Bob Dylan Interview
by Nora Ephron & Susan Edmiston

This interview took place in late summer of 1965 in the office of Dylan's manager Albert Grossman. Dylan had just been booed in the historic Forest Hills concert where he abandoned folk purity to the use of electric accompaniment. he was wearing a red-and-navy op-art shirt, a navy blazer and pointy high-heeled boots. His fact, so sharp and harsh when translated through media, was then infinitely soft and delicate. His hair was not bushy or electric or Afro; it was fine-spun soft froth like the foam of a wave. He looked like an underfed angel with a nose from the land of the Chosen People.

Q: Some American folk singers--Carolyn Hester, for example--say that what you're now doing, the new sound, "folk rock," is liberating them.

A:Did Carolyn say that? You tell her she can come around and see me any time now that she's liberated.

Q: Does labeling, using the term, "folk rock," tend to obscure what's happening?


Q: It's like "pop gospel." What does the term mean to you?

A:Yeah, classical gospel could be the next trend. There's country rock, rockabilly. What does it mean to me? Folk rock. I've never even said that word. It has a hard gutter sound. Circussy atmosphere. It's nose-thumbing. Sound like you're looking down on what is... fantastic, great music.

Q: The definition most often given of folk rock is the combination of the electronic sound of rock and roll with the meaningful lyrics of folk music? Does that sum up what you're doing?

A:Yes. It's very complicated to play with electricity. You play with other people. You're dealing with other people. Most people don't like to work with other people, it's more difficult. It takes a lot. Most people who don't like rock and roll can't relate to other people.

Q: You mention the Apollo Theatre in Harlem on one of your album covers. Do you go there often?

A:Oh, I couldn't go up there. I used to go up there a lot about four years ago. I even wanted to play in one of the amateur nights, but I got scared. Bad things can happen to you. I saw what the audience did to a couple of guys they didn't like. And I would have had a couple of things against me right away when I stepped out on the stage.

Q: Who is Mr. Jones in "Ballad of a Thin Man?"

A:He's a real person. You know him, but not by that name.

Q: Like Mr. Charlie?

A:No. He's more than Mr. Charlie. He's actually a person. Like I saw him come into the room one night and he looked like a camel. He proceeded to put his eyes in his pocket. I asked this guy who he was and he said, "That's Mr. Jones." Then I asked this cat, "Doesn't he do anything but put his eyes in his pocket?" And he told me, "He puts his nose on the ground." It's all there, it's a true story.

Q: Where did you get that shirt?

A:California. Do you like it? You should see my others. You can't get clothes like that here. There are a lot of things out there we haven't got here.

Q: Isn't California on the way here?

A:It's uptight here compared to there. Hollywood I mean. It's not really breathable here. it's like there's air out there. The Sunset Strip can't be compared to anything here, like 42nd Street. The people there look different, they look more like... you want to kiss them out there.

Q: Do you spend a lot of time out there?

A:I don't have much time to spend anywhere: The same thing in England. In England everybody looks very hip East Side. They wear things... they don't wear things that bore you. They've got other hangups in other directions.

Q: Do you consider yourself primarily a poet?

A:No. We have our ideas about poets. The word doesn't mean any more than the word "house." There are people who write _po_ems and people who write po_ems_. Other people write _poems_. Everybody who writes poems do you call them a poet? There's a certain kind of rhythm in some kind of way that's visible. You don't necessarily have to write to be a poet. Some people work in gas stations and they're poets. I don't call myself a poet because I don't like the word. I'm a trapeze artist.

Q: What I meant was, do you think your words stand without the music?

A:They would stand but I don't read them. I'd rather sing them. I write things that aren't songs--I have a book coming out.

Q: What is it?

A:It's a book of words.

Q: Is it like the back of your albums? It seemed to me that the album copy you write is a lot like the writing of William Burroughs. Some of the accidental sentences--


Q: Yes, and some of the imagery and anecdotes. I wondered if you had read anything by him.

A:I haven't read _Naked Lunch_ but I read some of his shorter things in little magazines, foreign magazines. I read one in Rome. I know him. I don't really know him--I just met him once. I think he's a great man.

Q: Burroughs keeps an album, a collection of photographs that illustrate his writing. Do you have anything similar to that?

