Bob Dylan: A meeting of minds

Joan Baez introduced Donovan to Dylan, his supposed enemy, in 1965. Here, he tells the story of their meeting, while, below, David Hepworth recalls a non-interview with the great man in 1986

Joaney's manager, Manny Greenhill, said: "Calm down, Joan." I watched all this open-mouthed, then ventured, "I'll come with you, Joaney." The three Americans turned to me.

Bobbie was in another suite. It seemed that he had refused to take an active part in any street protest with Joaney over American involvement in Vietnam. Having "arrived" in 1963 with "Blowing in the Wind", he had seemingly abandoned protest songs.

Meanwhile, there was a growing protest in Europe in the streets and legislatures. There were a number of violent demo clashes in Paris, condemning foreign involvement in Vietnam, and Joaney was infuriated with Dylan because he had previously advertised his radical views in song, but in Joaney's eyes had now become "vague" and would not follow her into the streets to protest.

Joaney took me to Dylan's suite. Dressed all in black, he wore a pair of black Anello & Davide boots worthy of any gypsy. He was quite small and slight of frame, a very pretty young man with bad teeth and curiously solid hands. His slim features were widened at the jawline with powerful muscles. Definitely the thinking girl's crumpet.

My impression was that he was delighted to be in England as his music was more appreciated here at this time than it was in the US. His manner was very "up". His close friend, Bobbie Newirth, spoke just like him, a lilting slow drawl to his speech and a half-smile. Dylan's manager Albert Grossman was big, grey-templed and altogether the eminence grise.

Although Joaney said that Grossman and Dylan had been a little worried about my arrival on the scene. I think the truth is that press controversy [Donovan had been accused of imitating Dylan] served us both in projecting our music out there. Bobbie evidently liked me and I visited him many times in the days that followed.

"Dylan Digs Donovan", ran the headline in the Melody Maker on 8 May. "He's a nice guy, I like him", the strapline read. The reporter went on, "And so one of the biggest controversies that has ever split the British music scene ended when Donovan met Dylan."

Or so it seemed. Thousands of Dylan fans voiced their anger at me at his shows. Dylan mentioned me in his song "Talking World War Three" and his audience jeered my name. Backstage, Dylan told reporters: "I didn't mean to put the guy down in my songs. I just did it for a joke." In their turn my fans were just as vocal in championing me. It had obviously got out of hand.

On another occasion I visited the Dylan suite and was pleased to meet Allen Ginsberg. I had at last connected with the American beat scene. Ginsberg suggested we all write out the lyrics of the song "Subterranean Homesick Blues", which Dylan intended to film out the back of the hotel. On the deep pile of the carpet we sat and started to do lines of the lyric on big cards. Bobbie saw my pen style and told me to do more. We swapped songs and he particularly liked my number "To Sing For You".

One time I visited, Bobbie was sick with flu. I sat by his bed and sang him "To Sing For You". I sang it soft in the gloom of the heavily draped bedroom.

The party scene in the film Don't Look Back speaks for itself and much that was said was powered by the tension from the drunk berating Bob. The film was edited by its director, DA Pennebaker, to reflect the discords and not the harmonies. It was, after all, a PR piece for Dylan's tour. In the film, as I remember it, I sit with Bob in his suite. The American folk musician Derroll Adams is there, gently drunk, and there is another guy who followed Derroll in with me, a belligerent drunk who is chiding Bob about his song "God on My Side".

"It's Dominic Behan's tune, not yours," the drunk slurs at Bob.

"I don't like drunks," Bob says. He scans the room as the camera focuses on him. I decide to sing a song and ask to play his guitar, a Martin, I think. The drunk continues to harass but Dylan settles himself, crosses his legs, a cigarette in his hand, long fingernails, black drainpipe trousers, with Anello & Davide boots pointing to the ceiling, as I move into the first verse. Bob listens closely and does not take one drag of the cigarette, hard for anyone who is on "uppers", yet he pays me the respect of keeping absolutely as still as possible as I sing to him. After I finish, he asks:

"You wrote that?" He is impressed.

