- Bob Fass
longtime host of the program Radio Unnameable on WBAI in New York, which first aired in 1963. He was an early pioneer of freeform radio.
- Elizabeth Thomson
co-editor of the newly reissued book No Direction Home: The Life and Music of Bob Dylan, written by Robert Shelton. She is also the co-editor of The Dylan Companion.
Today Bob Dylan turns 70 years old, and we air a special program on his life and music. Dylan was born Robert Allen Zimmerman on May 24, 1941, in Duluth, Minnesota. Raised in Hibbing, Minnesota, he moved to Greenwich Village in January of 1961. Within a couple of years, Dylan would be viewed by many as the voice of a generation as he wrote some of the decade’s most famous songs, including “Blowin’ in the Wind,” “The Times They Are a-Changing,” “Like a Rolling Stone,” “Masters of War,” “Desolation Row” and “Mr. Tambourine Man.” After emerging from the New York City folk scene, Dylan explored many other genres, from rock to country to the blues. He continues to tour to this day. In 2008, the Pulitzer Prize jury awarded him a special citation for “his profound impact on popular music and American culture, marked by lyrical compositions of extraordinary poetic power.” But before Bob Dylan became a musical star, he was one of countless young musicians in New York City trying to get heard. Some of his earliest radio appearances were on Pacifica radio station WBAI. We speak with the legendary WBAI broadcaster Bob Fass, the host of Radio Unnameable, who interviewed Dylan several times. Fass’s show began in 1963 and became a leading outlet for the emerging counterculture of the 1960s. It still airs every Thursday night at midnight. We play excerpts from the Pacifica Radio Archives of a 1962 performance by Dylan on Fass’s show and an interview when he was only 20 years old. We also speak with music writer Elizabeth Thomson, co-editor of the newly reissued book, No Direction Home: The Life and Music of Bob Dylan, written by the late Robert Shelton. And we feature part of Dylan’s 1963 performance at the March on Washington and hear why Dylan refused to sing out at protests against the Vietnam War. [includes rush transcript]
AMY GOODMAN: Today Bob Dylan turns 70 years old, and we bring you a special on his music and his life. He was born Robert Allen Zimmerman , 70 years ago today, on May 24th, 1941, in Duluth, Minnesota. Raised in Hibbing, Dylan moved to Greenwich Village in January of 1961. Within a couple years, Bob Dylan would be viewed by many as the voice of a generation, as he wrote some of the decade’s most famous songs, including “Blowin’ in the Wind,” “The Times They Are a-Changing,” “Like a Rolling Stone,” “Masters of War,” “Desolation Row” and “Mr. Tambourine Man.”
BOB DYLAN: [singing] Hey, Mr. Tambourine Man, play a song for me
I’m not sleepy, and there is no place I’m going to
Hey, Mr. Tambourine Man, play a song for me
In the jingle-jangle morning, I’ll come followin’ you.
AMY GOODMAN: In 1963, Bob Dylan performed with Joan Baez at the March on Washington, where Dr. Martin Luther King delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech.
BOB DYLAN: [singing] Oh the time will come up
When the winds will stop
And the breeze will cease to be a-breathin’
Like the stillness in the wind
Before the hurricane begins
The hour that the ship comes in.
AMY GOODMAN: After emerging from the New York folk scene, Bob Dylan would explore many other genres, from rock to country to the blues. He continues to tour to this day. In 2008, the Pulitzer Prize jury awarded Bob Dylan a special citation for his, quote, “profound impact on popular music and American culture, marked by lyrical compositions of extraordinary poetic power.”
But before Bob Dylan became a musical star, he was one of countless young musicians in New York City trying to get heard. Some of his earliest radio appearances were on Pacifica Radio station WBAI.
CYNTHIA GOODING: Bob Dylan is — well, you must be 20 years old now, aren’t you?
BOB DYLAN: Yeah, must be 20.
CYNTHIA GOODING: Are you?
BOB DYLAN: Yeah, I’m 20. I’m 20.
CYNTHIA GOODING: When I first heard Bob Dylan was, I think, about three years ago in Minneapolis. And at that time, you were thinking of being a rock-and-roll singer, weren’t you?
BOB DYLAN: At that time I was just sort of doing nothing. I was there —
CYNTHIA GOODING: You were studying.
BOB DYLAN: I was working, I guess. I was — I was making pretend I was going to school out there.
AMY GOODMAN: Today we’re going to celebrate Bob Dylan’s life with a special show featuring many rare early recordings of Dylan. We’ll also be joined by the legendary WBAI broadcaster Bob Fass, the host of Radio Unnameable. The show began in 1963 and became a leading outlet for the emerging counterculture of the 1960s. It still airs every Thursday night at midnight. Bob Dylan appeared on the show several times.
