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Bob Dylan & America

A Rolling Stone

Bob Dylan, almost 68 now, is America’s grand old man of … what? Folk? Rock? Touring honky tonk? Everything?

He’s out with his 33rd studio album, called “Together Through Life.” It’s #1 in the UK. He’s touring — a hundred gigs a year. And just lately, he’s been talking — not to a music critic, but to a bonafide historian, Douglas Brinkley.

Brinkley followed Dylan through Europe on his “never-ending tour.” His interviews became the cover story of this month’s Rolling Stone. Dylan talked about Texas, Elvis, patriotism, morality. About Duluth and Neil Young and Marcus Aurelius and Caravaggio.

This hour, On Point: Douglas Brinkley on Bob Dylan in Rolling Stone.

It’s been a long time since Blowin’ in the Wind. Since Blood on the Tracks. What does this man, this artist, this American mean to you? How do you see Bob Dylan? Tell us — here on this page, on Twitter, and on Facebook.


Douglas Brinkley joins us from Austin, Texas.  He’s a professor of history at Rice University and author of Rolling Stone’s current cover story, “Bob Dylan’s America” (not available online). He’s the editor of “Windblown World: The Journals of Jack Kerouac, 1947-1954″ and two volumes of letters of his late friend Hunter S. Thompson, “The Proud Highway” and “Fear and Loathing in America” (a third and final volume is on the way). The author of many works of history and current affairs, on subjects from Hurricane Katrina to Henry Ford, he’s also profiled Ken Kesey, Norman Mailer, and Kurt Vonnegut for Rolling Stone.

More links:

David Fricke reviews “Together Through Life” in Rolling Stone.

Dylan’s own vast website has news about his tour, as well as a complete discography and an archive of song lyrics.

And in a different vein, On Point’s Wen Stephenson was moved by a moment in Brinkley’s piece where Dylan pays tribute to Neil Young (you can watch videos of Young and Dylan covering the other’s songs).

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  • Joe B.

    I hope that one day Bob Dylan will be a guest of On Point.

  • Vee Keith

    Back in the day, I was annoyed that he didn’t sing as much as talk through many of his songs. I like his later work because he seems to sing more, it’s more melodic.

  • James

    A great American modernist, interesting to think about the resonances with Walker Evans, Joseph Cornell, etc.

  • Doshi

    I feel he’s somewhat overrated. Also, I don’t like how only one of his marriages is publicly acknowledged and how only “some” of his 9 or 10 children.

    He had long-term relationships with several black women and fathered children that are all under the rug.

    I wonder what he has to say about morality with all his secret wives, children and what not…Like Picasso, I suppose we overlook one’s treatment of women when someone is an “artiste.”

  • Rolf Gidlow

    I believe Bob Dylan’s importance to American art is only beginning to be appreciated – he is tapping into something very deep, the “soul” of America that lies in its veiled past, the myths, legends, and people that exist beneath the surface of our everyday existence. As an artist he is reaching the level of an artist for the ages – a Picasso or Twain, etc.

  • david

    although dylans talent is un mistakable i feel ani difranco speaks more for this current generation
    and does dylan covers too !!!

  • http://toonstoonstoons.net/category/cartoon/politics/ Colleen Nelson

    When I was in high school, making art and slip sliding between visions of what life is supposed to be, Dylan was coming at me from two sides – one from the brother of my best friend, four years older, customising sting rays in the garage, Dylan blasting on the stereo along with the Beatles, Peter Paul and Mary and the Beach Boys. Kennedy’s death was still burning a hole in that frozen moment before Christmas when the news of it came through. Spring was a giddy affair. Revolution was in the air, breaking through the stiff smile of the Army recruiter, gunning for those boys in the garage. We could taste thier ambivilence for that war as the music filled the space between wet fiberglass and where the pedal hits the metal.

    Back in the high school cafeteria, the girls with the teen magazines were getting hot for the English revolution and somewhere amidst Paul Revere and the Raiders’ Edwardian fru fru a dark eyed boy with curling hair made his play for the capricious hearts of those American girls. The lyrics they quoted him on didn’t get him too far. But I read them and was taken, yes I was.

    The lamppost stands with folded arms
    Its iron claws attached
    To curbs ‘neath holes where babies wail
    Though it shadows metal badge
    All and all can only fall
    With a crashing but meaningless blow
    No sound ever comes from the Gates of Eden

    I drew his face in pencil then and there, a sandwich in one hand, my destiny in the other.

