Bob Dylan, Media Critic


Editor & Publisher's Greg Mitchell argues that the croaky balladeer has been sticking it to Mr. Jones for a good four decades now, including the other night during that excruciatingly executed Ed Bradley interview.

Bradley asked him about the passage in his new memoir where Dylan reveals that he always figured the press was something "you lied to." Bob told him that he knew he had to answer to God, but not to reporters.

I preferred the Simpsons interview, though for sheer missed opportunies, even Bradley can't compete with this passage from a Rolling Stone attempt a few years back:

A: Lonnie Johnson, the blues-jazz player, showed me a technique on the guitar in maybe 1964. I hadn't really understood it when he first showed it to me. It had to do with the mathematical order of the scale on a guitar, and how to make things happen, where it gets under somebody's skin and there's really nothing they can do about it, because it's mathematical. He didn't even play that way himself. He played mostly jazz—a kind of guitar I can't play at all, though when I think of a guitar player, I think of somebody like Eddie Lang or Charlie Christian or Freddie Green. I don't listen to many people in the rock & roll area. Anyway, he just told me, "I want to show you something. You might be able to use this some day." It's more kind of an ancient way of playing. I always wanted to use this technique, but I never was really able to do it with my own songs.

Q: One of the things I've noticed about your shows is that starting in the 1990s they grew more and more musical….

Oh sure, Bob Dylan's just introduced something about the ancient way of playing guitar, based on the mathematical order and hoodoo and forgotten Lonnie Johnson conversations, and dude's all "so, anyway, I see your solos have been getting longer…."

Anyway, for what it's worth, the first 75 pages of Dylan's Chronicles, Vol. 1 have been the most fun I've had reading a book in ages.

NEXT: Mukkraking

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  1. Like the late Andy Warhol, Bob Dylan is a master of the head-screwing interview response. Sometimes he does it to be absurd, sometimes he does it to be evasive and sometimes he does it just to be a smartass but the results have often been hilarious, as this gem from 1966 attests:

    Davis: Mr. Dye-lan, I’m from the New Buffalo Consolidated High School, and … uh … the question that … all the students want to know is, well, what’s the most important thing in the world for you?

    Dylan: Oh, my God! Do they really want to know that?

    Davis: Yes! They really want to know!

    Dylan: Well, I’s say … uh … I’d say this tie I’m wearing right now.

    Davis: The WHAT?

    Dylan: This tie I’m wearing right now. It’s very important.

    Davis: Yee-e-es? Yes, yes!

    Dylan: Because. For obvious reasons.

    Davis: Oh?

    Dylan: Uh-huh. What would your students say if I said that all the students should wear a tie like this?

    Davis: Well … welll, I think some of them would go right out and buy one. Where did you buy that tie, Mr Dye-lan?

    Dylan: I got this in Buffalo.

    Davis: In Buffalo?

    Dylan: Yes, in Buffalo, right down by the school.

    Davis: Oh, oh! Uh, well … this is NEW Buffalo.

    Dylan: Oh, NEW Buffalo.

    Davis: In Michigan.

    Dylan: Oh, this is Michigan! Excuse me!

    Davis: Not New York.

    Dylan: I must have the wrong town.

    Photographer: Excuse me Mr Dylan, I don’t want to lose this tie.

    Dylan: Oh, are you losing your tie?

    Photographer: Mr. Dylan, I’d like to get *your* tie.

    Davis: (to Photographer) Dye-lan!

    Dylan: (to Photographer) Dye-lan, if you please!

    Photographer: (to Dylan) Oh, I am sorry. Thank you very much sir.

    Dylan: (to Photographer) That’s quite all right. Don’t get that cloth over your head, I mean over the lens.

    Davis: And the next thing I suppose they would want to know – I mean after I tell them this is … uh … just let me ask one question. They’ll probably want to know, even though it’s rude of me to ask. WHY is that the most important thing in the world that tie?

    Dylan: Well. President Johnson used to wear a tie like this – before he got to be president.

    Davis: Ooooh!

    Dylan: It’s a sign of the common man, and I’m a common man.

    Davis: I see! I see!

    Dylan: So I wear a tie like this – just to get involved.

    Davis: Ummmmm. Do you wear that tie when you write – when you’re writing your songs?

    Dylan: When I write? No, I usually wear this after I get done – after I finish something very good. To make myself really feel good, I put on the tie, and then I feel much better about it – and usually I have a hit.

