Random Notes and Favorite Quotes from Bob Dylan’s New Q&A

Friday, March 24th, 2017

by Seth Rogovoy

Among Bob Dylan’s many talents besides his widely-acclaimed, Nobel Prize-winning songwriting is doing interviews and, back in the 1960s when artists did them as a matter of course, holding press conferences. Dylan has always used the interview format as a means of personal expression in no less a creative and formalistic way than he does in his songwriting, poetry, books, painting, sculpture, acting, and filmmaking.

Bob Dylan

And in his newest Q&A, featured on the official Bob Dylan website, Dylan shows no signs of letting up. It’s a masterpiece of style, brilliance, humor, and phrasemaking. Slightly less arch than previous interviews – you really get the feeling Dylan is a lot less evasive than usual, a lot less tactical in his artful use of the dodge or the tall tale – Dylan comes across as remarkably present, thoughtful, and aware, and also as mischievous as ever.

Here are some of my favorite quotes from the interview with his interlocutor, Bill Flanagan (BF), some just left to resonate on their own, others with my brief rejoinders. Much of the interview focuses on Dylan’s new triple-album of pre-rock pop standards, and more generally, his attachment to those songs and that era of popular music. All of Dylan’s quotes are in italics, and the full interview and context is available in the original interview at BobDylan.com:

On the pre-rock pop standards he records and performs:

There’s enough of my personality written into the lyrics so that I could just focus on the melodies within the arrangements.

I had some idea of where they stood, but I hadn’t realized how much of the essence of life is in them – the human condition, how perfectly the lyrics and melodies are intertwined, how relevant to everyday life they are, how non-materialistic.

I can’t help but note here that the opposite of materialistic is spiritual. When Dylan says “non-materialistic,” I think that’s what he means. — SR

These songs are some of the most heartbreaking stuff ever put on record and I wanted to do them justice. Now that I have lived them and lived through them I understand them better.

Modern music and songs are so institutionalized that you don’t realize it.

These songs are cold and clear-sighted, there is a direct realism in them, faith in ordinary life just like in early rock and roll.

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About postwar life growing up in Duluth:

My mom says there were food shortages…

I find it sweet that he still talks about his mother, Beatrice “Beatty” Stone Zimmerman, who died in 2000, in the present tense. — SR

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On seeing old footage of himself performing in the Sixties:

I see … a very strange enchanted boy, a terribly sophisticated performer, got a cross section of music in him, already postmodern. That’s a different person than who I am now.

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On his singing:

My voice cracking here and there wouldn’t bother me, bum notes or wrong chords would bother me more.

This is so true and people have never understood this about his singing. Bob Dylan NEVER hits a wrong note. It’s his tone and phrasing that are so unique, that make him sound like Bob Dylan and no one else, and perhaps the vocal quality that some find to be – to their great loss – off-putting.  – SR

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Dylan recalls a private exchange with Frank Sinatra:

“You and me, pal, we got blue eyes, we’re from up there,” and he [Sinatra] pointed to the stars. “These other bums are from down here.” I remember thinking that he might be right.

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Songwriters have to have a reason to write songs, there has to be some purpose to performing it too. And sometimes it doesn’t connect. There is no magic formula to make that happen.

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Rock and roll was high energy, explosive and cut down. It was skeleton music, came out of the darkness and rode in on the atom bomb and the artists were star headed like mystical Gods.

Such a perfectly beautiful and magical description of rock and roll. Dylan goes on at length about this, returning twice more to the connection between the atomic bomb and rock and roll. A concept worth some extra thought. — SR

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You start out wondering why you bought those blue pajamas and later you’re wondering why you were born.

A classic Dylan Zen koan. — SR

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…. the melody in this song is kind of like the background in the Mona Lisa painting, a mystical, phantasmagorical fantasy land.

Add art critic to Dylan’s c.v. — SR

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On the passage of time:

Entire industries go, lifestyles change, corporations kill towns, new laws replace old ones, group interests triumph over individual ones, poor people themselves have become a commodity.

Dylan as prophet. — SR

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BF: “Is there a real woman you picture when you sing some of these? More than one?”

Dylan: Real? Of course they’re real. I hope so.

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On the creative process:

Once you get the idea, everything you see, read, taste or smell becomes an allusion to it. It’s the art of transforming things. You don’t really serve art, art serves you and it’s only an expression of life anyway; it’s not real life. It’s tricky, you have to have the right touch and integrity or you could end up with something stupid.
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Did you say Taylor Swift?

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On hunting as a boy:

I went into the woods with my uncle, my mother’s brother – he was an expert hunter and tried to teach me. But it wasn’t for me, I hated it.

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Is he, as is often suggested, the “jester” in Don McLean’s song “American Pie”?

Don McLean, “American Pie,” what a song that is. A jester? Sure, the jester writes songs like “Masters of War,” “A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall,” “It’s Alright, Ma” – some jester. I have to think he’s talking about somebody else. Ask him.

