Bob Dylan is pretty notorious for not speaking publicly very often, either in speeches or to the press. But after being honored at a Grammy Awards’ MusiCares event a week ago where he was named Person of the Year, and the impending melee that resulted from the 30-minute speech in which he specifically criticized Merle Haggard and Tom T. Hall among others, Dylan was forced into another public disposition with Rolling Stone on Friday where he clarified his Grammy statements about Merle, though he had no apologies for Tom T. Hall.
Part of the problem with Dylan’s Merle quotes was that as they drifted out of the MusiCares gala on the tongues of the assembled media, they were incidentally pared down in the rush to make them public. Since no audio or video of the event was ever broadcast or published, important qualifying points about Dylan’s words were left out, and only revealed when the text of the speech was made public.
The quotes that came out last Friday from Dylan were,
“Merle Haggard didn’t even think much of my songs. I know he didn’t. He didn’t say that to me, but I know way back when he didn’t. Buck Owens did, and he recorded some of my early songs. ‘Together Again,’ that’s Buck Owens. And that trumps anything else out of Bakersfield. Buck Owens or Merle Haggard? If you had to have somebody’s blessing, you can figure it out.”
But the expanded quotes were actually,
Merle Haggard didn’t think much of my songs, but Buck Owens did, and Buck even recorded some of my early songs. Now I admire Merle “Mama Tried,” “Tonight The Bottle Let Me Down,” “I’m a Lonesome Fugitive.” I understand all that but I can’t imagine Waylon Jennings singing “The Bottle Let Me Down.” I love Merle but he’s not Buck. Buck Owens wrote “Together Again” and that song trumps anything that ever came out of Bakersfield. Buck Owens and Merle Haggard? If you have to have somebody’s blessing you figure it out. What I’m saying here is that my songs seem to divide people. Even people in the music community.
Dylan elaborated further with Rolling Stone‘s Daniel Kreps on Friday (2-13),
“I wasn’t dissing Merle, not the Merle I know. What I was talking about happened a long time ago, maybe in the late Sixties. Merle had that song out called ‘Fighting Side of Me’ and I’d seen an interview with him where he was going on about hippies and Dylan and the counterculture, and it kind of stuck in my mind and hurt, lumping me in with everything he didn’t like.
“But of course times have changed and he’s changed too. If hippies were around today, he’d be on their side and he himself is part of the counterculture”¦ so yeah, things change. I’ve toured with him and have the highest regard for him, his songs, his talent – I even wanted him to play fiddle on one of my records and his Jimmie Rodgers tribute album is one of my favorites that I never get tired of listening to. He’s also a bit of a philosopher. He’s serious and he’s funny. He’s a complete man and we’re friends these days. We have a lot in common.”
However Dylan offered no clarification for his critical remarks about other songwriters, including Tom T. Hall. Merle responded to Dylan’s original comments with a succinct, ““Bob Dylan I’ve admired your songs since 1964. ‘Don’t Think Twice’ Bob, Willie and I just recorded it on our new album.” But Tom T. Hall has yet to say anything publicly. According to a spokesman, it’s because the 78-year-old songwriter is still dealing with the grief of losing his wife Dixie in January.
Dylan said of Tom T. Hall,
Now some might say Tom was a great songwriter, and I’m not going to doubt that. At the time, during his interview, I was actually listening to a song of his on the radio in the recording studio. It was called “I Love.” And it was talking about all the things he loves. An everyman song. Trying to connect with people. Trying to make you think he’s just like you and you’re just like him. We all love the same things. We’re all in this together.
Tom loves little baby ducks. Slow-moving trains and rain. He loves big pickup trucks and little country streams. Sleep without dreams. Bourbon in a glass. Coffee in a cup. Tomatoes on a vine and onions.
Now listen, I’m not every going to disparage another songwriter. I’m not gonna do that. I’m not saying that’s a bad song, I’m just saying it might be a little over-cooked.
The one thing Dylan clarifying his statements about Haggard tells us is that his dislike of Tom T. Hall, or at least the song “I Love,” is probably real. There was some question as the quotes were emerging if Dylan was engaging in his regular trolling of the public by tearing into other songwriters. This still might be the case to some extent, but when it comes to Merle vs. Dylan, it appears to be a dead issue.