There are other worthy candidates for the title of "Most Evasive Interviewee of All Time," but Bob Dylan has surely labored the hardest to secure the title. It is not just that Dylan becomes hostile, surreal, or poetic. It is not just that he distorts reality, re-shaping it to make it more dramatic and interesting by adding what was once called a "vaudeville shine" to facts. It is not only that he slants the truth or sneaks in private references or presents useful insights packed slyly like dull afterthoughts in glittering parcels of exaggerations. It is that Dylan himself resists the stable identity necessary for any interview. He is protean. His voice, appearance, and politics shift along with his self. No such quicksilver personality can be genuinely interviewed because an interview seeks to capture the person, to present the person as a particular being at a particular time. To accept being interviewed is to accept being branded.
In April 1962, Dylan had a radio interview on WNYC with Henrietta Yurchenco, a well-connected ethnomusicologist. The interview is not discussed in any Dylan biography, and Yurchenco herself told me she wasn't sure if the program ever aired. (Henrietta Yurchenco died in 2007 at the age of 91; she wrote about the interview in her book Around the World in 80 Years.) At the interview, Yurchenco asked Dylan how he came to New York. He evaded the question. "I can't tell you because it would involve other people." For a half hour, he sidestepped all the other questions. The frustrated Yurchenco just stopped the show. After everone else had left, she snapped at him, "We haven't got a show. Why bother to come and then say nothing?" Dylan then proceeded to tell her a series of tall tales. On his first night in New York, he claimed, a man offered him to place to stay if he did some cleaning. Then, he said, he slept for the next four nights on a tabletop in a union hall. "One day," he said, "I watched the children playing in Washington Square Park; they were so happy, I decided I could be happy here, too."
That image is so delicate, so earnestly told, that it deserves to be true even if it isn't. But that's Dylan--always connecting the lines between the imagination and reality.