As a versatile musicologist, and trenchant social commentator, Nat Hentoff brings uniquely pertinent credentials to his dual tasks in this month’s issue—as the author of “We’re Happening All Over, Baby!” an insightful anatomizing of America’s youthful new generation of anti-establishment social activists, and as interviewer of this month’s controversial subject, about whom he writes:
“Less than five years ago, Bob Dylan was scuffling in New York—sleeping in friends’ apartments on the Lower East Side and getting very occasional singing work at Gerde’s Folk City, an unprepossessing bar for citybillies in the Village. With his leather cap, blue jeans and battered desert boots—his unvarying costume in those days—Dylan looked like an updated, undernourished Huck Finn. And like Huck, he had come out of the Midwest; he would have said ‘escaped.’ The son of Abraham Zimmerman, an appliance dealer, he was raised in Hibbing, Minnesota, a bleak mining town near the Canadian border. Though he ran away from home regularly between the ages of 10 and 18, young Zimmerman did manage to finish high school, and went on to spend about six months at the University of Minnesota in 1960. By then, he called himself Bob Dylan—in tribute to Dylan Thomas, according to legend; but actually after a gambling uncle whose last name was similar to Dylan.
“In the fall of that year, he came East to visit his idol, Woody Guthrie, in the New Jersey hospital where the Okie folk-singing bard was wasting away with a progressive disease of the nervous system. Dylan stayed and tried to scrape together a singing career. According to those who knew him then, he was shy and stubborn but basically friendly and, beneath the hipster stance, uncommonly gentle. But they argued about his voice. Some found its flat Midwestern tones gratingly mesmeric; others agreed with a Missouri folk singer who had likened the Dylan sound to that of ‘a dog with his leg caught in barbed wire.’ All agreed, however, that his songs were strangely personal and often disturbing, a pungent mixture of loneliness and defiance laced with traces of Guthrie, echoes of the Negro blues singers and more than a suggestion of country-and-western; but essentially Dylan was developing his own penetratingly distinctive style. Yet the voice was so harsh and the songs so bitterly scornful of conformity, race prejudice and the mythology of the Cold War that most of his friends couldn’t conceive of Dylan making it big even though folk music was already on the rise.
“They were wrong. In September of 1961, a music critic for The New York Times caught his act at Gerde’s and hailed the scruffy 19-year-old Minnesotan as a significant new voice on the folk horizon. Around the same time, he was signed by Columbia Records, and his first album was released early the next year. Though it was far from a smash hit, concerts and club engagements gradually multiplied; and then Dylan scored his storied triumph at the Newport Folk Festival in 1962. His next LP began to move, and in the spring of 1963 came his first big single: ‘Blowin’ in the Wind.’ That same spring he turned down a lucrative guest shot on ‘The Ed Sullivan Show’ because CBS wouldn’t permit him to sing a mordant parody he’d written about the John Birch Society. For the nation’s young, the Dylan image began to form: kind of a singing James Dean with overtones of Holden Caulfield; he was making it, but he wasn’t selling out. His concerts began to attract overflow crowds, and his songs—in performances by him and other folk singers—were rushing onto the hit charts. One of them, ‘The Times They Are A-Changin’,’ became an anthem for the rebellious young, who savored its message that adults don’t know where it’s at and can’t tell their children what to do.
“By 1965 he had become a major phenomenon on the music scene. More and more folk performers, from Joan Baez to the Byrds, considered it mandatory to have an ample supply of Dylan songs in their repertoires; in one frantically appreciative month—last August—48 different recordings of Dylan ballads were pressed by singers other than the composer himself. More and more aspiring folk singers—and folk-song writers—have begun to sound like Dylan. The current surge of ‘protest’ songs by such long-haired, post-beat rock-’n’-rollers as Barry McGuire and Sonny and Cher is credited to Dylan. And the newest commercial boom, ‘folk-rock,’ a fusion of folk-like lyrics with an r-’n’-r beat and background, is an outgrowth, in large part, of Dylan’s recent decision—decried as a ‘sellout’ by folknik purists—to perform with a rock-’n’-roll combo rather than continue to accompany himself alone on the guitar. Backed by the big beat of the new group, Dylan tours England with as much tumultuous success as he does America, and the air play for his single records in both countries is rivaled only by that of the Beatles, Herman’s Hermits and the Rolling Stones on the Top 40 deejay shows. In the next 18 months, his income—from personal appearances, records and composer’s royalties—is expected to exceed $1,000,000.
“Withal, Dylan seems outwardly much the same as he did during the lean years in Greenwich Village. His dress is still casual to the point of exoticism; his hair is still long and frizzy, and he is still no more likely to be seen wearing a necktie than a cutaway. But there have been changes. No longer protesting polemically against the bomb, race prejudice and conformity, his songs have become increasingly personal—a surrealistic amalgam of Kafkaesque menace, corrosive satire and opaque sensuality. His lyrics are more crowded than ever with tumbling words and restless images, and they read more like free-verse poems than conventional lines. Adults still have difficulty digging his offbeat language—and its message of alienation—but the young continue to tune in and turn on.
