Bob Dylan Talking by Joseph Haas
Published in Chicago Daily News 27 Nov 1965 Reprinted in "Retrospective" ed. by Craig McGregor
Bob Dylan, one of the most talented and controversial figures in American entertainment, will perform tonight in the second of two concerts in Arie Crown Theater of McCormick Place. When the 24-year-old performer sings his original compositions, in his highly distinctive way, millions of young people listen--at concerts and on his best-sellng long-playing albums and single recordings. Wise parents, who want to understand what the younger generation is thinking, would do well to listen to him, too. Dylan is a difficult performer to classify--is he a protest singer, leader of the folk-rock cult, a rock'n'roller, or a natural progression in American folk music? He has been called all of these things, and perhaps the wisest course is not to try and classify him at all, but to let him speak for himself, about himself, at length and informally. This is what Panorama has done, and this is Dylan talking:

Q: Will you sing any of the so-called folk-rock music in your concerts here?

A: No, it's not folk-rock, it's just instruments . . . it's not folk-rock. I call it the mathematical sound, sort of Indian music. I can't really describe it.

Q: Do you dislike folk-rock groups?

A: No, no, I like what everybody else does, what a lot of people do. I don't necessarily like the writing of too many songwriters, but I like the idea of, look, like they're trying to make it, you know, to say something about the death thing. Actually I don't know many of them. I'm 24 now, and most of them playing and listening are teenagers. I was playing rock'n'roll when I was 13 and 14 and 15, but I had to quit when I was 16 or 17 because I couldn't make it that way, the image of the day was Frankie Avalon or Fabian, or this whole athletic supercleanness bit, you know, which if you didn't have that, you couldn't make any friends. I played rock'n'roll when I was in my teens, yeah, I played semi- professionally, piano with rock'n'roll groups. About 1958 or 1959, I discovered Odetta, Harry Belafonte, that stuff, and I became a folk singer.

Q: Did you make this change so you could "make it"?

A: You couldn't make it livable back then with rock'n'roll, you couldn't carry around an amplifier and electric guitar and expect to survive, it was just too much of a hangup. It cost bread to make enough money to buy an electric guitar, and then you had to make more money to have enough people to play the music, you need two or three to create some conglomeration of sound. So it wasn't an alone kind of thing, you know. When you got other things dragging you down, you're sort of beginning to lose, crash, you know? When somebody's 16 or 25, who's got the right to lose, to wind up as a pinboy at 65?

Q: By "making it," do you mean making commercial success?

A: No, no, that's not it, making money. It's being able to be nice and not hurt anybody.

Q: Did you go into the folk field, then, because you had a better chance of "making it"?

A: No, that was an accidental thing. I didn't go into folk music to make any money, but because it was easy, you could be by yourself, you didn't need anybody. All you needed was a guitar, you didn't need anybody else at all. I don't know what's happened to it now. I don't think it's as good as it used to be. Most of the folk music singers have gone on, they're doing other things. Although they're still a lot of good ones around.

Q: Why did you give up the folk sound?

A: I've been on too many other streets to just do that. I couldn't go back and just do that. The real folk never seen 42nd street, they've never ridden an airplane. They've got their little world, and that's fine.

Q: Why have you begun using the electric guitar?

A: I don't use it that much, really.

Q: Some people are hurt because you've used one at all.

A: That's their fault, it would be silly of me to say I'm sorry because I haven't really done anything. It's not really all that serious. I have a hunch the people who feel I betrayed them picked up on me a few years ago and weren't really back there with me at the beginning. Because I still see the people who were with me from the beginning once in a while, and they know what I'm doing.

Q: Can you explain why you were booed at the Newport Folk Festival last summer when you came on stage with an electric guitar and began singing your new material?

A: Like I don't even know who those people were, anyway I think there's always a little boo in all of us. I wasn't shattered by it. I didn't cry. I don't even understand it. I mean, what are they going to shatter, my ego? And it doesn't even exist, they can't hurt me with a boo.

Q: What will you do when the success of your present kind of music fades?

A: I'm going to say when I stop, it just doesn't matter to me. I've never followed any trend, I just haven't the time to follow a trend. It's useless to even try.

Q: In songs like "The Times They Are A-Changin'," you made a distinction between young and old thinking, you talked about the older generation failing to understand the younger?

A: That's not what I was saying. It happened maybe that those were the only words I could find to separate aliveness from deadness. It has nothing to do with age.

Q: What can you say about when your first book is coming out?

