In anticipation of our 14th November Bob Dylan’s Gospel Years event with Clinton Heylin, here is an exclusive extract from Clinton’s new book Trouble In Mind. At the event Clinton will be playing a rare vinyl copy of a CBS promo album The London Interview, which features an interview Bob Dylan gave to Dave Herman in July 1981 plus 3 songs from the album Shot Of Love. This extract gives context to that interview, described here by Dylan’s PR man at the time, Paul Rappaport. The extract begins at the final show of a six-night run at London’s Earls Court, on 1st July 1981.
Dylan pulled out all the stops for the final show, attended by his friends Eric Clapton and George Harrison (and luminaries like Kate Bush, who told me afterwards that she found it ‘wonderful’). As a nod to his old friend George, Dylan even attempted ‘Here Comes The Sun’, reverting to ‘Girl From The North Country’ after he realized he only knew the first verse. He also gave live debuts to two songs, ‘Shot Of Love’ and ‘Heart Of Mine’, and threw in ‘We Just Disagree’, in case the critics were still jotting down notes. The earlier English reviews still stuck in his craw and at the end of ‘In The Garden’ his ‘hope you heard something you liked’ rap turned into a straw poll on the band:
We tried to play a whole lot of stuff when we were here … but I know we left some things out. If we come back, we’ll do those. I wish we were going to be here tomorrow, we could do all the stuff we left out. Anyway, … I think this band’s one of the best ever, what do you think? [loud cheers] I get tired of reading things I don’t like. I sometimes like to ask you what you think.
The third encore was a now wholly reggaefied ‘Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door’, which must have made Clapton crack a grin, having had a hit four years earlier with this exact combination. It convinced Clapton to suggest another collaboration after the show, unaware there was anyone else listening.
Paul Rappaport: We see the show, which is great. I go backstage. I’m hungry and at the back there’s food. I’m trying to figure out how to make [a snack] and I turn around and Eric Clapton walks in. They start talking and I don’t think I’m supposed to be hearing this conversation … [So] this is the conversation. Clapton: ‘Great to see you, Bob. You know, we really should get together and do something.’ We’re deep in this Christian thing [now]. I [just] want him to come back into form. And here’s Clapton saying, ‘Let’s do something together.’ I’m thinking, ‘[This is] manna. Thank you, God! And Dylan goes, ‘I don’t know, man. I’m trying to do my own thing.’ I’m thinking, just say something positive. Clapton’s [really] pushing him, ‘Bob, look, I’m here, you’re here, let’s do something.’ The guy’s blowing off Eric Clapton!
‘Rap’ had come to London with Debbie Gold and a New York DJ called Dave Herman, to do a crucial recorded interview with the artist, which had been set up before the tour ostensibly to promote Shot Of Love. The interview was scheduled for the following day, at Dylan’s hotel, the ever-popular White House, meaning that it was a working day for the band-leader. For the rest of the crew it was, as the tour itinerary baldly stated in capital letters, ‘AT LAST – A DAY OFF!!!!!’ The plan was to do a lengthy spoken interview and syndicate it to US radio stations. But the interview did not go as smoothly as the veteran CBS rep. had hoped:
Paul Rappaport: I was in … charge of promotion. So I called Bob – by this time I knew him and was semi-comfortable talking to him – and I said, ‘Look, I wrote down twenty ideas. I know you’re very particular. I’m gonna run down the twenty and you’re gonna go, yes, no, yes, no. I expect a lot of no’s.’ ‘All right. Go ahead.’ ‘You rarely do interviews. Would you go with me to see Scott Muni at [W]NEW. We wouldn’t have to advertise that you were gonna come, you would just show up on NEW and talk about the record.’ ‘Oh man, I don’t like to push my stuff that way. I feel funny. I don’t want to do it.’ So I’m going down [the list] – no, no, no, a long list of no’s until I get to number twenty, ‘You haven’t done an interview in years. Would you just do one interview?’ ‘Yeah, okay.’ ‘So who do you want to interview you?’ ‘Ah, maybe Dave Herman, the morning guy.’ I said, ‘Great, can I tape the interview and send it to the radio?’ ‘Okay.’ [So] I[‘d] got a Bob Dylan interview! … I got a call from Jeff [Rosen], ‘Bob will do the interview with Dave in England.’ I’m going, ‘The easy thing to do is when Bob’s in New York and Dave’s in New York, go some place in the Village and do the interview.’ ‘What can I tell you, man?’ So we [have to] fly to England – Dave, Debbie and I … I tell David, ‘Look, Bob’s obviously in this Christian phase. I’m promoting his music, I’m not promoting the fact he’s born again. I don’t wanna know about it. He’s welcome to do what he wants, but do not ask him about the Bible, do not ask him about being Christian.’ … But Dave is as intimidated as anybody talking to Bob. In the interview [Dave] comes [across] as a guy who’s afraid to ask the hard questions, a guy who wants to be liked by Bob, everything you don’t want. And damn if the guy doesn’t ask him [about his faith] … So Bob does his Bob thing. He can see that Herman is like a toy, and Bob takes him down the road. [He] starts talking to him about the Bible and the ‘beasts’. There’s twenty minutes on the beasts in the Bible. The weirdest shit in the world, and David’s [just] going, ‘Really.’ … So I go in with Debbie into CBS Studios [to edit the tape] … I’m trying to get something that matters, inbetween all the talk of the beasts, [’cause] Bob’s going, ‘Dave, you know all about the beasts?’ Dave’s going, ‘No, tell me about the beasts.’ So Debbie and I sat in that studio for two fuckin’ days … trying to take the things that matter, to make an interview. I was so looking forward to the interview and when I heard the raw tape, it was [like], ‘Oh.’ But at least we had an interview.
Editing the interview so that it could be put on to a promotional album – later released as London Interview – would prove no simple matter either, as Dylan’s mind games didn’t simply extend to discussing the arcana of St John the Divine’s dramaturgical visions. For some reason, he kept playing his acoustic guitar throughout the conversation, picking out little riffs every time Herman tried to get the conversation back on track. ‘Rap’, as mystified as anyone, called him up:
Paul Rappaport: ‘Hey Bob, I need to edit this interview a little bit ’cause it’s very long. I need to ask you, Why are you playing guitar? It’s actually kinda cool, but I don’t get it.’ And he goes, ‘I tell you why, man. It’s a trick I learned from Mary Travers. If you play guitar while you’re doing an interview, it’s very difficult for someone to edit it and make you say something you didn’t say. That’s why I did it.’
Herman was hardly the only interviewer on the tour to be caught unprepared by some of the stuff coming out of Dylan’s mouth, proof positive that no matter what songs he played nightly, he was still travelling on the holy slow train, no mistake.