“But there are other changes. Dylan has become elusive. He is no longer seen in his old haunts in the Village and on the Lower East Side. With few exceptions, he avoids interviewers, and in public, he is usually seen from afar at the epicenter of a protective coterie of tousle-topped young men dressed like him, and lissome, straight-haired young ladies who also seem to be dressed like him. His home base, if it can be called that, is a house his manager owns near Woodstock, a fashionable artists’ colony in New York State, and he also enjoys the run of his manager’s apartment on dignified Gramercy Park in New York City. There are tales told of Dylan the motorcyclist, the novelist, the maker of high-camp home movies; but except among his small circle of intimates, the 24-year-old folk hero is inscrutably aloof.
“It was only after a long period of evasion and hesitation that Dylan finally agreed to grant this ‘Playboy Interview’—the longest he’s ever given. We met him on the 10th floor of the new CBS and Columbia Records building in mid-Manhattan. The room was antiseptic: white walls with black trim, contemporary furniture with severe lines, avant-garde art chosen by committee, everything in order, neat desks, neat personnel. In this sterile setting, slouched in a chair across from us, Dylan struck a refreshingly discordant note—with his untamed brownish-blond mane brushing the collar of his tieless blue plaid shirt, in his black jacket, gray vaudevillian-striped pipestem pants and well-worn blue-suede shoes. Sitting nearby—also long-haired, tieless and black-jacketed, but wearing faded jeans—was a stringy young man whom the singer identified only as Taco Pronto. As Dylan spoke—in a soft drawl, smiling only rarely and fleetingly, sipping tea and chain-smoking cigarettes—his unspeaking friend chuckled and nodded appreciatively from the side lines. Tense and guarded at first, Dylan gradually began to loosen up, then to open up, as he tried to tell us—albeit a bit surrealistically—just where he’s been and where he’s going. Under the circumstances, we chose to play straight man in our questions, believing that to have done otherwise would have stemmed the freewheeling flow of Dylan’s responses.”
PLAYBOY: “Popular songs,” you told a reporter last year, “are the only art form that describes the temper of the times. The only place where it’s happening is on the radio and records. That’s where the people hang out. It’s not in books; it’s not on the stage; it’s not in the galleries. All this art they’ve been talking about, it just remains on the shelf. It doesn’t make anyone happier.” In view of the fact that more people than ever before are reading books and going to plays and art galleries, do you think that statement is borne out by the facts?
DYLAN: Statistics measure quantity, not quality. The people in the statistics are people who are very bored. Art, if there is such a thing, is in the bathrooms; everybody knows that. To go to an art-gallery thing where you get free milk and doughnuts and where there is a rock-’n’-roll band playing: That’s just a status affair. I’m not putting it down, mind you; but I spend a lot of time in the bathroom. I think museums are vulgar. They’re all against sex. Anyhow, I didn’t say that people “hang out” on the radio, I said they get “hung up” on the radio.
PLAYBOY: Why do you think rock ’n’ roll has become such an international phenomenon?
DYLAN: I can’t really think that there is any rock ’n’ roll. Actually, when you think about it, anything that has no real existence is bound to become an international phenomenon. Anyway, what does it mean, rock ’n’ roll? Does it mean Beatles, does it mean John Lee Hooker, Bobby Vinton, Jerry Lewis’ kid? What about Lawrence Welk? He must play a few rock-’n’-roll songs. Are all these people the same? Is Ricky Nelson like Otis Redding? Is Mick Jagger really Ma Rainey? I can tell by the way people hold their cigarettes if they like Ricky Nelson. I think it’s fine to like Ricky Nelson; I couldn’t care less if somebody likes Ricky Nelson. But I think we’re getting off the track here. There isn’t any Ricky Nelson. There isn’t any Beatles; oh, I take that back; there are a lot of beetles. But there isn’t any Bobby Vinton. Anyway, the word is not “international phenomenon”; the word is “parental nightmare.”
PLAYBOY: In recent years, according to some critics, jazz has lost much of its appeal to the younger generation. Do you agree?
DYLAN: I don’t think jazz has ever appealed to the younger generation. Anyway, I don’t really know who this younger generation is. I don’t think they could get into a jazz club anyway. But jazz is hard to follow; I mean you actually have to like jazz to follow it; and my motto is, never follow anything. I don’t know what the motto of the younger generation is, but I would think they’d have to follow their parents. I mean, what would some parent say to his kid if the kid came home with a glass eye, a Charlie Mingus record and a pocketful of feathers? He’d say, “Who are you following?” And the poor kid would have to stand there with water in his shoes, a bow tie on his ear and soot pouring out of his belly button and say, “Jazz, Father, I’ve been following jazz.” And his father would probably say, “Get a broom and clean up all that soot before you go to sleep.” Then the kid’s mother would tell her friends, “Oh yes, our little Donald, he’s part of the younger generation, you know.”
PLAYBOY: You used to say that you wanted to perform as little as possible, that you wanted to keep most of your time to yourself. Yet you’re doing more concerts and cutting more records every year. Why? Is it the money?
