(What was it you wanted? #26)

Robbins: I don't know whether to do an serious interview or carry on in that absurdist way we talked last night.

Dylan: It'll be the same thing anyway, man.

Robbins: Yeah, Okay ... If you are a poet and write words arranged in some sort of rhythm, why do you switch at some point and write lyrics in a song so that you're singing the words as part of a Gestalt presence?

Dylan: Well, I can't define that word poetry, I wouldn't even attempt it. At one time I thought that Robert Frost was poetry, other times I thought that Allen Ginsberg was poetry, sometimes I thought Francois Villon was poetry -- but poetry isn't really confined to the printed page. Hey, then again, I don't believe in saying "Look at that girl walking! Isn't that poetry?" I'm not going to get insane about it. The lyrics to the songs ... just so happens that it might be a little stranger than in most songs. I find it easy to write songs. I been writing songs for a long time and the words to the songs aren't written out just for the paper; they're written as you can read it, you dig. If you take whatever there is to the song away -- the beat, the melody -- I could still recite it. I see nothing wrong with songs you can't do that with either -- songs that, if you took the beat and the melody away, they wouldn't stand up Because they're not supposed to do that, you know. Songs are songs ... I don't believe in expecting too much out of any one thing.

Robbins: Whatever happened to Blind Boy Grunt?

Dylan: I was doing that four years ago. Now there's a lot of people writing songs on protest subjects. But it's taken some kind of a weird step. Hey, I'd rather listen to Jimmy Reed or Howlin' Wolf, man, or the Beatles, or Francois Hardy, than I would listen to any protest song singers -- although I haven't heard all the protest song singers there are. But the ones I've heard -- there's this very emptiness which is like a song written "Let's hold hands and everything will be grand". I see no more to it than that. Just because someone mentions the word "bomb", I'm not going to go "Aalee!" and start clapping.

Robbins: Is it that they just don't work any more?

Dylan: It's not that it don't work, it's that there are a lot of people afraid of the bomb, right. But there are a lot of other people who're afraid to be seen carrying a MODERN SCREEN magazine down the street, you know. Lot of people afraid to admit that they like Marlon Brando movies... Hey, it's not that they don't work anymore but have you ever thought of a place where they DO work? What exactly DOES work?

Robbins: They give a groovy feeling to the people who sing them, I guess that's about it. But what does work is the attitude, not the song. And there's just another attitude called for.

Dylan: Yeah, but you have to be very hip to the fact about that attitude -- you have to be hip to communication. Sure, you can make all sorts of protest songs and put them on a Folkways record. But who hears them? The people that do hear them are going to be agreeing with you anyway. You aren't going to get somebody to hear it who doesn't dig it. People don't listen to things they don't dig. If you can find a cat that can actually say "Okay, I'm a changed man because I heard this one thing -- or I just saw this one thing ...". Hey it don't necessarily happen that way all the time. It happens with a collage of experience which somebody can actually know by instinct what's right and wrong for him to do. Where he doesn't actually have to feel guilty about anything. A lot of people can act out of guilt. They act because they think somebody's looking at *them*. No matter what it is. There's people who do anything because of guilt ...

Robbins: And you don't want to be guilty?

Dylan: It's not that I'm NOT guilty. I'm not any more guilty than you are. Like, I don't consider any elder generation guilty. I mean, they're having these trials at Nuremberg, right? Look at that and you can place it out. Cats say "I had to kill all those people or else they'd kill me" Now, who's to try them for that? Who are these judges that have got the right to try a cat? How do you know they wouldn't do the same thing?

Robbins: This may be a side trip, but this thing about the Statute of Limitations running out and everybody wants to extend it? You remember, in AMIMAL FARM, what they wrote on the wall? "All animals are equal." But later they added "... but some are more equal than others." It's the same thing in reverse. That some are less equal than others. Like nazis are *really* criminals, so let's *really* get them; change any law just to nail them all.

