Saw on Drudge or someplace this article about Bob Dylan being charged with “inciting hatred” in France.
The offending remarks, which “sparked a complaint from the Council of Croats in France (CRICCF),” were given in an interview to Rolling Stone over a year ago, an interview I completely missed.
This is massive insurance/late to the party to many HelyTimes readers, but the whole interview is just astounding. Here are the offending remarks, in their context:
Some of us have seen your calling as somebody who has done his best to pay witness to the world, and the history that made that world.
History’s a funny thing, isn’t it? History can be changed. The past can be changed and distorted and used for propaganda purposes. Things we’ve been told happened might not have happened at all. And things that we were told that didn’t happen actually might have happened. Newspapers do it all the time; history books do it all the time. Everybody changes the past in their own way. It’s habitual, you know? We always see things the way they really weren’t, or we see them the way we want to see them. We can’t change the present or the future. We can only change the past, and we do it all the time.
There’s that old wisdom “History is written by the victors.”
Absolutely. And then there’s Henry Ford. He didn’t have much use for history at all.
But you have a use for it. In Chronicles, you wrote about your interest in Civil War history. You said that the spirit of division in that time made a template for what you’ve written about in your music. You wrote about reading the accounts from that time. Reading, say, Grant’s remembrances is different than reading Shelby Foote’s history of the Civil War.
The reports are hardly the same. Shelby Foote is looking down from a high mountain, and Grant is actually down there in it. Shelby Foote wasn’t there. Neither were any of those guys who fight Civil War re-enactments. Grant was there, but he was off leading his army. He only wrote about it all once it was over. If you want to know what it was about, read the daily newspapers from that time from both the North and South. You’ll see things that you won’t believe. There is just too much to go into here, but it’s nothing like what you read in the history books. It’s way more deadly and hateful.
There doesn’t seem to be anything heroic or honorable about it at all. It was suicidal. Four years of looting and plunder and murder done the American way. It’s amazing what you see in those newspaper articles. Places like the Pittsburgh Gazette, where they were warning workers that if the Southern states have their way, they are going to overthrow our factories and use slave labor in place of our workers and put an end to our way of life. There’s all kinds of stuff like that, and that’s even before the first shot was fired.
But there were also claims and rumors from the South about the North . . .
There’s a lot of that, too, about states’ rights and loyalty to our state. But that didn’t make any sense. The Southern states already had rights. Sometimes more than the Northern states. The North just wanted them to stop slavery, not even put an end to it – just stop exporting it. They weren’t trying to take the slaves away. They just wanted to keep slavery from spreading. That’s the only right that was being contested. Slavery didn’t provide a working wage for people. If that economic system was allowed to spread, then people in the North were going to take up arms. There was a lot of fear about slavery spreading.
Do you see any parallels between the 1860s and present-day America?
Mmm, I don’t know how to put it. It’s like . . . the United States burned and destroyed itself for the sake of slavery. The USA wouldn’t give it up. It had to be grinded out. The whole system had to be ripped out with force. A lot of killing. What, like, 500,000 people? A lot of destruction to end slavery. And that’s what it really was all about.
This country is just too fucked up about color. It’s a distraction. People at each other’s throats just because they are of a different color. It’s the height of insanity, and it will hold any nation back – or any neighborhood back. Or any anything back. Blacks know that some whites didn’t want to give up slavery – that if they had their way, they would still be under the yoke, and they can’t pretend they don’t know that. If you got a slave master or Klan in your blood, blacks can sense that. That stuff lingers to this day. Just like Jews can sense Nazi blood and the Serbs can sense Croatian blood.
It’s doubtful that America’s ever going to get rid of that stigmatization. It’s a country founded on the backs of slaves. You know what I mean? Because it goes way back. It’s the root cause. If slavery had been given up in a more peaceful way, America would be far ahead today. Whoever invented the idea “lost cause . . . .” There’s nothing heroic about any lost cause. No such thing, though there are people who still believe it.
Here is another part of the interview that is also amazing:
[Dylan suddenly seems excited.] Let me show you something. I want to show you something. You might be interested in this. You might take this someplace. You might want to rephrase your questions, or think of new ones [laughs]. Let me show you this. [Gets up and walks to another table.]
You want me to come with you?
No, no, no, I got it right here. I thought this might interest you. [Brings a weathered paperback to the table!] See this book? Ever heard of this guy? [Shows me Hell’s Angel: The Life and Times of Sonny Barger and the Hell’s Angels Motorcycle Club, by Sonny Barger.]
He’s a Hell’s Angel.
He was “the” Hell’s Angel.
Look who wrote this book. [Points at coauthors’ names, Keith Zimmerman and Kent Zimmerman.] Do those names ring a bell? Do they look familiar? Do they? You wonder, “What’s that got to do with me?” But they do look familiar, don’t they? And there’s two of them there. Aren’t there two? One’s not enough? Right? [Dylan’s now seated, smiling.]
I’m going to refer to this place here. [Opens the book to a dog-eared page.] Read it out loud here. Just read it out loud into your tape recorder.
“One of the early presidents of the Berdoo Hell’s Angels was Bobby Zimmerman. On our way home from the 1964 Bass Lake Run, Bobby was riding in his customary spot – front left – when his muffler fell off his bike. Thinking he could go back and retrieve it, Bobby whipped a quick U-turn from the front of the pack. At that same moment, a Richmond Hell’s Angel named Jack Egan was hauling ass from the back of the pack toward the front. Egan was on the wrong side of the road, passing a long line of speeding bikes, just as Bobby whipped his U-turn. Jack broadsided poor Bobby and instantly killed him. We dragged Bobby’s lifeless body to the side of the road. There was nothing we could do but to send somebody on to town for help.” Poor Bobby.
