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An Interview with Bob Dylan
Interview by Vojo Sindolic
Bob Dylan and I met for the first time way back in the late Seventies,
when I was editor-in-chief of then only Yugoslav rock and roll
magazine called Jukebox, and I was often travelling to England
and USA to make lengthy interviews with such rock stars and interesting
persons like Leonard Cohen, Kris Kristofferson, John Lennon, Patti
Smith, Neil Young, and members of rock groups like the Grateful
Dead, the Pink Floyd, the Led Zeppelin, the Rolling Stones, etc.
As in all other cases in my literary life connected with the
Beat Generation and other related writers, it was the Beats goodwill
ambassador Allen Ginsberg who put me in contact with Bob Dylan.
Later, which means mostly in the Eighties, Bob Dylan and I met
several times, and almost on each occasion I did an interview
with him. Usually, we talked about just everything – from
politics to religion, from movies to literature. I must say that
I never had, not even the slightiest impression that Bob is such
a difficult person to talk to, or to approcah to. Maybe the reason
lies in the fact that Bob knew and was aware that Allen Ginsberg
highly appreciated my friendship and my decades long and successful
efforts to translate the works of not only Beat Generation writers
(Jack Kerouac, W. S. Burroughs, Gary Snyder, Michael McClure,
Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Gregory Corso, etc.) but also the works
of songwriters and poets like Leonard Cohen, James Douglas Morrison,
Patti Smith, etc.
But, on the other hand, it’s also true that talking to
Bob Dylan is the hardest thing to get going. Actually, talking
to Bob is always a great pleasure and a big challenge because
you never know if he’s going to be very exuberant and on
a roll; if he’s really into something, he’ll want
to keep talking about it. But it’s hard to get Bob to sit
down and actually try anything.
While during the Spring of 2008 I was working on Croatian translation
of Sam Shepard’s Rolling Thunder Logbook, in fact Sam’s
recollection of Bob Dylan’s famous Roling Thunder Revue
Tour in the Fall of 1975. I got news that Bob and his band will
be performing only concert in this part of Europe on June 13,
in the old city of Varazdin, Republic of Croatia.
So, with some help of my old friends from the States, I managed
to get again in contact with Bob and got his agreement to do an
interview with him upon his arrival to Croatia.
Well, Bob appeared together with the members of his band. It’s
the same band that plays with him for the last few years (Tony
Garnier – bass; George Recile – drums; Stu Kimball
– rhythm guitar; Danny Freeman – lead guitar; Donnie
Heron – banjo, violin, etc.). Some 15.000 people from Croatia,
Serbia, Austria, Hungary, Slovenia, Bosnia & Herzegovina and
Germany gathered together on a local football stadium in Varazdin,
Croatia. Despite rain and bad weather, Dylan and his band played
almost two hours and I got impression that he seemed to enjoy
himself, took a little bow after most songs and sort of jiggled
and bowed a lot at the end looking quite sheepish throughout.
Even the selction of songs was quite interesting. For the perfectionists
who may want to know what songs Dylan performed that night, here
is complete setlist:
Rainy Day Women, Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right,
Lonesome Day Blues, Just Like A Woman,
Rollin’ And Tumblin’, Tangled Up In Blue,
Things Have Changed, Honest With Me,
Love Sick, Highway 61 Revisited,
Desolation Row, It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding),
Ain’t Talkin’, Summer Days,
Ballad Of A Thin Man, Thunder On the Mountain,
Like A Rolling Stone
VS: Since I just finished translating Sam Shepard’s book
on your famous Rolling Thunder Revue Tour from the Fall of 1975,
I immediately want to ask you about your present-day feelings
in regard to that tour, but also your movie Renaldo & Clara.
Bob Dylan: Well, Renaldo’s intense dream and his conflict
with the present – that’s all the movie’s about.
My main interest was not in literal plot but in the associational
texture – colours, images, sounds. It’s obvious everyone
was acting in that movie for dear life. Nobody was thinking of
time. How else? Life itself is improvised. We don’t live
life as a scripted thing.
VS: There’s also no sense of time?
Bob Dylan: You’ve got yesterday, today and tomorrow all
in the same room, and there’s very little that you can’t
imagine happening… What I was trying to do with the concept
of time, and the way the characters change from one person to
another person, and you’re never quite sure who is talking,
if the first person is talking or the third person is talking…
but to do that consciously is a trick, and if you look at the
whole thing, it really doesn’t matter.
