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Happy Birthday Bob Dylan!

Ben Fong-Torres

Ben Fong-Torres

Posted to Artist Spotlight on May 24, 2016

It’s a big week for rock star birthdays. Bob Dylan on the 24th (making him 75), Stevie Nicks on the 26th (she’s, cough, cough), and John Fogerty on the 28th (he was born in ’45).

I’ve interviewed all three: Fogerty very early in the history of Creedence Clearwater Revival, in 1968; Nicks at a height of her time with Fleetwood Mac, while recording Rumours, in 1976, and Dylan on his tour with The Band in early ‘74.

Dylan, who hadn’t toured in eight years, was a hoot. When I finally sat down with him in a hotel room in Montreal and began setting up my cassette recorder (Hey, it was 1974!), he looked at it and frowned. “No, man, no tape,” he said. As I wrote in my book, Not Fade Away: “I was startled, but I understood. There were Dylanologists hounding him in those days, going through his garbage and publicizing its contents. There were bootlegs of everything Dylan sang and uttered.

‘No tape.’

“Now, I’d have to write as he spoke, making eye contact only when one of us came up for breath. I wouldn’t be able to truly listen and come up with follow-up questions.”

Oh, boo-hoo, Fong-Torres. It all worked out just fine. The cover story, with a photo by Annie Leibovitz, went over well—including with Dylan, who I ran into at a Crosby Stills Nash & Young concert in Minneapolis later that year. 

As for our visit, he offered several remarks that still ring true as he hits 75, continues to tour, and issues sometimes startling albums, like his forays into the book of American standards. Here’s an edited excerpt:

Did you miss being onstage?
Sure. There’s always those butterflies at a certain point, but then there’s the realization that the songs I’m singing mean as much to the people as to me, so it’s just up to me to perform the best I can.

Some people are reading things into your decision to perform your protest songs again.
For me, it’s just reinforcing those images in my head that were there, that don’t die, that will be there tomorrow … There’s still a message. But the same electric spark that went off back then could still go off again—the spark that led to nothing.

Our kids will probably protest, too. Protest is an old thing. Sometimes protest is deeper, or different—the Haymarket Riot, the Russian Revolution, the Civil War. That’s protest…There’s always a need for protest songs. You just gotta tap it.

That’s Bob Dylan, at age 32, in 1974, feelin’ a Bern. Happy Birthday, Mr. Zimmerman.

[Editor note: read Ben's interview in Rolling Stone here.]

Even if you weren’t reading Rolling Stone magazine in the late '60s /early '70s, you might still know who Ben Fong-Torres is from the movie “Almost Famous.” Ben Fong-Torres is the legendary Rolling Stone Senior Editor who was characterized in the Cameron Crowe movie and now,… More