Bob Dylan discusses Frank Sinatra, Elvis, Iggy Pop, Amy Winehouse & new 'Triplicate' album in rare interview


In a new, wide-ranging interview with author Bill Flanagan, Bob Dylan gets candid on an impressively wide range of topics, from meeting Frank Sinatra, to his favorite recent Iggy Pop album, skipping a recording session with Elvis and why he keeps releasing standards collections. The chat, ostensibly timed to coincide with the March 31 release of Dylan's triple-album of covers, Triplicate, is a rare peek behind the curtain of one of rock's most consistently unpredictable legends.

One of the most fascinating bits comes early on when Flanagan asks Dylan about the time he and Bruce Springsteen were invited to a dinner party at Sinatra's house and whether Bob thought Frank had ever heard his songs.

"Not really," Dylan says. "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."

You never really know what path a question will lead you down, such as the one Flanagan asks about Duke Ellington's 1938 song "Braggin'," which he suggests bridged the gap from big band swinging blues to rock and roll. Did a young Dylan feel like rock and roll was a new thing, or just an extension of Ellington's groove?

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Bob Dylan through the years
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Bob Dylan through the years
NEW YORK - 1961: Bob Dylan performs at The Bitter End folk club in Greenwich Village in 1961 in New York City, New York. (Photo by Sigmund Goode/Michael Ochs Archive/Getty Images)
UNSPECIFIED - JANUARY 01: (AUSTRALIA OUT) Photo of Bob DYLAN; posed. C.1964 (Photo by GAB Archive/Redferns)
Portrait of American folk musician and songwriter Bob Dylan smiling and holding a cigarette, early 1960s. (Photo by American Stock/Getty Images)
NEW YORK - SEPTEMBER 1961: Bob Dylan holding his acoustic guitar and his girlfriend Suze Rotolo pose for a portrait in September 1961 in New York City, New York. (Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)
NOVEMBER 1961: Bob Dylan recording his first album, 'Bob Dylan', in front of a microphone with an acoustic Gibson guitar and a harmonica during one of the John Hammond recording sessions in November 1961 at Columbia Studio in New York City, New York. (Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)
NEW YORK - SEPTEMBER 1961: Bob Dylan poses for a portraitwith his Gibson Acoustic guitar in September 1961 in New York City, New York. (Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)
1963: Bob Dylan poses for a portrait in 1963. (Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - JULY 01: NEWPORT FOLK FESTIVAL Photo of Bob DYLAN, performing live onstage (Photo by Gai Terrell/Redferns)
American folk singer Bob Dylan's album cover for 'Highway 61 Revisited,' 1965. (Photo by Blank Archives/Getty Images)
UNITED KINGDOM - JUNE 01: BBC TV CENTRE Photo of Bob DYLAN, performing on TV show in June 1965 (Photo by Val Wilmer/Redferns)
NEW YORK - SUMMER 1965: Bob Dylan plays piano with a harmonica around his neck during the recording of the album 'Highway 61 Revisited' in Columbia's Studio A in the summer of 1965 in New York City, New York. (Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - MAY 09: Photo of Bob DYLAN; performing live onstage at the benefit for ousted Chileans: Felt Forum, New York (Photo by Steve Morley/Redferns)
NEW YORK - MAY 9: American folk singer-songwriter Bob Dylan performing for The Friends Of Chile Benefit Concert at the Felt Forum at Madison Square Garden on May 9, 1974 in New York City. (Photo by Waring Abbott/Getty Images)
1974 File Photos of Bob Dylan in concert (Photo by R. Diamond/WireImage)
NEW YORK, NY - CIRCA 1978: Bob Dylan circa 1978 in New York City. (Photo by A.T./IMAGES/Getty Images)
UNITED KINGDOM - JULY 15: Photo of Bob DYLAN; performing live onstage at Blackbushe Aerodrome (Photo by David Redfern/Redferns)
ATLANTA - DECEMBER 12: Bob Dylan performing onstage playing his Fender Stratocaster electric guitar and wearing a vest on December 12, 1978 at the Omni in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - CIRCA 1984: Bob Dylan circa 1984 in New York City. (Photo by PL Gould/IMAGES/Getty Images)
UNITED KINGDOM - JULY 07: WEMBLEY STADIUM Photo of Bob DYLAN, Bob Dylan performing on stage (Photo by Keith Baugh/Redferns)
Bob Dylan performs on stage at Ahoy, Rotterdam, Netherlands, 4th June 1984. (Photo by Rob Verhorst/Redferns)
Bob Dylan (Photo by Larry Busacca/WireImage)
George Harrison of The Beatles and Bob Dylan, inductees (Photo by Ron Galella/WireImage)
UNITED STATES - JULY 01: Bob Dylan in concert at Radio City Music Hall (Photo by Richard Corkery/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images)
UNIVERSAL CITY, CA - FEBRUARY 24: Bob Dylan attends Roy Orbison Tribute on February 24, 1990 at the Universal Ampitheater in Universal City, California. (Photo by Ron Galella, Ltd./WireImage)
Bob Dylan performs on stage at Guitar Legends, Seville, Spain, 1991. (Photo by Michael Putland/Getty Images)
Bob Dylan performs on stage at Expo Â92 Guitar Legends in Seville, Spain, October 1991. (Photo by Michael Putland/Getty Images)
(GERMANY OUT) Dylan, Bob *25.04.1941-(Eigentlich Robert Allen Zimmerman)Musiker, USA- Halbportrait mit Gitarre (Photo by Nagel - Sportbild/ullstein bild via Getty Images)
