Bob Dylan - the Essential Interviews

I don’t want to make a book review or report or anything out of this, but I just finished reading “Bob Dylan - the Essential Interviews” by Jonathan Cott. I while ago I read Dylan’s own book “Chronicles, Vol.1,” which is supposedly his autobiography. Or as close as we’re probably going to get from Dylan.

A far more telling picture actually arises from the pages of “Essential Interviews.” The conversations cover 42 years, from a radio interview with Cynthia Gooding, to a 2004 LA Times profile written by Robert Hilburn. Although legendarily evasive, as the years pass, Dylan becomes less mysterious and a little more open. This includes - to an extent - talking about his songwriting. Dylan has long insisted the songs just come to him, as if there are ghosts in the room guiding his pen. These sort of statements, and his ability to lead journalists down any path he pleases, has resulted in adding to the mystery surrounding one of America’s greatest poets.

For instance, in a 1965 interview with KQED TV in San Francisco, a reporter asks Dylan, “What do you think about your song ‘It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)’?”
To which Dylan answers, “I haven’t heard it for a long time. I couldn’t even sing it for you probably.”

This is a recurring theme, especially throughout the early interviews. Dylan claims no interest in his own music, often saying once an album is complete, he never listens to it. He also fudges his own biographical facts, creating the myth that will become Bob Dylan. He claimed to have run away several times before he was 18, hopping trains and working with traveling carnivals.

By the end of the book, a 62-year-old Dylan is somewhat more forthcoming, yet still vague. Looking at the lyrics to “Just Like a Woman,” he tells Robert Hilburn, “This is a very broad song. A line like, ‘Breaks just like a little girl’ is a metaphor. It’s like a lot of blues-based songs. Someone may be talking about a woman, but they’re not really talking about a woman at all.

Dylan still sees his songs as something that just come to him. “Well, I follow the dictates of my conscience to write a song,” he told Mikal Gilmore in a 2001 interview. “I really don’t have a time or place I set aside...I couldn’t tell you when I could come up with something. It just happens at odd times, here and there.”

I don’t have much in the way of rare or lost Dylan to offer. Instead, I thought I’d just post a few things spanning his career, and are my personal favorites.

Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right.mp3 from “Live at The Gaslight 1962”

Simple Twist of Fate.mp3 from “Blood On the Tracks”

Tangled Up In Blue.mp3 from “Live 1975-The Rolling Thunder Revue”

Mississippi.mp3 from “Love and Theft”

Be sure to visit Amazon.com, or your local retailer, to get a copy of “Bob Dylan - the Essential Interviews” by Jonathan Cott (Wenner Books, $23.95). Cott, one of Rolling Stone’s contributing editors, actually edited the book, which includes interviews by such luminary scribes as Robert Shelton, Robert Hilburn, and Mikal Gilmore, as well as playwright Sam Shepard and author Studs Terkel.

And of course, Dylan’s new album, “Modern Times,” is scheduled for release Aug 29. You can preorder through iTunes


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