What’s Old and Weird? Due Respect, Mr. Dylan, But You Fit The Bill

Historian Douglas Brinkley has an interview with Bob Dylan in the latest Rolling Stone. (We hosted Brinkley at CAS last year, so I guess I’m two degrees of separation from Bob!) At one point, Dylan bristles at a certain phrase used to describe his work:

Brinkley: Are you missing what some critics call the older, weirder America?
Dylan: I never thought the older America was weird in any way whatsoever. Where do people come up with that stuff? To call it that? What’s the old weird America? The depression? Or Teddy Roosevelt? What’s old and weird?

Yeah, where do people come up with that stuff?

Dylan to Nora Ephron in 1965: Folk music is the only music where it isn’t simple. It’s never been simple. It’s weird, man, full of legend, myth, Bible and ghosts.

I know, I know: you are shocked, shocked! to catch Bob Dylan in a contradiction, or shrugging off a label applied to him by his fans. Alert Greil Marcus! Still, I’m protective of the old weird America idea.


  1. Listen, he’s just trying to throw people off from finding out he’s running an Unknown Armies game.

  2. On a more serious and germane note, no, it’s not surprising to hear Bob Dylan bristling at someone trying to peg him down. Having just watched I’m Not There that seems eminently likely to me here. I wonder if there will ever come a day where he’ll shake off the Enigma and just come clean. Probably not. I don’t think any popular artist has been so conscious of marketing him or herself in the 20th century as Dylan.

  3. “Listen, he’s just trying to throw people off from finding out he’s running an Unknown Armies game.”

    If Dylan is anyone but Harry Smith, he’s stealing my bit!

  4. I don’t think it’s as simple as contradiction. Dylan himself has long ago become old and weird, and by thinking of such things puts him into a feedback loop. Reclusive living clearly hasn’t gone far enough. Dylan could always fake his death like Frank Zappa did, or at least write an Alzheimer’s letter like that Reagan guy.

  5. “Definition of rock journalism: People who can’t write, doing interviews with people who can’t think, in order to prepare articles for people who can’t read.” – Frank Zappa

  6. Ned: Circle of life, I say; The Old Weird belongs to everybody. I’d like to see that exhibit, though.

  7. Whoops, Ned beat me to the punch. I’ll be there this summer various days while one of my sons does art camp there, maybe I’ll try to get you some images of it.

  8. I love Bob’s stuff — don’t really care about any apparent contradictions if that is even what they are. I also love the Greil Marcus book, though I preferred the previous title Invisible Republic.
    And I love Toby’s show which I saw in Houston. I’d love to see it at the DeCordova if I could — the New England context is not lost on me at all. And for those of you out west it will also be at the Frye Museum in Seattle later in the year. I wrote a review of the Houston version which I hope you will enjoy:


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