Bob Dylan performing at the 44th Annual Grammy Awards at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, Ca., 2/26/02. Photo by Frank Micelotta/ImageDirect.
UNITED KINGDOM - MAY 05: Photo of Bob DYLAN; performing live onstage, wearing Stetson hat (Photo by Harry Scott/Redferns)
Bob Dylan during Willie Nelson and Friends: 'Outlaws & Angels' - Show and Backstage at Wiltern Theatre in Los Angeles, California, United States. (Photo by M. Caulfield/WireImage for NBC Universal Photo Department)
Bob Dylan during Bonnaroo 2004 - Day 1 - Bob Dylan at Centeroo Performance Fields - 'What Stage' in Manchester, Tennessee, United States. (Photo by Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic, Inc)
LONDON - JUNE 20: Singer Bob Dylan performs on stage at The Fleadh 2004 at Finsbury Park June 20, 2004 in London, England. The Fleadh 2004 doubles as the London stop of the UK leg of his European tour. (Photo by Getty Images)
UNITED KINGDOM - APRIL 16: WEMBLEY ARENA Photo of Bob DYLAN, Bob Dylan playing guitar and singing performing live onstage (Photo by Harry Scott/Redferns)
Bob Dylan performs on the first night of his American tour at The Backyard on August 4, 2010 in Austin, Texas.
Bob Dylan sighted on March 9, 1987 in New York City. (Photo by Ron Galella, Ltd./WireImage)
Bob Dylan attends Roy Orbison Tribute on February 24, 1990 at the Universal Ampitheater in Universal City, California. (Photo by Ron Galella, Ltd./WireImage)
American music legend Bob Dylan performs during his concert at The Worker's Gymnasium in Beijing on April 6, 2011. Counter-culture legend Bob Dylan made his long-awaited China debut on April 6 after finally getting approval to bring his charged songs of protest and struggle to a nation where dissent is muzzled. AFP PHOTO/LIU Jin (Photo credit should read LIU JIN/AFP/Getty Images)
SHANGHAI, CHINA - APRIL 08: (CHINA OUT) Bob Dylan performs on stage during his concert at the Shanghai Grand Stage on April 8, 2011 in Shanghai, China. (Photo by ChinaFotoPress/Getty Images)
HOLLYWOOD, CA - JANUARY 12: Bob Dylan performs on stage at the 17th Annual Critics' Choice Movie Awards at Hollywood Palladium on January 12, 2012 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Kevin Mazur/WireImage)
LOS ANGELES, CA - FEBRUARY 06: (Exclusive Coverage) Bob Dylan attends the 25th anniversary MusiCares 2015 Person Of The Year Gala honoring Bob Dylan at the Los Angeles Convention Center on February 6, 2015 in Los Angeles, California. The annual benefit raises critical funds for MusiCares' Emergency Financial Assistance and Addiction Recovery programs. For more information visit musicares.org. (Photo by Kevin Mazur/WireImage)
LOS ANGELES, CA - FEBRUARY 06: Honoree Bob Dylan speaks onstage at the 25th anniversary MusiCares 2015 Person Of The Year Gala honoring Bob Dylan at the Los Angeles Convention Center on February 6, 2015 in Los Angeles, California. The annual benefit raises critical funds for MusiCares' Emergency Financial Assistance and Addiction Recovery programs. For more information visit musicares.org. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/WireImage)
LOS ANGELES, CA - FEBRUARY 06: Honoree Bob Dylan speaks onstage at the 25th anniversary MusiCares 2015 Person Of The Year Gala honoring Bob Dylan at the Los Angeles Convention Center on February 6, 2015 in Los Angeles, California. The annual benefit raises critical funds for MusiCares' Emergency Financial Assistance and Addiction Recovery programs. For more information visit musicares.org. (Photo by Lester Cohen/WireImage)
LOS ANGELES, CA - FEBRUARY 06: (L-R) Honoree Bob Dylan, former President Jimmy Carter and president of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences Neil Portnow pose with award onstage at the 25th anniversary MusiCares 2015 Person Of The Year Gala honoring Bob Dylan at the Los Angeles Convention Center on February 6, 2015 in Los Angeles, California. The annual benefit raises critical funds for MusiCares' Emergency Financial Assistance and Addiction Recovery programs. For more information visit musicares.org. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/WireImage)
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"Rock and roll was indeed an extension of what was going on – the big swinging bands – Ray Noble, Will Bradley, Glenn Miller, I listened to that music before I heard Elvis Presley. But rock and roll was high energy, explosive and cut down," says Dylan in the most extensive answer of the 8,000-word interview. "It was skeleton music, came out of the darkness and rode in on the atom bomb and the artists were star headed like mystical Gods. Rhythm and blues, country and western, bluegrass and gospel were always there – but it was compartmentalized – it was great but it wasn't dangerous. Rock and roll was a dangerous weapon, chrome plated, it exploded like the speed of light, it reflected the times, especially the presence of the atomic bomb which had preceded it by several years. Back then people feared the end of time. The big showdown between capitalism and communism was on the horizon. Rock and roll made you oblivious to the fear, busted down the barriers that race and religion, ideologies put up. We lived under a death cloud; the air was radioactive. There was no tomorrow, any day it could all be over, life was cheap. That was the feeling at the time and I'm not exaggerating."