I smile a little and say: "Yeah."

I visited Bobbie again just before he was returning to New York. The excitement of the previous weeks had settled down and it was another quiet night in for the man in black. I arrived at the Savoy and passed through the polished brass-and-hardwood swing doors, the doorman clocking the "Celt in Rags" again. I traipsed across the Persian-patterned hall to the house phone and called Bob up in his eyrie, overlooking the Thames. Bobbie Newirth said, "Come on up, man."

Door open, stillness inside. '"Hey, Don," said Newirth, and led the way through the silent apartments to a door that opened into a small room. "Bob's in there." I went into what I saw was the TV room. A television was on, no lights except the tube. "Hey, Don, come in, siddown."

On the floor I sit, beatnik fashion, little Bob in a big soft chair. On the screen, ice-skating, it's late and British TV is nearly in its pyjamas. I was a little stoned on hash and we said nothing. We viewed the chick sketching the ice in her mini-miniskirt. As my eyes became accustomed to the dark I became aware that we two were not alone.

Shapes appear, on a sofa, on chairs. Four figures emerge from the corners. One nearest speaks. "Hullo, Donovan, hawareya?" The accent is unmistakable, the nasal drawl. Bob stood and switched on the light. "Have you met these guys yet?" says Bob.

It was the four Beatles and they stood also, smiling and nodding to me, amused at my surprise... I smiled back. There was very little to say. After a smoke of the herb, silence is the best way to communicate.

'The Hurdy Gurdy Man' by Donovan Leitch is published by Century on 29 September at £17.99

Haunted by the fear I was just another Mr Jones
By David Hepworth

In July 1986 I went to New York to interview Bob Dylan. I was conducted into his dressing room at Madison Square Garden by a high-up in the record company. This had taken some setting up. I won't pretend I wasn't frightened. So was she.

Dylan was 45 at the time and was sitting in a chair, smoking and playing his guitar, wearing a leather waistcoat, amulets, chains and fingerless leather gloves. He was carrying a lot of hair. Behind him, a tall woman quietly ironed his stage clothes. Snoozing at his feet was an immense dog. He didn't get up but held up a token hand (maybe I was being invited to kiss it?) and exhaled smoke.

Dylan didn't do pleasantries. Throughout our talk he kept on doodling on his guitar. I asked the name of the dog. He pretended not to hear me before eventually deciding: "He's called Late For Dinner." He didn't play the interview game either. Aware that the clock was on, I was frantically casting for quotes. He was disinclined to supply them. I tried to get him to talk about Blind Willie McTell, the Georgia bluesman he'd recently written a song about. He said to me "You ever heard the McPeake Family?" I hadn't. When I got home I discovered they were a traditional folk group from Ireland.

I asked him about his favourite singers, hoping for a soundbite about Van Morrison. He told me he liked Tony Bennett, by which time I was convinced he was sending me up. (Everybody who interviews Bob Dylan is haunted by the thought that they will end up like the Mr Jones who didn't know what was happening in his song "Ballad Of A Thin Man".) Most interviewees are happy to improvise upon a theme of themselves, to fill any silences you leave, and most will try to win you over, get you to admire them. Dylan is the only rock star I've ever met who genuinely couldn't have cared less. He was on an entirely different clock.

I produced a copy of his new album Knocked Out Loaded that the record company had given me that afternoon. It was the first time he'd held a finished copy. I asked him to sign the cover for a friend called Clare. He produced a magic marker, held it at the far end and wrote with his left hand. He's right-handed. I pointed out that this Clare didn't have an "i" in it and he carefully corrected the error.

I spoke to him again the following afternoon in the same dressing room, but there were frequent interruptions. His sons, teenagers at the time, were very exercised about some potential breach of security. This was New York, six years after Lennon's murder. A stream of well-wishers came to pay court: Andy Warhol, Ron Wood, Judy Collins, Ric Ocasek - just a regular Manhattan scene.

My record company contact told me later that between our talks she'd asked him how it was going. "OK," he said, "but he keeps asking me >questions."

I'm sorry.

David Hepworth is creative director of 'Word' magazine.

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