A dollar plus a cheeseburger: Bob Dylan’s animated 1962 interview for PBS Digital’s “Blank on Blank”

By on June 28, 2016

Shortly before the release of his debut album in March 1962, a 20-year old chubby-cheeked Bob Dylan sat for an hour-long interview with traditional folk singer Cynthia Gooding, host of “Folksinger’s Choice,” which was broadcast on March 11, 1962, on New York’s WBAI FM.

Once again we’re sharing a newly-created flash-animated cartoon provided to us by our friends at Blank on Blank/PBS Digital Studios who used a portion of that early Dylan interview, which was originally interspersed with songs he performed live in the studio (the full 55 minute interview, including musical performances, is available on their website).

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On the show — thankfully archived by Pacifica Radio — Dylan performed some of his favorites by Howlin’ Wolf, Hank Williams, and Woody Guthrie, as well as a few of his own songs (“The Death of Emmett Till”, “Standing on the Highway”) from his then-forthcoming album.

There is a little bit of confusion about the exact date of the interview, but since Dylan mentions that his first album is coming out in March, it’s likely their interview took place in February ’62 or earlier that winter and then was broadcast later, on March 11, 1962.

The future music legend talks about a great number of topics of interest, including playing coffeehouses and some of the basket-passing folk clubs of Greenwich Village, including Café Wha, about which Dylan says:

“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 two o’clock in the afternoon until eight-thirty at night. He gave me a dollar plus a cheeseburger.”

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It’s possible Gooding didn’t quite know what to make of Dylan just yet, even though she refers to him during the interview as “one of the quickest rises in folk music,” but truthfully, Dylan wasn’t yet widely known beyond the fringes of the Greenwich Village folk scene.

At the beginning of the interview, she mentions how she’d heard first hear Dylan about three years earlier (she’d met him at a party in 1959, which took place after one of Gooding’s Minneapolis gigs, and was impressed by Dylan’s singing and prowess on a guitar that was passed around among the players in attendance).

On the air, she mentions that he’d told her he’d apparently been thinking of being a rock and roll singer at the time, to which Dylan replies “Well, at that time I was just sort of doin’ nothin’. I was there.”

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Early in his career, Dylan would talk about his mysterious past life, telling journalists and radio hosts a lot of tall tales, that he’d skipped school and worked “with the carnival, off and on, six years…I was the clean up boy” (when the actual truth was that he’d graduated from Hibbing High in June 1959 and probably never worked at a carnival, or it was likely closer to six days than six years if he’d done it at all). Here, he He tells Gooding that he’d come to New York City from Sioux Falls, South Dakota (actually, that might have been true).

Later, when she saw Dylan performing at the Folk City in New York, she commented, “People listen… he talks and he laughs and just when they are about to catch him in a lie, he takes out his harmonica and blows them down.”

Another particularly funny exchange during the interview occurs when Dylan finishes a song with lots of harmonica and Gooding asks if he’s just recently started playing harmonica, which sounds to us as though she thinks he’s not playing it particularly well, but Dylan surprises her by saying that he’s been playing the harp for a long time.

Dylan’s rambling, enthusiastically youthful voice reveals that he’s probably a little nervous during their chat, but it’s also easy to tell he’s already soaked up many musical influences and reinterpreted them in a unique way that would forever change folk music in America during the 1960s.

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Here’s an excerpt about Dylan’s self-titled debut album — released March 19, 1962 — from Night Flight contributor Chris Morris‘s new book Together Through Life: A Personal Journey with the Music of Bob Dylan (ROTHCO Press):

Recorded live by John Hammond (Senior) in two 1961 sessions for a little more than $400, Bob Dylan is at once a pure product of the New York folk revival scene and something that extends beyond that environment. There are 13 songs here, and of them 11 are either traditional or drawn from the folk and blues recordings favored by the folkies of the day. But there’s nothing polite or respectful about the performances. No Kingston Triage here.

At times, Dylan can’t suppress the chuckle that rises out of his throat; at others he howls at the moon and thrashes his acoustic guitar (are you there, Robert Johnson?). He already seems ancient, an elder in a manchild’s body. The most transfixing performances are about death — “In My Time of Dying,” “See That My Grave Is Kept Clean.” Some numbers had been appropriated from other singers’ repertoires, but no matter — he stamped them with his own hot brand. Play Dylan’s “House of the Rising Sun” next to Dave Van Ronk’s, and the younger singer trumps the older folk artist with the insouciant flick of a wrist.

Though still a relative novice, Dylan sings like a committed artist.

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Dylan appears on on the cover, bundled up for the cold New York winter, wearing high-collared fleece-lined jacket and a cap that he was likely wearing at the interview, prompting this exchange between Gooding and Dylan:

Gooding: When you’re rich and famous are you gonna wear the hat too?

Dylan: Oh, I’m never gonna become rich and famous.

Gooding: And you’re never gonna take off the hat either.

Dylan: No.

Be sure to check out our other posts from PBS Digital Studios’s wonderful Blank on Blank series, including our previous animated shorts on Frank Zappa, Rod Serling, Cher, Martin Scorsese, Nina Simone, Kurt Vonnegut Jr., Bill Murray, Tom Waits, and Hunter S. Thompson.

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.