DYLAN: Everything is changed now from before. Last spring, I guess I was going to quit singing. I was very drained, and the way things were going, it was a very draggy situation—I mean, when you do Everybody Loves You for Your Black Eye, and meanwhile the back of your head is caving in. Anyway, I was playing a lot of songs I didn’t want to play. I was singing words I didn’t really want to sing. I don’t mean words like “God” and “mother” and “President” and “suicide” and “meat cleaver.” I mean simple little words like “if” and “hope” and “you.” But Like a Rolling Stone changed it all; I didn’t care anymore after that about writing books or poems or whatever. I mean it was something that I myself could dig. It’s very tiring having other people tell you how much they dig you if you yourself don’t dig you. It’s also very deadly entertainmentwise. Contrary to what some scary people think, I don’t play with a band now for any kind of propaganda-type or commercial-type reasons. It’s just that my songs are pictures and the band makes the sound of the pictures.
PLAYBOY: Do you feel that acquiring a combo and switching from folk to folk-rock has improved you as a performer?
DYLAN: I’m not interested in myself as a performer. Performers are people who perform for other people. Unlike actors, I know what I’m saying. It’s very simple in my mind. It doesn’t matter what kind of audience reaction this whole thing gets. What happens on the stage is straight. It doesn’t expect any rewards or fines from any kind of outside agitators. It’s ultra-simple, and would exist whether anybody was looking or not.
As far as folk and folk-rock are concerned, it doesn’t matter what kind of nasty names people invent for the music. It could be called arsenic music, or perhaps Phaedra music. I don’t think that such a word as folk-rock has anything to do with it. And folk music is a word I can’t use. Folk music is a bunch of fat people. I have to think of all this as traditional music. Traditional music is based on hexagrams. It comes about from legends, Bibles, plagues, and it revolves around vegetables and death. There’s nobody that’s going to kill traditional music. All these songs about roses growing out of people’s brains and lovers who are really geese and swans that turn into angels—they’re not going to die. It’s all those paranoid people who think that someone’s going to come and take away their toilet paper—they’re going to die. Songs like Which Side Are You On? and I Love You, Porgy—they’re not folk-music songs; they’re political songs. They’re already dead. Obviously, death is not very universally accepted. I mean, you’d think that the traditional-music people could gather from their songs that mystery—just plain simple mystery—is a fact, a traditional fact. I listen to the old ballads; but I wouldn’t go to a party and listen to the old ballads. I could give you descriptive detail of what they do to me, but some people would probably think my imagination had gone mad. It strikes me funny that people actually have the gall to think that I have some kind of fantastic imagination. It gets very lonesome. But anyway, traditional music is too unreal to die. It doesn’t need to be protected. Nobody’s going to hurt it. In that music is the only true, valid death you can feel today off a record player. But like anything else in great demand, people try to own it. It has to do with a purity thing. I think its meaninglessness is holy. Everybody knows that I’m not a folk singer.
PLAYBOY: Some of your old fans would agree with you—and not in a complimentary vein—since your debut with the rock-’n’-roll combo at last year’s Newport Folk Festival, where many of them booed you loudly for “selling out” to commercial pop tastes. The early Bob Dylan, they felt, was the “pure” Bob Dylan. How do you feel about it?
DYLAN: I was kind of stunned. But I can’t put anybody down for coming and booing; after all, they paid to get in. They could have been maybe a little quieter and not so persistent, though. There were a lot of old people there, too; lots of whole families had driven down from Vermont, lots of nurses and their parents, and well, like they just came to hear some relaxing hoedowns, you know, maybe an Indian polka or two. And just when everything’s going all right, here I come on, and the whole place turns into a beer factory. There were a lot of people there who were very pleased that I got booed. I saw them afterward. I do resent somewhat, though, that everybody that booed said they did it because they were old fans.
PLAYBOY: What about their charge that you vulgarized your natural gifts?
DYLAN: What can I say? I’d like to see one of these so-called fans. I’d like to have him blindfolded and brought to me. It’s like going out to the desert and screaming, and then having little kids throw their sandbox at you. I’m only 24. These people that said this—were they Americans?
PLAYBOY: Americans or not, there were a lot of people who didn’t like your new sound. In view of this widespread negative reaction, do you think you may have made a mistake in changing your style?
DYLAN: A mistake is to commit a misunderstanding. There could be no such thing, anyway, as this action. Either people understand or they pretend to understand—or else they really don’t understand. What you’re speaking of here is doing wrong things for selfish reasons. I don’t know the word for that, unless it’s suicide. In any case, it has nothing to do with my music.
PLAYBOY: Mistake or not, what made you decide to go the rock-’n’-roll route?