    Does anyone ever really stop making art?
    Not if they’re smart!

    Thanks, Bob. We’ve rode together for many a mile, yes we have. Neshema e neshema, podner.

  • M. Vitek

    A few years ago I was listening to a Canadian soft rock radio station and the DJs were discussing Bob Dyan. One of them mentioned that Dylan had referred to Smokey Robinson as the greatest American poet. (I think Dylan actually said he was the America’s greatest living poet.) Anyway, the other DJ said “Really? I would have said that Walt Whitman was America’s greatest poet.” After a pause, his partner replied, “Wow. Way to bring the show to a screeching halt, Ed.”

  • Joanna Drzewieniecki

    Great comment Colleen. I was one of those people who thought Bob Dylan had “sold out” years ago and even walked out on one of his concerts in disappointment. And then, a few years ago, I saw that dvd interview with him and I realized that I had been a total idiot. I hadn’t understood what being a real artist is and that need that some artists have to keep learning, keep changing, keep trying new things. Suddenly everything feel into place and I was at peace with this wonderful, fascinating, self-confident, and unafraid artist. I am even more fascinated today as I learn about his sense of history. I love it!

  • john oleary

    / yea… i saw dillon in slane castle, irl. 1985
    i know that the clancy bros. were very impressed by his interest in them in tne village,
    i am disappointed to hear that dillon refused to sing a clancy song .

    great show .


  • http://www.toonstoonstoons.net Michael Shapiro

    I find I’m always ambivalent about this guy. His best stuff is fabulous beyond praise. Can’t sing his way out of a paper bag, of course, but it doesn’t matter cause he sure can sneer. Dylan the person, Dylan the performer, I can do without. I once leaned over at a Dylan concert to whisper, “I wonder what Bob Dylan would say if he were alive today.” I almost feel that Dylan, the person, didn’t write the great stuff. Dylan the artist in the grips of his creative genius did, and then he is surely one of the “angel-headed hipsters”.

  • karl sklar

    the sly fox: boxer, juggler, “borrower”, wise ass, visual artist (huge irony: that he doesn’t “get” warhole ), patriot, rebel, preacher, apostate, rock star, poet. Main thing it seems to me: the inscrutable, authentic ‘merican genius with the guts to thoroughly try – contradictions be damned – and own it all. in the process the man has made us all so much richer for it with his implicit demand that we try to keep up with him.

  • http://www.jazztimes.com Lee Mergner

    Re: Victoria’s Secret ad, in that same interview from 1964 in San Francisco, he actually jokes that he’d do a commercial for women’s underwear. It’s in the book of Dylan interviews curated by Jonathon Cott and published by Rolling Stone. I think he was being ironic, but 40 years later it came true.

  • lisette

    it’s hard to stay a fan of someone who shills for the masters of war. i fell for dylan when his first album came out – voice and all – loved it when he went electric and made the music he wanted to make. i’ll even admit i can’t imagine life without his music.
    but…did i hear correctly that brinkley said dylan “wants to have integrity…refuses to be seen as a man who had no morality…and somebody like, in the folk realm, pete seeger? what…? pete seeger, who is truly a man of integrity, among many other virtues?
    can anyone imagine pete promoting the obscene victoria’s secret, a corporation that sells women as meat as surely as armour sells bacon?
    maybe that isn’t what he said…?

  • Sam Feldman

    On today’s show it was pointed out Dylan would not choose to give interview to Time Magazine or the Wall Street Journal….that’s because Dylan is about America.
    And New York City is not America.

  • Elizabeth Milliken

    Dylan was and is a great admirer of the Clancys–he walked out on the Sullivan show because the CBS censors wouldn’t let him play his song satirizing the John Birch Society, not because he had any objection to the Clancy Bros. songs.
    Its funny to see here how people still insist on putting their own trips and judgements on him. I still love him, with all his contradictions. I get mad when he shills for cadillac, but I guess that shows that he still matters.

  • Joey Hernandez

    Everybody has Dylan story? right?

    Four years ago I read his autobiography – Chronicles. The one theme that spoke loudly in the text was Dylan’s strife with himself. Throughout it all the man is stilling doing what he wanted to do, make music. The flavor of his music have come with time, but all still the same – Dylan. His contribution to our world is to be compared with the late Ray Charles and Johnnie Cash -both contemporaries. All of the nostalgic images and soudbites display the undeniable fact that he is more than just pop culture, he’s become classic. Nonetheless the man is his music and as laid-back as he can be.

