It’s been widely reported that Joni Mitchell called Bob Dylan a ‘phoney’ in a recent LA Times interview.
Reading the whole of the article in question helps get the comments into context. The comments on Bob Dylan came after the interviewer brought up Dylan’s name to elaborate on a question about personas.
I’d previously read Joni speaking about her resentment that her work is underrated because she’s a woman. I think she can only be referring to Bob Dylan, Neil Young and maybe Leonard Cohen here (who else is rated higher than Joni Mitchell?) So the poor interviewer lit a touch paper by using Bob, because of his status, to explain his point, and got more than he bargained for.
Interesting that in her previous LA Times interview, Joni seemed pretty validated by Bob rating one of her less well known songs. Seems it’s OK to bring Bob into it as long as Joni’s calling the shots. Fair enough, it’s her interview. She wasn’t polite about Neil though.
I think the interviewer was right to let the issue go. She’s prone to come over as a real grouch these days and it doesn’t do her any favours.
Anyway, a couple of thoughts prompted by this. It seems that Bob’s position as head boy is pretty well established now. Jakob Dylan’s comment about this father “Look, he’s the best at what I do.” comes to mind. Along with Loudon Wainwright’s typically great angle in his song “My Biggest Fan”: “Naturally, Bob’s number one. The runner up? That’s Mr Young/I’m number three in command, but he’s still my biggest fan.” Who else would write a song about not being his biggest fan’s favourite singer?
Bob had a bit to say about this issue of identity and authenticity in his recent interview with Bill Flanagan. Bear in mind that at other times he’s said the exact opposite.
BF: The character in the song (This Dream Of You) reminds me a lot of the guy who is in the song Across The Borderline.
BD: I know what you’re saying, but it’s not a character like in a book or a movie. He’s not a bus driver. He doesn’t drive a forklift. He’s not a serial killer. It’s me who’s singing that, plain and simple. We shouldn’t confuse singers and performers with actors. Actors will say, “My character this, and my character that.” Like beating a dead horse. Who cares about the character? Just get up and act. You don’t have to explain it to me.
BF: Well can’t a singer act out a song?
BD: Yeah sure, a lot of them do. But the more you act the further you get away from the truth. And a lot of those singers lose who they are after a while. You sing, “I’m a lineman for the county,” enough times and you start to scamper up poles.
And here’s a tangent for you: The song Bob quotes is Wichita Lineman by Glen Campbell. Touring the UK right now at the age of 74. A great singer, great guitar player and a bunch of great songs old and new. In Dundee he encored with ‘In My Arms’, Teddy Thompson’s song. He comes highly recommended: it’s the closest you’ll get to seeing Elvis.
Words: Peter Rice (Brian’s uncle)
Listen to Peter’s recent guest playlist here: Brian’s Mixtape #30: Duelling and storytelling