Dylan: Yeah, all that shit runs in the same category. Nobody digs revenge, right? But you have these cats from Israel who, after TWENTY years, are still trying to catch these cats, who're OLD cats, man, who have escaped. God knows they aren't going to go anywhere, they're not going to do anything. And you have these cats from Israel running around catching them. Spending twenty years out of their lives. You take that job away from them and they're no more or less than a baker. He's got his whole life tied up in one thing. It's a one-thought thing, without anything between: "That's what it is, and I'm going to get it". Anything between gets wiped all away. I can't make that, but I can't really put it down. Hey: I can't put ANYTHING down, because I don't have to be around any of it. I don't have to put people down which I don't like, because I don't have to be around any of those people. Of course there is the giant great contradiction of What Do You Do. Hey, I don't know what you do, but all I can do is cast aside all the things NOT to do. I don't know where it's at once in a while, all I know is where it's NOT at. And as long as I know that, I don't really have to know, myself, where's it at. Everybody knows where it's at once in a while, but nobody can walk around all the time in a complete Utopia. Dig poetry. You were asking about poetry? Man, poetry is just bullshit, you know? I don't know about other countries, but in this one it's a total massacre. It's not poetry at all. People don't read poetry in this country -- if they do, it offends them; they don't dig it. You go to school, man, and what kind of poetry do you read? You read Robert Frost's "The Two Roads", you read T.S. Eliot -- you read all that bullshit and that's just bad, man, It's not good. It's not anything hard, it's just soft-boiled egg shit. And then, on top of it, they throw Shakespeare at some kid who can't read Shakespeare in high school, right? Who digs reading, HAMLET, man? All they give you is IVANHOE, SILAS MARINER, TALE OF TWO CITIES -- and they keep you away from things which you should do. You shouldn't even be there in school. You should find out from people. Dig! That's where it all starts. In the beginning -- like from 13 to 19 -- that's where all the corruption is. These people all just overlook it, right? There's more V.D. in people 13 to 19 than there is in any other group, but they ain't ever going to say so. They're never going to go into the schools and give shots. But that's where it's at. It's all a hype, man.

Robbins: Relating all this: if you put it in lyrics instead of poetry, you have a higher chance of hitting the people who have to be hit?

Dylan: I do, but I don't expect anything from it, you dig? All I can do is be me -- whoever that is -- for those people that I do play to, and not come on with them, tell them I'm something I'm not. I'm not going to tell them I'm the Great Cause Fighter or the Great Lover or the Great Boy Genius or whatever. Because I'm not, man. Why mislead them? That's all just Madison Avenue selling me, but it's not really selling ME, 'cause I was hip to it before I got there.

Robbins: Which brings up another thing. All the folk magazines and many folk people are down on you. Do they put you down because you changed or...

Dylan: It's that I'm successful and they want to be successful, man. It's jealousy. Hey, anybody, with any kind of knowledge at all would know by instinct what's happening here. Somebody who doesn't know that, is still hung up with success and failure and good and bad ... maybe he doesn't have a chick all the time ... stuff like that. But I can't use comments, man. I don't take nothing like that seriously. If somebody praises me and say "How groovy you are!", it doesn't mean nothing to me, because I can usually sense where that person's at. And it's no compliment if someone who's a total freak comes up and says "How groovy you are!" And it's the same if they don't dig me. Other kinds of people don't HAVE to say anything because, when you come down to it, it's all what's happening in the moment which counts. Who *cares* about tomorrow and yesterday? People don't live there, they live now.

Robbins: I have a theory, which I've been picking up and shaking out every so often. When I spoke with the Byrds, they were saying the same thing as I am saying -- a lot of people are saying -- you're talking it. It's why we have new so-called rock & roll sound emerging, it's a synthesis of all things a ...

Dylan: It's further than that, man. people know nowadays more than before. They've had so much to look at by now and know the bullshit of everything. People now don't even care about going to jail. So what? You're still with yourself as much as if you're out on the streets. There's still those who don't care about anything, but I got to think that anybody who doesn't hurt anybody, you can't put that person down, you dig, if that person's happy doing that.

Robbins: But what if they freeze themselves into apathy? What if they don't care about anything at all anymore?

Dylan: Whose problem is that? Your problem or theirs? No, it's not that, it's that nobody can learn by somebody else showing them or teaching them. People got to learn by themselves, going through something which relates. Sure, you say how do you make somebody know something ... people know it by themselves; they can go through some kind of scene with other people and themselves which somehow will come out somewhere and it's grind into them and be them. And all that just comes out of them somehow when they're faced up to the next thing.

Robbins: It's like taking in until the times comes to put out, right. But people who don't care don't put anything out. It's a whole frozen thing where nothing's happening anywhere; it's just like the maintenance of status quo, of existing circumstances, whatever they are ...

Dylan: People who don't care? Are you talking about gas station attendants or a Zen doctor, man? Hey, there's a lot of people who don't care; a lot don't care for different reasons. A lot care about some things and not about others, and some who don't care about anything -- it's just up to me not to let them bring me down and not to bring them down. It's like the whole world has a little thing: it's being taught that when you get up in the morning, you have to go out and bring somebody down. You walk down the street and, unless you've brought somebody down, don't come home today, right? It's a circus world.