In Renaldo & Clara I also used that quality of no-time. And
I believe that the concept of creation is more real and true than
that which dose have time… The movie creates and holds the
time. That’s what it should do – it should hold that
time, breathe in that time and stop time in doing that.
VS: What do you think about your performance in Pat Garrett and
Billy the Kid? And what about song-writting for the same movie.
Obviously, they are two completely different things?
Bob Dylan: I think that Sam Peckinpah had cast me quite intentionally.
But, you know, nobody asked me what had been my concept of the
soundtrack for the movie. And then of course I discovered that
they took my music and they re-laid it, the studio did, behind
Peckinpah’s back, so I would write a piece of music for
particular sequence, and then the studio afterwards, in post-production,
re-edited the whole thing and put that piece of music against
another sequence and just completely screwed up what had been
my concept of the music and movie.
VS: What about the movie Hearts of Fire?
Bob Dylan: What about it?
VS: How did you get involved in that?
Bob Dylan: The way the script came to me was through someone
from the William Morris Agency and that person told me to look
at the role of Billy Parker, and that the director Richard Marquand
had me in mind to play that part. I stayed drunk most of the time.
It was a terrible script and we (actors) had no control over it.
I did it for money. I mean, why else would I do it?
VS: Do you still read a lot?
Bob Dylan: Some.
VS: Did you always read a lot?
Bob Dylan: I always read some.
VS: What about your new songs?
Bob Dylan: You know, when I was growing up, I used to listen
to Hank Williams, Gene Vincent, Little Richard and all those people.
I think they formed my style in one way or another. I can’t
help this type of music I play, this is just the kind of type
I’ve always played…
VS: I want to ask you few things about your poetical, literary
works, not only “songwriting”. Not long before his
death, during one of our last encounters, our mutual friend Allen
Ginsberg told me something about you that I think is very significant
so I want to repeat it to you: “Over Kerouac’s grave
[during Rolling Thunder Revue Tour in the Fall of 1975], Bob Dylan
told me that it was Mexico City Blues that ‘blew his mind’
and tured him on to poetry in 1958 or 1959 in St. Paul. And I
asked ‘Why?’ and he said, ‘It’s the first
poetry that talked American language to me.’ So you get
a line in Dylan’s Gates of Eden like ‘the motorcycle
black Madonna two-wheeled gypsy queen and her silver studded phantom
lover’ which comes straight out of either Howl or Kerouac’s
Mexico City Blues in terms of the ‘chain of flashing images’.
Kerouac’s spontaneous pile-up of words. And that’s
the way Dylan writes his lyrics. So poetry’s extended itself
in its own lineage afterward into John Lennon, the Beatles, named
after Beats, and Dylan, so that it’s gone around the world.
And I think after the wave of Whitman and then maybe another wave
of Pound, it’s probably the strongest wave of American influence
on world literature – the combination of Whitman, the Beats
and Bob Dylan.”
Bob Dylan: I don’t know if people have seen me sometime
in 1963 or 1964. Anyway, I was singing songs back then. One was
a song called Desolation Row. It was, “What’s he singing
about?” They didn’t understand what I was singing
about. I don’t think I did either. However, I understand
now pretty much what I’m singing about. So it must have
taken a while for Desolation Row, Maggie’s Farm, Subterranean
Homesick Blues and all that stuff to catch on, because it wasn’t
accepted very well at the time. I’ve always been prepared
for adversity. I was always prepared back then, and now I’m
even more prepared.
VS: So to say, is there any real difference between “Improvised
poetics” and hard re-workings on some poems? I mean, what
is the final result?
Bob Dylan: You can make something lasting. I mean, in order to
live forever you have to stop time. In order to stop time you
have to exist in the moment, so strong as to stop time and prove
your point. So that you have stopped time. And if you succeed
in doing that, everyone who comes into contact with what you’ve
done – whatever it might be, whether you’ve written
a poem, carved a statue or painted a painting – will catch
some of that. What’s funny is that they won’t realise
it, but that’s what they’ll recognise.
My lyrics speak of the inner soul, of private pain, of the self,
personal recognition – a private awakening. But people quite
often want to be dulled… Don’t wait until it’s
too late now. Lotta people wait until they’re old, lotta
people wait until they’re at the end of the line. You don’t
have to wait that long. Salvation begins right now, today.
Vojo Sindolic was born in Dubrovnik in what is now Croatia.
A poet and painter, he has translated the works Gary Snyder, Allen
Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, Gregory Corso, Lawrence Ferlinghetti,
Michael McClure, Robert Creeley, and many others.