BOB FASS: This is Bob Fass. We’re back on here with Radio Unnameable. Remember I told you about 10 minutes ago that we were going to have somebody come up who wasn’t Shirley Temple? No —
BOB DYLAN: Aw, come on now. Don’t do this to me.
BOB FASS: What — oh, I’m sorry. What am I doing to you?
BOB DYLAN: I’m not supposed to do that. I’m not going to apologize for not being Shirley Temple. Come on.
BOB FASS: You want me to introduce you like Mike Wallace?
BOB DYLAN: No, no, no. I wouldn’t —
BOB FASS: Alright, this is Bob Dylan —
BOB DYLAN: No, no, no. Oh, [inaudible] say that.
BOB FASS: Oh, I can’t say who it is? Oh, alright, OK.
AMY GOODMAN: Along with Bob Fass, we’ll be joined by music writer Elizabeth Thomson, co-editor of the newly reissued book No Direction Home: The Life and Music of Bob Dylan, written by the late Robert Shelton.
I want to begin by going back to early 1962, when Bob Dylan appeared on Cynthia Gooding’s program Folksinger’s Choice on WBAI. It was one of his first radio appearances. Special thanks to the Pacifica Radio Archives.
CYNTHIA GOODING: And now you’re doing a record for Columbia.
BOB DYLAN: Yeah. I made it already. It’s coming out next month — or not next — yeah, it’s coming out in March.
CYNTHIA GOODING: And what’s it going to be called?
BOB DYLAN: Uh, “Bob Dylan,” I think.
CYNTHIA GOODING: That’s a novel title for a record.
BOB DYLAN: Yeah, it’s pretty strange.
CYNTHIA GOODING: Yeah. And this is one of the quickest rises in folk music, wouldn’t you say?
BOB DYLAN: Yeah, but I really don’t think to myself as a folk — you know, folksinger thing, because I don’t really much play across the country in any of these places. You know, I’m not on no circuit or anything like those other folksingers. So, I play once in a while, you know. But I don’t know. I like more than just folk music, too, and I sing more than just folk music. I mean, as such, like other people, they will just folk music, folk music. You know, I like folk music, as Hobart Smith stuff and that. But I don’t sing much of that. And when I do, it’s probably a modified version of something. Not a modified version. I don’t know how to explain it. It’s just that there’s more to it, I think, old type jazz things, you know? Jelly Roll Morton, you know, and stuff like that.
CYNTHIA GOODING: Well, what I would like is for you to sing some songs, you know, from different parts of your short history.
BOB DYLAN: Yeah, my history?
CYNTHIA GOODING: Short because you’re only 20 now.
BOB DYLAN: Yeah, OK. Let’s see. I’m looking for one.
CYNTHIA GOODING: He has the — I gather, a small part of his repertoire pasted to his guitar.
BOB DYLAN: Yeah. Well, this is — no, actually, I don’t even know some of these songs. This list, I put on because other people got it on, you know, and I copied the best songs I could find on here from other guitar players’ lists. So I don’t know a lot of these, you know? Gives me something to do, though, on stage.
CYNTHIA GOODING: Yeah, something to look at.
BOB DYLAN: Yeah. I’ll sing you — oh, you want to hear — want to hear a blues song?
CYNTHIA GOODING: Sure.
AMY GOODMAN: Bob Dylan in 1962, appearing on Cynthia Gooding’s program, Folksinger’s Choice, on WBAI, one of his first radio appearances. He appeared a number of times on WBAI on Bob Fass’s show, the legendary radio programmer. His program continues to this day. It’s called Radio Unnameable.
Bob, it is a great pleasure to have you on Democracy Now!
BOB FASS: Well, the same goes for me, Amy. I’m very happy to be here.
AMY GOODMAN: So, when did you first meet Bob Dylan?
BOB FASS: Well, I first heard about him, of course, before I met him, in a lot of different places, and I’m not — I’m certain about one of them. I was an actor at the time, a poor young actor, believe it or not, who didn’t — you know, didn’t know a whole lot about almost anything. I was in a play by Brendan Behan called The Hostage, and I learned so much there about Ireland and Ireland in its revolutionary period. And people ought to look that play up and take a good gander at it, because it will goose them to go on further. And I was sitting there trying to remember my next entrance, when the — I was a replacement in the cast. I wasn’t cast in the play in the beginning. I was there probably for the last month of its run, which I think was a couple of years. And I noticed the stage mistress, the woman who was climbing the ropes and changing the lights and telling the rest of the people in the chorus when to sing and where to stand backstage and telling us, “Shhhh, the audience out front can hear you.” And she was so good at all these things that, among other things, she was really wonderful to look at. But I knew there was a lot more than a pretty face there. And somehow I was lucky enough to remember that.