A:I do that too. I have photographs of "Gates of Eden" and "It's All Over Now, Baby Blues." I saw them after I wrote the songs. People send me a lot of things and a lot of the things are pictures, so other people must have that idea too. I gotta admit, maybe I wouldn't have chosen them, but I can see what it is about the pictures.

Q: I heard you used to play the piano for Buddy Holly.

A:No. I used to play the rock and roll piano, but I don't want to say who it was for because the cat will try to get hold of me. I don't want to see the cat. He'll try to reclaim the friendship. I did it a long time ago, when I was seventeen years old. I used to play a country piano too.

Q: This was before you became interested in folk music?

A:Yes. I became interested in folk music because I had to make it somehow. Obviously I'm not a hard-working cat. I played the guitar, that was all I did. I thought it was great music. Certainly I haven't turned my back on it or anything like that. There is--and I'm sure nobody realizes this, all the authorities who write about what it is and what it should be, when they say keep things simple, they should be easily understood--folk music is the only music where it isn't simple. It's never been simple. It's weird, man, full of legend, myth, Bible and ghosts. I've never written anything hard to understand, not in my head anyway, and nothing as far out as some of the old songs. They were out of sight.

Q: Like what songs?

A:"Little Brown Dog." "I bought a little brown dog, its face is all gray. Now I'm going to Turkey flying on my bottle." And "Nottemun Town," that's like a herd of ghosts passing through on the way to Tangiers. "Lord Edward," "Barbara Allen," they're full of myth.

Q: And contradictions?

A:Yeah, contradictions.

Q: And chaos?

A:Chaos, watermelon, clocks, everything.

Q: You wrote on the back of one album, "I accept chaos but does chaos accept me."

A:Chaos is a friend of mine. It's like I accept him, does he accept me.

Q: Do you see the world as chaos?

A:Truth is chaos. Maybe beauty is chaos.

Q: Poets like Eliot and Yeats--

A:I haven't read Yeats.

Q: they saw the world as chaos, accepted it as chaos and attempted to bring order from it. Are you trying to do that?

A:No. It exists and that's all there is to it. It's been here longer than I have. What can I do about it? I don't know what the songs I write are. That's all I do is write songs, right? Write. I collect things too.

Q: Monkey wrenches?

A:Where did you read about that? Has that been in print? I told this guy out on the coast that I collected monkey wrenches, all sizes and shapes of monkey wrenches, and he didn't believe me. I don't think you believe me either. And I collect the pictures too. Have you talked to Sonny and Cher?

Q: No.

A:They're a drag. A cat got kicked out of a restaurant and he went home and wrote a song about it.

Q: They say your fan mail has radically increased since you switched sounds.

A:Yeah. I don't have time to read all of it, but I want you to put that I answer half of it. I don't really. A girl does that for me.

Q: Does she save any for you--any particularly interesting letters?

A:She knows my head. Not the ones that just ask for pictures, there's a file for them. Not the ones that say, I want to make it with you, they go in another file. She saves two kinds. The violently put-down--

Q: The ones that call you a sellout?

A:yeah. Sellout, fink, Fascist, Red, everything in the book. I really dig those. And ones from old friends.

Q: Like, "You don't remember me but I was in the fourth grade with you"?

A:No, I never had any friends then. These are letters from people who knew me in New York five, six years ago. My first fans. Not the people who call themselves my first fans. They came in three years ago, two years ago. They aren't really my first fans.

Q: How do you feel about being booed at your concert at Forest Hills?

A:I thought it was great, I really did. If I said anything else I'd be a liar.

Q: And at Newport Folk Festival?

A:that was different. They twisted the sound. They didn't like what I was going to play and they twisted the sound on me before I began.

Q: I hear you are wearing a sellout jacket.

A:What kind of jacket is a sellout jacket?

Q: Black leather.

A:I've had black leather jackets since I was five years old. I've been wearing black leather all my life.

Q: I wonder if we could talk about electronic music and what made you decide to use it.

