THE DAVE HERMAN INTERVIEW,
LONDON, JULY 2, 1981
Herman: Last night in Earl's Court, here in London, I guess there were about
twenty thousand people in there and when I kind of saw them, I guess it was
when you did 'It's Alright Ma (I'm Only Bleeding)' and every last one
of them in the place was standing on their chair and it was a pretty
special kind of a feeling. I was reminded once again, that you really
do have a very .., that you play a very special part in the lives of
an extraordinary amount of people all over the world and I gathered
that this has always made you a bit uncomfortable, that people hold
you in a very special place?
Dylan: I don't feel uneasy with the part of it, that part of it, but
the other part of it, you know the part where you're expected to ...
go to parties ... and ... be somebody all the time, you know.
That's what makes me feel uncomfortable.
Herman: Or the part that makes people presuming you have somehow a lot of
answers that they might not have to a lot of questions?
Dylan: Well, if you ... the answers to those questions, they've got to be in
those songs I've written. Someplace, if you know where to look,
I think you'll find the answers to those questions. It's right there
in the songs. Better than I could say it.
Herman: Maybe that's why, over the years, that you have given so very few
interviews, because probably people just come by and, once again,
hope that you're gonna come up with some answers that are in the
songs. In the lyrics and in the music. But you've given,
I don't think, more than half a dozen major interviews.
You've never really talk a whole lot to the press or radio people.
Dylan: No, I haven't.
Herman: The performers and artists feel that there's some kind of adversaries
there, when reporters come in ...
Dylan: Well, performers feel that .., they don't feel they're adversaries,
but they do feel that ... they feel a lot of times that their points
are not taken the right way or they feel imposed upon to answer
questions that have really little to do with why they fill halls or
Herman: I got some questions for you that I hope aren't those and I hope
that they're also questions that the answers of which aren't really in
your songs. For instance it seems to me that ..., we are sitting in
London, and Mrs Thatcher is the prime minister here and back home it
seems to be a kind of a new political wave of conservatism sweeping
across the world and I wonder if that kind of concerns you at all,
if you've noticed the change in the political winds?
Dylan: No. I don't know much change between conservatism or liberalism.
I can't see much differencies between either of those things.
Herman: But there are -irism of relative freedom and there are -irism of
repression and I think that in the 1960s, where a lot of us came out
of, people were much freer to create, much freer to express their
ideas at least in the western world.
Dylan: You think so?
Herman: Well, I don't know, I just see ... for instance there are groups of
people that are boycotting sponsors of television shows that they
don't like ..,.
Dylan: But they don't like them for a specific reason, though. A lot of
these people that are boycotting those shows they got children,
they show things on those shows, they don't want their children to see.
Television now is at every home, it's not much you can do about it.
It's better than outlawing TV-sets.
Herman: Can't they just not have their children watch the TV, I mean ...
Dylan: Think about forty years ago, there weren't any TV-sets, so there was
nothing to boycott ...
Herman: OK, well another thing is, ah, in the United States the abortion
question is becoming one of the major political controversies at home.
Dylan: Well, that is just a diversion, though. Whenever you think about
abortion, pro, con, you know, I think you should be thinking about
those things, then they put you away with the bigger things, which
you're not thinking about. So you get everybody thinking about abortion
and they turn you back from it ... not to say that abortion is not
important! But you can make something so ... you know cast a spell on
something and make everybody look that way and then you come at them
from another direction ...
Herman: But that sounds like it's conspiratorial?
Dylan: Yeah, it does, doesn't it?
Herman: Yeah, it does! I think it is, but I don't think people sit in rooms
and say well, let's divert them with the abortion issue, and then we
can slip this in while ...
Dylan: You actually don't think so??
Herman: That calculated? You think it is?
Dylan: I don't know ... Now abortion is important, I personally don't
believe in it but ..., unless of course somebody needs to have their
Herman: Well, it's not a matter of believing in abortion ...
Dylan: Eat to much candy, and you gonna get sick!
Herman: But people should have, it seems to me, just the right to make
choices about themselves ...
