10 Highlights from Dylan's San Francisco Press Conference

Words By: Sam Pethers | November 6th, 1967

10 Highlights from Dylan's San Francisco Press Conference

In case you didn't have the time to sit through the entire hour of Bob Dylan's San Fransisco Press Conference on December 3rd, Dylan -- twenty-four at the time and already working on his seventh studio album -- was at his comedic best. Here are some of the highlights. 


"Oh my God" - The Creepy Hipster and the Highway 61 Album cover

10 Highlights from Dylan's San Francisco Press Conference

Straight out of the gates, Dylan looks up to see the first reporter ready to ask a question: a strange young man named Eric Weil (Weil went on to spend time in a mental institution and was a suspect in the infamous Zodiac Killer case). Dylan audibly laughs to himself and mutters "Oh my God" as he prepares for the first question.

I'd like to know the meaning of the cover photo on your album, [Highway 61 Revisited]? I'd like to know the meaning of the photograph with you wearing the Triumph tee-shirt.
What would you like to know about it?

It seems to have some philosophy in it. I'd like to know visually what it represents to you - you're a part of it...
I haven't really looked at it that much.

I've thought about it a great deal.
It was just taken one day when I was sitting on the steps y'know – I don't really remember too much about it.

What about the motorcycle as an image in your songwriting. You seem to like that.
Oh, we all like motorcycles to some degree.


What about Donovan's "Colours"? Do you think he's a good poet?

Beginning in early 1965, the comparison between Dylan and British folk-singer Donovan had started to emerge. Donovan had released his first two albums in 1965, What's Bin Did & What's Bin Hid and Fairytale. Several of Donovan's songs borrowed heavily from Dylan's early songs. When a reporter, who clearly held great admiration for both Dylan and Donovan, asked Dylan's opinion of Donovan, here's what he had to say.

What about Donovan's "Colours" and his things? Do you think he's a good poet?
No... He's a nice guy, though.

I'm shattered.
Well, you needn't be.


Do you prefer songs with a subtle or obvious message?

In late 1965 another artist who drew comparisons to Dylan was Barry McGuire after his song "Eve Of Destruction" hit the charts. A young female reporter asked Dylan how he felt about "Eve Of Destruction".

Do you prefer songs with a subtle or obvious message?
With a what???

A subtle or obvious message?
Uh - I don't really prefer those kinds of songs at all – "message" – you mean like – what songs with a message?

Well, like "Eve of Destruction" and things like that.
Do I prefer that to what?

I don't know, but your songs are supposed to have a subtle message.
Subtle message???

Well, they're supposed to.
Where'd you hear that?

In a movie magazine?
Oh, – Oh God! Well, we won't - we don't discuss those things here.


Comedian Larry Hankin (Cosmo Kramer) asks Dylan why he writes poetry

10 Highlights from Dylan's San Francisco Press Conference

Larry Hankin, who went on the play the role of Tom Pepper, (the actor cast as Kramer in an episode of Seinfeld), was in the audience that day. Hankin had a question for Dylan about his poetry.

Why couldn't you – uh...
Who are you? Get the camera on this person here.

What do you bother to write the poetry for if we all get different images? If we don't know what you're talking about.
Because I got nothing else to do, man.


What do you want me to say!?

One reporter seemed to get frustrated with Dylan's confusing responses...

Mr. Dylan, you seem very reluctant to talk about the fact that you're a popular entertainer – a most popular entertainer.
Well, what do you want me to say?

Well, I don't understand why you . . .
Well, what do you want me to say? What do you want me to say, d'you want me to say – who – What do you want me to say about it?

You seem almost embarrassed to admit that you're popular.
Well, I'm not embarrassed, I mean, you know – Well, what do you want, exactly – for me to say. You want me to jump up and say "Hallelujah!" – and crash the cameras or do something weird? Tell me, tell me. I'll go along with you, if I can't go along with you, I'll find somebody to go along with you.

I find that you really have no idea as to why you are popular, no thoughts on why you are popular.
I just haven't really struggled for that. It happened, you know? It happened like anything else happens. Just a happening. You don't try to figure out happenings. You dig happenings. So I'm not going to even talk about it.


Were you surprised the first time the boos came?

Throughout the six months prior to this press conference Dylan had been regularly booed at his concerts, following his decision to include a backing band in his live performances. This began at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival when Dylan performed with members of The Paul Butterfield Blues Band.

Were you surprised the first time the boos came?
Yeah, that was at Newport. Well, I did this very crazy thing. I didn't know what was going to happen, but they certainly booed, I'll tell you that. You could hear it all over the place. I don't know who they were though, and I'm certain whoever it was did it twice as loud as they normally would. They kind of quieted down some at Forest Hills although they did it there, too. They've done it just about all over except in Texas – they didn't boo us in Texas or in Atlanta, or in Boston, or in Ohio. They've done it in just about – or in Minneapolis, they didn't do it there. They've done it a lot of other places. 

I mean, they must be pretty rich, to be able to go someplace and boo. I couldn't afford it if I was in their shoes.


Do you think of yourself primarily as a singer or a poet?

Do you think of yourself primarily as a singer or a poet?
Oh, I think of myself more as a song and dance man, y'know.

Oh, I don't think we have enough time to really go into that.


​If you were going to sell out to a commercial interest which one would you choose?

If you were going to sell out to a commercial interest, which one would you choose?
Ladies garments.

Fast-forward 40 years and Bobby, true to his word, appeared in his first commercial ad for Victoria Secret in 2004.


Do you consider yourself a politician?

Do you consider yourself a politician?
Do I consider myself a politician? Oh, I guess so. I have my own party though.

Does it have a name?
No. There's no presidents in the party – there's no presidents, or vice presidents, or secretaries or anything like that, so it makes it kinda hard to get in.

Is there any right wing or left, wing in that party?
No. It's more or less in the center – kind of on the Uppity scale.

Do you think your party could end the war with China?
Uh – I don't know. I don't know if they would have any people over there that would be in the same kind of party. Y'know? It might be kind of hard to infiltrate. I don't think my party would ever be approved by the White House or anything like that.

Is there anyone else in your party?
No. Most of us don't even know each other, y'know. It's hard to tell who's in it and who's not in it.

Would you recognize them if you see them?
Oh, you can recognize the people when you see them.


Dylan on his favourite bands who cover his songs

An incredible number of albums released throughout the mid-1960's included covers of Bob Dylan songs. In 1965 alone, The Byrds, Johnny Cash, Joan Baez, Judy Collins, Duane Eddy, Gary Shearston, Jan & Dean, The Four Seasons, The Beach Boys, The Turtles, The Brothers Four, Bob Marley & The Wailers, Sonny & Cher, Hugues Aufray, Marc Bolan, Hamilton Camp, Odetta and countless others all released albums with Dylan covers on them.

Of all the people who record your compositions, who do you feel does the most justice to what you're trying to say?
I think Manfred Mann. They've done the songs — they've done about three or four. Each one of them has been right in context with what the song was all about.

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