Robbins: So who is it that you write and sing for?

Dylan: Not writing and singing for anybody, to tell you the truth. Hey, really, I don't care what people say. I don't care what they make me seem to be or what they tell other people I am. If I did care about that, I'd tell you; I really have no concern with it. I don't even come in contact with these people. Hey, I dig people, though. But if somebody's going to come up to me and ask me some questions which have been on his mind for such a long time, all I can think of is "Wow, man, what else can be in that person's head besides me? Am I that important, man, to be in a person's head for such a long time he's got to know this answer?" I mean, can that really straighten him out -- if I tell him something? Hey, come on ...

Robbins: A local disc jockey, Les Claypool, went through a whole thing on you one night, just couldn't get out of it. For maybe 45 minutes, he'd play a side of yours and then an ethnic side in which it was demonstrated that both melodies were the same. After each pair he'd say, "Well, you see what's happening ... This kid is taking other people's melodies; he's not all that original. Not only that", he'd say, "but his songs are totally depressing and have no hope".

Dylan: Who's Les Claypool?

Robbins: A folk jockey out here who has a long talk show on Saturday nights and an hour one each night, during which he plays highly ethnic sides?

Dylan: He played THOSE songs? He didn't play something hopeful?

Robbins: No, he was loading it to make his point. Anyway, it brings up an expected question: why do you use melodies that are already written?

Dylan: I used to do that when I was more or less in folk. I knew the melodies; they were already there. I did it because I liked the melodies. I did it when I really wasn't that popular and the songs weren't reaching that many people, and everybody around dug it. Man. I never introduced a song, "Here's the song I've stole the melody from, someplace". For me it wasn't that important; still isn't that important. I don't care about the melodies, man, the melodies are all traditional anyway. And if anybody wants to pick that out and say "That's Bob Dylan", that's their thing, not mine. I mean if they want to think that. Anybody with any sense at all, man, he says that I haven't any hope ... Hey, I got FAITH. I know that there are people who're going to know that's total bullshit. I know the cat is just up tight. He hasn't really gotten into a good day and he has to pick on something. Groovy. He has to pick on me? Hey, if he can't pick on me, he picks on someone else, it don't matter. He doesn't step on me, 'cause I don't care. He's not coming up to me on the street and stepping on my head, man. Hey, I've only done that with very few of my songs, anyway. And then when I don't do it, everybody says they're rock & roll melodies. You can't satisfy the people -- you just can't. You got to know, man; they just don't care about it.

Robbins: Why is rock & roll coming in and folk music going out?

Dylan: Folk music destroyed itself. Nobody destroyed it. Folk music is still here, if you want to dig it. It's not that it's going in or out. It's all the soft mellow shit, man, that's just being replaced by something that people know there is now. Hey, you must've heard rock & roll long before the Beatles, you must've discarded rock & roll around 1960. I did that in 1957. I couldn't make it as a rock & roll singer then. There were too many groups. I used to play piano. I made some records, too.

Robbins: Okay, you got a lot of bread now. And your way of life isn't like it was four or five years ago. It's much grander. Does that kind of thing tend to throw you off?

Dylan: Well, the transition never came from working at it. I left where I'm from because there's nothing there. I come from Minnesota, there was nothing there. I'm not going to fake it and say I went out to see the world. Hey, when I left there, man, I knew one thing: I had to get out of there and not come back. Just from my senses I knew there was something more than Walt Disney movies. I was never turned on or off by money. I never considered the fact of money as really that important. I could always play the guitar, you dig, and make friends -- or fake friends. A lot of other people do other things and get to eat and sleep that way. Lot of people do a lot of things just to get around. You can find cats who get very scarred, right? Who get married and settle down. But, after somebody's got something and sees it all around him, so he doesn't have to sleep out in the cold at night, that's all. The only thing is he don't die. But is he happy? There's nowhere to go. Okay, so I get the money, right? First of all, I had to move out of New York. Because everybody was coming down to see me -- people which I didn't really dig. People coming in from weird-ass places. And I would think, for some reason, that I had to give them someplace to stay and all that. I found myself not really being by myself but just staying out of things I wanted to go to because people I knew would go there.

Robbins: Do you find friends -- real friends -- are they recognizable anymore?

Dylan: Oh, sure, man, I can tell somebody I dig right away. I don't have to go through anything with anybody. I'm just lucky that way.

Robbins: Back to protest songs. The IWW's work is over now and the unions are pretty well established. What about the civil rights movement?

