The Simpsons

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In the same year that Bob Dylan appeared for the first time on 60 Minutes, he also appeared for the first time on The Simpsons. Sort of. Interviewed by Chloe Talbot, Dylan (voiced by Dan Castellaneta) tells the world what religion he is converting to next:

According to this site, Dylan was actually asked to be on The Simpsons playing the role of Homer’s spirit guide. The role went to Johnny Cash instead. He’s great in that, so it was probably for the best.

60 Minutes

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The way that YouTube serves up a sidebar of recommended videos on the right side of the page means that I’ve seen a link for “Bob Dylan Interview and a very revealing one at that” at least once per day every day this year. Seriously. When you troll YouTube looking for clips long enough, this is what eventually winds up at the top. I’m not sure why – though it has 1.2 million views I’m not sure that it’s the most watched Dylan clip on the site (probably close though, given how fast official Dylan material seems to evaporate). Must be a popularity-based algorithm.

For whatever reason I never clicked on it – not once. I could tell it was late-era Dylan by the lines on his face, and the title made it sound unenlightening – it seemed to be promising too much. Plus it’s a bit long. I figured it would roll around at some point.

As it turns out, when I searched the site for Bob Dylan + Ed Bradley, to find Dylan’s one and only appearance on 60 Minutes, there it was. Hiding in plain sight all this time!

Until I got to 2004, it never seemed odd to me that Dylan hadn’t been profiled on 60 Minutes, but as soon as I heard Ed Bradley’s voice it surely did. We didn’t go to church much in my family, but every Sunday we watched 60 Minutes after football. Every Sunday. It was – and still is – my father’s favourite show, the only one that he makes an effort not to miss. Bradley, Wallace, Reasoner, I watched these guys every week for most of my youth, and, actually, I’m grateful, because despite its flaws 60 Minutes at least aspired to present television news that was insightful, investigative, and engaged.

Not so much with their celebrity profiles, however, which was always one of the show’s flaws. This interview is not really typical of the 60 Minutes format, which generally has to include at least one shot of the interviewee leading the interviewee around his property. This is clearly a hotel room – Dylan surely was not about to let any tv crew into his house.

The piece also suffers from the 60 Minutes way of arranging the story – all of those cut-ins of old Dylan footage that just serve to interrupt the flow of the piece. It seems clumsy, probably more clumsy than is typical of the show. Ham-fisted.

As for the interview itself, I’m not sure that I would call it “revealing”. I don’t think it lifts away any part of the Dylan mask – indeed, it cements ever so much more firmly in place. At first I wasn’t sure that I could even get through it – the discussion of “Blowin’ in the Wind” and Dylan’s taciturn answers put me off. I think that the most interesting part might be his admission that he can’t write the way he once did – and that perhaps no one can. That’s self-mystifying, sure, but it’s also self-pitying in a way that few stars ever really are. The sense at the end of the interview that he is still worried that things might be taken away from him – that all the fame is transitory – might be what the YouTuber uploader found revealing. It is an interest moment that almost seems unguarded, but may just well be another form of put on.

Dylan was appearing on the show – seemingly under some form of duress given his performance – as a way of promoting Chronicles, which is referenced by Bradley a few times. I’ll have more to say about that book later this week, though I think I may have already written about each of its chapters individually.

I thin that in my mind the combination of two important elements of my youth – Dylan and 60 Minutes – would have been much more magical than this was. A disappointment, to be sure.

I will say, though, that I always thought Ed Bradley was the best part of that show.

Victoria’s Secret Ad

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Way back in January, the whole world (well, people on Twitter) got really upset that Bob Dylan appeared in a Chrysler ad during the Super Bowl. He’d sold his soul! A betrayal! Won’t somebody please think of the children?! How could he do this to us? It was all very alarming. And, of course, it all happened once before.
In 2004 Dylan appeared in an ad for Victoria’s Secret, who were selling a new type of underwear. The ad only ran for three weeks, but it was one of the most talked about ads of the year. It generated op-ed pieces in USA Today, in Entertainment Weekly, and, horribly, in Slate (click through for their embarrassing headline – I won’t even dignify it by putting it here). If there had been a Twitter, I’m sure that it would have exploded.
I’m not really sure what to say about this ad. I’ve included the longer version here (there is also a 30 second edit). I like this video because someone has tagged a famous section of his San Francisco press conference (December 1965) to it in a charming fashion. Oh the irony!
So, yeah, it’s an ad for underwear. It features a model in angel wings and underwear. Dylan’s role is to sort of leer at her. They play “Love Sick”. There’s not really any way to make that come across as not creepy. It is sort of creepy. That’s advertising pretty much in a nutshell. Creepy.
A lot of the discussion at the time – and probably still today – focuses on motive. Why would Dylan do this? For the money? Does he really need the money that badly? He tours all the time – he must be making money. For the free trip to Venice? I’m sure Dylan can afford a trip to Venice (his website is acting up – I can’t look up how often he has played there). To ogle a semi-clad model? I’m sure he’s had more than his fair share of those opportunities. To mess with his fans? That would be my own guess, but the fact of the matter is that I have no idea why Dylan does almost anything that he does. This is no more or less odd to me than his appearance on Dharma and Greg, or his beard at Newport. Dylan’s brain doesn’t seem to work in a way that I understand.
So, this is his first ad for a product, and it is for lingerie. It’s a weird piece of the puzzle that is his life.

