Interview by Cynthia Gooding
This interview originally aired on WBAI FM in New York City in February of 1962. Dylan was 20 at the time and it was his first appearance on the Folksingers Choice radio show. We uncovered this recording in the Pacifica Radio Archives.
Dylan played songs throughout the recording, including some of his own (“The Death of Emmett Till”, “Standing on the Highway”) and covers of songs by Howlin’ Wolf, Hank Williams, and Woody Guthrie. We scored the episode with Dylan tuning up his guitar and playing his harmonica. Listen to the full interview below.
After the animated section of this episode, we’ve also included an excerpt of Dylan talking about his songwriting process from another of Pacifica’s interviews, which was also recorded in 1962.
The Animated Transcript
Cynthia Gooding was a folk singer who played in the coffee houses and clubs in New York City’s Greenwich Village in the 1950s and 60s. She hosted Folksingers Choice on WBAI FM.
Bob Dylan is … Well, you must be twenty years old now, aren’t you?
Yeah, must be twenty.
Yeah, twenty. I’m twenty. My hands are cold. It’s a pretty cold studio.
Yeah, it’s the coldest studio.
I usually can do this. There, I just wanted to do it once.
When I first heard Bob Dylan was, I think, about three years ago in Minneapolis.
By that time, I was just sort of doing nothing. I was there working I guess. I was making pretend that I was going to school out there. I’d just come there from South Dakota.
You’ve sung now at Gerde’s here in town. Have you sung at any of the coffee houses?
Yeah, I played my harmonica for this guy there who was singing. He used to give me a dollar to play every day with him from 2 o’clock in the afternoon until 8:30 at night. He gave me a dollar plus a cheeseburger.
And you’ve been writing songs as long as you’ve been singing, right?
Yeah, actually, I guess you can say that. Are these … Oh, these are French ones.
No, they’re healthy cigarettes.
Oh, yeah? That’s the kind I need.
Healthy because they have a long filter and no tobacco.
That’s the kind I need.
Now, you’re doing a record for Columbia.
Yeah. It’s coming out in March.
What’s it going to be called?
Ah, Bob Dylan, I think.
That’s a novel title for a record.
Yeah, it’s pretty strange.
Nobody’s ever seen Bob Dylan without his hat, except when he’s putting on his necklace. Is there a more dignified name for that thing?
Ah, harmonica holder. [Laughs]
Oh. I think necklace is better than that. You haven’t been playing the harmonica too long, have you?
Yeah. I’ve been playing harmonica for a long time. I just never had… couldn’t play them at the same time. I used to go ahead and play with a coat hanger. That never held out so good. Then I used to put tape around it. That used to hold out pretty good. There are smaller harmonicas than these. There are about this far. I used to put them in my mouth, but I got bad teeth. There’s some kind of thing back there, maybe there’s a filling or something. I don’t know what it was in there, but it used to magnify. Not magnify but magnet. Man, the whole harmonica would wham, drop in my mouth like that. So I couldn’t hold it to my teeth that much.
Let’s see if I can find a key here and do this one. I heard this one a long time ago. This is… I never do it.
How long were you with the carnival?
I was with the carnival, off and on, six years.
What were you doing?
Oh, just about everything. I was the clean up boy. I used to be on the main line on the Ferris wheel. Used to run rides.
Didn’t that interfere with your schooling?
Well, I skipped a bunch of things. I didn’t go to school a bunch of years. I skipped this and skipped that.
That’s what I was thinking.
All came out even though. I’ll tune this one is open E. Ooh, I got one. I’ve got two of ’em. Actually, I wrote a song once that I’m trying to find. It’s about this lady I knew in the carnival. It was… they had a freak show in it, all the midgets and all that kind of stuff. There’s one lady in there, really bad shape. Like, her skin had been all burned and she was a little baby, didn’t grow right, so she was like a freak. All these people would pay money to see. That really sort of got me. It’s a funny thing about them. I know how these people think. They want to sell you stuff, those spectators. Like they sell little cards of themselves for ten cents. They got a picture on it, and it’s got some story. Here they are on stage. They want to make you have two thoughts. They want to make you think that they don’t feel bad about themselves and also, they want to make you feel sorry for them. I always liked that, and I wrote a song for her. It was called, “Won’t you Buy a Postcard.” Can’t remember that one, though.