A: Macmillan is the publisher, and the title now is "Tarantula," right now it's called that but I might change it. It's just a lot of writings, I can't really say what it's about. It's not a narrative or anything like that.

Q: Some stories have said that you plan to give up music, perhaps soon, and devote your time to writing?

A: When I really get wasted, I'm gonna have to do something, you know. Like I might never write again, I might start painting soon.

Q: Have you earned enough money so you have the freedom to do exactly what you want?

A: I wouldn't say that. You got to get up and you got to sleep, and the time in between there you got to do something. That's what I'm dealing with now. I do a lot of funny things. I really have no idea, I can't afford to think about tonight, tomorrow, any time. It's really meaningless to me.

Q: Do you live from day to day?

A: I try to. I try not to make any plans, every time I go and make plans, nothing really seems to work. I've given up on most of that stuff. I have a concert schedule I keep, but other people get me there. I don't have to do anything.

Q: Do you ever hope to settle down to a normal life, get married, have kids?

A: I don't hope to be like anybody. Getting married, having a bunch of kids, I have no hopes for it. If it happens, it happens. Whatever my hopes, it never turns out. I don't think anybody's a prophet.

Q: You sound quite pessimistic about everything.

A: No, not pessimistic. I don't think things can turn out, that's all, and I've accepted it. It doesn't matter to me. It's not pessimism, just a sort of sadness, sort of like having no hopes.

Q: What about religion and philosophy?

A: I just don't have any religion or philosophy, I can't say much about any of them. A lot of people do, and fine if they really do follow a certain code. I'm not about to go around changing anything. I don't like anybody to tell me what I have to do or believe, how I have to live. I just don't care, you know. Philosophy can't give me anything that I don't already have. The biggest thing of all, that encompasses it all, is kept back in this country. It's an old Chinese philosophy and religion, it really was one . . . there is a book called the "I-Ching", I'm not trying to push it, I don't want to talk about it, but it's the only thing that is amazingly true, period, not just for me. Anybody would know it. Anybody that ever walks would know it, it's a whole system of finding out things, based on all sorts of things. You don't have to believe in anything to read it, because besides being a great book to believe in, it's also very fantastic poetry.

Q: How do you spend your time when you're not on a concert tour?

A: I keep a regular bunch of hours. I just do what I have to do, not doing nothing really. I can be satisfied anywhere, I never read too much. Once in a while I write up a bunch of things, and then I record them. I do the normal things.

Q: What about romantic reports about you and Joan Baez?

A: Oh, man, no, that was a long time ago.

Q: On her latest album, about half of her songs are Dylan songs.

A: Heaven help her.

Q: What about the story that you changed your name from Bob Zimmerman to Bob Dylan because you admired the poetry of Dylan Thomas?

A: No, God no. I took the Dylan because I have an uncle named Dillon. I changed the spelling because it looked better. I've read some of Dylan Thomas' stuff, and it's not the same as mine. We're different.

Q: What about your family?

A: Well, I just don't have any family, I'm all alone.

Q: What about a story that you invited your parents to one of your early concerts, paid their way there, and then when they were seated, you said on the stage that you were an "orphan," and then didn't visit them when they were in New York City?

A: That's not true. They came to a concert, they drove there on their own, and I gave them some money. I don't dislike them or anything, I just don't have any contact with them. They live in Minnesota, and there's nothing for me in Minnesota. Probably sometime I'd like to go back for awhile, everybody goes back to where they came from, I guess.

Q: You talk as if you are terribly separated from people.

A: I'm not disconnected from anything because of a force, just habit, it's just the way I am. I don't know, I have an idea, that it's easier to be disconnected than to be connected. I've got a huge hallelujah for all the people who're connected, that's great, but I can't do that. I've been connected so many times. Things haven't worked out right, so rather than break myself up, I just don't get connected.

Q: Are you just trying to avoid being hurt again?

A: I haven't been hurt at the time, the realization is afterwards. Just looking back on it, thinking about it, it's just like a cold winter.

Q: Do you avoid close relationships with people?

A: I have relationships with people. People like me, also disconnected, there are a lot of disconnected people. I don't feel alienated, or disconnected, or afraid. I don't feel there's any kind of organization of disconnected people. I just can't go along with any kind of organization. Some day I might find myself all alone in a subway car, stranded when the lights go out, with 40 people, and I'll have to get to know them. Then I'll just do what has to be.

Bob Dylan's words are his own. The questions were asked by Joseph Haas of the Panorama staff.

Thanks to Kaliph