Bob Dylan fans gave up any hope of reading a truly revelatory interview with their favorite song writer long ago. These days, he’ll sit for one interview with the release of a new album. Most recently, Mr. Dylan spoke with the historian Douglas Brinkley for an interview with the New York Times. It was published in June.
But recently surfaced transcripts from 1971 brings insights for those of us obsessed with the singer’s Jewish identity. The interview, conducted by his old friend Tony Glover, with written emendations by Mr. Dylan, has just surfaced now, as Mr. Glover’s estate goes to auction. (Mr. Glover died in 2019).
As reported by Rolling Stone, Mr. Glover asked the question that had roiled the Jewish community since Newsweek first revealed that the rising Bob Dylan was a Jewish kid from Minnesota named Robert Zimmerman. Why had Bob changed his name? Was it because of anti-Semitism?
“Well, there is Jewish discrimination,” Dylan said. “A lot of people are under the impression that Jews are just bankers and merchants and watch salesmen. A lot of people think Jews have tails, or they’re gonna eat your daughters and that kind of thing. A lot of people think those things — and they’ll just have to be taught different.”
He added: “It allowed me to step into the Guthrie role, with more character. And I wouldn’t have to be kept reminded of things I didn’t want to be reminded of at that time. I had to be free enough to learn the music, to be free enough to learn technique.”
Another Jewish turn to the conversation came when Glover asked Dylan if he thought Jack Kerouac was a “great writer.”
“He was an entertaining writer; I don’t know if I’d call him great,” Dylan demurred. “He really didn’t keep you in any suspense. He didn’t really tell you a great story — he didn’t give you anything you would carry around with you for weeks — he didn’t change you. I remember reading On the Road years ago, and I re-read it recently — I don’t recall any great change. I read this story called The Slave, by Isaac Singer — I must have thought about that for months afterwards.”