Bill Flanagan – “Interview with Bob Dylan – Part 2” (2009)

April 7, 2009 at 9:57 am (Bob Dylan, Music, Reviews & Articles)

More of Bill Flanagan’s recent interview with Bob Dylan, whose new album, Together Through Life, will be released this month…


A lot of violence in these tunes – you advise anyone going to Houston to keep their gun belts tight, someone’s packing a Saturday Night Special in JOLENE, there’s a cold blooded killer stalking the town in IT’S ALL GOOD and the woman in MY WIFE’S HOME TOWN is going to make the singer kill someone. Does putting violence in a song up the ante?

How do you mean that?


Does it make the song riskier?

Well no. The main point is to acknowledge things without going off the deep end. I think whatever’s there is justified. You choose these things carefully.


You’ve been working in a lot of different areas lately. Your book was a best-seller, you acted in a movie, “Theme Time Radio Hour” is very popular and you had an exhibit of your art work. Does working in other media feed back into the music?

I think if it happens it might happen the other way around.


Did Chronicles work like that?

Well sure, Chronicles has its own rhythm. And I guess that would come out of playing songs. 


How about your art work?

That’s completely out of the blue. I’ve always drawn and painted, but up until recently, nobody’s taken an interest. There’s never been any support for it.


And now?

Well, I’ve had a museum exhibit, I have an association with a London gallery, and there’ll probably be another exhibition of new works in another European museum in 2010. Now I’m scrambling to keep up. I’ve been commissioned to do paintings and they want me to work with iron and lead.


How do you find subject matter?

I just draw what’s interesting to me, and then I paint it. Rows of houses, orchard acres, lines of tree trunks, could be anything. I can take a bowl of fruit and turn it into a life and death drama. Women are power figures, so I depict them that way. I can find people to paint in mobile home communities. I could paint bourgeois people too. I’m not trying to make social comment or fulfill somebody’s vision and I can find subject matter anywhere. I guess in some way that comes out of the folk world that I came up in.


Say you wake up in a hotel room in Wichita and look out the window. A little girl is walking along the train tracks dragging a big statue of Buddha in a wooden wagon with a three-legged dog following behind. Do you reach for your guitar or your drawing pad?

Oh wow. It would depend on a lot of things. The environment mostly; like what kind of day is it. Is it a cloudless blue-gray sky or does it look like rain? A little girl dragging a wagon with a statue in it? I’d probably put that in last. The three-legged dog – what type? A spaniel, a bulldog, a retriever? That would make a difference. I’d have to think about that. Depends what angle I’m seeing it all from. Second floor, third floor, eighth floor. I don’t know. Maybe I’d want to go down there. The train tracks too. I’d have to find a way to connect it all up. I guess I would be thinking about if this was an omen or a harbinger of something.


If a young man considering a career in the arts wanted to meet a lot of women, would he be better off learning to paint or to play guitar?

Probably neither. If he had women on his mind, he might think about becoming a lawyer or a doctor.



Yeah, seriously. Maybe a private detective, but that would be the wrong motivation for any career.


In IF YOU EVER GO TO HOUSTON the character sends messages to three sisters in Dallas; two get off with a friendly greeting but then the other is warned to “Pray the Sinner’s Prayer.” What’s the Sinner’s Prayer?

That’s the one that begins with “Father forgive me for I have sinned.”


The guy in IF YOU EVER GO TO HOUSTON mentions he was in Houston during the Mexican War. A lot of people think the Anglos treated the Spanish badly in Texas, but miss the fact that the Spanish had claimed Texas for Mexico without ever populating it. They just drew a big line on the map and said, “All this is ours.” The people who actually lived there were either Anglo settlers or Indians, and none of them wanted anything to do with Spain or its Mexican colony. Do you think Sam Houston has gotten a bum rap?

I don’t know. I never heard that he had gotten a bum rap. Are we talking about Sam Houston the statesman, soldier and politician? Sam Houston was the governor of two states, both Texas and Tennessee. Who else has ever done that! What was he supposed to have gotten a bum rap for?


Well, he chopped off Texas from Mexico.

No he didn’t. He chopped it off from Spain. Just like somebody else chopped off Florida from Spain. Where does the bum rap come in?


Somebody insulted him in the movie GIANT, which got Rock Hudson all worked up. And I think Steve Earle might have taken a shot at him – or maybe it was Colonel Travis.

GIANT’S all about money. That’s where Jimmy Dean says to Rock Hudson, “I’ll have more money than you and all the rest of you stinkin’ sons of Benedict.” I thought it was that which got Rock so worked up. Steve Earle, he may know something I don’t know. As for Travis, he was a lawyer and died at the Alamo. It could have been something personal.