And somehow, when she said, “What are you looking at?” I said, “Well, I’m not sure why, but you.” And she said, “Well, you should see my sister.” Her sister was Suze Rotolo, who was Bob Dylan’s very best live-in roommate friend at the time. And, you know, I was more than a little interested. And after a couple of weeks, I asked her to, you know, have a cup of coffee with me. And she said, “Alright.” And we had the cup of coffee, and I got to know her a little better. And she said, “Do you think that I’m good looking? You should see my sister. And you know who her” — this was on the downlow — “boyfriend is?” And I said, “No.” And she said, “Dylan.” I said, “The poet?” She said, “No.” I said, “Who?” She said, “Bob Dylan.” I said, “Bob?” She said, “Yeah. Well, that’s not really his — but we’ll tell you more about it later.”
And I hung around long enough so that I got to visit them while in their shared apartment. I got to play poker once. I was very bad at it, but he was brilliant at poker. And, you know, I was fascinated by him. I got to drive around with him. I got to spend long times talking to him. And there were moments there that I’ll never forget.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to go back to Bob Dylan’s early WBAI recordings. In May of 1962, he appeared on the Broadside radio show on WBAI. The show was hosted by, well, Pete Seeger, Sis Cunningham and Izzy [Young]. This is Pete Seeger.
PETE SEEGER: I’d like to hear some of the songs that Bob Dylan has made up, because of all the people I’ve heard in America, he seems to be the most prolific. I don’t — Bob, do you make the song before breakfast every day or before supper?
BOB DYLAN: No, I don’t make up a song like that. In fact, sometimes I could go about two weeks without making up a song.
PETE SEEGER: I don’t believe it.
BOB DYLAN: Oh, yeah. But then, sometimes — well, these are the songs that I sing. I might go about two weeks in making up a — I write a lot of stuff. In fact, I wrote five songs last night. I gave all the papers away someplace. It was in a place called the Bitter End. And some were — some were just about what was happening on the stage. And I would never sing them anyplace; they were just for myself in front of some other people. They might say, “Write a song about that,” and I do it. But I don’t sit around and do it with the newspapers like a lot of people do, spread newspapers all around and pick something out to write a song about. It’s usually right there in my head before I start. That’s the way I write. I mean, it might be a bad approach. But I don’t even consider even writing songs. I don’t — when I’ve written it, I don’t even consider that I wrote it when I got done.
PETE SEEGER: Put it together.
SIS CUNNINGHAM: You made it up.
BOB DYLAN: Yeah, yeah. I just figure that I made it up or I got it someplace. I just sort of — the song was there before me, before I came along. I just sort of came down and just sort of took it down with a pencil, that it was all there before I came around. That’s the way I feel about it.
SIS CUNNINGHAM: We can let him give us an example of how these songs just sort of come to him and flow through him.
GIL TURNER: Well, I think this particular song is historical in the sense that it’s the first psychological song of the modern generation that I’ve heard.
BOB DYLAN: I took this from Bonnie Dobson’s tune. “Peter Amberly,” I think the name of it is.
[singing] My name is Donald White, you see,
I stand before you all.
I was judged by you a murderer
And the hangman’s knot must fall.
I will die upon the gallows pole
When the moon is bright and clear,
And these are my final words
That you will ever hear.
If I had some education
To give me a decent start,
I might have been a doctor or
A master in the arts.
But I used my hands for stealing
When I was very young,
And they locked me down in jailhouse cells,
That’s how my life begun.
Oh, the inmates and the prisoners,
I found they were my kind,
It was there inside the bars
I found my peace of mind.
But the jails they were too crowded,
So they set me loose to walk upon
Life’s weary tangled road.
And there’s danger on the ocean
Where the salt sea waves split high,
And there’s danger on the battlefield
Where the shells of bullets fly.
AMY GOODMAN: Ah, that was Bob Dylan on the Broadside radio show on WBAI, which is hosted by Pete Seeger, Sis Cunningham, and Izzy Young. You were smiling, Bob. You were singing along to —
BOB FASS: I was there when some of these programs were recorded, kind of lurking in the background.
AMY GOODMAN: Were you doing your own show at that time?
BOB FASS: No, I was an engineer at the station and an announcer at the time.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, we’re going to go to break, and when we come back we’re going to talk more about Bob Dylan, his impact, his music, one of the remarkable moments when he sang “Blowin’ in the Wind,” one of the earliest recordings. And we’re going to talk about his life. It’s hard to believe, but yes, Bob Dylan turns 70 years old today. Stay with us.
