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Bob Dylan’s Surprise, Extensive New Interview: 9 Things We Learned

 

A new interview with Bob Dylan by rock journalist/MTV executive Bill Flanagan has appeared on the songwriter’s official website to promote his upcoming standards three-disc set Triplicate. It’s the first extensive interview with Dylan since he spoke to AARP a little over two years ago. Given the interview was posted on his own website, he appears to have had more control over the editorial process. Still, the extensive Q&A provides numerous fascinating nuggets to glean from the singer-songwriter. Here are nine things we learned.

1. He’s got Taylor Swift on the mind
Dylan may have toured with folk-rock band Dawes in 2013, with the group’s frontman Taylor Goldsmith playing a key role in the New Basement Tapes project the following year. But when Flanagan said his name,  Dylan heard something else. “Did you say Taylor Swift?” he asked.

2. He thinks people overlook his 1980s work
When asked which songs from his extensive catalog the public overlooks, Dylan named just two: 1980’s “In the Garden” and 1986’s “Brownsville Girl.” The former is a gospel tune from Saved, while the latter is an epic he wrote with playwright Sam Shepherd that appears on the otherwise dismal Knocked Out Loaded. He hasn’t played “In The Garden” in concert since 2002, while “Brownsville Girl” only got a single, partial performance in 1986. Both are indeed stellar tunes, though.

3. He doesn’t love “American Pie”
Dylan says his favorite song that references him is Ricky Nelson’s “Garden Party,” but he doesn’t have much love for Don McLean’s “American Pie” in which he’s repeatedly referenced as a “jester.” “A jester?” Dylan said. “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.”

4. He still reveres Joan Baez
They may have not performed in public together in the past 33 years, but Dylan still has a lot of respect for Joan Baez. “She was something else, almost too much to take,” he said. “Her voice was like that of a siren from off some Greek island. Just the sound of it could put you into a spell. She was an enchantress. You’d have to get yourself strapped to the mast like Odysseus and plug up your ears so you wouldn’t hear her. She’d make you forget who you were.”

5. He’s been listening to new music
Dylan’s last three studio records have been devoted solely to standard tunes from the Frank Sinatra era, though it’s clear he’s at least somewhat keeping up with new music. Not only does he like Iggy Pop’s 2012 French language album Après, but he also praised Imelda May, Stereophonics and Valerie June.

6. He loves Amy Winehouse
He saves his most effusive praise for Amy Winehouse. “I liked Amy Winehouse’s last record,” he said. “She was the last real individualist around.” Around the time that Winehouse released her last album, Dylan had a different take on the last great “individual” performer. “Who’s the last individual performer that you can think of,” he asked Jonathan Lethem in an interview with Rolling Stone. “Elton John, maybe? I’m talking about artists with the willpower not to conform to anybody’s reality but their own. Patsy Cline and Billy Lee Riley. Plato and Socrates, Whitman and Emerson. Slim Harpo and Donald Trump. It’s a lost art form. I don’t know who else does it beside myself, to tell you the truth.”

7. He met Frank Sinatra at a dinner party at the singer’s house in the early 1990s
“I think he knew ‘The Times They Are A-Changin’’ and ‘Blowin’ in the Wind,’” Dylan said. “I know he liked ‘Forever Young.’ He told me that. He was funny. We were standing out on his patio at night and he said to me, ‘You and me, pal, we got blue eyes, we’re from up there,’ and he pointed to the stars. ‘These other bums are from down here.’ I remember thinking that he might be right.”

8. He’s feeling the passage of time
In comments that seem like they may have been written rather than spoken in a spontaneous conversation, Dylan explains what we’ve lost since the end of the 1960s. “From 1970 till now, there’s been about 50 years, seems more like 50 million,” he said. “That was a wall of time that separates the old from the new and a lot can get lost in this kind 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. 

“Musical influences too – they get swallowed up, get absorbed into newer things or they fall by the wayside,” he added. “I don’t think you need to feel bummed out though, or that it’s out of your clutches – you can still find what you’re looking for if you follow the trail back. It could be right there where you left it – anything is possible. Trouble is, you can’t bring it back with you; you have to stay right there with it. I think that is what nostalgia is all about.”

9. An Elvis Presley collaboration was in the works at one point
Dylan’s relationship with Elvis Presley has the subject of much speculation over the years. Dylan’s 1970 song “Went to See the Gypsy” is thought by some to be about a meeting between the two singers. In 1972, Dylan and George Harrison saw Elvis in concert when he played Madison Square Garden. There were rumors about a possible recording session where Elvis didn’t show up. “He did show up,” Dylan told Flanagan. “It was us that didn’t.” That begs a follow-up, but instead he was asked about Warren Beatty’s claim that he was offered a part in Bonnie and Clyde. “The offer was sent to my manager’s office and we weren’t speaking; we had had a falling out,” he said. “I didn’t get any mail or offers that were sent there.” 

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