Dylan: (laughs) Well, everybody *does* have the choice to make about
Herman: Would you tell me what people mean, what it really means, when people
describes themselves as "born again", which is something that we hear
a lot about from a lot of people, there are millions of people that
say they're born again.
Dylan: Yeah. What they mean by saying that is that they're born again by
the spirit from above. Born once is born with the spirit from below.
Which, when you're born is the spirit that you're born with. Born again
is born with the spirit from above, which is a little bit different.
Herman: Do you know how it happens to people? Is it a decision that one makes
or is it an experience that just comes. Is it unconscious, is it
Dylan: Well, it happens in all kinds of ways. It's really not one way that it
happens I guess. If you talk to this person that tell you that
it was unconscious and then you talk to another one that say it was
a conscious decision. Some people say they just heard a voice on a
lonesome road, other people say they were in the middle of a football
game, some people were in the men's room of a Greyhound bus station.
You don't have to be in any special situation, that it might come up.
Herman: Let's talk about Shot Of Love. It's the new album.
Dylan: You don't wanna talk about Saved? (laughs) No one wants to talk about
Saved! (laughs more).
Herman: I think somebody once said "Don't look back" ...
Dylan: Yeah ... (laughs) ... Well, Shot Of Love is the new record, we have
coming out ...
Herman: And it's also a kind of a return, it seems to me, to an album of songs
that cover a whole lot of different subjects, there are love songs in
it, there's a song about Lenny Bruce. As opposed to Saved, which was
really a collection of religious songs, it was one theme to that
album, and Shot Of Love is a return to a more eclectic album. I am
wondering whether that is something that's happening haphazardly or
whether it's something that's, what do you say, "Saved maybe was too
much stuff in one vein or too narrow in scope, and maybe I ought to
be back to doing a whole bunch of songs" or whether those were just
the songs that came out of you?
Dylan: Yeah, those were the songs that just wanted to come out. I never
know from one album to the next what kind of songs I'm gonna be
doing. It amazes me that I even continue to make albums.
Herman: What do you mean by that?
Dylan: It is always a miracle of some kind when I make an album, because ...
Working in a studio has always been very difficult for me.
Herman: You approach making records a lot differently than a lot of people do?
Some people spend a year in the studio.
Dylan: I approach record-making in the way that I learned how to to make
records when I started recording, when I recorded for John Hammond.
And we work the same way.
Herman: Which is?
Dylan: Which is, going into a studio and making a record. Right then and
there. I know the other way and I know a lot of people do it the
other way and it's successful for them, but I'm not interested in
that aspect of recording. Laying down tracks and then coming back
and perfecting those tracks and then perfecting lyrics, which seem
to wanna go with those tracks. Songs are created in the recording
studio. For me, see I'm a live performer, I have to play songs which
gonna relate to the faces that I'm singing to. I can't do that if I
was spending a year in the studio, working on a track. It's not that
important to me. No record is that important. I mean the world
is gonna go on ... who needs these records? You know what I mean?
Herman: A record is forever. This is forever too.
Dylan: It's forever, I guess ... but ... it sure is ...
Herman: You're saying that like you never thought about that before.
Dylan: No, I never did think about that before, but I see in my records ...,
I mean I hear records that I made twenty years ago, and I say
'Oh man, God, did I make that record?'
Herman: Bob, long after you're gone, these records will be here and people
will listen to them and think ... well one thing or another about
this guy who made these records, four hundred years ago.
Dylan: Ooh, poor me! (laughs) But, they *seem* important at the time!
You know, they really do. Yeah, they are important, I'm not saying
that records aren't important, but ... it's also new. I mean, making
records is new. Just the fact that we're doing this interview now,
through this tape recorder, we couldn't have done this ...
Herman: There wasn't any radio stations playing 75 years ago.
The point --- as an artist there must be some ...
[Through the entire interview Dylan has been softly doodling on an
I just hope that this guitar ... I don't know cause I can't
hear it back ... I hope it isn't louder than we are, which would
make it difficult for people to hear us, I'm afraid. Even though
I'm enjoying it immensely ...
Dylan: Well. I play it softly then.
Herman: Yeah, that'd be great. It's an old guitar. It's really beat up.
It's been round the world a few times I guess.
Dylan: Well, I've carried it around the world a few times and I think
somebody else carried it around before that too.
Herman: Where were we? Aaah ... oh yeah, what I wanted to say about a record
being forever ... There must be some concern from you as a man and
artist that people will be hearing this thing and coming to
conclusions about Bob Dylan long after you've gone. There must be
something that you'd like to leave in the world for those people
who hear these records, something that they'll get, will give meaning
to your life after your life is over.
Dylan: Well, I'm not done yet! And I'm still doing it and I'm still not
knowing *why* I'm doing it. Come on, I mean there's other things that
I would really enjoy doing, besides playing and ...
Herman: Like what? I mean if any man can do what he wants to, *you* can!
Dylan: Like what? Well, I mean, like become a doctor, you know, yeah I
think a surgeon, you know, who can save somebody's life on the
highway. I mean that's a man I'm gonna look up to, as being somebody
with some talent.
Dylan: Not to say though, that art is valueless. I think art can lead you
Herman: It's that it's purpose?
Dylan: I think so. I think that's everything's purpose. I mean if it's not
doing that it's leading you the other way. It's certainly not leading
you nowhere. It's bringing you somewhere. It's bringing you that way
or this way.
Herman: Well, if it expresses truth and beauty then it's leading you to God?
Dylan: Yeah? (laughs)
Herman: Well, wouldn't you say?
Dylan: If it's expressing truth I'd say it's leading you to God and beauty
Herman: I've always thought that those were the only two absolutes that
Dylan: Well, beauty can be very *very* deceiving. It's not always of God.
Herman: Would you elaborate a little bit?
Dylan: Well, beauty appeals to our eyes ...
Herman: And to our hearts?
Dylan: Our hearts are not good. If your heart's not good, what good does
beauty do, that comes through your eyes, going down to your heart, that
isn't good anyway?
Herman: The beauty of a sunset?
Dylan: The beauty of the beast. The beauty of a sunset? Now, that's a very
special kind if beauty.
Herman: Well, how about the beauty of the natural world?
Dylan: Like the flowers?
Herman: Yes, and the beasts ... and the rain ...
Dylan: All that is beautiful, That's God-given. I've spent a lot of time
dealing with the man made beauty, so that sometimes the beauty of
God's world has evaded me.
Herman: On Shot Of Love is a song called Lenny Bruce, which you perform
just at the piano and I love the song, because I loved Lenny Bruce,
I was a great admirer of him, when he was alive and working, and of
course since his death. It occurred to me it's a long time since
Lenny's gone, I think he went in the summer of 1967, I think it was.
Why, after all these years this song about Lenny Bruce?
Dylan: You know, I have no idea!
Herman: Did that song just come to your ...
Dylan: I wrote that song in five minutes! It is true, I rode with him once
in a taxi cab. I found it was a little strange after he died, that
people made such a hero out of him. When he was alive he couldn't
even get a break. And certainly now, comedy is rank, dirty and
vulgar and very unfunny and stupid, wishy-washy and the whole thing.
Herman: Some people thought he was rank and dirty and vulgar ..
Dylan: But he was doing this same sort of thing many years ago and maybe some
people aren't realizing that there was Lenny Bruce, who did this
before and that is what happened to him. So these people can *do*
what they're doing now. I don't know.
Herman: Lenny spent a lot of time bad mouthing the church, too. Well, from the
point of view of organized churches. Is there a very big difference
between the political structure of the various churches, no matter
what the denomination might be and what the spirit is all about.
Do you think that the Catholic Church, traditional Judaism, or any way
that their religions are organized with rites and rituals ...
Is that part of really of what you feel the truth of the spirit of
God is all about?
Herman: Well, that's a complicated question! I'm not an authority on
catholicism. Ritual has really nothing to do with spiritual laws.
However, if you do walk according to the law, all of the law, well,
you'd be a pretty pure person and on a pretty high level. A person
who could no doubt move mountains. if you walk according to the law,
and most people can't walk according to the law, because it's so
difficult, there are so many laws, that govern absolutely every area
of your life.
Herman: Maybe it takes more than one lifetime to get all of that. Is the fact
that we come back again and again something that, I'm talking about
reincarnation, let's say the hindhu way of believing that we get in
touch with our own divinity and do walk according to the law, that it
takes more than one life? Think that there's a possibility that that
might be the way? And what's 60, 70, 80 years?
Dylan: It's not a whole lot of time, when you think you need another lifetime!
(laughs) You want another life time? How many do you want?
Herman: Well, you have to pay not to go through this thing twice! (laughs)
Dylan: That's it.. That's right! Well I figure if you can't learn it here,
you can't learn it.
Herman: Back to Lenny Bruce, and the fact that it's again yet another Bob Dylan
song about, as you even say in the song, an outlaw. A lot of the stuff,
a lot of the songs over the years, Lenny Bruce, Outlaw Blues,
Joey Gallo, Hurricane Carter, or Absolutely Sweet Marie,
"to live outside the law, you must live honest" (sic).
A lot of outlaw imagery and outlaws in your work. What is it about
"man as outlaw" that intrigues you so, you spend a lot of time on ...
Dylan: Well, it's not anything conscious. I guess it has to do with where I
grew up, admiring those type of heroes, Robin Hood, Jesse James ...
You know the person who always kicked against the oppression and
was ... had high moral standards. I don't know if the people I write
about have high moral standards, I don't know if Robin Hood did,
but you always assumed that they did.
Herman: You assume that Joey Gallo did?
Dylan: In some kind of way you have to assume that he did, in some kind of
area. It's like ... I've never written a song about some rapers, you
know. I think what I intend to do is just show the individualism of
that certain type of breed, or certain type of person that must do
that. But there is some type of standard I have for whoever I'm writing
about. I mean, it amazes me that I wrote a song about Joey Gallo.
Herman: But you did!
Herman: A long one too.
Dylan: Very long one. How long was that? About a half hour?
Herman: About eleven minutes.
Dylan: Yeah, well I feel that if I didn't do it, who would? (laughs)
But that's an old tradition! I think I picked that up in the folk
tradition, when I was singing nothing but folk songs for years.
There are many songs, a lot of Irish ballads, Roddy McCorley, names
escape my mind at the moment ...
Herman: There must be a hundred songs about Jesse James?
Dylan: ... Jesse James, Cole Younger, the US bandit, Billy The Kid, ...
of course the English ballads had them and the Scottish ballads had
them and the Irish ballads. I used to sing a lot of those songs and
that just kind of carried over with me into the ... whatever the
special brand of music that I play now is ...
Herman: People who know you and work with you told me in the last few days,
when I was getting ready to talk to you, that they've never seen you
more relaxed and content and ...
Dylan: (laughs) People always say that!
Herman: No, no. And I have a feeling that you are experiencing that.
It's a real nice place to be now on this European tour. Otherwise I
don't think we would be sitting here talking. You know, if you were
preoccupied with other things or felt out of synch with yourself,
I think you'd probably ???? As your friends say.
Dylan: Well, I know what I have to do and I'm just trying to do it, you know.
Herman: The ego's got a pretty big part in being a performer. How do you like
to go out there night after night, do what you do, and hear that
applause and ... How much of a part does that play in ...
I mean, do you feel a little bit like maybe you're hooked on the stage
and on the celebrity ??? of it all?
Dylan: No. I don't mind the celebrity part of it.
Herman: Could you be an anonymous person?
Dylan: I try to be an anonymous person. As far as the applause goes, I get
just as much .... sometimes it's applause, sometimes it's booing.
You get used to it over years. I mean, I've been doing it for so long,
whatever the applause is, it doesn't surprise me any more.
Herman: But isn't it nicer when it's a big applause than ...one hand clapping?
Dylan: Yeah, it's a lot more comfortable.
Herman: Isn't it nicer when the album is in the top ten than hanging around at
forty-five or something?
Dylan: Well, it is and it isn't. Like Slow Train was a big album. Saved didn't
have those kind of numbers but to me it was just as big an album.