AMY GOODMAN: Bob Dylan singing “The Ballad of Emmett Till,” which was recorded on WBAI, the Pacifica station here in New York. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman.
Bob Dylan turns 70 today. Yes, it’s hard to believe. Today we are honoring his life work, his music, his legacy, by playing his songs, his early recordings. And we’re joined by Bob Fass, who was a friend, who hosted him on WBAI on his show Radio Unnameable, then and today. He continues to do his show after midnight every Thursday night.
We’re also joined by Elizabeth Thomson, co-editor of the newly reissued book, No Direction Home: The Life and Music of Bob Dylan, that was written by Robert Shelton. She is also co-editor of The Dylan Companion.
It’s nice to have you with us, Elizabeth.
ELIZABETH THOMSON: Nice to be here. Thank you.
AMY GOODMAN: Talk about this book and, well, the man who wrote it, Robert Shelton.
ELIZABETH THOMSON: Well, Robert Shelton was the music and arts critic of the New York Times. He joined it as a copy boy in the mid-'50s. And in fact, he was a news reporter who fell foul of one of the McCarthy committees, because he was brought up before the Eastland Committee and accused of being a communist. He refused to answer the questions, and it was a celebrated case. The New York Times, of course, said, “Well, you're absolutely free to believe what you want, but we can’t have you writing news.” So they put him on the arts beat.
And he chronicled huge aspects of folk music, particularly. If you look up the archive, you can see all kinds of stuff — some classical music, people like Ravi Shankar, I think, and then eventually this scruffy kid who was playing at a Manhattan cabaret. And he brought word of what was going on in New York, the New York folk revival, not just to the people of New York and the surrounding area, but to the country. It was an amazing revival that I suppose, in part, was prompted by the success of the Kingston Trio and Tom Dooley, and then everyone picked up a guitar. And he chronicled not only Dylan’s rise, but Baez at the Newport Folk Festival in 1959. I think he saw the moment when Peter, Paul and Mary actually became Peter, Paul and Mary in Grossman’s office. He reviewed people like José Feliciano, Woody Allen doing stand-up, Joni Mitchell. An incredible, incredible career. And yet he’s sort of forgotten by all but the most ardent Dylanites, I guess. But he was a very significant on the scene — a tastemaker on the New York music scene.
AMY GOODMAN: And though there are more than a thousand books written about Dylan, his was the only one where he got the cooperation —
ELIZABETH THOMSON: Yes, absolutely.
AMY GOODMAN: — of Bob.
ELIZABETH THOMSON: Because they became buddies. I mean, they met, knocking around in the Village at Gerde’s, at the Gaslight, all these places that existed then. The review happened, of course. By that time, they knew each other a bit. And they were friends. They drank at the White Horse Tavern together with the Clancy Brothers. Dylan passed out on Shelton’s sofa a couple of times. He knew Suze. They went out on dates — you know, Dylan with Suzie and later with Baez. So, they were buddies. And the centerpiece of the book, of course, is the 1966 tour, where Shelton is on the plane with Dylan from Lincoln, Nebraska, to Denver, Colorado, for this amazing, you know, free-rein interview.
AMY GOODMAN: Talk about that.
ELIZABETH THOMSON: Well, by that time, Shelton was working on his book, and he joins Dylan for a leg of the 1966 tour, that of course would be ended by the motorcycle crash. It took in Australia, Europe, and famously London and Manchester, with the “Judas!” cry. And they leave Lincoln, Nebraska, after a show at the break of midnight on a private jet and fly into Denver. And Dylan and Shelton just talk like old buddies. I mean, if you hear the tapes, it’s just a chat. And then they check into a motel in Denver, and Dylan and members of the band, what we know as the band later on — Robbie Robertson — lounge on beds in their motel rooms singing, trying out these songs, like “Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands,” with Shelton watching. And then the next morning, they go to Central City for a little outing, and then they come back, and Shelton and Dylan chat again while Dylan is getting ready for a concert. And then Dylan continued on to his next stop, and Shelton came back to New York, I guess. And the friendship continued. The book ends, in fact, in 1978 — ends a bit earlier; I’ve cut it — with the two men backstage at London’s Earl’s Court during the very successful 1978 tour.
AMY GOODMAN: We had Pete Seeger in our studio — I think this was in 2005 — to talk about his own life, perform a few songs. And I asked him about Bob Dylan’s controversial 1965 appearance at the Newport Folk Festival.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Pete Seeger. And on this allmusic.com bio of you, it says, Pete Seeger’s “adherence to the sanctity of folk music came to a boiling point with the advent of folk rock,” and it’s long been rumored that “he tried to pull the plug on Bob Dylan’s very electrified set with the Paul Butterfield Blues Band in 1965.” Is that true?