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On his discussion of Tom Wilson, the official record company executive credited as producer of his album “Bringing It All Back Home” and the track “Like a Rolling Stone” on the follow-up album, “Highway 61 Revisited”: Dylan’s comments about Wilson are quite revealing, in that while he’s somewhat complimentary, he’s also very diplomatic and not especially effusive in praise. I think you can hear loud and clear on “The Cutting Edge” sessions that the two of them merely tolerated each other (although they do occasionally enjoy a hearty laugh together). I think Dylan much more enjoyed working with his next producer, Bob Johnston, and you can also hear that on “The Cutting Edge.” – SR

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On Amy Winehouse:

I liked Amy Winehouse’s last record…. She was the last real individualist around.

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Heard any good records lately?

Iggy Pop’s Après, that’s a good record. Imelda May, I like her. Valerie June….

See what he does there? Always the joker. — SR

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BF: “When you’re on your bus, what shows do you watch on TV?”

BD: I Love Lucy, all the time, non-stop.

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BF: Why do fences come up between different styles of American music?

BD: Because of the pressure to conform.

Bob Dylan’s Nobel Achievement

Thursday, October 13th, 2016

old bob dylanby Seth Rogovoy

BOB DYLAN’S BEEN a perennial contender for the Nobel Prize for Literature for many years, but I don’t think any of us really thought he’d ever win. Now that he has, the question remains, what’s left? He’s already won all the other awards – medals of honor and freedom from the American and French governments, Grammys, Oscars (he loves his Oscar so much he brings it with him on tour and places it onstage each night that he performs), a Pulitzer. Really, now that he’s won the Nobel, there’s nothing left for him to win.

Of course, Dylan isn’t in the award-winning business, which makes it all the more so surreal that he’s won everything. He started out as the anti-everything candidate, with an agenda to overturn the tables and disconnect the cables. And he succeeded in doing so, along the way alienating probably more people than he won over to his side. He didn’t even win his first Grammy Award until 1979, nineteen albums into his career (and that one, ironically, was for his vocals of all things – not his songwriting).

Ah, but those on his side included a huge swath of outsiders – writers, artists, poets, filmmakers, and, of course, musicians. His unique achievement – nearly impossible to replicate – was to blow up the songwriting form and recombine the pieces, scattering in elements of the Jewish prophets, Shakespeare, the great English poets, the Beats, the New York Times, movie dialogue, history books, old folk and blues icons, combine it with a twist and shout all his own, and presto, he came up with the most brilliant literature of the second half of the 20th century (and running over into the 21st). And ever since then, everyone has been trying to figure out, how did he do that? What did he do? What happened? And why do I love it so much that I’ll buy 16 CDs just to hear all the versions of the recordings that weren’t good enough to make it onto the finished albums?

Yes, it’s literature, and I’m not going to argue that point beyond saying that anyone who spends time “reading” Dylan closely understands that. Or maybe it’s not. Maybe it’s some other thing. Something utterly sui generis, perhaps. So what? It combines thought and expression, using words and meter and line and melody and rhythm and call-and-response as tools of communication to say the most important things that anyone’s said about what it means to be living in our world, in our time.

Is the Bible literature? Not really. Is it the greatest – certainly the most influential – book ever written? Absolutely. Does Dylan’s work find its proper place in that tradition, where it can best be heard, read, studied, picked apart, and understood? Positively.

I don’t know about you, but I think that’s worth a Nobel Prize.
 

Seth Rogovoy is the author of “Bob Dylan: Prophet Mystic Poet” (Scribner, 2009).

‘Desire’ Producer Don DeVito Has Died

Sunday, November 27th, 2011

The Bob Dylan Examiner reports that Columbia Records A&R executive and record producer Don DeVito has died.

“DeVito is most known to Bob Dylan fans for his production of the 1976 album, Desire. He co-produced the live albums Hard Rain and At Budokan, was “Captain In Charge” (and behind the remix of the 1999 reissue) on the 1978 album Street Legal, and produced the “concert audio” for The 30th Anniversary Concert Celebration. He also worked on various compilations and archival projects, and was thanked on the album, Dylan & The Dead. DeVito has even been described as Dylan’s publicist.”

READ MORE….

Columbia Records A&R executive and record producer Don DeVito has died.
“DeVito is most known to Bob Dylan fans for his production of the 1976 album, Desire. He co-produced the live albums Hard Rain and At Budokan, was “Captain In Charge” (and behind the remix of the 1999 reissue) on the 1978 album Street Legal, and produced the “concert audio” for The 30th Anniversary Concert Celebration. He also worked on various compilations and archival projects, and was thanked on the album, Dylan & The Dead. DeVito has even been described as Dylan’s publicist.”
READ MORE….

Bob Dylan Tribute Concert, Talk and Photo Exhibition

Tuesday, September 6th, 2011

Music & More
Meeting House

Route 57
New Marlborough, Mass.
413.229.2785

Bob Dylan Celebration

Bob Dylan’s 70th birthday will be celebrated in words, music, and pictures with a talk and performance by Dylan author Seth Rogovoy and an exhibition of rarely seen photographs by Ken Regan, one of very few photographers given behind-the-scenes access to Dylan since 1966, as part of the Music & More Series at the Meeting House in New Marlborough on Saturday, September 24, at 4:30 p.m.