Yeah, poor Bobby. You know what this is called? It’s called transfiguration. Have you ever heard of it?
Well, you’re looking at somebody.
That . . . has been transfigured?
Yeah, absolutely. I’m not like you, am I? I’m not like him, either. I’m not like too many others. I’m only like another person who’s been transfigured. How many people like that or like me do you know?
By transfiguration, you mean it in the sense of being transformed? Or do you mean transmigration, when a soul passes into a different body?
Transmigration is not what we are talking about. This is something else. I had a motorcycle accident in 1966.1 already explained to you about new and old. Right? Now, you can put this together any way you want. You can work on it any way you want. Transfiguration: You can go and learn about it from the Catholic Church, you can learn about it in some old mystical books, but it’s a real concept. It’s happened throughout the ages. Nobody knows who it’s happened to, or why. But you get real proof of it here and there. It’s not like something you can dream up and think. It’s not like conjuring up a reality or like reincarnation – or like when you might think you’re somebody from the past but have no proof. It’s not anything to do with the past or the future.
So when you ask some of your questions, you’re asking them to a person who’s long dead. You’re asking them to a person that doesn’t exist. But people make that mistake about me all the time. I’ve lived through a lot. Have you ever heard of a book called No Man Knows My History? It’s about Joseph Smith, the Mormon prophet. The title could refer to me.
Transfiguration is what allows you to crawl out from under the chaos and fly above it. That’s how I can still do what I do and write the songs I sing and just keep on moving.
When you say I’m talking to a person that’s dead, do you mean the motorcyclist Bobby Zimmerman, or do you mean Bob Dylan?
Bob Dylan’s here! You’re talking to him.
Then your transfiguration is . . .
It is whatever it is. I couldn’t go back and find Bobby in a million years. Neither could you or anybody else on the face of the Earth. He’s gone. If I could, I would go back. I’d like to go back. At this point in time, I would love to go back and find him, put out my hand. And tell him he’s got a friend. But I can’t. He’s gone. He doesn’t exist.
OK, so when you speak of transfiguration . . .
I only know what I told you. You’ll have to go and do the work yourself to find out what it’s about.
I’m trying to determine whom you’ve been transfigured from, or as.
I just showed you. Go read the book.
That’s who you have in mind? What could the connection to that Bobby Zimmerman be other than name?
I don’t have it in mind. I didn’t write that book. I didn’t make it up. I didn’t dream that. I’m not telling you I had a dream last night. Remember the song “Last Night I Had the Strangest Dream”? I didn’t write that, either.
I’m showing you a book that’s been written and published. I mean, look at all the connecting things: motorcycles, Bobby Zimmerman, Keith and Kent Zimmerman, 1964, 1966. And there’s more to it than even that. If you went to find this guy’s family, you’d find a whole bunch more that connected. I’m just explaining it to you. Go to the grave site.
Why is it that when people talk about me they have to go crazy? What the fuck is the matter with them?
Here’s Mount Tabor in Israel where Jesus got transfigured:
(Civil War photo from the website Florida Memory)
Did you hope or imagine that the election of President Obama would signal a shift, or that it was in fact a sea change?
I don’t have any opinion on that. You have to change your heart if you want to change.
Since his election, there’s been a great reaction by some against him They did the same to Bush, didn’t they? They did the same thing to Clinton, too, and Jimmy Carter before that. Look what they did to Kennedy. Anybody who’s going to take that job is going to be in for a rough time.
Don’t you think some of the reaction has stemmed from that kind of racial resonance you were talking about?
I don’t know. I don’t know, but I don’t think that’s the same thing. I have no idea what they are saying for or against him. I really don’t. I don’t know how deep it goes or how shallow it is.
You are aware that he’s been branded as un-American or a socialist —
You can’t pay any attention to that kind of stuff, as if you’ve never heard those kind of words before. Eisenhower was accused of being un-American. And wasn’t Nixon a socialist? Look what he did in China. They’ll say bad things about the next guy, too.
So you don’t think some of the reaction against Obama has been in reaction to the event that a black man has become president of the United States?
Do you want me to repeat what I just said, word for word? What are you talking about? People loved the guy when he was elected. So what are we talking about? People changing their minds? Well, who are these people that changed their minds? Talk to them. What are they changing their minds for? What’d they vote for him for? They should’ve voted for somebody else if they didn’t think they were going to like him.
The point I’m making is that perhaps lingering American resentments about race are resonant in the opposition to President Obama, which has not been a quiet opposition.
You mean in the press? I don’t know anybody personally that’s saying this stuff that you’re just saying. The press says all kinds of stuff. I don’t know what they would be saying. Or why they would be saying it. You can’t believe what you read in the press anyway.
Do you vote?
Uh . . .
Should we do that? Should we vote?
Yeah, why not vote? I respect the voting process. Everybody ought to have the right to vote. We live in a democracy. What do you want me to say? Voting is a good thing.
I was curious if you vote.
What’s your estimation of President Obama been when you’ve met him?
What do I think of him? I like him. But you’re asking the wrong person. You know who you should be asking that to? You should be asking his wife what she thinks of him. She’s the only one that matters.
Look, I only met him a few times. I mean, what do you want me to say? He loves music. He’s personable. He dresses good. What the fuck do you want me to say?
Jeremy Deller is an English artist.
Deller staged The Battle of Orgreave in 2001, bringing together almost 1,000 people in a public re-enactment of a violent confrontation from the 1984 Miners’ Strike.
Here’s a documentary about it, I only watched part of it but it was pretty riveting.
Around 56:00 is an example of Margaret Thatcher’s hypnotic, eerie radio voice. I wonder why I haven’t read more about the importance or non-importance of radio in British politics at that time. I guess because I’m really busy.