PETE SEEGER: No. It’s true that I don’t play electrified instruments. I don’t know how to. On the other hand, I’ve played with people who play them beautifully, and I admire some of them. Howling Wolf was using electrified instruments at Newport just the day before Bob did. But I was furious that the sound was so distorted you could not understand a word that he was singing. He was singing a great song, “Maggie’s Farm,” a great song, but you couldn’t understand it. And I ran over to the soundman, said, “Fix the sound so you can understand him.” And they hollered back, “No, this is the way they want it!” I don’t know who “they” was. But I was so mad, I said, “Damn, if I had an axe, I’d cut the cable right now.” I really was that mad. But I wasn’t against Bob going electric.
Matter of fact, some of Bob’s songs are still my favorites. What an artist he is. What a great — I would say maybe he and Woody and Buffy Sainte-Marie and Joni Mitchell and Malvina Reynolds are the greatest songwriters of the 20th century, even though Irving Berlin made the most money. They wrote songs that were trying to help us understand where we are, what we gotta do. Still are writing them.
AMY GOODMAN: And here is a little taste of Bob Dylan performing “Maggie’s Farm” at Newport in 1965.
BOB DYLAN: [singing] I ain’t gonna work on Maggie’s farm no more
No, I ain’t gonna work on Maggie’s farm no more
Well, I wake up in the morning
Fold my hands and pray for rain
I got a head full of ideas
That are drivin’ me insane
It’s a shame the way she makes me scrub the floor
I ain’t gonna work on Maggie’s farm no more.
I ain’t gonna work for Maggie’s brother no more
I ain’t gonna work for Maggie’s brother no more
Well, he hands you a nickel
Hands you a dime
Asks you with a grin
If you’re havin’ a good time
Then he fines you every time you slam the door
I ain’t gonna work for Maggie’s brother more.
AMY GOODMAN: That is Bob Dylan, “Maggie’s Farm,” in 1965. Bob Fass, why was it such a huge deal that he went electric?
BOB FASS: Well, everybody was at that time. And the people in the folk community were very PC about not letting him go on. They thought they knew what was correct. There were places in England where you would be thrown out of the club if you were a folksinger, so-called, and you sang somebody else’s song. You were only supposed to sing your own songs, the ones that you had either discovered alone by yourself or you had written yourself. And that kind of an attitude made a lot of people not like things that Dylan was doing from the very outset. And I think it’s still a big part of his life. And at least —- I’m sure he doesn’t pay that much attention to that right now, but there are a lot of people who always have had differing opinions, multiple opinions, about Bob Dylan. And I don’t want to go on too much about that, because I have a lot of -—
If you will permit me one more digression — you know that there was a very friendly relationship between two important women in literature, Dorothy Parker and Mary McCarthy, and at one time, I think it was Mary McCarthy said of the other, “You can’t believe anything she says. Every sentence, from the quotation marks around it until the period at the end, are true, or lies.” And, of course, that wasn’t — certainly wasn’t completely true in either case. But it’s certainly true about Bob Dylan. And some of the lies he told are also the truth.
And, you know, I’m nearly 80 years old, and I only had some months when I was in constant contact with him. I lived not too far from him. And sometimes I saw him sitting at the typewriter, which is one of those things that wasn’t photographed until, you know, a few years later in his career and published. And he would go to the typewriter in almost all of his spare moments. In almost all of his spare moments, he was doing at least two things at once. And I was confused by that at first, as I am about almost everything. And I hope later on I clear things up for myself, at least.
AMY GOODMAN: Elizabeth Thomson, “Maggie’s Farm” became very big in Britain.
ELIZABETH THOMSON: In a certain way. In 1979, when we had Margaret Thatcher as prime minister — she was there for a long time — “Maggie’s Farm” did acquire a special significance. And I remember in 1978 at Blackbushe, which is a big outdoor event in England, at the end of his U.K. tour, he did “Maggie’s Farm.” And it was clear then that, you know, we were going to be living on Maggie’s Farm very soon, which we were, and it was — and there was a cartoon strip for a while called “Maggie’s Farm.”
AMY GOODMAN: Because they called her Maggie Thatcher.
ELIZABETH THOMSON: Yes, yes.
AMY GOODMAN: Talk about his early politics, Bob Dylan’s early politics.
