(What was it you wanted? #25)

Only Human Driftin' And Learnin'

by Sidney Fields

All things that once churned inside Bob Dylan when he was knocking about America are pouring from him now.

These past six years he's written over hundred songs, with rare perception, covering everything from nuclear fallout and integration to lover's lament or his own loneliness.

Some Like "Hard Rains Are Going To Fall" are in his current best-selling album, "The Free Wheelin' Bob Dylan". Others, like "Blowin' In The Wind" and "Don't Think Twice, It's All Right" are hits by Peter, Paul And Mary, and Bobby Darin.

Dylan is twenty-one, wears faded dungarees, uncut hair, an assumed hillbilly accent, and has been on and off resident in Greenwich Village (where else?) for over two years. Before that he was trying to cover every highroad and by way of the country.

"The itch to move, to see, and hear, was always there", he says. "But I didn't want to see the atomic bathrooms and electronic bedrooms and souped up can-openers; I wanted to watch and feel the people and the dust and ditches and the fields and fences."

His parents and a younger brother are still in Hibbing, Minnesota, where he first tried to leave when he was ten, with his guitar and harmonica. He got 900 miles away before police picked him up and sent him home by train.

"I got walloped, but not hard enough to make me stay", Dylan says, "I took off again at 12 and five times after that, getting caught and walloped each time. But when I was 18 I made it."

He touched about every state, trying to earn his keep by telling stories of what he saw, but eating more regularly when he trimmed hedges, mowed lawns, or any work he could get. His first New York job earned him $2 for a one-night stand in a village coffee joint. When another folk singer made a record for Columbia he was asked to accompany her on the harmonica. Columbia signed him. He made his first album and was given a Town Hall debut.

The program notes about himself came from "My Life In A Stolen Minute" a long autobiographical poem. Part of it goes: "With my thumb out, my eyes asleep, my hat turned up an' my head turned on, I'se driftin' and an' learnin' new lessons."

His voice is small, but telling, and what he sings in his own penetrating way has all the bright rhythm of a poet aware of the world.

Since his Town Hall appearance he has appeared at colleges and folk festivals, coast-to-coast, and in London and Rome. He has been on the Ed Sullivan show; on stage at Carnegie Hall. He gives a second Carnegie Hall concert next October 27. Of late he has shown up on the same stage with Joan Baez in "impromptu-on-purpose."

After his first album, titled simply Bob Dylan, he concluded "That's not me. There was only a couple of my stories on it." He was happier with his second "I wrote all the stories except for one or two songs."

His songs always start as stories. When he was on the road he became a fine teller of other people's stories. But he quit that.

"Because Dickens and Dostoievski and Woody Guthrie were telling their stories much better than I ever could", Bob Dylan says, "I decided to stick to my own mind"

This article/interview was originally printed in New York Mirror, 9/12/1963. Reprinted in Craig McGregor (ed): Bob Dylan. A Retrospective.