Bob Dylan’s written some of the most withering put-downs in music, but he’s always saved a special variety of contempt for journalists interviewing him. Sometimes that contempt was deserved; in the ’60s, he clearly got tired of reporters asking him questions that were patronizing or obvious or ill-informed, as he revealed repeatedly in the insults he shot back at journalists during the interviews famously captured in the documentary Don’t Look Back. But since then, he’s continued to offer disinformation and desultory answers to reporters’ questions. Maybe this is a defense mechanism, a way to preserve some of his mystique in the face of relentless probing. But it may have backfired; now we think of Dylan as someone who’s inscrutable except when he’s singing — and often, still inscrutable even then.
Now, as Dylan prepares to reveal himself (but still in the most cryptic way possible) via Todd Haynes’ elliptical biopic I’m Not There, New York magazine has done us a service by collecting ten of the most impenetrable Dylan interviews ever. Most of them have accompanying YouTube clips, so you can pick the unfathomable Dylan of your choice: the young, sneering, angry Dylan or the older, cranky, befogged Dylan. Me, I’ll go with the clip below of a young Dylan with John Lennon (who always tried to charm the press, from the witty wisecracks of the early Beatles’ press conferences to the self-lacerating candor of his solo years), sitting in a car and chuckling at their own private jokes while the camera rolls on, uncomprehending. (Clip contains some NSFW language). Goofy, yes, but maybe not even wordsmiths as talented as Lennon and Dylan could put into plain talk what it felt like to be Bob Dylan and John Lennon — pop saviors under global scrutiny — and explain it to anyone who wasn’t Dylan or Lennon.