Dylan: Well, it's okay. It's proper. It's not "Commie" anymore. Harper's Bazaar can feature it, you can find it on the cover of Life. But when you get beneath it, like anything, you find there's bullshit tied up in it. The Negro Civil Rights Movement is proper now, but there's more to it than what's in Harper's Bazaar. There's more to it than picketing in Selma, right? There's people living in utter poverty in New York. And then again, you have this big Right to Vote. Which is groovy. You want all these Negroes to vote? Okay, I can't go over the boat and shout "Hallelujah" only because the want to vote. Who're they going to vote for? Just politicians; same as the white people put in their politicians. Anybody that gets into politics is a little greaky anyway. Hey, they're just going to vote, that's all they're going to do. I hate to say it like that, make it sound hard, but it's going to boil down to that.

Robbins: What about the drive for education?

Dylan: Education? They're going to school and learn about all the things the white private schools teach. The catechism, the whole thing. What're they going to learn? What's this education? Hey, the cat's much better off never going to school. The only thing against him is he can't be a doctor or a judge. Or he can't get a good job with the salesman's company. But that's the only thing wrong. If you want to say it's good that he gets an education and goes out and gets a job like that, groovy. I'm not going to do it.

Robbins: In other words, the formal intake of factual knowledge ...

Dylan: Hey, I have no respect for factual knowledge, man. I don't care what anybody knows, I don't care if somebody's a walking encyclopedia. Does that make him nice to talk to? Who cares if Washington was even the first president of the United States? You think anybody has actually ever been helped with this kind of knowledge?

Robbins: Maybe through a test. Well, what's the answer?

Dylan: There aren't any answers, man. Or any questions. You must read my book ... there's a little part in there about that. it evolves into a thing where it mentions words like "Answer". I couldn't possibly rattle off the words for these, because you'd have to read the whole book to see these specific words or Question and Answer. We'll have another interview after you read the book.

Robbins: Yeah, you have a book coming out. What about it? The title?

Dylan: Tentatively, "Bob Dylan Off the Record". But they tell me there's already books out with that "off the record" title. The book can't really be titled, that's the kind of book it is. I'm also going to write the reviews for it.

Robbins: Why write a book instead of lyrics?

Dylan: I've written some songs which are kind of far out, a long continuation of verses, stuff like that -- but I haven't really gotten into writing a completely free song. Hey, you dig something like cut-ups? I mean, like William Burroughs?

Robbins: Yeah, there's a cat in Paris who published a book with no pagination. The book comes in a box and you throw it in the air and, however it lands, you read it like that.

Dylan: Yeah, that's where it's at. Because that's what it means, anyway. Okay, I wrote the book because there's a lot of stuff in there I can't possibly sing ... all the collages. I can't sing it because it gets too long or it goes too far out. I can only do it around a few people who would know. Because the majority of the audience -- I don't care where they're from, how hip they are -- I think it would just get totally lost. Something that had no rhyme, all cut up, no nothing, except something happening, which is words.

Robbins: You wrote the book to say something?

Dylan: Yeah, but certainly not any kind of profound statement. The book don't begin or end.

Robbins: But you had something to say. And you wanted to say it to somebody.

Dylan: Yeah, I said it to myself. Only, I'm lucky, because I could put it into a book. Now somebody else is going to be allowed to see what I said to myself.

Robbins: You have four albums out now, with a fifth any day. Are these albums sequential in the way that you composed and sung them?

Dylan: Yeah, I've got about two or three albums that I've never recorded, which are lost songs. They're old songs; I'll never record them. Some very groovy songs. Some old songs which I've written and sung maybe once in a concert and nobody else ever heard them. There are a lot of songs which would fill in between the records. It was growing from the first record to the second, then a head change on the third. And the fourth. The fifth I can't even tell you about.

Robbins: So if I started with Album One, Side One, Band One, I could truthfully watch Bob Dylan grow?

Dylan: No, you could watch Bob Dylan laughing to himself. Or you could see Bob Dylan going through changes. That's really the most.

Robbins: What do you think of the Byrds? Do you think they're doing something different?

Dylan: Yeah, they could. They're doing something really new now. It's like a danceable Bach sound. Like "Bells of Rhymney". They're cutting across all kinds of barriers which most people who sing aren't even hip to. They know it all. If they don't close their minds, they'll come up with something pretty fantastic.

Originally printed in two parts in the Los Angeles Free Press, September 17 and 24, 1965. Reprinted in A Commemoration by Stephen Pickering.