Bob would help educate me further. That really hasn't happened yet. And to me...he sounds bored already. Maybe he's still feeling his way and getting things sorted out.

I guess it's not Bob's problem that my expectations were different from his concept...that's totally on me.
1st June 2006 08:19 AM
Gazza 2006-05-31
Who does Bob Dylan support in the World Cup?

The obvious answer is the United States, as they're one of the thirty-two finalists, but why would anyone, even an American, want the USA to win the World Cup?

Before we get started we should address the question of whether Dylan supports anyone in the World Cup or if he's interested in the sport at all. After all a recent edition of his radio show, Theme Time Radio Hour, was devoted to the theme of baseball, and at one point during the show Dylan called baseball the greatest game in the world. This proves nothing. Theme Time Radio Hour is sent out on satellite radio and available exclusively in the United States, and if history has proved anything, it's that Dylan will always pander to a particular audiences' taste. We also have to get around the fact that he wrote a song named after a baseball player, Catfish, all about the late great A's and Yankees reliever Catfish Hunter. It's almost certain that Dylan didn't write the song out of any love for baseball though; he just liked the name Catfish. Who wouldn't?

Back to the World Cup then. If Dylan isn't going for the USA, maybe somewhere with a family background. In his memoir, Chronicles, Dylan says his grandmother was from a small town in Turkey, near the Armenian border, but neither country made it to Germany this year.

Maybe he'd choose to support a country whose playing style he could relate to. The likely candidates- Brazil, too obvious. They're probably going to win anyway and if they do, Dylan, along with the rest of us, will be hoping they do it with the style of their 1970 (Blonde on Blonde) or 1982 (Highway 61 Revisited) sides. Unless you've got a very good reason never go with the favourite, you'll look like a bandwagon jumper and Dylan's' never been one of those.

Holland are a possibility but they've traditionally been an argumentative bunch- think of Dylan's difficulties with his record producers as described in a 2001 Rome interview. Speaking of Rome, Italy could be in his thoughts. In the same interview Dylan expressed an admiration for the country but, with a cloud of scandal hanging over the current squad, he will probably want to distance himself from any controversy.

No one really likes watching England play soccer, not even the English. They don't keep the ball long enough to establish any recognizable style of play and without Wayne Rooney they'll struggle even more this time around. However England tend to provide the most memorable and emotionally draining performances in major tournaments. This is comparable to Dylan's "born-again" period, best experienced by listening to the Massey Hall bootleg concert. Raw, committed and unapologetically passionate, but you wouldn't want to live there.

Now Dylan has always supported the underdog throughout his life so we'll have to consider the case of the Ivory Coast or Angola. The closest we can get to any possible impulse towards these teams is in his song Mozambique, where Dylan expressed the desire to visit that country but we can't be sure if he ever made it or was even serious. Besides, neither team is expected to go far in the tournament and there's no point in choosing to support a country that's likely to go out before the knock-out stage. The World Cup is a long event and you need to be backing a side that will take you to the final rounds if you're going to get the most out of it.

This is all speculation, we've got to get to the facts. The only known Bob Dylan song mentioning soccer is Goin' to Acapulco from the Basement Tapes, recorded with the future members of the Band. The boys join in with Dylan on the chorus, which goes

Goin' to Acapulco
Goin' on the run
Goin' down to see soccer
Goin' to have some fun
Goin' to have some fun

In the first edition of Dylan's Lyrics this is rendered as Goin' down to see some girl. Some girl? Dylan and the Band are going down to see some some girl? What, all of them? Who would write that? In a more recent edition the lyric has been changed yet again. This time they're goin' down to see fat gut. This is just idiocy. Listen to the damn thing. It's definitely soccer and that's the end of it.

Incidentally, we might like to ponder at this point the role of the Band in this saga. We don't know if Levon Helm is playing on this particular song. He wasn't present on all the Basement Tapes recordings and as the only American in the Band, he probably wouldn't be pre-disposed to soccer. Unlike the rest of the group, who were all Canadians, and would have had more of a grasp of the sport. Dylan himself is nearly, if not secretly, Canadian, being from northern Minnesota.

OK, so Dylan and his gang are heading south to see some soccer and, if they're going to Acapulco, unfortunately they didn't think ahead. They would have found on arrival that Acapulco doesn't have a Primera Division soccer club. They would have had to have settled for a lower league game or even an amateur match, but there's no disgrace in that. In fact supporting a lower league club is often a more morally uplifting endeavour (see I took you close I got what I deserved somewhere else on this blog). There's evidence from other Basement Tapes songs that the trip was a good one- Hills of Mexico, Spanish is the Loving Tongue and The Spanish Song, an outrageous piece of drunkenness, where Dylan and the boys chase the girls around the cantina.

A few years after recording these songs Dylan would go back to Mexico to act in a Sam Peckinpah movie, Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid, and the experience inspired him to write the song Romance in Durango (hot chilli peppers in the blistering sun) which appeared on his album Desire (see above). My vinyl copy of Desire is dedicated to Peckinpah, Allen Ginsberg and Emmett Grogan. Throw Dylan himself and violinist Scarlet Rivera into the mix and you've got a pretty tenacious five-a-side team.

So there it is- Bob Dylan will be supporting Mexico in the World Cup and, after England go out, so will I.
1st June 2006 08:58 AM
VoodooChileInWOnderl BTW, this was the header that day

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