Bob Dylan on being a ‘cult figure’

Look, I love the guy, too, okay?  He’s a legend, one of popular music’s best poets, and an iconic figure of American music and letters.

But, where I come from, when we start talking like this, somebody puts you into your bed, kisses you on the forehead, and says “Goodnight.”

A cult figure, that’s got religious connotations. It sounds cliquish and clannish. People have different emotional levels. Especially when you’re young. Back then I guess most of my influences could be thought of as eccentric. Mass media had no overwhelming reach so I was drawn to the traveling performers passing through. The side show performers – bluegrass singers, the black cowboy with chaps and a lariat doing rope tricks. Miss Europe, Quasimodo, the Bearded Lady, the half-man half-woman, the deformed and the bent, Atlas the Dwarf, the fire-eaters, the teachers and preachers, the blues singers. I remember it like it was yesterday. I got close to some of these people. I learned about dignity from them. Freedom too. Civil rights, human rights. How to stay within yourself. Most others were into the rides like the tilt-a-whirl and the rollercoaster. To me that was the nightmare. All the giddiness. The artificiality of it. The sledge hammer of life. It didn’t make sense or seem real. The stuff off the main road was where force of reality was. At least it struck me that way. When I left home those feelings didn’t change.

I dated four of the above, and two were students in a class of mine.  I’ll let you guess which.

In all seriousness, I love his answer—the rhythm of it, the imagery, all of it.  This is just a taste—and hardly an indicative one—from the recent interview Bob Dylan gave to Bill Flanagan.  For most of what I’ve read of it, he is surprisingly frank and direct, not two traits I would often assign to him.  And, of course, he’s also Bob Dylan, like here in his comments on Val Kilmer:

Funny thing about actors and that identity thing. Every time I run into Val Kilmer, I can’t help myself. I say, “Why, Johnny Ringo – you look like somebody just walked on your grave.” Val always says, “Bob, I’m not Johnny Ringo. That’s just a role I played in a movie.” He could be right, he could be wrong. I think he’s wrong but he says it in such a sincere way. You have to think he thinks he’s right.

The first excerpt above is from part 5 of their chat, featured on the HuffingtonPost, where you can also access part 4, the source of the second.  Parts 1 to 3 are somewhere on Dylan’s own website, a place a find a little bit confusing but a lot of fun to visit.

One thought on “Bob Dylan on being a ‘cult figure’

  1. I’m glad you said you liked that quote, because I love it. I thought maybe it was bedtime for me, too. “Val Kilmer” has a lot of moxie if he thinks he can explain reality to Bob Dylan.

    You’re right that Dylan hasn’t always been so direct and forthcoming. But if you haven’t read Chronicles, Volume One, I recommend it. I learned that Dylan was shaped more by the 50s (and the remnants of Tin Pan Alley) than most people realize.

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