A:I was doing fine, you know, singing and playing my guitar. It was a sure thing, don't you understand, it was a sure thing. I was getting very bored with that. I couldn't go out and play like that. I was thinking of quitting. Out front it was a sure thing. I knew what the audience was gonna do, how they would react. It was very automatic. Your mind just drifts unless you can find some way to get in there and remain totally there. It's so much of a fight remaining totally there all by yourself. It takes too much. I'm not ready to cut that much out of my life. You can't have nobody around. You can't be bothered with anybody else's world. And I like people. What I'm doing now--it's a whole other thing. We're not playing rock music. It's not a hard sound. These people call it folk rock--if they want to call it that, something that simple, it's good for selling records. As far as it being what it is, I don't know what it is. I can't call it folk rock. It's a whole way of doing things. It has been picked up on, I've heard songs on the radio that have picked it up. I'm not talking about words. It's a certain feeling, and it's been on every single record I've ever made. That has not changed. I know it hasn't changed. As far as what I was totally, before, maybe I was pushing it a little then. I'm not pushing things now. I know it. I know very well how to do it. The problem of how I want to play something--I know it in front. I know what I am going to say, what I'm going to do. I don't have to work it out. The band I work with--they wouldn't be playing with me if they didn't play like I want them to. I have this song, "Queen Jane Approximately"--

Q: Who is Queen Jane?

A:Queen Jane is a man.

Q: Was there something that made you decide to change sounds? Your trip to England?

A:I like the sound. I like what I'm doing now. I would have done it before. It wasn't practical to do it before. I spend most of my time writing. I wouldn't have had the time. I had to get where I was going all alone. I don't know what I'm going to do next. I probably will record with strings some time, but it doesn't necessarily change. It's just a different color. And I know it's real. No matter what anybody says. They can boo till the end of time. I know that the music is real, more real than the boos.

Q: How do you work?

A:Most of the time I work at night. I don't really like to think of it as work. I don't know how important it is. It's not important to the average cat who works eight hours a day. What does he care? The world can get along very well without it. I'm hip to that.

Q: Sure, but the world can get along without any number of things.

A:I'll give you a comparison. Rudy Vallee. Now that was a lie, that was a downright lie. Rudy Vallee being popular. What kind of people could have dug him? You know, your grandmothers and mothers. But what kind of people were they? He was so sexless. If you want to find out about those times and you listen to his music you're not going to find out anything about the times. His music was a pipedream. All escapes. There are no more escapes. If you want to find out anything that's happening now, you have to listen to the music. I don't mean the words, although "Eve of Destruction" will tell you something about it. The words are not really gonna tell it, not really. You gotta listen to the Stapes(Staple?) Singers, Smokey and the Miracles, Martha and the Vandellas. That's scary to a lot of people. It's sex that's involved. it's not hidden. It's real. You can overdo it. It's not only sex, it's a whole beautiful feeling.

Q: But Negro rhythm and blues has been around underground for at least twelve years. What brought it out now?

A:The English did that. They brought it out. They hipped everybody. You read an interview asking who the Beatles' favorite singer was and they say Chuck Berry. You never used to hear Chuck Berry records on the radio, hard blues. The English did that. England is great and beautiful, though in other ways kinda messy. Though not outside London.

Q: In what way messy?

A:There's a snobbishness. What you see people doing to other people. It's not only class. It's not that simple. It's a kind of Queen kind of thing. Some people are royalty and some are not. Here, man, somebody don't like you he tells you. There it's very tight, tight kinds of expressions, their whole tone of speaking changes. It's an everyday kind of thing. But the kids are a whole other thing. Great. They're just more free. I hope you don't think I take this too seriously--I just have a headache.

Q: I think you started out to say that music was more in tune with what's happening than other art forms.

A:Great paintings shouldn't be in museums. Have you ever been in a museum? Museums are cemetaries. Paintings should be on the walls of restaurants, in dime stores, in gas stations, in men's rooms. Great paintings should be where people hang out. The only thing where it's happening is on radio and records, that's where people hang out. You can't see great paintings. You pay half a million and hang one in your house and one guest sees it. That's not art. That's a shame, a crime. Music is the only thing that's in tune with what's happening. It's not in book form, it's not on the stage. All this art they've been talking about is nonexistent. It just remains on the shelf. It doesn't make anyone happier. Just think how many people would really feel great if they could see a Picasso in their daily diner. It's not the bomb that has to go, man, it's the museums.

Thanks to Kaliph and Rob