If you’re a fan of Dylan’s early work, I implore you to spend an hour with this stellar interview that he did with Studs Terkel from the spring of 1963 . You won’t regret it. It’s a very cool piece of history in my humble opinion.
Bob Dylan is a notoriously tough person to interview and that’s definitely the case here, even this early in his life as a public persona. On the other hand, Terkel is a veteran interviewer, one of the best ever, and he seems genuinely impressed with the young man who was just 21 at the time and had but one record of mainly covers under his belt. Terkel does a good job of keeping things on track as he expertly gets out of the way and listens while gleaning what he can from his subject. It’s an interesting match-up.
Dylan seems at least fairly straightforward about his musical influences. He talks about seeing Woody Guthrie with his uncle when he was ten years old (Is this just mythology? Who knows?), and he mentions Big Joe Williams and Pete Seeger a few times.
Much of the rest is a little trickier. Terkel has to almost beg Dylan to play what turns out to be an earnest, driving version of “A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall.” Dylan tells Terkel that he’d rather the interviewer “take it off the disc,” but relents and does the tune anyways.
In what will prove to be par for the course as his public exposure increases dramatically in the ensuing years, Dylan is an elusive, squirrely moving target who never quite agrees with Terkel’s interpretations of his music. “No,” says Dylan, ““A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall” is not about atomic rain.” He laughs a lot to himself throughout the hour. Maybe he’s gaming the interview, but you really wouldn’t call him arrogant. Maybe he just doesn’t want to be pinned down. Maybe they way he speaks (mountain talk, as Terkel calls it) is a put on; maybe it’s not. If people want to think that he’s really a college educated fake, fine. He calls his songwriting a gift just like someone who’s good at baking a cake or sawing down trees has a gift, but then he says that the word “gift” is just a word and he can’t really describe the thing that drives his song-writing talent.
Dylan’s like this the whole way through as he bobs and weaves in and out of the questions and tries, perhaps, to let the songs speak for them selves. He does six:
“A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall”
“Bob Dylan’s Dream”
“Boots of Spanish Leather”
“Blowin’ in the Wind”
Towards the end of the discussion, Terkel asks Dylan if he and his contemporaries are looking for some kind of new road. To that, Dylan replies:
Seems like there’s a board there, and all the nails are pounded in all over the place, you know? And every new person that comes around to pound in a nail finds that there’s one less space. I hope we haven’t got to the end of the space yet.
Dylan would obviously find a lot more space for nails in the future, but man does he sound young in this interview. Part of what’s fascinating about this piece is that, outside of New York and possibly some other folk hotbeds around the country, people would have barely known who Dylan was at the time. The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan would be released very shortly after this interview, changing that irrevocably.
This interview has been floating around as a bootleg for some time, and you can buy your own copy on vinyl here.