There was a time between Bringing It All Back Home and Blonde On Blonde when Bob Dylan was not so much an artist as a piece of art in himself. Every time he opened his mouth, it seemed a stream of surreally brilliant jive poetry poured forth. An album of any other ’60s rock star?even Lennon?yakking on for 78 minutes without playing a note would be a ticket to terminal tedium. With Dylan, it’s gripping. What we get are two press conferences held in LA and San Francisco in December 1965 and a lengthy?and surprisingly thoughtful?interview for Canadian radio in February 1966. It’s not an authorised release, but neither is it an illegal bootleg, for Dylan’s words are apparently public domain.
The press conferences offer great entertainment as Dylan jousts memorably with his inquisitors. “Do you regard yourself as a singer or a poet?” someone asks. “Oh, I think of myself as a song and dance man,” he replies. “What poets do you dig?” “Rimbaud. WC Fields. The trapeze family in a circus. Smokey Robinson. Allen Ginsberg. Charlie Rich.” Then up pops Ginsberg himself to ask, “Do you think there will ever be a time when you’ll be hung as a thief?”
But the radio interview is no less fascinating. Dylan, for once, comes across as sincere and cooperative and his answers are genuinely insightful, particularly on how “Like A Rolling Stone” began life as “a long piece of vomit, about 20 pages long”. But even when he’s in such responsive mood, he can’t resist playing games. The long explanation of how he took his name from his mother’s side of the family, who he claims spelt it “Dillon” is, of course, a complete fabrication. Yet it is delivered with such conviction that even the FBI’s most sophisticated lie-detecting machine would surely be fooled. Priceless.