The Rolling Stone Interview (1978)

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Rebecca asked me yesterday “What weird thing are you going to blog about next year?” and I said “I’ll probably write about Bob Dylan again, but try to do a better job of it”. As we near the point where we’ve passed a third of the year, and a third of Dylan’s career, I find that I miss him when he’s not around. Last week was the slowest one for this blog all year, because Dylan did almost nothing: he got divorced from his first wife, Sara, and fought a protracted custody battle for his children, and he edited hundreds of hours of film into the four hour epic, Renaldo and Clara, which would become one of the biggest mis-steps of his entire career.

The year 1978 is a return for Dylan. He will do three tours – Japan (with Australia and New Zealand), Europe, and the United States and play an astonishing 114 concerts during the calendar year. He releases Street Legal, one of his worst received albums, and three singles that go nowhere. He may or may not become a born again Christian this year (his first Gospel Tour begins in November 1979). There’s a lot going on again all of a sudden, and I find myself looking forward to all of it. I also find myself happy to note that there are only a few remaining “dead spots” in Dylan’s career, like 1982, coming up.

To kick off the year, Dylan sat down for a long interview with Jonathan Cott in Rolling Stone (actually conducted at the very end of 1977) dealing with Renaldo and Clara. Since I haven’t yet watched that film, I’ll save the comments about it until I have. The interview is one of the worst Dylan has ever given. I’m not sure that he’s actively trying to be difficult, as he was in the 1960s, or if this is just the way that he really is. I think that there is a general consensus that Dylan’s interviews are mostly put-ons, but reading this one I started to think that maybe he is just really like this all the time. I mean, read Tarantula – his brain seems to fire off in atypical directions.

On the other hand, Cott doesn’t bring much to the whole thing. He has a ton of Dylan quotes laid out in front of him, and some Jewish mysticism and the whole thing just comes across as the worst excesses of the 1970s. For instance, on the death of Jesus (at this point, you have to be attentive to any Dylan Christian references):

“[Jesus was killed] Because he’s a healer. Jesus is a healer. So he goes to India, finds out how to be a healer and becomes one. But see, I believe that he overstepped his duties a little bit. He accepted and took on the bad karma of all the people he healed. And he was filled with so much bad karma that the only way out was to burn him up.”

So, if Dylan was born again by the end of 1977, it was in a particularly strange form of Christianity.

Anyway, it’s a terrible interview. Long and boring and tedious. I imagine it would have made me wary of seeing the film (I’m still wary now…) because the way that these two talk about it is absolutely mind-numbing:

Cott: The poet Robert Bly has written about the image of the Great Mother as a union of four force fields, consisting of the nurturing mother, like Isis (though your Isis seems more ambiguous); the Death Mother (like the woman in “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue”); the Ecstatic Mother (like the girl in “Spanish Harlem Incident”); and the Stone Mother who drives you mad (like Sweet Melinda who leaves you howling at the moon in “Just like Tom Thumb’s Blues “). Traces of these women seem to be in this film as well.

Dylan:  The Death Mother is represented in the film, but I don’t know what I should say or can say or shouldn’t say about who is who in the movie. I mean who is the old woman everyone calls Mamma — the woman who sings, plays guitar and reads palms? She reads Allen’s palm, saying: “You’ve been married twice.” And me, later on I’m looking at the gravestone marked HUSBAND; Ginsberg asks: “Is that going to happen to you?” And I say: “I want an unmarked grave.” But of course I’m saying this as Renaldo.

Uh huh. Right. Listen, I think we’re going to go see The Bad News Bears Go to Japan instead….

But I don’t think this is a put-on anymore.

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