What a great and unlikely conjunction of names and sensibilities: Bob Dylan opens up about his recent turn to the standards that Sinatra, Ella, Nat Cole, Crosby, Torme, Judy Garland and Jo Stafford sang. Dylan's understanding of the music is impressive, and if only he had a better voice the records would be wonderful. As it is I would sooner listen to Dylan sing an Irving Berlin song than, say, Rod Stewart, who turns everything into elevator music. Dylan can feel the lyrics and knows his job is to serve them as best he can. The voice carries conviction if not always the tune. It is easy to imagine young Bob listening to Sinatra. Bob loved Harold Arlen and no one sang Arlen songs better than Sinatra: 'Blues in the Night,' 'Last Night when We Were Young,' 'That Old Black Magic," 'I've Got the World on a String.' I can't imagine Sinatra listening to Dylan records, but the scene of the blue-eyed boys as described by Dylan below has the smack of truth.-- DL
Q&A with Bill FlanaganMAR 22, 2017
Bob Dylan, from an interview with Bill Flanagan, March 22, 2017
Exclusive to bobdylan.com
Up to the sixties, these songs were everywhere – now they have almost faded away. Do they mean more to you when you hear them now?
They do mean a lot more. These songs are some of the most heartbreaking stuff ever put on record and I wanted to do them justice. Now that I have lived them and lived through them I understand them better. They take you out of that mainstream grind where you’re trapped between differences which might seem different but are essentially the same. Modern music and songs are so institutionalized that you don’t realize it. These songs are cold and clear-sighted, there is a direct realism in them, faith in ordinary life just like in early rock and roll.
It’s hard not to think of World War II when we hear some of these. You were born during the war – do you remember anything about it?
Not much. I was born in Duluth – industrial town, ship yards, ore docks, grain elevators, mainline train yards, switching yards. It’s on the banks of Lake Superior, built on granite rock. Lot of fog horns, sailors, loggers, storms, blizzards. My mom says there were food shortages, food rationing, hardly any gas, electricity cutting off – everything metal in your house you gave to the war effort. It was a dark place, even in the light of day – curfews, gloomy, lonely, all that sort of stuff – we lived there till I was about five, till the end of the war.
People called Shadows in the Night a tribute to Frank Sinatra. Did you know Sinatra had recorded all those songs when you put that record out?
Yeah, I knew he did, but a lot of other people recorded them as well, it just so happened that he had the best versions of them. When I recorded these songs I had to make believe that I never heard of Sinatra, that he didn’t exist. He’s a guide. He’ll point the way and lead you to the entrance but from there you’re on your own.
There is a famous story that you and Springsteen were invited to a dinner party at Sinatra’s house around the time you did that TV tribute to him. Had you met him before? Did you feel like he knew your stuff?
Not really. I think he knew “The Times They Are a-Changin’” and “Blowin’ In the Wind.” I know he liked “Forever Young,” he told me that. He was funny, we were standing out on his patio at night and he said to me, “You and me, pal, we got blue eyes, we’re from up there,” and he pointed to the stars. “These other bums are from down here.” I remember thinking that he might be right.
Everybody on that show did a Sinatra song except you. You sang “Restless Farewell.” How come?
Frank himself requested that I do it. One of the producers had played it for him and showed him the lyrics.
Was that the last time you saw Sinatra?
Maybe once after that.
What was the first time you saw him?
Pittsburgh, maybe ‘67 or ‘68 at the Civic Arena. He sang “Summer Wind,” “Day In, Day Out,” “Moonlight in Vermont.”
Sinatra did a lot of songs about growing old, but “The Best Is Yet to Come” is about defying age. It was the last song he ever sang on stage. How did you get inside that song? What do you think you bring to it that makes it worth your cutting?
It wasn’t difficult. I didn’t bring anything unusual to it. There are a lot of key shifts and modulations in that song and you have to slide your way in and out of them. It’s a bit of a challenge, but once you figure it out, it’s pretty easy. It’s just a straight-ahead blues-based ballad, unique in its own way. It’s like “Mack the Knife,” but nothing like “Mack the Knife.” It’s such an old-fashioned phrase, you wouldn’t think anybody could do anything with it. “The best is yet to come” could be both a threat and a promise; the lyrics sort of insinuate that even though the world is falling down, a better one is already in its place. The song kind of levitates itself, you don’t have to do much to get it off the ground. I like all of Carolyn Leigh’s lyrics too; she wrote the lyrics to “Stay with Me.”