Like all of us, Dylan says he's been hit hard over the past couple of years by the deaths of such icons as Muhammad Ali, Merle Haggard, Leonard Cohen and Leon Russell. "We were like brothers," he says of the fallen legends. "We lived on the same street and they all left empty spaces where they used to stand. It's lonesome without them."

But when asked why he rarely hangs out with his opening acts or co-headliners at shows -- often to their dismay -- Dylan was, well, Dylan. "Beats me -- why would they want to hang out with me anyway?" he says. "I hang out with my band on the road."

The clearer answer, though, comes a short time later, when Dylan is asked if who among the presidents, kings, popes, movie stars and Beatles in his audiences over the years have ever made him nervous. "All of them," he says.

Speaking of the Beatles, Flanagan relates an apocryphal story that Dylan and George Harrison were once supposed to record a song with Elvis, only to have Presley flake on them. "He did show up," says Dylan. "It was us that didn't." Dylan, who prefers listening to CDs than streaming music, offers up that one of his favorite recent releases is punk godfather Pop's 2012 album of mostly French covers Aprés, as well as albums by Valerie June, The Stereophonics, the 2011 Ray Charles tribute album Here We Go Again: Celebrating the Genius of Ray Charles featuring Willie Nelson and Norah Jones and Amy Winehouse's Back to Black.

Asked if he was a fan of the tragic singer Winehouse, Dylan says, "Yeah, absolutely. She was the last real individualist around."

As to why Triplicate is coming out as a three-disc set, Dylan says, "thematically they are interconnected, one is a sequel to the other and each resolves the previous one." There is also a numerological magic to the fact that each one is 32 minutes long, apparently.

"It's the number of completion," Dylan explains. "It's a lucky number, and it's symbolic of light. As far as the 32 minutes, that's about the limit to the number of minutes on a long playing record where the sound is most powerful, 15 minutes to a side. My records were always overloaded on both sides. Too many minutes to be recorded or mastered properly. My songs were too long and didn't fit the audio format of an LP. The sound was thin and you would have to turn your record player up to nine or ten to hear it well. So these CDs to me represent the LPs that I should have been making."​

For the full interview, click here.

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