DYLAN: Carelessness. I lost my one true love. I started drinking. The first thing I know, I’m in a card game. Then I’m in a crap game. I wake up in a pool hall. Then this big Mexican lady drags me off the table, takes me to Philadelphia. She leaves me alone in her house, and it burns down. I wind up in Phoenix. I get a job as a Chinaman. I start working in a dime store, and move in with a 13-year-old girl. Then this big Mexican lady from Philadelphia comes in and burns the house down. I go down to Dallas. I get a job as a “before” in a Charles Atlas “before and after” ad. I move in with a delivery boy who can cook fantastic chili and hot dogs. Then this 13-year-old girl from Phoenix comes and burns the house down. The delivery boy—he ain’t so mild: He gives her the knife, and the next thing I know I’m in Omaha. It’s so cold there, by this time I’m robbing my own bicycles and frying my own fish. I stumble onto some luck and get a job as a carburetor out at the hot-rod races every Thursday night. I move in with a high school teacher who also does a little plumbing on the side, who ain’t much to look at, but who’s built a special kind of refrigerator that can turn newspaper into lettuce. Everything’s going good until that delivery boy shows up and tries to knife me. Needless to say, he burned the house down, and I hit the road. The first guy that picked me up asked me if I wanted to be a star. What could I say?
PLAYBOY: And that’s how you became a rock-’n’-roll singer?
DYLAN: No, that’s how I got tuberculosis.
PLAYBOY: Let’s turn the question around: Why have you stopped composing and singing protest songs?
DYLAN: I’ve stopped composing and singing anything that has either a reason to be written or a motive to be sung. Don’t get me wrong, now. “Protest” is not my word. I’ve never thought of myself as such. The word “protest,” I think, was made up for people undergoing surgery. It’s an amusement-park word. A normal person in his righteous mind would have to have the hiccups to pronounce it honestly. The word “message” strikes me as having a hernia-like sound. It’s just like the word “delicious.” Also the word “marvelous.” You know, the English can say “marvelous” pretty good. They can’t say “raunchy” so good, though. Well, we each have our thing. Anyway, message songs, as everybody knows, are a drag. It’s only college newspaper editors and single girls under 14 that could possibly have time for them.
PLAYBOY: You’ve said you think message songs are vulgar. Why?
DYLAN: Well, first of all, anybody that’s got a message is going to learn from experience that they can’t put it into a song. I mean it’s just not going to come out the same message. After one or two of these unsuccessful attempts, one realizes that his resultant message, which is not even the same message he thought up and began with, he’s now got to stick by it; because, after all, a song leaves your mouth just as soon as it leaves your hands. Are you following me?
PLAYBOY: Oh, perfectly.
DYLAN: Well, anyway, second of all, you’ve got to respect other people’s right to also have a message themselves. Myself, what I’m going to do is rent Town Hall and put about 30 Western Union boys on the bill. I mean, then there’ll really be some messages. People will be able to come and hear more messages than they’ve ever heard before in their life.
PLAYBOY: But your early ballads have been called “songs of passionate protest.” Wouldn’t that make them “message” music?
DYLAN: This is unimportant. Don’t you understand? I’ve been writing since I was eight years old. I’ve been playing the guitar since I was ten. I was raised playing and writing whatever it was I had to play and write.
PLAYBOY: Would it be unfair to say, then, as some have, that you were motivated commercially rather than creatively in writing the kind of songs that made you popular?
DYLAN: All right, now, look. It’s not all that deep. It’s not a complicated thing. My motives, or whatever they are, were never commercial in the money sense of the word. It was more in the don’t-die-by-the-hacksaw sense of the word. I never did it for money. It happened, and I let it happen to me. There was no reason not to let it happen to me. I couldn’t have written before what I write now, anyway. The songs used to be about what I felt and saw. Nothing of my own rhythmic vomit ever entered into it. Vomit is not romantic. I used to think songs are supposed to be romantic. And I didn’t want to sing anything that was unspecific. Unspecific things have no sense of time. All of us people have no sense of time; it’s a dimensional hang-up. Anybody can be specific and obvious. That’s always been the easy way. The leaders of the world take the easy way. It’s not that it’s so difficult to be unspecific and less obvious; it’s just that there’s nothing, absolutely nothing, to be specific and obvious about. My older songs, to say the least, were about nothing. The newer ones are about the same nothing—only as seen inside a bigger thing, perhaps called the nowhere. But this is all very constipated. I do know what my songs are about.
PLAYBOY: And what’s that?
DYLAN: Oh, some are about four minutes; some are about five, and some, believe it or not, are about eleven or twelve.
PLAYBOY: Can’t you be a bit more informative?
PLAYBOY: All right. Let’s change the subject. As you know, it’s the age group from about 16 to 25 that listens to your songs. Why, in your opinion?
DYLAN: I don’t see what’s so strange about an age group like that listening to my songs. I’m hip enough to know that it ain’t going to be the 85-to-90-year-olds. If the 85-to-90-year-olds were listening to me, they’d know that I can’t tell them anything. The 16-to-25-year-olds, they probably know that I can’t tell them anything either—and they know that I know it. It’s a funny business. Obviously, I’m not an IBM computer any more than I’m an ashtray. I mean it’s obvious to anyone who’s ever slept in the back seat of a car that I’m just not a schoolteacher.
PLAYBOY: Even though you’re not a schoolteacher, wouldn’t you like to help the young people who dig you from turning into what some of their parents have become?