Stumped by Springsteen

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I fell behind on 2003 Dylan for the most frustrating reason – I finally discovered something that I wanted to write about that I couldn’t find a copy of!
Dylan’s touring in 2003 included several shows where he opened for The Grateful Dead and a couple where he opened for Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. He played a bit with each, but that’s material that I’ve already covered in weeks past. What was new this year was Dylan joining Bruce Springsteen on stage at one of his shows. Specifically, the final show of Springsteen’s The Rising tour, at Shea Stadium in New York on October 4, 2003. Springsteen and Dylan sang “Highway 61”.
Given the fact that each man has an extensive bootlegging culture around him, and given the fact that the show was in New York, you’d figure that the audio and video would be all over the place. Indeed, there is an incredibly poor quality video of the prior evening’s show on YouTube. So if you can get that whole thing, it should be easy to get this one song. Right? Right?
Yeah, not so fast. Everywhere I’ve turned all week – and I spent about an hour on this yesterday, and about the same again today – I get this:
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l can find accounts written by people who were there, but for the life of me I can’t find the video.
That’s okay – I’ve had to write about things where I didn’t have the video previously, but this case is unusual in that I also can’t find the audio. There are Springsteen bootlegs out there (here’s a video of the concert, for instance), but I’m not interested in paying that to hear one song. I tried dipping into the online world of Springsteen bootleggers, but I had no luck in that regard, finding only the commercial bootleg dealers.
It might seem logical that this song would be widely anthologized across Dylan and Springsteen fandoms, but my sense right now is that it isn’t at all. It seems that there was a problem with Dylan’s mic on the first verse that negatively impacted the song, and that might account for the lack of interest in sharing it – not many anthologizers are going to bother to include a partial recording or a poor performance, even if it does have a touch of history about it.
So, this has been one of my few straight failures. Generally I’ve been able to come by almost everything that I’ve wanted (I couldn’t find some of Dylan’s earliest ads), but this time I’ve come up blank. If you’re a Springsteen enthusiast with a deep bootleg collection, let me know. I’ve become fixated on this one.

“Cross the Green Mountain”

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A strong contender for “best hidden Dylan song”, “Cross the Green Mountain” was written and recorded for the film Gods and Generals. I had forgotten that this film even existed. This is a Civil War film that was entirely financed by Ted Turner as a personal pet project. It was then nearly universally loathed by critics and faded into oblivion. I don’t think that I have ever so much as heard someone mention it. I’ve never seen it, I don’t think I’ve ever really had the opportunity to see it, and I can’t imagine that I will ever see it.

However. It has an eight-minute Dylan epic on it. A Dylan epic with fiddle! This is a really simple song, musically repetitive with Dylan sing-talking a long story. It’s nearly a perfect use of his talents by this point in his career. I am sure it must be the best thing in the film (my guess is that it likely plays over the end credits). Seems like it may have been a bid for a second Oscar, but for that to happen some one in the Academy probably has to watch the film. So no luck on that.

Dylan included this song on Bootleg Series v8: Tell Tale Signs, which is where I first heard it. Had he done so, it might have been forgotten by all but the most hardcore (actually, it probably still is – my guess would be that that is the least purchased part of the entire Bootleg Series to date). It really is too bad, because this one ranks among his best epic songs. It should be far better known than it is.

Here is a sadly abbreviated version that was used as the official music video. It will give you a taste, but you want the whole thing.

“Gonna Change My Way of Thinking”

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If you haven’t heard this one, you really owe it to yourself to listen. In a lot of ways it is the most bizarre thing that Dylan has ever recorded.

“Gonna Change My Way of Thinking” is Bob Dylan’s contribution to a compilation of covers of his own gospel songs. He sings it with Mavis Staples, of the Staples Sisters. All that sounds pretty straightforward. However, the song opens as Dylan solo, with the scratchiest Dylan voice we have yet heard on album, and then it stops after about thirty seconds. At this point Dylan says “Well it looks like someone is coming up the road, boys”. After a knock on the door, Dylan introduces Staples and the two have an old time radio show dialogue about Hawaii, chickens, and “SnoozeWeek”. Dylan tells her that he has the blues and she tells him that they need to sing about it to get over it.

I mean, this one comes right out of nowhere. There was no part of me that thought I would be listening to Dylan and Staples doing radio comedy in the middle of this song. Gobsmacked, would be the word.

What is even more surprising is that the song was nominated for a Grammy: Best Pop Collaboration with Vocals. Dumbfounded. The album itself was also nominated in Traditional Gospel Soul Album. That’s a lot to have to process.

I can’t find a copy online anywhere (there are lots of videos of Dylan doing the song live, but that’s not what is interesting here). It is on Spotify (in Canada at the very least). Do yourself a favour and check this one out. Truly and utterly a bizarre moment.

Edited to add after Graham’s comment (below):

That’s what I get for blogging late at night and unthinkingly. Of course, Graham is completely correct that the dialogue in this song between Dylan and Staples is based on the dialogue in “The Carter Family and Jimmie Rodgers in Texas”, with minor tweaks (you can almost see into Mexico from Rodgers’s house; you can almost see Hawaii from Dylan’s, for example). I should have caught this – I have a complete Carter Family discography, but since listening to Dylan all year I’ve begun to forget it all. Next year: nothing but Carter Family.

Here’s the Carters and Rodgers: