Master of the Runaround

If there’s any artist who doesn’t really need any press, it’s Bob Dylan. This guy hasn’t really needed to rely on any press in fifty years. Dylan, who recently turned 73, had a ridiculous amount of notoriety thrust upon him early in his career. In fact, the press courted him almost from the beginning. Everyone wanted to know what he had to say even about even the most innocuous of subjects — a fasciation that continues to this day. His mastery of words, his ever-evolving carousel of musical directions and that voice.  

In return for our thirst, Dylan has given us five decades of worthy material to over-analyze. As a performer, there are thousands of shows to his name (many that can easily be classified as historic)  two of which happened within a year of each other: Newport, July 25, 1965, and Manchester, May 17, 1966. However, some of his greatest performances haven’t been on a stage in front of thousands of people, but, rather, in small rooms (or on a bus or in a radio station or on the phone) in front of one or maybe two dozen people answering questions. A lot of questions. Everyone has something to ask the guy, but doesn’t often give straight answers. He plays the interview game as he plays the songwriting game: never drawing a straight line, hardly offering a dull moment. Dylan turns interviews into theater. 

The varying degrees of entertainment and oddity in these performances (interviews) depend on who’s asking the questions and who may be listening. For example, the grumpy, older reporter from Time (as seen in the documentary of his 1965 English tour Don’t Look Back) draws out a different Dylan than, say, the heavily lauded jazz critic Nat Hentoff. The former drew out a notorious and brilliant confrontation, while the latter brought a quaint chat session. Even in interviews, Dylan keeps everyone guessing and handles the situation as he sees fit. 

So, in celebration of Dylan’s 73rd year, we’ve chronicled a few of his greatest interviews/performances — and given descriptions of each. Pull up a seat, put on some headphones, and enjoy.

Interview 1 

Date: March 12, 1962

Location: WBAI radio, New York City

Interviewer: Cynthia Gooding, “Folksinger’s Choice” radio program

Stand-out Quote: “Actually, I wrote a song once ‘bout this lady I knew in the carnival…”

Synopsis: Only 20 years old here, baby-faced Dylan was already in good form, confident, and convincing as he told folksinger/activist interviewer Gooding about traveling with carnivals as a youth a fact that ended up being total fiction, but who was to know? Because he was so young in his career, there was nothing to really talk about besides influences, so maybe he figured: why not make it a little more interesting by spinning a few tall tales? Even at this young age, he was already a better talker than most of his peers and Gooding couldn’t get enough him.


Interview 2

Date: December 3, 1965

Location: KQED TV Studios, San Francisco

Interviewer: Various

Stand-out Quote: “Good God, I must leave right away.”

Synopsis: This was perhaps the beginning of Dylan’s uneasiness with the press (or simply with just answering questions) and was the debut of his patented “non-answers.” Even before the first question was asked (by a laser-eyed, intense, creepy fellow), Dylan mannerisms showed he was looking for a way out fidgety in his chair, shifty-eyed, hiding behind his hand, chain smoking, etc. 

At the time of this press conference, Dylan had already “gone electric” at that year’s Newport Folk Festival, and, in doing so, had isolated many early fans while earning more notoriety and public debates than even the best PR person could drum up. He was also in the midst of recording his first masterpiece (or was it his third?), Blonde on Blonde. He was sitting pretty and he knew it. When asked, jokingly, which commercial interests he’d consider selling out to, Dylan answered: “ladies garments,” to much laughter. Forty odd years later, he did just that by appearing in and donating his ghostly “Lovesick” to a Victoria Secret commercial. 


Interview 3

Date: January, 1966

Location: WBAI Radio, New York City 

Interviewer: Boss Fass / various callers, “Radio Unnameable” program

Stand-out quote: “Oh my God, man; hey no, he don’t understand. Hey, all these people hey, hey, listen, I don’t know who this is, I’m not even going to ask your name, that’s how much I think of you…”

Synopsis: Although 1966 found Dylan active as a performer for only six months (a July motorcycle took him out of the public eye for two years), some of his best interviews happened in that short space of time. Dylan and company stumbled into WBAI’s studios for Bob Faas’s free-form late-night radio show where he and Fass snickered, talked over and spared with callers, and generally didn’t answer questions. Recorded only a month after the San Francisco press conference embedded above, Dylan’s attitude in this interview was completely different. Seems that a few late nights in the studio put The Maestro in a blurry, surreal mood — a mood that the more adventurous callers dared to complain about. 

Interview 4

Date: mid-1986

Location: Dylan’s trailer on the set of the film Hearts Of Fire, Hamilton, Canada

Interviewer: Christopher Sykes

Stand-out Quote: “I’m nobody’s puppet and nobody pulls my strings.”

Synopsis: Although the 70’s were a fertile interview time Dylan, his interviews in the mid-80’s were more accessible. Here is the first of a four-part conversation made for the BBC’s acclaimed series, Omnibus. Sykes refused to be thrown off by Dylan’s verbal hiding and remained patient while keeping up the pace. For his part, Dylan sketched a portrait of the Sykes instead of using his typical forms of aversion. Still, he was in great spirits (confrontational as well as good humored) and gave some amazingly candid responses. Plus, he laughed a lot here and, let’s be honest: when Bob Dylan laughs, so does the world. (Be sure to watch part four of this series where is the best as he interacts and jokes around with the locals outside his trailer including a wrestler named “Grizzly.”) 

Interview 5

Date: May 24, 1986

Location: WBAI studios, NYC, on the phone from an undisclosed location

Interviewer: Bob Fass, Robert Knight, and some cheesy radio guy with a thick Brooklyn accent, “Radio Unnameable” program

Stand-out Quote: “I’m talkin’ on the radio here, but it’s just silence.”

Synopsis: Twenty years after their notorious interview, Dylan is back with Bob Fass. This time, however, it’s Fass and company who are on the receiving end of Dylan’s shut-down, non-answers. Try as they would to hold a discussion, they ended up with perhaps the most awkward conversation in Dylan’s interview history. It’s up for debate whether he just didn’t want to talk or was doing some professional mind-messing here as he allowed long pauses, talked over follow-up questions and interrupted at will. Adding to this hilarious train-wreck was Fass’s low-voiced, ass-kissing and downright pervy mannerisms, which sounded way too private for public broadcast. While everyone was virtually tripping over themselves to apply credit to Dylan, Fass came off as if trying for something more romantic. There were at least three times when it seemed the interview was wrapping up, but it kept going. Of all people, one would think the radio veteran Fass would know when to quit, but he continually stepped into the same verbal traps he helped set twenty years earlier. It’s an embarrassing but wildly entertaining half-hour.

Interview 6

Date: July, 2001

Location: A small room in Rome, Italy

Interviewer: Various Romans

Stand-out Quote: “You’ve been dancing all morning? I’m sorry about that.”

Synopsis: Two-thousand one found Dylan at the beginning of yet another surge of creativity. Here, he was doing press for his stunning Love And Theft LP, which was released two months later. The easy-going, jovial Dylan was in command of the situation and spoke with authority while still not really answering questions. The reporters remained on point throughout by mostly keeping clear of The Legacy. Not surprisingly, Dylan was far more interested in talking about the present than the past. When one tried to quote a lyric in order to back up his question, Dylan humorously challenged the reporter’s accuracy yet no one, not even the songwriter, knew which line was correct. In this enjoyable interview, he had them in the palm of his hand but didn’t crush ‘em. 

These are only a handful of Dylan's raucous interviews that probably make fans even more enamored with the Legend. So, if you just gotta have more, hop on over to Youtube for hours + of fascination.