DYLAN: Well, I must say that I really don’t know their parents. I really don’t know if anybody’s parents are so bad. Now, I hate to come on like a weakling or a coward, and I realize it might seem kind of irreligious, but I’m really not the right person to tramp around the country saving souls. I wouldn’t run over anybody that was laying in the street, and I certainly wouldn’t become a hangman. I wouldn’t think twice about giving a starving man a cigarette. But I’m not a shepherd. And I’m not about to save anybody from fate, which I know nothing about. “Parents” is not the key word here. The key word is “destiny.” I can’t save them from that.
PLAYBOY: Still, thousands of young people look up to you as a kind of folk hero. Do you feel some sense of responsibility toward them?
DYLAN: I don’t feel I have any responsibility, no. Whoever it is that listens to my songs owes me nothing. How could I possibly have any responsibility to any kind of thousands? What could possibly make me think that I owe anybody anything who just happens to be there? I’ve never written any song that begins with the words “I’ve gathered you here tonight…” I’m not about to tell anybody to be a good boy or a good girl and they’ll go to heaven. I really don’t know what the people who are on the receiving end of these songs think of me, anyway. It’s horrible. I’ll bet Tony Bennett doesn’t have to go through this kind of thing. I wonder what Billy the Kid would have answered to such a question.
PLAYBOY: In their admiration for you, many young people have begun to imitate the way you dress—which one adult commentator has called “self-consciously oddball and defiantly sloppy.” What’s your reaction to that kind of put-down?
DYLAN: Bullshit. Oh, such bullshit. I know the fellow that said that. He used to come around here and get beat up all the time. He better watch it; some people are after him. They’re going to strip him naked and stick him in Times Square. They’re going to tie him up, and also put a thermometer in his mouth. Those kind of morbid ideas and remarks are so petty—I mean there’s a war going on. People got rickets; everybody wants to start a riot; 40-year-old women are eating spinach by the carload; the doctors haven’t got a cure for cancer—and here’s some hillbilly talking about how he doesn’t like somebody’s clothes. Worse than that, it gets printed and innocent people have to read it. This is a terrible thing. And he’s a terrible man. Obviously, he’s just living off the fat of himself, and he’s expecting his kids to take care of him. His kids probably listen to my records. Just because my clothes are too long, does that mean I’m unqualified for what I do?
PLAYBOY: No, but there are those who think it does—and many of them seem to feel the same way about your long hair. But compared with the shoulder-length coiffures worn by some of the male singing groups these days, your tonsorial tastes are on the conservative side. How do you feel about these far-out hair styles?
DYLAN: The thing that most people don’t realize is that it’s warmer to have long hair. Everybody wants to be warm. People with short hair freeze easily. Then they try to hide their coldness, and they get jealous of everybody that’s warm. Then they become either barbers or Congressmen. A lot of prison wardens have short hair. Have you ever noticed that Abraham Lincoln’s hair was much longer than John Wilkes Booth’s?
PLAYBOY: Do you think Lincoln wore his hair long to keep his head warm?
DYLAN: Actually, I think it was for medical reasons, which are none of my business. But I guess if you figure it out, you realize that all of one’s hair surrounds and lays on the brain inside your head. Mathematically speaking, the more of it you can get out of your head, the better. People who want free minds sometimes overlook the fact that you have to have an uncluttered brain. Obviously, if you get your hair on the outside of your head, your brain will be a little more freer. But all this talk about long hair is just a trick. It’s been thought up by men and women who look like cigars—the anti-happiness committee. They’re all freeloaders and cops. You can tell who they are: They’re always carrying calendars, guns or scissors. They’re all trying to get into your quicksand. They think you’ve got something. I don’t know why Abe Lincoln had long hair.
PLAYBOY: Until your abandonment of “message” songs, you were considered not only a major voice in the student protest movement but a militant champion of the civil rights struggle. According to friends, you seemed to feel a special bond of kinship with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, which you actively supported both as a performer and as a worker. Why have you withdrawn from participation in all these causes? Have you lost interest in protest as well as in protest songs?
DYLAN: As far as SNCC is concerned, I knew some of the people in it, but I only knew them as people, not as any part of something that was bigger or better than themselves. I didn’t even know what civil rights was before I met some of them. I mean, I knew there were Negroes, and I knew there were a lot of people who don’t like Negroes. But I got to admit that if I didn’t know some of the SNCC people, I would have gone on thinking that Martin Luther King was really nothing more than some underprivileged war hero. I haven’t lost any interest in protest since then. I just didn’t have any interest in protest to begin with—any more than I did in war heroes. You can’t lose what you’ve never had. Anyway, when you don’t like your situation, you either leave it or else you overthrow it. You can’t just stand around and whine about it. People just get aware of your noise; they really don’t get aware of you. Even if they give you what you want, it’s only because you’re making too much noise. First thing you know, you want something else, and then you want something else, and then you want something else, until finally it isn’t a joke anymore, and whoever you’re protesting against finally gets all fed up and stomps on everybody. Sure, you can go around trying to bring up people who are lesser than you, but then don’t forget, you’re messing around with gravity. I don’t fight gravity. I do believe in equality, but I also believe in distance.