ELIZABETH THOMSON: Well, he — I mean, I imagine his parents must have been very amazed to hear these songs that he wrote. But I mean, he came into — blew into New York in the early days of the '60s when things were going from sort of Eisenhower black and white into Kennedy Technicolor, I suppose, and began writing all these amazing songs — I mean, “Masters of War,” “With God on Our Side,” “A Hard Rain's a-Gonna Fall,” allegedly written as the Cuban Missile Crisis unfolded — I mean, extraordinary songs which are timeless. I mean, “With God on Our Side” has had, you know, a life with the Iraq war, as it had in Vietnam, during the time of Vietnam. And because they were fantastic songs, a lot of people, including obviously his one-time good friend Joan Baez, wanted him to carry the torch and to be the leader of the movement.
And one thing is very clear when you read Shelton’s book, is that he was very — he didn’t want to be the leader of the movement, but he was also very frightened by the pressure that came with, you know, being the messiah, the spokesman of the generation. But he just wrote these — I mean, they remain extraordinary songs. I don’t think anyone’s ever written anything that even comes close to the quality and the timelessness of things like “With God on Our Side” and “Times They Are a-Changing” and “Blowin’ in the Wind.”
AMY GOODMAN: Well, Bob Dylan appeared on your show, Bob Fass, late night radio, Radio Unnameable, several times and would often take calls from callers, because that’s your show —
BOB FASS: I do.
AMY GOODMAN: — callers holding forth, you holding forth. This is an excerpt of the show from 1966 when a caller criticized Bob Dylan for not continuing to write more explicitly antiwar songs.
CALLER: No, I’m not asking you to be a Phil Ochs, you know. But like “God on Our Side.”
BOB DYLAN: Yeah.
CALLER: Or “Masters of War.” Yeah, yeah.
BOB DYLAN: Oh, God, man. “With God on Your Side” is contained in like — you know, like two lines of something like “Desolation Row.”
CALLER: Yeah, yeah, right. Yes, yes.
BOB DYLAN: My whole song is [inaudible] you know, in two lines. I mean, if you can’t pick it out, single it out, that’s not my problem.
CALLER: Yeah, yeah, yeah, right. But what I’m saying is — what I’m saying is, like, it’s a lot more subtle there. I think it is.
BOB DYLAN: It’s not —- it’s not -—
BOB FASS: Wait a minute, which one do you think is more subtle?
BOB FASS: Which one do you think is more subtle?
CALLER: Something like “Desolation Row.”
BOB DYLAN: It’s not more subtle. It’s just more to the point. It’s just more — it’s just more — it doesn’t spare you any time to, you know, to string anything together. It is all together. It doesn’t pretend like it has to do anything, that’s all.
CALLER: Yeah, well —
BOB DYLAN: Hey, I don’t know. I can’t talk about what I do. I’m not going to —
CALLER: Well, no, no, no. Well, take, like, the Forest Hills concert.
BOB DYLAN: I don’t do that. That’s all.
CALLER: You’re not, you know, doing something now, I mean, about it. I mean —
BOB DYLAN: About what?
CALLER: Well, OK, yeah, there’s very little anybody can do about — like, let’s say, take the war. OK? There’s very little anybody can do about it.
BOB DYLAN: So what can anybody do about it? It’s a war. It’s a war.
CALLER: Yeah, yeah, yeah, but you know, something.
BOB DYLAN: Hey, war has been around for a long time. What makes you think this is anything special?
CALLER: Yeah, yeah, yeah. But, you know, yeah, but guys are dying now.
BOB DYLAN: Of course they’re dying. Guys have always died.
CALLER: And it just seems like, you know, a couple years back —
BOB DYLAN: No, no, it’s not — you know, it’s none of my doings. I really do other things. I’m not like you.
CALLER: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Well, I know, but —
BOB DYLAN: I’m very tied up in a lot of other daily exercises.
CALLER: Yeah, yeah, well —
BOB DYLAN: And my mind just does not work —
CALLER: Well, I realize that, but —
BOB DYLAN: — thinking about the troubles of the world. I mean, like it’s —- who am I to think about -—
CALLER: Yeah, yeah, but you were —
BOB DYLAN: — to carry the world on my shoulders?
AMY GOODMAN: Excerpt of Bob Fass’s show, Radio Unnameable in 1966. Bob Dylan being taken on for not singing more about the Vietnam War. Bob, you remember that show?
BOB FASS: Yes, I do. I also have something to say about “Maggie’s Farm.” It’s very important to me, right at this moment, for a lot of reasons I don’t need to go into. And it’s also important to me in many different ways in the past. For instance, in the — around the first time I met him, when I heard the song, I knew immediately that it wasn’t referring to a farm — in my mind, anyway — but it was referring to a kind of tape recorder called a “magnetoscope” or a “magnetophone” that —- I can tell you more things about that, but you’ll have to ask me. I’ll go on. It was owned by John Hammond, Sr., who looms large in his legend. And -—
AMY GOODMAN: Explain quickly who John Hammond is.