The instrumental sections on your albums have a different quality than the usual rock instrumental sections. For instance, on an Aerosmith record, at least part of it is about Joe Perry’s solo. While there’s wonderful playing on BEYOND HERE LIES NOTHING, we don’t hear the usual guitar soloing technique. Is there a special way you approach the instrumental sections on a record?

What can I say, if I had Joe Perry with me everything would obviously be different. As it is though, he wasn’t there. Soloing is not a big part of my records anyway. Nobody buys them to hear solos. What I try to do is to make sure that the instrumental sections are dynamic and are extensions of the overall feeling of the song.


Who’s that playing with you here?

Mike Campbell.


You have a history with Mike?

Yeah, I do. He played with me a lot when I played with Tom Petty.


I saw some of those shows. I particularly liked the segment during the show when it was just you and Mike and Benmont and no bass or drums.

Yeah. We worked out a few things. I would’ve always liked to have seen that develop more, but it didn’t.


How is he to work with?

He’s good with me. He’s been playing with Tom for so long that he hears everything from a songwriter’s point of view and he can play most any style.


A lot of accordion on this record – in places where we might expect to hear harmonica or organ or lead guitar.

Yeah, I guess so. The accordion can sound like all those instruments. Actually, I wished I had used it more on some of my past records.


Who’s playing that?

David Hidalgo.


Have you guys ever played together before.

I think so. Los Lobos played some shows with me in Mexico a while back. I remember playing some things with David and Cesar then.


Is there a chance you’ll add an accordion on stage?

Well sure, if I could fit it into my rhythm section.


Did you write any of these songs with the accordion in mind or did it come up during the sessions?

I use an accordion player when I play off-road shows. It’s a perfect instrument in a lot of ways. It’s orchestrative and percussive at the same time. Actually accordion players were the first musicians that I had seen a lot of growing up.


“Opened his eyes to the tune of the accordion.”



Tell me about Joey Gallo.

Tell you what about him?


You wrote a song about him. Some say it takes liberty with the truth.

Really? I wouldn’t know. Jacques Levy wrote the words. Jacques had a theatrical mind and he wrote a lot of plays. So the song might have been theater of the mind. I just sang it. Some say Davy Crockett takes a lot of liberties with the truth and Billy the Kid too – FDR in Trinidad. Have you ever heard that?


I certainly do remember it. “When Roosevelt came to the land of the hummingbird.” I wonder if anybody in Georgia or Ukraine wrote a song about George Bush’s visit? I know they named the airport road after him and his popularity in those places remained very high, even when no one liked him at home.

They name roads after a lot of people.


In MY WIFE’S HOME TOWN there’s the line, “Dreams never did work for me anyway.” Do you really believe that?

Well, yeah. Dreams can lead us up a blind alley. Everybody has dreams. We go to sleep and we dream. I’ve always thought of them as coming out of the subconscious. I guess you can interpret them. Dreams can tell us a lot about ourselves, if we can remember them. We can see what’s coming around the corner sometimes without actually going to the corner.


Can’t dreams also mean hopes about the future?

Oh sure. It’s about how we use the word, I guess. Hopes for the future? I’ve always connected them up with fears about the future. Hopes and fears go together like a comedy team. But I know what you are talking about. Like in the Everly Brothers song, ALL I HAVE TO DO IS DREAM. If they said, “All I have to do is hope,” it wouldn’t be saying the same thing. It wouldn’t be as strong.


What about political dreams?

Oh yeah. Politicians would have political dreams – dreams and ambitions. Maybe we are talking about two different things.


What’s your take on politics?

Politics is entertainment. It’s a sport. It’s for the well groomed and well heeled. The impeccably dressed. Party animals. Politicians are interchangeable.


Don’t you believe in the democratic process?

Yeah, but what’s that got to do with politics? Politics creates more problems than it solves. It can be counter-productive. The real power is in the hands of small groups of people and I don’t think they have titles.


To be continued in part 3 …….. 




  1. dan said,

    will i ever STOP being amazed/perplexed by bob dylan? i am suddenly speechless. although, his suggesting law as a route to some easy you-know-what is wrong. that’s ONE of the reasons i went into law…i was wrong.

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    […] Jacques Levy helped pen are “Hurricane,” “Isis,” “Mozambique,” and “Joey.” During a 2009 interview, Bob Dylan noted that Levy himself had written the latter song’s lyrics, and that he (Dylan) […]

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