Santa Monica, Calif. – For 16 years, Bob Dylan has been in the public’s mind, and for most of that time, he hasn’t paid much attention to what the public thinks of him.
ldquo;He had a sublime indifference to what people thought,” said John Hammond, who signed Dylan to Columbia Records in 1960. “I found him an irreverent son-of-a-bitch who was going to change the face of the music business. He had a marvelously cynical view of what was happening in America.”
Dylan, who grew up in Hibbing before finding fame in New York’s Greenwich Village, never has done anything conventionally.
He became a folk singer to play electric music. Then he recorded a country album in Nashville. Then he recorded an album of other writers’ songs.
Next Dylan wrote an off-beat poetry book. He acted in a Sam Peckinpah movie. And he toured the world with a group he had played with 10 years earlier.
Then, on his next album, the protest singer sang about crumbling relationships. He led a minstrel-like troupe of pop stars and unknown musicians, and last year he made a ragged, prime-time television special of that tour.
Although Dylan’s work has always been in the public eye, he has always been reclusive. His records have never arrived at periodic or even predictable intervals, and his touring schedule has been erratic. He would surface for a benefit for starving people in Bangladesh or controversial convict Rubin “Hurricane” Carter, then disappear for months.
It seemed that no matter what he did, Bob Dylan always fueled the mystique that has made him a near-mythical figure.
Dylan, though, has never worried about his public image or even his record sales. He has never been concerned about being a commercial artist or a famous person.
Now, the 36-year-old singer-songwriter is concerned because he has undertaken perhaps his most daring and ambitious project. He has produced, directed, starred in and paid for a four-hour, feature film called “Renaldo & Clara.” And Dylan is concerned about recovering the reported $1.25 million he has invested in the highly personal and indulgent film.
Furthermore, he has shunned the conventional film industry distributing networks – which could have given Dylan considerable money – in favor of a distributing outfit set up by his younger brother, David Zimmerman, and other music business promoters in Minneapolis.
To cut advertising costs, Dylan, who has granted only one formal interview (to TV Guide before his television special last year) in the last nine years, has conducted a press conference and several interviews to promote “Renaldo & Clara,” which opened to inauspicious reviews last week in New York and Los Angeles.
The movie was shot during Dylan’s minstrel-like Rolling Thunder Revue tour in 1975-76. Although “Renaldo & Clara” contains 47 songs and a great deal of concert footage, it is essentially an autobiography in which Dylan deals with the myths and realities of his life.
He stars as Renaldo and his former wife, Sara Dylan, plays Clara. Other featured performers are Joan Baez, Ronee Blakely, Allen Ginsburg, David Blue and other members of the Rolling Thunder Revue.
The movie will open here Feb. 17 at the Varsity Theater.
Dylan is a man of few words. He says he is not “articulate in being able to explain things” but that his work speaks for itself.
Untalkative subjects are disconcerting enough to interview. But that was compounded even further because Dylan’s oral expressions tend to be on more of a philosophical than a literal level.
Although he sometimes didn’t directly answer questions, he seemed sharp and perceptive. After we were introduced, he immediately recognized that I had been backstage at a Minneapolis concert four months earlier, at which he and I weren’t even introduced.