PLAYBOY: Do you mean people keeping their racial distance?
DYLAN: I believe in people keeping everything they’ve got.
PLAYBOY: Some people might feel that you’re trying to cop out of fighting for the things you believe in.
DYLAN: Those would be people who think I have some sort of responsibility toward them. They probably want me to help them make friends. I don’t know. They probably either want to set me in their house and have me come out every hour and tell them what time it is, or else they just want to stick me in between the mattress. How could they possibly understand what I believe in?
PLAYBOY: Well, what do you believe in?
DYLAN: I already told you.
PLAYBOY: All right. Many of your folk-singing colleagues remain actively involved in the fight for civil rights, free speech and withdrawal from Vietnam. Do you think they’re wrong?
DYLAN: I don’t think they’re wrong, if that’s what they see themselves doing. But don’t think that what you’ve got out there is a bunch of little Buddhas all parading up and down. People that use God as a weapon should be amputated upon. You see it around here all the time: “Be good or God won’t like you, and you’ll go to hell.” Things like that. People that march with slogans and things tend to take themselves a little too holy. It would be a drag if they, too, started using God as a weapon.
PLAYBOY: Do you think it’s pointless to dedicate yourself to the cause of peace and racial equality?
DYLAN: Not pointless to dedicate yourself to peace and racial equality, but rather, it’s pointless to dedicate yourself to the cause; that’s really pointless. That’s very unknowing. To say “cause of peace” is just like saying “hunk of butter.” I mean, how can you listen to anybody who wants you to believe he’s dedicated to the hunk and not to the butter? People who can’t conceive of how others hurt, they’re trying to change the world. They’re all afraid to admit that they don’t really know each other. They’ll all probably be here long after we’ve gone, and we’ll give birth to new ones. But they themselves—I don’t think they’ll give birth to anything.
PLAYBOY: You sound a bit fatalistic.
DYLAN: I’m not fatalistic. Bank tellers are fatalistic; clerks are fatalistic. I’m a farmer. Who ever heard of a fatalistic farmer? I’m not fatalistic. I smoke a lot of cigarettes, but that doesn’t make me fatalistic.
PLAYBOY: You were quoted recently as saying that “songs can’t save the world. I’ve gone through all that.” We take it you don’t share Pete Seeger’s belief that songs can change people, that they can help build international understanding.
DYLAN: On the international understanding part, that’s OK. But you have a translation problem there. Anybody with this kind of a level of thinking has to also think about this translation thing. But I don’t believe songs can change people anyway. I’m not Pinocchio. I consider that an insult. I’m not part of that. I don’t blame anybody for thinking that way. But I just don’t donate any money to them. I don’t consider them anything like unhip; they’re more in the rubber-band category.
PLAYBOY: How do you feel about those who have risked imprisonment by burning their draft cards to signify their opposition to U.S. involvement in Vietnam, and by refusing—as your friend Joan Baez has done—to pay their income taxes as a protest against the Government’s expenditures on war and weaponry? Do you think they’re wasting their time?
DYLAN: Burning draft cards isn’t going to end any war. It’s not even going to save any lives. If someone can feel more honest with himself by burning his draft card, then that’s great; but if he’s just going to feel more important because he does it, then that’s a drag. I really don’t know too much about Joan Baez and her income-tax problems. The only thing I can tell you about Joan Baez is that she’s not Belle Starr.
PLAYBOY: Writing about “beard-wearing draft-card burners and pacifist income-tax evaders,” one columnist called such protesters “no less outside society than the junkie, the homosexual or the mass murderer.” What’s your reaction?
DYLAN: I don’t believe in those terms. They’re too hysterical. They don’t describe anything. Most people think that homosexual, gay, queer, queen, faggot are all the same words. Everybody thinks that a junkie is a dope freak. As far as I’m concerned, I don’t consider myself outside of anything. I just consider myself not around.
PLAYBOY: Joan Baez recently opened a school in northern California for training civil rights workers in the philosophy and techniques of nonviolence. Are you in sympathy with that concept?
DYLAN: If you mean do I agree with it or not, I really don’t see anything to be in agreement with. If you mean has it got my approval, I guess it does, but my approval really isn’t going to do it any good. I don’t know about other people’s sympathy, but my sympathy runs to the lame and crippled and beautiful things. I have a feeling of loss of power—something like a reincarnation feeling; I don’t feel that for mechanical things like cars or schools. I’m sure it’s a nice school, but if you’re asking me would I go to it, I would have to say no.
PLAYBOY: As a college dropout in your freshman year, you seem to take a dim view of schooling in general, whatever the subject.
DYLAN: I really don’t think about it.
PLAYBOY: Well, have you ever had any regrets about not completing college?
