Chattering Mind

Chattering Mind

The Soul of Robert Allen Zimmerman

You don’t have to be a long-time Bob Dylan fan to be blown away by Jonathan Cott’s recently published compilation of interviews with the poet/rebel/sage (“Bob Dylan: The Essential Interviews“).

Any student of the heart, any devotee of creative thinking will adore this book. This morning, I sat at a noisy airport gate (enroute to see my Dad in South Carolina) so engrossed in this 450-page tome that I had to close the book to catch my breath and pause to take it all in. You learn that Robert Allen Zimmerman (who later created the stage name Bob Dylan) ran away from his home in Minnesota numerous times, worked years for a carnival, and was so impressed at an early age with Woody Guthrie’s songs of social protest, that he picked up a guitar and began to play. But the playing was always a spiritual practice. While Dylan professes to follow no organized form of religion today, the interviews take him through times when he was a born-again Christian, reader of the Bible, and student of mystical Judaism.


There are many funny, gorgeous bits (including an old Dylan interview playwright Sam Shepard recorded for Esquire). Here’s an exchange in 1966 between Dylan and journalist Nat Hentoff.

Hentoff: 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.

Hentoff: That’s how you get your kicks?

Dylan: “No. Then I forgive them; that’s where my kicks come in.

Here’s Dylan talking about music and meditation with Robert Hillburn of the Los Angeles Times in 2004:

“What happens is, I’ll take a song I know and simply start playing it in my head. That’s the way I meditate. A lot of people will look at a crack on the wall and meditate, or count sheep or angels or money or something, and it’s a proven fact that it’ll help them relax. I don’t meditate on any of that stuff. I meditate on a song.”

And here are words of encouragement spoken to Mikal Gilmore of Rolling Stone in 1986:

“If I’ve ever had anything to tell anybody, it’s that: you can do the impossible. Anything is possible. And that’s it. No more.”

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posted August 9, 2006 at 10:15 pm

I enjoyed a Cliff Notes slice of Dylan’s life thanks to Martin Scorsese’s Bob Dylan: No Direction Home on PBS’ American Experience. FABULOUS fabulous fabulous. For anyone who missed it, many public libraries have it available on DVD as do NetFlix and Blockbuster. As if if couldn’t get any better: check out the companion website. An embarrassment of riches, isn’t it? “>>

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posted August 12, 2006 at 10:45 pm

O my gosh but is this compulsively readable! This morning a neighbor stopped by to force some new DVDs on us (in a nice way), and I noticed he also had a copy Cott’s book. I asked, “So, how do you like it?” and an hour later …. I’m looking forward to picking up my own copy from the library next week!>

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posted August 20, 2006 at 2:32 am

Cott’s collection of interviews is as good as you said (though the lack of an index is a drag). I was marveling at how little Dylan’s changed over these 40 years: still playing that media-avoidance game and clinging to his manufactured bio. Seems the greyer he got, the greyer he got. I love him still, bad boy that he is. Watched the Scorsese documentary again… footage of Hibbing MN and his gang (Baez, the Band, Grossman, Neuwirth) seen decades later is wonderful. Baez speaks candidly of his genius and aloofness, mostly with love, unsentimental and sweet. (and talk about a woman who is as beautiful today as yesterday, wow!) Also watched DON’T LOOK BACK, the D.A. Pennebaker documentary following Dylan’s 3-week, UK tour in 1965 (the same film he denounces in the 1978 Rolling Stone interview). Includes two memorable scenes of Dylan composing at the piano, a pan of an impossibly long line of concert goers in the rain, and many scenes of men behaving badly. Clean and elemental film, a nice change from today’s over-produced videos. Thank you for sharing your Dylan-love, CM. You inspired me to revisit an old friend, and what a rewarding trip it has been.>

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