Bob Dylan’s Famous Televised Press Conference After He Went Electric (1965)

I don’t think I’m tan­gi­ble to myself. I mean, I think one thing today and I think anoth­er thing tomor­row. I change dur­ing the course of a day. I wake and I’m one per­son, and when I go to sleep I know for cer­tain I’m some­body else. I don’t know who I am most of the time. It does­n’t even mat­ter to me. – Bob Dylan, 1997 Newsweek inter­view

A too-cool-for-school rock star emerged from seem­ing­ly nowhere when Bob Dylan went elec­tric at New­port with his tour­ing band, the Band — a Dylan unrec­og­niz­able to the earnest folkies who fol­lowed Bob Dylan the Green­wich Vil­lage trou­ba­dour and protest singer. Where did the real Dylan go — the Dylan every singer/songwriter with an acoustic gui­tar tried to become, until the cof­fee shop scene sagged with thou­sands of Dylan-wannabees? Dont Look Back, warned D.A. Pennebaker’s 1967 doc­u­men­tary on Dylan in his mid-six­ties hey­day.

“Don’t look back. Some­thing might be gain­ing on you,” said Satchel Paige, giv­ing Pen­nebak­er his title and Dylan a career out­look.  Those who stay stuck in the past — even the very recent past — would nev­er get it, like Mr. Jones in “Bal­lad of a Thin Man,” a song crit­ic Andy Gill described as “a furi­ous, sneer­ing, dress­ing-down of a hap­less bour­geois intrud­er into the hip­ster world of freaks and weir­does which Dylan now inhab­it­ed.” Those who looked for answers found them blow­ing in the wind, even when they went straight to the source.

Just above, see the only ful­ly tele­vised press con­fer­ence Dylan ever gave, for KQED, the edu­ca­tion­al TV sta­tion in San Fran­cis­co. In atten­dance were mem­bers of the local and nation­al press, reporters from sev­er­al high school papers, Dylan’s entourage, and famous friends like Allen Gins­berg and pro­mot­er Bill Gra­ham. It’s as much a per­for­mance as the next night’s show at the Berke­ley Com­mu­ni­ty The­ater would be. “The ques­tions,” notes Jonathan Cott, edi­tor of The Essen­tial Inter­views, “ranged from stan­dard straight press and TV reporters’ ques­tions to teenage fan club ques­tions to in-group per­son­al queries and put ons, to ques­tions by those who real­ly had lis­tened to Dylan’s songs.”

Dylan’s demeanor dur­ing the inter­view was per­fect­ly cap­tured by Cate Blanchet­t’s Oscar-nom­i­nat­ed per­for­mance of a char­ac­ter named “Jude Quinn” in Todd Haynes’ 2007 art-house biopic, I’m Not There. In scenes inspired by the KQED press con­fer­ence, Blanchett-as-Quinn toys with the press, just as Dylan threw labels like “folk rock” back at them and refused to get drawn into dis­cus­sions of phi­los­o­phy or pol­i­tics. “I think of myself more as a song and dance man, y’know,” he says in mock self-efface­ment, his gaze impen­e­tra­ble behind Ray-Bans and clouds of cig­a­rette smoke.

Dylan liked I’m Not There, a film that tells his sto­ry through six fic­tion­al char­ac­ters, played by six dif­fer­ent actors. (“Do you think that the direc­tor was wor­ried that peo­ple would under­stand it or not?” he said. “I don’t think he cared one bit.”) Unlike “Jude Quinn,” his post-folk man­i­fes­ta­tion in the mid-six­ties did not burn out and die in a motor­cy­cle acci­dent, and he did­n’t sneer at every ques­tion, though he did say he wrote “Bal­lad of a Thin Man” as a “response to peo­ple who ask me ques­tions all the time. You just get tired of that every once in a while.… I fig­ure a per­son­’s life speaks for itself, right?”

But pre­cise­ly what we do not find in Dylan’s music is biog­ra­phy. He keeps his inter­view­ers (includ­ing Gins­berg, at 33:00 and Gra­ham, at 25:31 ) guess­ing, often grasp­ing after a sound­bite that will sum up the new sound and image. Per­haps the most truth­ful one he gives them comes in response to the ques­tion, “What are you think­ing about right now?” Dylan stares down at his cig­a­rette, and the now-Nobel-prize-win­ning singer/songwriter says, “I’m think­ing about this ash… the ash is creep­ing up on me some­where — I’ve lost — lost touch with myself so I can’t tell where exact­ly it is.”

Read a full tran­script of the press con­fer­ence here.

Relat­ed Con­tent: 

Tan­gled Up in Blue: Deci­pher­ing a Bob Dylan Mas­ter­piece

Clas­sic Songs by Bob Dylan Re-Imag­ined as Pulp Fic­tion Book Cov­ers: “Like a Rolling Stone,” “A Hard Rain’s A‑Gonna Fall” & More

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

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Comments (7)
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  • Robert Hunt says:

    The beard­ed man who asks the first ques­tion is said to be none oth­er than George Lucas…

  • P. Axe. says:

    What a great post! Some­how…

  • Paul Tatara says:

    Not to nit­pick a nice piece, but the Band was known as the Hawks at that point.

  • Blair says:

    No mem­ber of the Hawks/Band played with Dylan at New­port. The arti­cle is rid­dled with errors.

  • Tom Thumb says:

    I’m Not There was a com­plete waste of time, ener­gy, space, every­thing. Nobody does Dylan like Dylan; does it real­ly need to be said?

  • Jesse says:

    Stopped read­ing after you said The Band played with Dylan at New­port. If you got that wrong I can’t pos­si­bly trust any­thing else you say.

    For those of you who care about facts, the New­port band was:

    Mike Bloom­field: gui­tar
    Al Koop­er: organ
    Jerome Arnold: bass
    Sam Lay: drums
    Bar­ry Gold­berg: piano

  • yh says:

    you are con­fi­dent­ly incor­rect. Use your Google and then come back on here and tell us who backed him up that year.

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