In the spring of 1963 Studs Terkel introduced Chicago radio listeners to an up-and-coming musician, not yet 22 years old, “a young folk poet who you might say looks like Huckleberry Finn, if he lived in the 20th century. His name is Bob Dylan.” (Listen to the interview below.)
Dylan had just finished recording the songs for his second album, The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, when he traveled from New York to Chicago to play a gig at a little place partly owned by his manager, Albert Grossman, called The Bear Club. The next day he went to the WFMT studios for the hour-long appearance on The Studs Terkel Program. Most sources give the date of the interview as April 26, 1963, though Dylan scholar Michael Krogsgaard has given it as May 3.
Things were moving fast in Dylan’s life at that time. He was just emerging as a major songwriter. His debut album from the year before, Bob Dylan, was made up mostly of other people’s songs. The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, which was finished but hadn’t yet been released, contained almost all original material, including several songs that would become classics, like “Blowin’ in the Wind,” “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right” and “A Hard Rain’s a Gonna Fall.” Within a few months Dylan would make his debut at the Newport Folk Festival and perform at the historic March on Washington. But when Dylan visited WFMT, it’s likely that many of Terkel’s listeners had never heard of him. In the recorded broadcast he plays the following songs:
- A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall
- Bob Dylan’s Dream
- Boots of Spanish Leather
- John Brown
- Who Killed Davey Moore?
- Blowin’ In The Wind
Dylan tells Terkel that “A Hard Rain’s a Gonna Fall” is not about atomic fallout, even though he wrote the song in a state of anxiety during the Cuban missile crisis. “No, it’s not atomic rain,” Dylan says, “it’s just a hard rain. It isn’t the fallout rain. I mean some sort of end that’s just gotta happen…. In the last verse, when I say, ‘the pellets of poison are flooding their waters,’ that means all the lies that people get told on their radios and in their newspapers.”
But as the conversation progresses it becomes clear that the motivation behind Dylan’s comments isn’t to dispel myths or to clear up any of the “lies that people get told on their radios.” Rather, he’s driven by his life-long dread of being pigeonholed by others. Dylan is happy to spread his own myths. At one point he tells Terkel a “stretcher” that would have made Huckleberry Finn proud: He claims that when he was about ten years old he saw Woody Guthrie perform in Burbank, California. Regardless of its factuality, the Dylan-Terkel interview is an entertaining hour, a fascinating window on the young artist as he was entering his prime.