  • Mike

    Also re the Victoria’s Secret ad, most of his songs are about his ongoing lust, as well as love lost. A quote from the Time Out of Mind album — “Highlands”:

    Every day is the same thing, out the door
    Feel further away than ever before
    Some things in life it just gets too late to learn
    Well I’m lost somewhere, I must have made a few bad turns

    I see people in the park, forgettin’ their troubles and woes
    They’re drinkin’ and dancin’, wearin’ bright colored clothes
    All the young men with the young women lookin’ so good
    Well I’d trade places with any of ‘em, in a minute if I could

    I doubt he hesitated when the offer came in.

  • Mike

    (And good for him.)

  • lisette

    mike, i’m not criticizing dylan’s “ongoing lust” etc. – just taking issue with his participating in and making money from the selling of women as objects. (i don’t think he’d be doing that with any other oppressed group, unless he no longer cares about equal rights for everybody.)

    and elizabeth, you’re so right – it does show that he still matters!!

  • Frankie Lee

    Dylan now is part of the establishment he use write protest songs about, so lame.

  • http://www.onpointradio.org John

    Actually, back in the ’60s, he was once asked if he’d ever “sell out.” He said “only for ladies’ undergarments.” I think the Victoria’s Secret deal was a sly reference to that.
    And, the man once said “God is a woman. Start from there,” when asked about his religious beliefs. Not so sexist, I don’t think, but playful.
    His significance to me is that he’s written over 300 masterpiece songs, which have nurtured my spirit daily for over 30 years. If he has some private matters he doesn’t want to share with the omniverous public, that’s his affair.

  • Joe

    I grew up WITHOUT Bob Dylan… I somehow missed his music (except for the top hits), until last year when I was 52. I somehow started listening and his music blew me away.

    I have almost all of his music now and for over a year listen almost exclusively to his music. Its been a significant change in my life, totally unexpected and unforseen.

    Its also opened my eyes to other music more and more. But each time I listen to another artist now, I often can’t because it is missing something that I can only find in Dylan’s music. He’s opened my eyes and heart to a new dimension of music and art quality and sincerity and meaning.


  • Mike


    So what’s the solution, disallow beautiful women from appearing in commercials? Or just nihilistic geniuses from appearing with the,?

    Bob doesn’t give a snit about your “taking issue.” That’s the point.

  • Arnold

    This topic is too generational. If you were born in the 60s or later, this guy is not on your radar. Interesting stuff, no doubt; but not relevant to me.

  • Mike

    Speak for yourself, Arnold. Born 1978 here. Maybe the times have changed, but it takes an intentional leap of indifference to be unable to imagine the atmosphere of the time. That’s how we enjoy art through time. Then there’s the matter of the music he is making literally today.

  • lisette

    “solution?” what exactly is the problem for which we need a “solution?” victoria’s secret has no reason to exist other than to make money by selling women (and girls) the idea that they are sex objects.
    of course dylan doesn’t give a snit – yes, that is the point, so his desire to be a person of integrity is impossible and ludicrous when he’ll sing for the highest bidder, regardless of their message….

  • Mike

    Douglas Brinkley saying something about Bob Dylan doesn’t make it so, besides which Brinkley said that Bob is a song-and dance man who plays for bidders — perhaps not always the highest. If you can read this thread and conclude Dylan played for VS only because they were the highest bidder (they probably weren’t), then I guess you’ll think what you’ll think. He did it to tell people like you that he absolutely will be a part of women selling their sexuality, as they are free to do, just as he said he would forty years ago. Whatever that means for you he’s okay with. You’re confused about who this guy is.

  • Lauri

    I am waiting for this story to be available on your podcast. Thank you!

  • Jason

    Somebody disses Bob Dylan for his treatment of women. He’s terrible with women! Giving them countless millions when they divorce. I have NO idea what this person is talking about. 10 children? Really, what’s your source mam? How about not spreading rumors and slandering this “artiste”.

    I spot a Hater.

  • Bob

    Dylan’s politics and philosophy are at best negligible.

    Many of his lyrics are forgivably mundane. Many of them are magical and magically placed.

    Dylan’s real art is how he uses his voice as an instrument and as a shoehorn to nicely jam lazy lyrics and desperate rhymes into impossible places.

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