BOB FASS: Well, he was the man who first recorded Bob Dylan and many other very important people who were, when he discovered them, completely unrepresented in major recordings and in the major mainstream popular culture. He was brilliant. And his son is a brilliant, brilliant folksinger, and who has all of those other — John Hammond Jr., as well. Again, I have a tendency now to tell you too much.
AMY GOODMAN: So, talk also about Vietnam.
BOB FASS: Vietnam.
AMY GOODMAN: And Bob Dylan.
BOB FASS: Well, from almost the first minute that we went to demonstrations about Vietnam, other people that had known him or knew him were trying to pull his coattail about, you know, singing some kind of a song. And the best that anyone could ever get from him is, “Yeah, I know about that. I already wrote about it. Look through my stuff. See what you can find.” I’m not even sure if that came directly from him, because he never said it to me. But one of the many, even then, Dylan imitators who called me on the phone, whose faces I didn’t see, said, “Let’s hear ’Maggie’s Farm.’” And, you know, sometimes I was tired of it, and other times I was really glad to hear it. And more about that some other time.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, let’s go to a break.
BOB FASS: Good.
AMY GOODMAN: And then we will come back. Today, Bob Dylan turns 70. Stay with us.
AMY GOODMAN: “Tangled Up in Blue,” Bob Dylan, here on Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman. […] Our guests are Elizabeth Thomson, who has revised and updated Robert Shelton’s book, No Direction Home: The Life and Music of Bob Dylan, and Bob Fass.
Now, as we were playing “Tangled Up in Blue,” Bob, you were looking at Bob Dylan’s face and saying it’s a mask.
BOB FASS: Yeah, I said that there are always masks in his private life and in his public life. And in that “Rolling Thunder” tour and in a movie that’s not released at the moment, Renaldo and Clara, he — in one of the improvised scenes, as well as the concert performances that are in the film, you can see him in some of the unedited versions of that film with a mask. You can see Joan Baez wearing a mask to look like Bob Dylan. And you can see both of them having masks on top of masks, translucent masks over paint masks. And, you know, he always, without necessarily meaning it, gives little clues like that. And I’m always overwhelmed and amazed.
AMY GOODMAN: You talked about Joan Baez.
BOB FASS: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: Let’s talk about Bob Dylan’s, well, one of his closest musical partners in the ’60s and ’70s, Joan Baez. In 2002, she joined us on Democracy Now!, and I asked her how she first met Bob Dylan.
JOAN BAEZ: I think the first time I saw Bob was in Gerde’s Folk singing — what do you call it? Gerde’s Folk City. And he was just standing up there, a kid, and singing things he wrote that I thought were phenomenal. And I think the next time I saw him was in somebody’s apartment, and he was singing “Hard Rain,” which he had just written. It’s just hard to believe the words that he wrote. The stuff that came out just poured and poured and poured.
AMY GOODMAN: How did it influence you? How did you influence him, in your music, in your politics, the routes you chose to go?
JOAN BAEZ: I don’t know how I influenced him. I think what he gave me was — I refer to it as a musical arsenal, you know, because he wrote — if I had been able to write the songs like that, that would have been what I would have written, you know? And they’re songs that are everlasting. And at that time, it’s interesting, once they came from him, and it had a hint of something political, it didn’t matter what they said. They were a tool. They were antiwar. They were pro-civil rights, whether he liked it or not.
AMY GOODMAN: What do you mean, “whether he liked it or not”?
JOAN BAEZ: Well, he wasn’t actively political. After — I think at the beginning, he had been in the South, and he had — you know, he had been political, in a sense, by being with the people there. But by the time I knew him, he didn’t — I mean, for the next 40 years, people — every time I went to a march, they’d say, “Is Bob going to be here?” And he didn’t go to marches, you know?
AMY GOODMAN: And what did he think of your getting arrested, of your marching with Martin Luther King?
JOAN BAEZ: I have no idea. I think he just didn’t want to think about it all, you know.
AMY GOODMAN: That was Joan Baez talking about Bob Dylan. Elizabeth Thomson, their relationship?
ELIZABETH THOMSON: Well, I think she said at some time that it was a very — in fact, it was a very brief affair. I mean, it’s acquired a vast, mythic status, and they’ve both written about it. I think it’s — the period of time that it went on for was actually really quite brief in 1963. Of course, it meant that Dylan split up with Suzie. But they were incredibly — I mean, he gave voice to her. She wasn’t then writing songs. She did later write songs. And, you know, when you see those pictures from Newport '63, when she crowned — you know, the folk queen with the crown prince of folk, all the rest of it — I mean, they're not particularly good musical performances, but I think the intensity of those — “With God on Our Side” and “We Shall Overcome,” the finale to the '63 Newport Folk Festival — were extraordinary, and then the March on Washington in ’63, when they were together. And, of course, it ended unhappily in London, when he didn't invite her on stage. And then they got back together for the “Rolling Thunder Revue” for those more extraordinary performances.