You’ve been listening to Bob Dylan. Thank you very, very much for coming down here and working so hard.
It’s my pleasure to come here.
When you’re rich and famous, you’re going to wear the hat too?
Oh, I’m never going to become rich and famous.
Bob, do you make the song before breakfast every day or before supper?
Sometimes I could go about two weeks without making up a song.
I don’t believe you.
Oh, yeah, but then sometimes I write a lot of stuff. In fact, I wrote five songs last night, but I gave all the papers away. I don’t even consider even writing songs. I don’t want to write it. I don’t even consider that I wrote it when I got done. The song was there before me, before I came along. I just sort of came down and sort of took it down with a pencil, that it was all there before I came around. That’s the way I feel about it.
The Unedited 1962 Interview + Performances
Even Bob Dylan Wasn’t Cool in High School
Dylan claims that he spent his youth working as a carney instead of going to school (some outlets have disputed this), but he must have been able to fit in some classes since he graduated from his hometown high school, Hibbing High, in 1959. He even had time to join the Latin and Social Studies Clubs!
After graduation, Dylan did a brief stint at the University of Minnesota before heading it to New York.
Taking On New York
Dylan’s northern roots were an asset when he first arrived in the city – it was the coldest winter New York had seen in 28 years.
“I slammed the door shut behind me, waved good-bye, stepped out onto the hard snow. The biting wind hit me in the face. At last I was here, in New York City, a city like a web too intricate to understand and I wasn’t going to try.”
– Dylan describes his arrival in NYC, Chronicles: Volume One
Dylan kicked around the folk scene in Greenwich Village, playing clubs like Cafe Wha?, The Gaslight, and Gerde’s Folk City where he opened for John Lee Hooker during the bluesman’s two-week residency.
Here’s a gem for you – a recording of one of Dylan’s earliest performances, at The Gaslight in 1961:
Patti Smith on Bob Dylan
In our episode on Patti Smith, the punk icon talked about meeting Dylan for the first time when she was just starting out in New York:
“My whole most wonderful memory of Dylan was that I was sitting there, and I was trying to be cool ’cause I knew he was there. He came in the room and he said, ‘Hi Patti.’ I just thought that was the neatest thing, that’s all he said. I said ‘hi’ and then we didn’t know what to say to each other and we’re both like really shy, it was real teenagers.”
“It was like when you have a crush on a guy in high school and you’re waiting for him to talk to you and you stand in front of your locker during class change. All of a sudden he comes up and talks to you and you don’t have nothing to say, and you both stand there. After waiting a year for him to come up and talk to you, he finally comes up and then you’re both like just acting totally creepy and stupid. It was so adolescent, it was really sexy, it was like we were both sixteen.”
“I think the thing that Dylan most admires about me, because he’s told me so and talked to other people about it, is that what I’ve worked on or trained myself to do is dip in my subconsciousness. Dip in, dip into the sea, the sea of possibilities.”
“We’ve always needed poets whether it was Dylan, or Hendrix, Morrison.”
A Man of Many… Hats
This is the eponymous hat that interviewer Cynthia Gooding mentions in the interview:
Dylan claimed that he took to wearing the cap so that people would remember him among the sea of musicians gigging around the Greenwich Village folk clubs.
Raid the Archive
The University of Tulsa recently acquired over 6,000 Dylan items for a reported $15 to $20 million dollars. The material will be catalogued and digitized, and will then be available to the public. The university is also home to the archives of Dylan’s hero, Woody Guthrie.
With the Man in Black
The Bob Dylan Archive also contains recordings from a two-day Bob Dylan/Johnny Cash session in Nashville in 1969. The two were longtime friends, but it was the only time they recorded together.
“He traveled long, he traveled hard, but he was a hero of mine. I heard many of his songs growing up. I knew them better than I knew my own.”
– Dylan, speaking about Cash in 2015
“Changin’ Times” Henry Marsh
New York Public Library