Bob Dylan didn't show up at the Nobel Prize ceremonies in December but he turned up in a lengthy interview Wednesday night on – of all places – his own website, www.bobdylan.com.
The Hibbing-reared cultural icon is interviewed by veteran music journalist Bill Flanagan, who has worked for various magazines and television networks. It is one of the most straight-forward and revealing interviews that press-shy Dylan, 75, has ever given. Of course, it was for his own website so we presume he had some control over its final content.
The interview shows Dylan’s sense of humor (he watches “I Love Lucy” on his tour bus nonstop) and his sense of self (“I wanted wild hair, I wanted to be recognized’). It also delves deep into musical topics.
The Q&A carries on for some 8,000 words on subjects ranging from how he listens to music (CDs) and who he likes lately (Iggy Pop, Valerie June, Imelda May) to why his March 31 album “Triplicate” is a three-CD collection of standards. He talks about his encounters with Frank Sinatra and John Wayne, but he never met Hubert Humphrey. And there are lots of questions about Minnesota (he went hunting once, fishing many times).
Here are some highlights, especially his comments about Minnesota.
On what he remembers of World War II
Not much. I was born in Duluth – industrial town, ship yards, ore docks, grain elevators, mainline train yards, switching yards. It’s on the banks of Lake Superior, built on granite rock. Lot of fog horns, sailors, loggers, storms, blizzards. My mom says there were food shortages, food rationing, hardly any gas, electricity cutting off – everything metal in your house you gave to the war effort. It was a dark place, even in the light of day – curfews, gloomy, lonely, all that sort of stuff – we lived there till I was about five, till the end of the war.
On whether Minnesota is different from other places
Not necessarily. Minnesota has its own Mason Dixon line. I come from the north and that’s different from southern Minnesota; if you’re there you could be in Iowa or Georgia. Up north the weather is more extreme – frostbite in the winter, mosquito-ridden in the summer, no air conditioning when I grew up, steam heat in the winter and you had to wear a lot of clothes when you went outdoors. Your blood gets thick. It’s the land of 10,000 lakes – lot of hunting and fishing. Indian country, Ojibwe, Chippewa, Lakota, birch trees, open pit mines, bears and wolves – the air is raw. Southern Minnesota is farming country, wheat fields and hay stacks, lots of corn fields, horses and milk cows. In the north it’s more hardscrabble. It’s a rugged environment – people lead simple lives, but they lead simple lives in other parts of the country too. People are pretty much the same wherever you go.
On whether he went hunting
I went into the woods with my uncle, my mother’s brother – he was an expert hunter and tried to teach me. But it wasn’t for me, I hated it.
Oh sure, everybody did that, bass, sturgeon, flatheads, lake trout, we caught and cleaned them too.
On Minneapolis when he first arrived there in 1959
Minneapolis and St. Paul – the Twin Cities, they were rock and roll towns. I didn’t know that. I thought the only rock and roll towns were Memphis and Shreveport. In Minneapolis they played northwest rock and roll, Dick Dale and the Ventures, the Kingsmen played there a lot, The Easy Beats, The Castaways, all surf bands, high voltage groups. A lot of Link Ray stuff like “Black Widow” and “Jack the Ripper.” … The Twin Cities was surfing rockabilly – all of it cranked up to ten with a lot of reverb; tremolo switches. …, “Surfin' Bird” came out of there a little while later, it didn’t surprise me.
On whether his friends and family in Minnesota were sitting around the TV waiting to see Dylan on “Ed Sullivan Show” when he walked off in protest in May 1963
I doubt it, they wouldn’t have known me by name anyway. I don’t even think they would have known my face. If they saw my name in the TV listings, they wouldn’t know it was me. Wouldn’t know it was the boy who used to live there.
On whether Frank Sinatra knew Dylan’s material when they met at dinner party thrown by Ol’ Blue Eyes
Not really. I think he knew “The Times They Are a-Changin’” and “Blowin’ In the Wind.” 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.