    Davis: Really? Oh really? Oh, that’s great! What songs did you write …

    Dylan: Oh, I wrote … uh … I wrote … well, let’s see. Well, after I wrote “Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall” I wasn’t sure if it was any good. So I put on the tie and I KNEW I had no problems from there on in. And it was a hit!

    Davis: Gosh!

    Dylan: Yeah! Pete Seeger recorded it, yeah, and that was a hit.

    Davis: Yeah? Well, what are your plans for the future, Mr Dye-lan?

    Dylan: Oh, I …

    Davis: Can I call you Bob?

    Dylan: I’d appreciate it if you’d call me Mr Dye-lan.

    Davis: Oh, Okay.

    Dylan: Most high school students do.

    Davis: All right.

    Dylan: What was the question?

    Davis: Uh .. uh … oh yes, what are your plans for the future?

    Dylan: Well, I’m gonna take off this tie.

    Davis: Yes.

    Dylan: That’s the immediate future, take off the tie.

    Davis: Oh, did you just finish writing something?

    Dylan: I just finished writing something just before you came.

    Davis: I see.

    Dylan: I just finished writing something, and you know that’s why I got the tie on.

    Davis: Oh, I’m so glad! I might never have seen you in a tie if I hadn’t come just when you finished writing something.

    Dylan: Yeah, most people NEVER get to see me in this tie.

    Davis: Really? Really?

    Dylan: Yeah, and I have some more ties.

    Davis: Different ones? I mean do you have different ones for different kind of songs?

    Dylan: Oh, I have a whole lot of ties in my bedroom.

    Davis: Yeaaah?

    Dylan: Would you like to go in my bedroom and see some more?

    Davis: Oh … more what?

    Dylan: More TIES!

    Davis: Oh, oh! Are you going to write some songs?

    Dylan: I just might write a song – write a song RIGHT IN FRONT OF YOU!

    Davis: You mean – wee that is, uh, with your tie off?

    Dylan: With my tie off – and I’ll put it right back on when I’m done. You’ll be very safe.

    Davis: Oh, well, well, okay.

  2. As a confirmed fart, I don’t usually comment on popular culture topics, but being younger than Dylan (2 years), and as a devotee of “60 Minutes,” I closely watched the Bradley interview.
    Therefore, Matt Welch, you are being too hard on the Rolling Stone interviewer of a few years back.
    If Jesus had been reincarnated as Dick Cavett, I doubt a smoothe segue could have been come up with after that “ancient mathematical” way of playing the guitar bullshit.
    My guess is the interviewer was attempting to save the personality eponymous with the magazine plus the magazine from embarrassment.
    Bradley’s interview wasn’t “excrutiating,” by the way. Ed made the most of what he had to work with.
    Slim Pickins, now there’s someone to be interviewed… or is he dead?

  3. God will surely strike me dead for saying something nice about LA Times’ pop critic Robert “Bruce Springsteen” Hilburn, but the last / best Dylan interview I’ve read was part of Hilburn’s little songwriting-craft weekly series in the LAT a year or so back.

    Turns out that if you ask Dylan about how songs are written, & who does certain things with skill, etc., Dylan will open right up and talk & talk. (The “Chronicles” book is entertaining proof of this.)

    I’ve got nothing against Ed Bradley, but his questions were the questions of somebody still thinking way too much about the image and fame of ’60s pop stars and What It All Meant, when it has long been clear that the topic is of little interest to Dylan himself. To ask about music in general and the stuff that still means a lot to Dylan might’ve even resulted in Weird Bob picking up a guitar and giving an interview that would be fun to watch.

  4. Didn’t anyone else learn about the pentatonic scale in the seventh grade?

  5. I’m always skeptical when an artist claims a mathematical justification for something that’s purely aesthetic.

  6. That was one of the most depressing interviews I’ve ever seen. Next to the Oxford entry for “burnout”, there ought to be a picture of Dylan’s mug as he was responding to Bradley.

  7. Math is a fundamental part of aesthetics.
    Most popular music can be examined using simple mathematics; even noise can be investigated using mathematics. Different types of scales are built around different ratios between the frequencies of the notes.
    Nature reveals mathematics in myriad ways. The pattern in a sunflower can be expressed as a Fibonacci number sequence.
    Most artists, I think, are consiously afraid of mathematics even while their subconscious minds sense the mathematical rhythms of life around them.

    “12:45, restate my assumptions: 1. Mathematics is the language of nature.” — Max Cohen in “Pi”.

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