One of the more bizarre Dylan bootlegs is a recording of a phone call between the singer and the infamous “Dylanologist” AJ Weberman from January 1971. I listened to this a couple of years ago while driving to Fernie, BC after it hit the web on OpenCulture.com, and I thought it was fascinatingly weird (I can’t find that link, but the whole thing is on YouTube). I didn’t know who Weberman was at the time – I’d never heard of him. I listened to it as a) a bizarre experience of copy-editing/fact-checking as Dylan disputes a number of statements attributed to him in an article Weberman was writing about him, and b) an interesting look at a certain kind of disappointed Dylan fan and Dylan’s interaction with him.
Weberman spends a good chunk of the discussion complaining that Dylan has sold out – that his newest albums, Self Portrait and Nashville Skyline, lack the political bite of Dylan’s older material, and of the material produced by contemporary songwriters. He slags Johnny Cash (whom Dylan defends) and urges Dylan to use his wealth and power for good rather than contentedly singing country songs about how happy he is. It’s a point of view, I guess, even if it’s not really one that I share.
Listening again to it today, having read about Weberman, it strikes a much different tone. I now know that Weberman is the guy who rifled through Dylan’s garbage to do “research” on him, that Dylan accused him of harassing his children, and that Weberman protested in front of Dylan’s Greenwich Village home. He has published a number of essays about Dylan, arguing that he is a Nazi sympathizer and Holocaust denier. With this awareness, hearing him talk about the hidden messages that Dylan has hidden in his albums (you can hear them when you play it backwards!), and his accusations that Dylan is just a reactionary capitalist fall a little flat, to say the least. Weberman seems to think that most of Dylan’s songs are written about Weberman, and has taken his obsessions to somewhat disturbing rhetorical lengths.
Two moments stand out for me from the recording. First, the discussion at about 39:00 in about who are better songwriters than Dylan. Weberman suggests Credence Clearwater Revival, to which Dylan simply replies “Bullshit”. Gordon Lightfoot is, Dylan says, “alright”, while John Lennon gets a “no, no” and George Harrison gets a thoughtful “maybe”. It’s a funny little exchange.
The second is at the end. After spending almost an hour on the phone with a man that he once physically assaulted, and who he accused of stalking his family, you have to wonder why Dylan gave him his phone number. And then you really have to wonder why Dylan would say to the man he has repeatedly called “a pig” throughout the hour, “see you Monday”. There’s a lot going on here, but I think most of it is probably best left undiscovered.
Weberman’s website was apparently seized when he lost a defamation case, which says a lot. Here he is from 1969 rifling through Dylan’s garbage on YouTube. No, really.
One thought on “Bob Dylan, Fact-checker”
Here’s where this blog does a real service–I’ve listened to almost all the music you’ve discussed, and I’m delighted to get your take on it, but there’s no way in hell I’m going to listen to that nutjob for however long those YouTubes run.
I’m glad you’ve done it, though, because the part you highlight about Dylan’s take on the various contemporary songwriters is quite fascinating. Dylan’s right–Creedence put out great pop singles, but their virtues are not especially in the writing. The Gordon Lightfoot bit seems rather odd, but on reflection I can see Dylan seeing him as being in the mix (I take it that “If You Could Read My Mind” was making its way up the charts at that point). And I wonder how much was known at the time about which Lennon-McCartney songs were Lennon’s and which McCartney’s–George songs with the Beatles always being obviously George songs. And if Harrison were to keep putting out albums as good as the best of “All Things Must Pass” (which he did not, as no one could), I can see him getting the “maybe.” I’m a little surprised Weberman didn’t toss out Paul Simon’s name–S&G were peaking right then. Probably the Jewish thing,
Of course, the conversation is ridiculous–none of the rest of them would be writing the songs they were writing if not for Bob Dylan.