But it’s a very — I was very struck in the Baez documentary on PBS a couple of years ago with all the joint footage. You know, you could see in their eyes — they were kind of horsing around backstage doing “Wild Mountain Thyme” — you know, they clearly really loved each other. And they’ve both written about their affair, she most famously in Diamonds and Rust, where — which ends, you know, “There we are hanging out the window of that crummy hotel over Washington Square,” which was the Earle, which was the hub of the folk music. It’s now no longer a crummy hotel over Washington Square. It’s the Washington Square Hotel, and a fantastic hotel, wonderful place to stay. And it has a huge part in the whole story, as does Washington Square. It was where it happened, for me. It’s full of — I was three when the '60s dawned, but I'd walk around those streets, and the kind of the ghosts and the excitement of that time, I mean, they’re palpable still, I think. An incredible period of time and an incredible relationship.
AMY GOODMAN: Since we’re talking birthdays, today the 70th, I wanted to go to 1986 just before Bob Dylan’s 45th birthday. He called in once again to Bob Fass’s radio show, Radio Unnameable, on BAI.
BOB FASS: Hello.
BOB DYLAN: What you doing?
BOB FASS: Well, Bob, it’s your birthday in a couple of days. That probably slipped your mind.
BOB DYLAN: [inaudible] birthday back. I forgot to tell you.
BOB FASS: What’s that?
BOB DYLAN: I pushed my birthday back this year.
BOB FASS: Oh, you did?
BOB DYLAN: Yeah.
BOB FASS: Did you go to a court and have it legally changed?
BOB DYLAN: No, I just did.
BOB FASS: You went to an astrologer?
BOB DYLAN: No, I just — you know.
BOB FASS: When did you push it back to?
BOB DYLAN: Pushed it back just a few weeks.
BOB FASS: Uh-huh. When will it be now?
BOB DYLAN: I don’t know. I’d like it to be in New York. You know, I think I’ll push it back, actually, until I get there.
BOB FASS: How does it feel to sing the same song, “Blowin’ in the Wind,” for 30 years?
BOB DYLAN: Well, it still feels the same, you know? Still feels like it was just written yesterday.
BOB FASS: It sounds like you still mean it, really mean it. And one time you told me you didn’t think people would get it about one particular song. And I really think people are getting it. Maybe a little too late.
BOB DYLAN: Well.
BOB FASS: But —
BOB DYLAN: Well, you know, it’s nice to be appreciated, though, on any level, at any time.
BOB FASS: Well, we don’t mean to embarrass you, Bobby. We just want to say thank you.
AMY GOODMAN: That was Bob Fass and Bob Dylan just before Bob Dylan’s 45th birthday, as we go back now to Bob Dylan’s appearance on WBAI, again Broadside radio show, May 1962. He performed an early version of a song that would soon become that classic. He was introduced by Izzy Young.
IZZY YOUNG: Topical songs have been the topic of the program this afternoon. We’ve just about reached the end of the program, and I’d like Bob Dylan to sing the last song, called “The Answer Is Blowin’ in the Wind.” And — I’m sorry?
BOB DYLAN: I was just going to sing it. Oh, is it “The Answer Is Blowin’ in the Wind”? That one. Oh, OK.
IZZY YOUNG: Because I think this song, while being a topical song, is just filled with poetry that people of all kinds are going to enjoy.
BOB DYLAN: [singing] How many roads must a man walk down
Before he is called a man?
And how many seas must a white dove sail
Before he sleeps in the sand?
And how many times must the cannonballs fly
Before they’re forever banned?
The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind
The answer is blowin’ in the wind.
And how many years must a mountain exist
Before it is washed in the sea?
And how many years can some people exist
Before they’re allowed to be free?
And how many times can a man turn his head
And pretend that he just doesn’t see?
The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind
The answer is blowin’ in the wind.
And how many times must a man look up
Before he can see the sky?
And how many ears must one man have
Before he can hear people cry?
And how many deaths will it take ’til he knows
That too many people have died?
The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind
The answer is blowin’ in the wind.
IZZY YOUNG: Thank you, Bob Dylan. Gil Turner, Pete Seeger, Sis Cunningham, myself, Israel Young.
AMY GOODMAN: That was Bob Dylan on WBAI in 1962. And that does it for today’s broadcast.