Herman: So it really matters little to you, the acceptance or the rejection
on the part of the record buyers?
Dylan: No, it doesn't. I'm fortunate that I'm in the position to release an
album like Saved with a major record company, so it would be
available to people who would like to buy it.
Herman: Was there a time in your life in the past, when you'd be on the phone:
"hey, how did the album do? Did it go from 8 to 4?" Was there a time
when you really got off on that kind of stuff?
Dylan: Well, you always wanna know what's happening with your record, so the
first few weeks, yeah, you'll call up and find out if it's selling or
if it's not selling. Sure.
Herman: Has the music business changed in the 15-20 years or so that you have
been making records?
Dylan: Very much so.
Herman: ???? winds of pain shot through you!
Dylan: Yeah. Now this last record that we just did was a comfortable record
for me to make, because of ... you know Chuck? Chuck Plotkin?
Well, we worked together on it. OK, up until then ... Well, he made
the record the way I want to make a record. He understood that.
He wanted to make the record in the same way. But the record business
is changed because ... see when I was in ... In the sixties
*everybody* made records the way I did. No matter who you were,
Beatles, Rolling Stones, The Animals, The Byrds ...
Herman: Maybe we should just explain to people that that means all the people
who were on the record were in the studio, in the same room at the
same time, playing at the same time ...
Dylan: ... and they made the record. You were a group, you were somebody,
before you went in and made the record. You were somebody.
Herman: Earned the privilege of making a record?
Dylan: Yeah, yeah, you paid enough dues to make a record. Now, people do not
pay no dues no more, They expect to make a record right away without
anybody even hearing them and then you'll find a producer, they have
so many producers now, they didn't have so many producers back then,
the producer was whet they called the A&R man. Now you have all
these producers who are in themselves stars. And it's *their* record.
I don't think of myself as being told what to do all the time.
Herman: Are you on one side of the gun control issue or another?
Do you think this business of all the guns we have in America ...
I notice here in London, the policemen don't even have guns on their
hips, they don't carry weapons.
Dylan: But they have a much lower crime rate over here too.
Well, you can't change the States in that kind of way. It's too many
people. It didn't get off on the right start ... You know the United
States is like gun crazy, always has been gun crazy. White man used
to shoot the Indians with guns. Guns have been a great part of
America's past. So, there's nothing you can do about it. The gun is
just something which America has got, lives with. I don't think gun
control is making any difference at all. Just make it harder for
people who need to be protected.
Herman: And you quoted him in a Playboy interview a few years ago, ...
You said Henry Miller said that the role of an artist is to inoculate
the world with disillusion.
Herman: Is that what you try to do with your work?
Dylan: No. I don't consciously try to inoculate anybody. I just have to
hope there's some kind of way this music that I've always played is
a healing kind of music. I mean if it isn't I don't wanna do it.
Because there's enough stuff, so-called music, out there, which is
sick music. It's just sick. It's made by sick people and it's played
to sick people to further a whole world of sickness. Now, that's not
only true of music, this is true in film industry, it's true in the
magazine industry. You know it caters to people's sickness. There's a
lot of that. And if I can do something that is telling people or ...
hoping anyway that .. whatever their sickness is, and we're all sick,
whatever it is, you can be healed and well and set straight. Well if
I can't do that, I'd as soon be on a boat, you know I'd as soon be
off hiking through the woods.
Herman: There's a song on Shot Of Love, Every Grain Of Sand, which is about
as a healing song as I ever heard from you. It's a beautiful,
Dylan: Oh, yeah, I wrote that last summer.
Herman: Is that what you mean by hopefully healing music?
Dylan: I would hope so.
Herman: Well, Bob, is there anything you would like to tell the vast
radio audience out there?
Dylan: I think they know just about anything that I've got to tell them.
Conducted at the White House Hotel in London, England on July 2, 1981.
Broadcast by WNEW-FM Radio, New York, July 27 1981.
Released on the promotional album DYLAN LONDON INTERVIEW JULY 1981,
Columbia AS 1259, September 1981.