Bob Dylan Celebration with Author-Singer Seth Rogovoy and Photographer Ken Regan

Tuesday, September 6th, 2011

(NEW MARLBOROUGH, Mass.) – Bob Dylan’s 70th birthday will be celebrated in words, music, and pictures with a talk and performance by Dylan author Seth Rogovoy and an exhibition of rarely seen photographs by Ken Regan, one of very few photographers given behind-the-scenes access to Dylan since 1966, as part of the Music & More Series at the Meeting House in New Marlborough on Saturday, September 24, at 4:30 p.m.

Rogovoy, an award-winning music critic, will present a multimedia program based on his book, Bob Dylan: Prophet Mystic Poet, followed by a Dylan tribute concert with his band, the Rolling Rogovoy Revue.

Immediately following the concert is a reception in the Meeting House Art Gallery with photographer Ken Regan, who has photographed Dylan over the course of three decades – including the fateful day in 1975 that Dylan and company spent at the Dream Away Lodge in Becket, Mass., with Joan Baez, Arlo Guthrie, and others. That year, Regan also toured with the Rolling Stones, and the next year he was on hand to shoot The Band’s farewell concert, The Last Waltz. Regan also shot George Harrison’s landmark charity benefit, Concert for Bangladesh, for which Bob Dylan came out of seclusion to perform. He worked closely with renowned concert promoter Bill Graham, and he was the main photographer for such historic rock events as Amnesty International, Live Aid, and others.

Regan has over 200 magazine covers to his credit; has worked in film and TV; has been a photojournalist specializing in politics (with a longstanding relationship with the Kennedy family) and war (including Vietnam, the Persian Gulf, Bosnia and Iraq), and has documented famine in Africa, poverty in Harlem, and gold mining in Brazil. He also specialized early on in sports photography, particularly boxing.

Rogovoy’s multimedia program will include a combination of spoken word, digital imagery, recorded and live music, and rare video footage, all based around Rogovoy’s critically acclaimed biography, which examines Dylan’s life and work from a unique perspective. Of the numerous books written about the rock poet, Bob Dylan: Prophet, Mystic, Poet is the only full-length treatment that explores the deep and profound Jewish context and roots of Dylan’s life and songs.

Following the exploration of Dylan’s life, Rogovoy — switching roles to that of singer, guitarist and mouth harpist – will be joined onstage by his Rolling Rogovoy Revue bandmates Alicia Jo Rabins (fiddler and vocals), Rob Sanzone (guitar and vocals) and Miles Lally (bass). Their performance will feature a mix of Dylan’s greatest hits and some lesser-known songs, including ones from his 1976 album Desire, which is sometimes called his “Hebraic” album, and others that fit with the theme of the program, such as “I Shall Be Released.”

Rabins is internationally known as the leader of her indie-rock band, Girls in Trouble, and as a member of the Yiddish/klezmer ensemble, Golem, and a founding member of the trad-rad folk group, The Mammals.

Bob Dylan has enjoyed a five-decade-long career that’s produced more than 500 songs, 50-plus albums, and over 50 million albums sold. Dylan, who this year turned 70, has won many awards, including Grammy, Golden Globe and Academy Awards, and in 2008, the Pulitzer Price jury awarded him a special citation for “his profound impact on popular music and American culture, marked by lyrical compositions of extraordinary poetic power.”

“I’ve been listening to Bob Dylan religiously (pun intended) since I was 14 years old,” Rogovoy said. “I was struck by the raw honesty of his singing, the directness of his lyrics, and the beauty of the music.

“At some point I began noticing that there were a lot of Jewish references in his songs – concepts, images, actual phrases quoted or paraphrased from Jewish liturgy, from the Bible and the Talmud. I began keeping track, taking notes, and eventually I realized I had enough material in terms of the content of his songs and his biography to tell a story about Bob Dylan that no one else had ever captured — that his life and work fits into the Prophetic tradition.”

To complete the celebration, the Meeting House Art Gallery will simultaneously exhibit a series of photographs by Ken Regan, one of the few people to ever hold the title of “official Bob Dylan photographer.” Regan, a well-known photojournalist who captured everyone from Muhammad Ali to the Kennedys, took some of the most iconic photographs of Dylan’s live performances in history. Moreover, Regan had unrivaled behind-the-scenes access, which allows rare glimpses into the personal life of the fascinating and notoriously-private musician. The exhibit runs from September 24 through October 2 (weekends only).

Tickets to the Bob Dylan Celebration cost $25/$20. Students with ID and children with parents are admitted for free.

Visit Music & More or call 413.229.2785 for tickets, discounts and information.

Enjoy a 10% discount for a post-concert dinner at the historic Old Inn on the Green (rated “Best in the Berkshires” by Zagat) just next door. Call 413.229.7924 for reservations, which are required.

About Music & More

Directed by Harold Lewin and in its 20th year, Music and More was founded with the goal of bringing a diverse and distinguished group of authors, musicians and films to the Berkshires. This year, Music and More is comprised of eight events at the historic Meeting House in New Marlborough, Mass. Visit Music & More or call 413.229.2785 for further information. Music & More is sponsored by the New Marlborough Village Association.