There is Nothing New but Dylan

Buddy Seigal talks with Dave Alvin about God

Some people will never relate to a new song they way they relate to an older one because they heard that older song when they were 17 and getting laid for the first time, they got their first apartment or their girlfriend broke up with them or they got drunk for the first time. They put on that older record and it got 'em through. They want to hear that and go back to that place. It's difficult for anybody who's had a long career to generate that kind of nostalgic passion on a newer record.

Quick responses: Dylan's best album?

Probably Highway 61.

Agreed. His worst album?

Probably the one called Dylan that Columbia cobbled together when he left for Asylum and they threw that out there.

Agreed. His most underrated record? World Gone Wrong. I'd sayBefore the Flood. How about the most overrated?

Maybe in a weird way Nashville Skyline, because it was a big seller, but I don't even know if that's overrated. I can't . . . I can't think of an overrated Dylan record. I can't . . . .

Stop being a groupie and be a critic!

I'll tell you why. Everything he did, even albums like that Dylan thing and Self-Portrait, which was a very weird record, is still interesting. Look, I'm not a Dylan bootleg collector; I don't care what color socks he's wearing and whether he's a Christian or gone back to Judaism, or whether he's politically a leftist or a conservative. But when you put on his records, even the bad ones, you can learn something from him, because he's soaked up so much. He's a sponge and he shoots it back at you in weird ways.

Who was the best New Dylan?

Oh, Springsteen, probably.

Who was the worst New Dylan?

That's a good question. There's been a lot of them [laughs]. Probably . . . who was that guy that did "Eve of Destruction?"

Barry McGuire.

Yeah, probably Barry McGuire. He might be a great guy. I shouldn't say that because he didn't even try to sound like Dylan. I dunno.

I'm going with Tom Petty.

I don't see him as a Dylan imitator.

Oh, man! [Imitates Tom Petty imitating Dylan.]

That was later on.

Everybody imitated Dylan. Even John Prine, who is great in his own right.

Yeah! The thing about Bob Dylan is that he influenced everybody. I had an argument with a musician friend of mine who hates Bob Dylan. I told him that no matter what we do, Dylan's already done it, in the same way that if you pick up a guitar, somebody's already sketched out what you're gonna do with it. It's a matter of trying to find variations on what they did. Same thing with Dylan. Hey, you're gonna write songs and sing 'em? Guess what—Bob Dylan already beat you to it. You're gonna write a blues and sing it? You're gonna write a protest song? You're gonna write a country song? You're gonna write a 20-minute long, heroin-induced epic? You're gonna be a self-absorbed, sensitive singer/songwriter? Guess who beat you to it. A guy like Ray Charles might have blended all these forms of music before Dylan, but Dylan threw in Jackson Pollock, Charlie Parker, Jack Kerouac, John Steinbeck, all these different movements in American artistic, musical, cultural and literary history, and turned it into Bob Dylan. That's an amazing feat.

That was in the past. He's done things more recently that have made me feel embarrassed for him. What was up with that deal last year where he performed in a bad wig and fake beard? Were we supposed to take this as some heavy profundity, [that] the great god of American music was frowning upon us all? That's downright fuckin' pretentious.

I'm not gonna try to explain that; I don't know why the hell he did it. He has a pretty wicked sense of humor. Sometimes we get the joke and sometimes we don't.

To me, he seems like an elitist asshole whose sense of humor largely revolves around mocking his peers and even his own fans. All you have to do is watchDon't Look Back to see that. I hear these horrible stories from other people I know who've worked with him. Every indication is the man is an unrepentant prick.

Well he's always been sort of nice to me.

Sort of nice?!

Do I think he runs over people in the street? No. Is he under incredible pressure? Yes. Everywhere he goes he's hounded by cameras flashing and people barking questions in his face. Ever since "Like a Rolling Stone," that's been his life. That he's sane at all is a fucking miracle. In some ways I think the fact that he's created anything under those conditions in the last 40 years of his career is amazing. The fact that he can even get up out of bed and put his fucking pants on in the morning with all these cameras in his face is amazing. It's a testament to his sheer will to create.

Are you the New Bob Dylan?

Me?! No.

Bob Dylan performs at Pacific Amphitheater, 100 Fair Dr., Costa Mesa, (714) 708-1870. Sun., 8 p.m. $56-$69.50.
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