Hear Bob Dylan’s Unedited & Bewildering Interview With Nat Hentoff for Playboy Magazine (1965)

In the fall of 1965, six months after Bob Dylan freaked out the folkies at New­port, he sat down with Vil­lage Voice music crit­ic and colum­nist Nat Hentoff for an inter­view for Play­boy. Like Dylan him­self, the result­ing con­ver­sa­tion, as pub­lished in Feb­ru­ary, 1966, is by turns illu­mi­nat­ing and com­plete­ly con­found­ing. Top­ics shift abrupt­ly, words take on unfa­mil­iar mean­ings, and for all of the many strong opin­ions Dylan seems to express, it’s remark­able how lit­tle he actu­al­ly seems to say, since he takes back almost every­thing as soon as he says it.

The ver­bal tan­gles of his answers take many philo­soph­i­cal turns. Dylan defines the con­tem­po­rary art scene, say­ing “Art, if there is such a thing, is in the bath­rooms; every­body knows that. […] I spend a lot of time in the bath­room. I think muse­ums are vul­gar. They’re all against sex.” Asked “why rock ‘n’ roll has become such an inter­na­tion­al phe­nom­e­non,” Dylan wax­es onto­log­i­cal: “I can’t real­ly think that there is any rock ’n’ roll. Actu­al­ly, when you think about it, any­thing that has no real exis­tence is bound to become an inter­na­tion­al phe­nom­e­non.”

The bizarre nature of the pub­lished exchange is clas­sic, com­i­cal­ly aloof, mid-six­ties Dylan—so much in char­ac­ter we can imag­ine Cate Blanchett’s ser­pen­tine Dylan in I’m Not There say­ing the lines. But the print ver­sion of the con­ver­sa­tion is stream­lined and lucid com­pared to the unedit­ed, taped con­ver­sa­tion Dylan and Hentoff had the year pri­or before an edi­tor pared it down. As music site All Dylan has it, “to call them ver­sions ignores the fact that they are total­ly dif­fer­ent inter­views.”

The orig­i­nal take, which you can hear above in two parts, was much messier, and stranger.  Dylan often sounds like he’s not answer­ing ques­tions so much as putting words togeth­er in sen­tence-like forms. His speech takes on the qual­i­ties of abstract expressionism—recursive, and point­ed­ly vague. We might assume he’s real­ly stoned, except for a long-wind­ed speech about how passé it is to smoke pot.

Well, I nev­er felt as if there’s an answer through pot. I don’t want to make this, kind of, a drug inter­view or any­thing, like. LSD like… once you take LSD a few times… I mean, LSD is a med­i­cine. You know, you take it and you know… you don’t real­ly have to keep tak­ing it all the time. It’s noth­ing like that. It’s not that kind of thing, you know, where­as pot, you know, nobody’s got any answers through pot. Pot’s, you know, not that kind of thing. I’m sure that the peo­ple that say that the peo­ple who fig­ure they got their answers through pot, first of all, those peo­ple who say that, they’re just invent­ing some­thing. And the peo­ple that real­ly actu­al­ly think that they got their answers through pot, prob­a­bly nev­er even smoked pot, you know. I mean, it’s like… pot is, you know…who smokes pot any more, you know, any­way? 

Ever non­com­mit­tal, Dylan deflects a ques­tion about his rela­tion­ship with John­ny Cash, say­ing “I can’t real­ly talk about it too much,” but assur­ing Hentoff that he likes Cash “a lot. I like every­thing he does real­ly.” If Dylan gives as much as he takes away in the pub­lished inter­view, he does so dou­bly in this unedit­ed ver­sion, and it’s odd­ly fas­ci­nat­ing, even—and especially—when he decides to stop mak­ing words make sense. The taped inter­view was, in fact, the sec­ond inter­view Hentoff con­duct­ed with Dylan. After see­ing an edit­ed tran­script of the first attempt, Dylan insist­ed that Hentoff inter­view him again over the phone. Hentoff turned on his tape recorder and imme­di­ate­ly “real­ized I was going to be the straight guy,” he tells John White­head, “Dylan was impro­vis­ing sur­re­al­is­ti­cal­ly and very fun­ny.”

Vul­ture ranks the Play­boy inter­view at num­ber one in their list of “The 10 Most Incom­pre­hen­si­ble Bob Dylan Inter­views of All Time.” It must have been a tough call. At num­ber 10, they have the Time mag­a­zine inter­view from that same year, which you can see in the clip above from 1967’s Don’t Look Back. Dylan is con­fronta­tion­al, almost the­atri­cal­ly angry, but he is most­ly clear on the details. He ends the inter­view with a cryp­tic joke, com­par­ing him­self to opera singer Enri­co Caru­so: “I hap­pen to be just as good as him—a good singer. You have to lis­ten close­ly, but I hit all those notes.”

via All Dylan

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Bob Dylan Reads From T.S. Eliot’s Great Mod­ernist Poem The Waste Land

Two Leg­ends Togeth­er: A Young Bob Dylan Talks and Plays on The Studs Terkel Pro­gram, 1963

Bob Dylan Final­ly Makes a Video for His 1965 Hit, “Like a Rolling Stone”

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness.

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Comments (4)
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  • Brigg Z says:

    Great write up. Real­ly appre­ci­ate it. :-)nnI will say that out­side of hav­ing been Bob Dylan that day, or at least hav­ing been with him every sec­ond of the day, it’s a sure bet that he was ine­bri­at­ed in some way. In ear­ly 1965, maybe not. But, by the Fall of 1965, inch­ing close to the chaos and bril­liance of Dylan in 1966, it’s a good bet that he was on some­thing, and maybe not lit­tle old pot. nnThink towards amphet­a­mines, and maybe hero­in. My guess is he was­n’t quite swim­ming in hero­in yet, because he was not sound­ing as drugged as he did in “Eat the Doc­u­ment.” He was cer­tain­ly at least par­tial­ly putting Hentoff on, but he was­n’t as sharp at it as he was in the “Don’t Look Back” clips. It was more drifty and more dis­con­nect­ed. The good points weren’t there. nnI love Dylan’s music and used to wor­ship him, but as I’ve got­ten old­er I’ve come to under­stand the dif­fer­ence between a sober mind and an intox­i­cat­ed mind, and In late 1965 Dylan was under the table. Even D.A. Pen­nebak­er con­firmed it when he was lat­er asked to explain “Eat the Doc­u­ment.” His expla­na­tion was “drugs.” nnSo, any­way, it did­n’t stop Dylan from mak­ing what I feel is his best, most vision­ary music. But, it did burn him out. Thank­ful­ly, he re-emerged and we have got­ten more good Dylan music ever since. Those con­certs from 1997–2001 were my favorite non-60s con­certs. He and that band were so great.

  • Jenn says:

    You can stream his entire new album on NPR! http://smarturl.it/BobDylanNPR

  • tom says:

    to the hugh hefn­er and play­boy mag­a­zine. anoth­er edi­tor from more mag­a­zine abby perl­man recent­ly got involved in dirty corap­tion busi­ness with crazy cbs anchor otis liv­ingston to steal mon­ey from play­boy’s mag­a­zine employ­ees banks accounts. nev­er trust abby perl­man and otis liv­ingston they crime.

  • Kathryn says:

    Bob loves being eva­sive and mys­te­ri­ous. Okay, we love him any­way!

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