First of all, congratulations Bobby D on winning the Nobel Prize in Literature, and thank you for getting the Beatles high. You changed the game on words in music forever. You also wrote songs that helped inspire white people to join the civil rights movement, question authority, and wear dark sunglasses.
I just found this pretty awesome recording of Studs Terkel, a personal hero, interviewing Bob in the spring of 1963 on WFMT Chicago. The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan was yet to be released, so most listeners had no idea who the kid was. Studs is awkward and awed at times, but does a great job. He predicts A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall will be a classic, Bob sings it. And it seems like Bob really opens up, touching on the meanings of songs, his childhood friendships, and the time he saw Woody perform in Burbank, California, at age ten.
BUT WAIT. Bob Dylan was ten in the summer of 1951, when Woody Guthrie was still living on Mermaid Avenue in NYC, suffering from (alcoholism, schizophrenia, and) the onset of Huntington’s disease, beginning to lose his motor skills. He didn’t return to California until 1952, when he moved into a shack on the property of the Theatricum Botanicum, near Topanga Canyon.
Is Bob Dylan messing with my man Studs? He’s sure trying. In the interview you can hear Bob awkwardly switching between different American dialects; “knowed” one sentence, “knew” the next. Even before becoming famous he seems predisposed to trolling reporters and perpetuating myths about himself—he’s just not quite so good at it yet.
What’s the point of all this? Bob Dylan is the ultimate unreliable narrator (next to Neitzsche). When Bob Dylan says “Rock and Roll Is Dead,” he doesn’t know if it’s true. He lies like a landlord in a shakedown, and that’s saying something.
A lot of people have written about Dylan and I won’t try to analyze his motivations here. We have evidence of the guy showing real faith in people to change how they think. We also have evidence of him rejecting, even despising, the people who swallow his words without chewing. No one can say if he hopes or hoped you see past him. Past the cynicism and wordplay. But, I hope you do.
I’ve stumbled on the side of twelve misty mountains
I’ve walked and I’ve crawled on six crooked highways
I’ve stepped in the middle of seven sad forests
I’ve been out in front of a dozen dead oceans
Been ten thousand miles in the mouth of a graveyard
And it’s a hard, it’s a hard, it’s a hard, it’s a hard