Sheffield University Paper
May 1965
(Interview date: 30 April 1965?)

"Bob Dylan"

By Jenny De Yong and Peter Roche.

[ Unfortunately there were marks on the page which made it difficult to decipher certain words. And yes it really does say "Corrain" :-)]

"I try to harmonise with songs the lonesome sparrow sings," sang Bob Dylan, alone on the stage at a packed City Hall last Friday: Dylan is himself sparrow-like - a thin, faded, ruffled sparrow - but one that sings to the tune of L2,000 per concert.

His dark-circled eyes seemed to peer above the conglomeration surrounding him (two microphones, a table with two glasses of much-needed water and a harmonica cradle round his polo-sweatered neck), while his penetrating songs convinced even the most cynical that Bob Dylan is worthy of the mound of superlatives which has been heaped upon him and under which his earlier followers feared he might suffocate.

An essential part of the popular image is the loneliness of Bob Dylan. He sings about it, in haunting symbols. He sings too about bitterness, of "The felsh-coloured Christs that glow in the dark". Make no mistakes though - Dylan can write in glowing images about war and violence but he can write with equal insight, and stricly for laughs, about the things that are reality to a greater part of his audience, like the boy trying to persuade his girl to stay for the night.

Dylan has been set up as everything from a blue-denim god to a guitar-playing Socrates, corrupting youth by opening the door on hooliganism, warning the universal parent: "You sons and your daughters are beyond your command". It was for this reason that we approached him with some trepidation (and considerable difficulty, owing to positive festoons of red tape). We anticipated meeting the "sullen, bored Mr. Dylan" about whom so much has been written in the Press lately - and found instead an individual who was very tired but very willing to talk. He answered our questions in his room at the Grand Hotel, perched on the edge of a couch, a cup of black coffee in one hand, a cigarette (Player's, untipped) in the other. Around him his entourage: a tough, voluble manager with flowing grey hair; a hip-talking young man with glasses and [a lovely?] jacket; a tall negro with an engaging chin; a dark, chatty girl hitching a plastic iris.

Dylan talks rapidly - his voice very soft - even when discussing topics about which he obviously feels strongly (the Press, for example) his tone remains quiet, matter-of-fact. His thin, pale face has a fragile, almost transparent quality - although this was probably due in part to lack of sleep ("He's had no proper sleep for three days," Joan Baez had told us earlier). Miss Baez, who plans to tour Britain herself some time in the Autumn, sat quietly in a corner of the room, watching Dylan intently as he talked.

Q: To start with the obvious question: what do you think of Donovan and "Catch the Wind?"

A: Well, I quite like that song, and he sings it quite well. He's very young though, and people might like to try to make him into something that he isn't; that's something he'll have to watch. But the song is O.K.

Q: Isn't the tune a lot like your "Chimes of Freedom"?

A: Oh, I don't care what he takes from me; I don't care what other singers do to my songs either, they can't hurt me any. Like with the Animals and "Baby Let Me Follow You Down", I didn't worry none about that. I met the Animals over in New York, and we all went out and got scoused. Is that what you say? (Someone behind him suggests "sloshed".) Oh yeah, that's it, sloshed. Anyway, the Animals are O.K., I liked their last one, "Don't Let Me be Misunderstood", that was a good one.

Q: Coming on to your latest single, "Subterranean Homesick Blues", [many?] people seem worried about the electric guitars and drums.

A: Yeah, well we had a lot of swinging cats on that track, real hip musicians, not just some cats I picked up off the street, and we all got together and we just had a ball. Anyway, that's just one track off the album.

Q: So why release it as a single?

A: That's not me, that's the Company. The Company says to me "It's time to do your next album", so I go along and record [???h] tracks for the album. [What we?] do with the songs then, we [leave it?] up to them. But I record [???] I wouldn't record a single.

Q: Aren't you afraid though that they'll turn you into a pop star?

A: They can't turn me into anything; I just write my songs and that's it. They can't change me any, and they can't change my songs. "Subterranean" sounds a bit different because of the backing, but I've had backing on my songs before, I had some backing on "Corrain".

Q: What are your own favourite songs?

A: You mean the ones I've written? Well, it depends on how I'm feeling; I think to be really good a song has to hit you at the right moment. But I like most of the ones on my new album, and on my last album I guess the one I liked best was "I don't believe you".

Q: Your songs have changed a lot over the last couple of years. Are you consciously trying to change your style, or would you say that this was a natural development?

A: Oh, it's a natural one, I think. The big difference is that the songs I was writing last year, songs like "Ballad in Plain D", they were what I call one-dimensional songs, but my new songs I'm trying to make more three-dimensional, you know, there's more symbolism, they're written on more than one level.

Q: How long does it take you to write a song? Say a song like "Hard Rain"?

A: Well, I wrote "Hard Rain" while I was still on the streets, I guess that was the first three-dimension song I wrote. It took me about - oh, about two days.

Q: Is that normal?

A: No, that was kind of long; usually I write them a lot quicker, sometimes in a couple of hours.

Q: Would you say that your songs contain sufficient poetry to be able to stand by themselves, without music?

A: If they can't do that, then they're not what I want them to be. Basically, I guess I'm more interested in writing than in performing.

Q: Does that explain all those poems on the backs of your albums?

A: Oh, those (laughing) - well they were kind of written out of terror, I used to get scared that I wouldn't be around much longer, so I'd write my poems down on anything I could find - the backs of my albums, the backs of Joan's albums, you know, anywhere I could find.

Q: Why do you suppose that the national press tries to make you out to be angry and bored and all the rest?

A: That's because they ask the wrong questions, like, 'What did you have for breakfast', 'What's your favourite colour', stuff like that. Newspaper reporters, man, they're just hung-up writers, frustrated novelists, they don't hurt me none by putting fancy labels on me. They got all these preconceived ideas about me, so I just play up to them.

Q: How do you feel about being labelled as the voice of your generation?

A: Well, I don't know. I mean, I'm 24, how can I speak for people of 17 or 18, I can't be anyone else's voice. If they can associate with me that's O.K., but I can't give a voice to people who have no voice. Would you say that I was your voice?

Q: Well you manage to say a lot of things that I'd like to say, only I don't have the words.

A: Yeah, but that's not the same as being your voice.

Q: No, but it's something.

Someone mentions food and at once Dylan and followers remember that they haven't eaten for hours. Not much is said but it becomes increasingly obvious that food has the edge on aesthetics... We took that as our cue to leave.