DYLAN: That would be ridiculous. Colleges are like old-age homes; except for the fact that more people die in colleges than in old-age homes, there’s really no difference. People have one great blessing—obscurity—and not really too many people are thankful for it. Everybody is always taught to be thankful for their food and clothes and things like that, but not to be thankful for their obscurity. Schools don’t teach that; they teach people to be rebels and lawyers. I’m not going to put down the teaching system; that would be too silly. It’s just that it really doesn’t have too much to teach. Colleges are part of the American institution; everybody respects them. They’re very rich and influential, but they have nothing to do with survival. Everybody knows that.
PLAYBOY: Would you advise young people to skip college, then?
DYLAN: I wouldn’t advise anybody to do anything. I certainly wouldn’t advise somebody not to go to college; I just wouldn’t pay his way through college.
PLAYBOY: Don’t you think the things one learns in college can help enrich one’s life?
DYLAN: I don’t think anything like that is going to enrich my life, no—not my life, anyway. Things are going to happen whether I know why they happen or not. It just gets more complicated when you stick yourself into it. You don’t find out why things move. You let them move; you watch them move; you stop them from moving; you start them moving. But you don’t sit around and try to figure out why there’s movement—unless, of course, you’re just an innocent moron, or some wise old Japanese man. Out of all the people who just lay around and ask “Why?”, how many do you figure really want to know?
PLAYBOY: Can you suggest a better use for the four years that would otherwise be spent in college?
DYLAN: Well, you could hang around in Italy; you could go to Mexico; you could become a dishwasher; you could even go to Arkansas. I don’t know; there are thousands of things to do and places to go. Everybody thinks that you have to bang your head against the wall, but it’s silly when you really think about it. I mean, here you have fantastic scientists working on ways to prolong human living, and then you have other people who take it for granted that you have to beat your head against the wall in order to be happy. You can’t take everything you don’t like as a personal insult. I guess you should go where your wants are bare, where you’re invisible and not needed.
PLAYBOY: Would you classify sex among your wants, wherever you go?
DYLAN: Sex is a temporary thing; sex isn’t love. You can get sex anywhere. If you’re looking for someone to love you, now that’s different. I guess you have to stay in college for that.
PLAYBOY: Since you didn’t stay in college, does that mean you haven’t found someone to love you?
DYLAN: Let’s go on to the next question.
PLAYBOY: Do you have any difficulty relating to people—or vice versa?
DYLAN: Well, sometimes I have the feeling that other people want my soul. If I say to them, “I don’t have a soul,” they say, “I know that. You don’t have to tell me that. Not me. How dumb do you think I am? I’m your friend.” What can I say except that I’m sorry and I feel bad? I guess maybe feeling bad and paranoia are the same thing.
PLAYBOY: Paranoia is said to be one of the mental states sometimes induced by such hallucinogenic drugs as peyote and LSD. Considering the risks involved, do you think that experimentation with such drugs should be part of the growing-up experience for a young person?
DYLAN: I wouldn’t advise anybody to use drugs—certainly not the hard drugs; drugs are medicine. But opium and hash and pot—now, those things aren’t drugs; they just bend your mind a little. I think everybody’s mind should be bent once in a while. Not by LSD, though. LSD is medicine—a different kind of medicine. It makes you aware of the universe, so to speak; you realize how foolish objects are. But LSD is not for groovy people; it’s for mad, hateful people who want revenge. It’s for people who usually have heart attacks. They ought to use it at the Geneva Convention.
PLAYBOY: Are you concerned, as you approach 30, that you may begin to “go square,” lose some of your openness to experience, become leery of change and new experiment?
DYLAN: No. But if it happens, then it happens. What can I say? There doesn’t seem to be any tomorrow. Every time I wake up, no matter in what position, it’s always been today. To look ahead and start worrying about trivial little things I can’t really say has any more importance than looking back and remembering trivial little things. I’m not going to become any poetry instructor at any girls’ school; I know that for sure. But that’s about all I know for sure. I’ll just keep doing these different things, I guess.
PLAYBOY: Such as?
DYLAN: Waking up in different positions.
PLAYBOY: What else?
DYLAN: I’m just like anybody else; I’ll try anything once.
PLAYBOY: Including theft and murder?
DYLAN: I can’t really say I wouldn’t commit theft or murder and expect anybody to really believe me. I wouldn’t believe anybody if they told me that.
PLAYBOY: By their mid-20s, most people have begun to settle into their niche, to find a place in society. But you’ve managed to remain inner-directed and uncommitted. What was it that spurred you to run away from home six times between the ages of ten and eighteen and finally to leave for good?
DYLAN: It was nothing; it was just an accident of geography. Like if I was born and raised in New York or Kansas City, I’m sure everything would have turned out different. But Hibbing, Minnesota, was just not the right place for me to stay and live. There really was nothing there. The only thing you could do there was be a miner, and even that kind of thing was getting less and less. The people that lived there—they’re nice people; I’ve been all over the world since I left there, and they still stand out as being the least hung-up. The mines were just dying, that’s all; but that’s not their fault. Everybody about my age left there. It was no great romantic thing. It didn’t take any great amount of thinking or individual genius, and there certainly wasn’t any pride in it. I didn’t run away from it; I just turned my back on it. It couldn’t give me anything. It was very void-like. So leaving wasn’t hard at all; it would have been much harder to stay. I didn’t want to die there. As I think about it now, though, it wouldn’t be such a bad place to go back to and die in. There’s no place I feel closer to now, or get the feeling that I’m part of, except maybe New York; but I’m not a New Yorker. I’m North Dakota—Minnesota—Midwestern. I’m that color. I speak that way. I’m from someplace called Iron Range. My brains and feeling have come from there. I wouldn’t amputate on a drowning man; nobody from out there would.
