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Quotes from Bob Dylan's 2015 Grammy Speech

Bob Dylan speaking during Grammy week in 2015

You might have heard, Bob Dylan gave a speech last week when he was given the 2015 MusiCares Person of the Year award. So, why are we telling you? Because he told us more of what he really thinks about music (his and others) than he did in all 304 pages of his memoir Chronicles, Volume One. I guess he's getting old and ready to 'fess up. Who knows? You can get the full transcript over at Rolling Stone. It's worth a read.

Here are a few gems that came out of it:

"These songs of mine, I think of as mystery plays, the kind that Shakespeare saw when he was growing up. I think you could trace what I do back that far. They were on the fringes then, and I think they're on the fringes now."

On Lou Levy:

"He told me that if I was before my time – and he didn't really know that for sure – but if it was happening and if it was true, the public would usually take three to five years to catch up – so be prepared. And that did happen. The trouble was, when the public did catch up I was already three to five years beyond that, so it kind of complicated it."

On Peter, Paul, and Mary:

"But since then, hundreds of people have recorded it and I don't think that would have happened if it wasn't for them. They definitely started something for me."

On Jimi Hendrix:

"After he became famous, he took some small songs of mine that nobody paid any attention to and pumped them up into the outer limits of the stratosphere and turned them all into classics."

On Johnny Cash:

"Johnny was an intense character. And he saw that people were putting me down playing electric music, and he posted letters to magazines scolding people, telling them to shut up and let him sing. In Johnny Cash's world – hardcore Southern drama – that kind of thing didn't exist. Nobody told anybody what to sing or do. They just didn't do that kind of thing where he came from. I'm always going to thank him for that. Johnny Cash was a giant of a man; the Man in Black. And I'll always cherish the friendship we had until the day there is no more days."

On Joan Baez:

"Joan Baez is as tough-minded as they come. Loyal, free minded and fiercely independent. Nobody can tell her what to do if she doesn't want to do it. I learned a lot of things from her. A woman of devastating honesty. And for her kind of love and devotion, I could never pay that back."

On his own music:

"These songs didn't come out of thin air. I didn't just make them up out of whole cloth. Contrary to what Lou Levy said, there was a precedent. It all came out of traditional music: traditional folk music, traditional rock & roll and traditional big-band swing orchestra music."
"If you sang "John Henry" as many times as me – "John Henry was a steel-driving man / Died with a hammer in his hand / John Henry said a man ain't nothin' but a man / Before I let that steam drill drive me down / I'll die with that hammer in my hand." If you had sung that song as many times as I did, you'd have written "How many roads must a man walk down?" too."
"All these songs are connected. Don't be fooled. I just opened up a different door in a different kind of way. It's just different, saying the same thing. I didn't think it was anything out of the ordinary. Well you know, I just thought I was doing something natural, but right from the start, my songs were divisive for some reason. They divided people. I never knew why. Some got angered, others loved them. Didn't know why my songs had detractors and supporters."
"You have to have the right kind of rhythm to play this kind of music. If you can't hardly play the blues, and you don’t have the hillbilly feeling, you’re not really playing rock & roll. It might be something else, but it’s not that. You can fake it, but you can't make it."
One of the songs I'm thinking about singing is "Stand By Me" with the Blackwood Brothers. Not "Stand By Me" the pop song. No. The real "Stand By Me."
The real one goes like this:
When the storm of life is raging / Stand by me / When the storm of life is raging / Stand by me / When the world is tossing me / Like a ship upon the sea / Thou who rulest wind and water / Stand by me
In the midst of tribulation / Stand by me / In the midst of tribulation / Stand by me / When the hosts of hell assail / And my strength begins to fail / Thou whomever lost a battle / Stand by me
In the midst of faults and failures / Stand by me / In the midst of faults and failures / Stand by me / When I do the best I can / And my friends don't understand/ Thou who knowest all about me / Stand by me
"I probably left out a lot of people and said too much about some. But that's OK. Like the spiritual song, 'I'm still just crossing over Jordan too.'"

Bob Dylan with Jimmy Carter in 2015


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