PLAYBOY: Today, you’re on your way to becoming a millionaire. Do you feel in any danger of being trapped by all this affluence—by the things it can buy?
DYLAN: No, my world is very small. Money can’t really improve it any; money can just keep it from being smothered.
PLAYBOY: Most big stars find it difficult to avoid getting involved, and sometimes entangled, in managing the business end of their careers. As a man with three thriving careers—as a concert performer, recording star and songwriter—do you ever feel boxed in by such noncreative responsibilities?
DYLAN: No, I’ve got other people to do that for me. They watch my money; they guard it. They keep their eyes on it at all times; they’re supposed to be very smart when it comes to money. They know just what to do with my money. I pay them a lot of it. I don’t really speak to them much, and they don’t really speak to me at all, so I guess everything is all right.
PLAYBOY: If fortune hasn’t trapped you, how about fame? Do you find that your celebrity makes it difficult to keep your private life intact?
DYLAN: My private life has been dangerous from the beginning. All this does is add a little atmosphere.
PLAYBOY: You used to enjoy wandering across the country—taking off on open-end trips, roughing it from town to town, with no particular destination in mind. But you seem to be doing much less of that these days. Why? Is it because you’re too well known?
DYLAN: It’s mainly because I have to be in Cincinnati Friday night, and the next night I got to be in Atlanta, and then the next night after that, I have to be in Buffalo. Then I have to write some more songs for a record album.
PLAYBOY: Do you get the chance to ride your motorcycle much anymore?
DYLAN: I’m still very patriotic to the highway, but I don’t ride my motorcycle too much anymore, no.
PLAYBOY: How do you get your kicks these days, then?
DYLAN: I hire people to look into my eyes, and then I have them kick me.
PLAYBOY: And that’s the way you get your kicks?
DYLAN: No. Then I forgive them; that’s where my kicks come in.
PLAYBOY: You told an interviewer last year, “I’ve done everything I ever wanted to.” If that’s true, what do you have to look forward to?
DYLAN: Salvation. Just plain salvation.
PLAYBOY: Anything else?
DYLAN: Praying. I’d also like to start a cookbook magazine. And I’ve always wanted to be a boxing referee. I want to referee a heavyweight championship fight. Can you imagine that? Can you imagine any fighter in his right mind recognizing me?
PLAYBOY: If your popularity were to wane, would you welcome being anonymous again?
DYLAN: You mean welcome it, like I’d welcome some poor pilgrim coming in from the rain? No, I wouldn’t welcome it; I’d accept it, though. Someday, obviously, I’m going to have to accept it.
PLAYBOY: Do you ever think about marrying, settling down, having a home, maybe living abroad? Are there any luxuries you’d like to have, say, a yacht or a Rolls-Royce?
DYLAN: No, I don’t think about those things. If I felt like buying anything, I’d buy it. What you’re asking me about is the future, my future. I’m the last person in the world to ask about my future.
PLAYBOY: Are you saying you’re going to be passive and just let things happen to you?
DYLAN: Well, that’s being very philosophical about it, but I guess it’s true.
PLAYBOY: You once planned to write a novel. Do you still?
DYLAN: I don’t think so. All my writing goes into the songs now. Other forms don’t interest me anymore.
PLAYBOY: Do you have any unfulfilled ambitions?
DYLAN: Well, I guess I’ve always wanted to be Anthony Quinn in La Strada. Not always—only for about six years now; it’s not one of those childhood-dream things. Oh, and come to think of it, I guess I’ve always wanted to be Brigitte Bardot, too; but I don’t really want to think about that too much.
PLAYBOY: Did you ever have the standard boyhood dream of growing up to be President?
DYLAN: No. When I was a boy, Harry Truman was President; who’d want to be Harry Truman?
PLAYBOY: Well, let’s suppose that you were the President. What would you accomplish during your first thousand days?
DYLAN: Well, just for laughs, so long as you insist, the first thing I’d do is probably move the White House. Instead of being in Texas, it’d be on the East Side in New York. McGeorge Bundy would definitely have to change his name, and General McNamara would be forced to wear a coonskin cap and shades. I would immediately rewrite The Star-Spangled Banner, and little school children, instead of memorizing America the Beautiful, would have to memorize Desolation Row [one of Dylan’s latest songs]. And I would immediately call for a showdown with Mao Tse-tung; I would fight him personally—and I’d get somebody to film it.
PLAYBOY: One final question: Even though you’ve more or less retired from political and social protest, can you conceive of any circumstance that might persuade you to reinvolve yourself?
DYLAN: No, not unless all the people in the world disappeared.