Three CDs of Bob Dylan interviews (also available individually) from very different eras in his career are contained in this package, including The Classic Interviews 1965-1966, The Classic Interviews, Vol. 2: The Weberman Tapes, and The Classic Interviews, Vol. 3: 1979-1981. As with most interview discs, you probably have to be a pretty serious fan to sit through all of these interrupted, or return to them for repeat listenings. For such serious fans, however, it does afford some insight into both how Dylan was thinking and acting during these periods, and to his changing attitudes toward musicmaking and dealing with the media and public perceptions of his persona.
The most interesting of the discs is The Classic Interviews 1965-1966, a 78-minute CD entirely devoted to three interviews Dylan did at the peak of his mid-'60s fame. The longest, clocking in at 37 minutes, is from a December 3, 1965 San Francisco press conference; the second, lasting almost half an hour, is from another press conference just a couple weeks later, in Los Angeles on December 16; and the shortest, at 11 minutes, was a one-on-one interview done with Martin Bronstein on February 20, 1966. Even for the kind of scholarly Dylan fans likely to listen to a disc such as this, a little of the luster was taken off when the San Francisco press conference, the most famous and interesting of the three interviews, was officially issued on DVD a few years after this CD came out. Still, as pieces of history, these are pretty interesting documents from the time when Dylan had both just become a pop star and just gone electric, even if he's typically cagey and somewhat unrevealing to different extents in all three interviews. The San Francisco press conference finds him in the most playful jousting mood, casting aside questions that don't interest him or that he finds silly (mostly the many queries about his politics, significance, and role as a spokesperson for youth) with quips and jibes. Still, some of the more serious and music-oriented questions get more considered responses, as when Dylan praises Manfred Mann as particularly appreciated interpreters of his songs. He's in a notably grouchier mood (even admitting as much early on) for the L.A. press conference, although the questions are much the same; you can certainly hear him getting notably more fed up with the insistence of many of the questioners on trying to pin down his political views and the meaning of his songs. Even here, however, he lets slip the occasional interesting nugget, as when he names the Fugs (to a host of merry girlish giggles in the audience) when asked about current groups he likes, later adding that he likes the Sir Douglas Quintet and the Byrds. Even though Martin Bronstein's questions aren't radically different from the ones he fields at the press conferences, Dylan, interestingly, gives these far more polite, considered, and coherent responses. Perhaps he was having a better day, perhaps he felt more at ease in one-on-one interviews, or perhaps he was more responsive to the generally greater intelligence and specificity of Bronstein's questions. But he talks in reasonable detail about his development as a songwriter, citing "Mr. Tambourine Man" and "Like a Rolling Stone" as special benchmarks.
In the early '70s, as is pretty well known by Bob Dylan fans, the singer/songwriter was hounded to the point of harassment by a fan, A.J. Weberman, who both claimed special insight into the meaning of Dylan's songs and pressured him to get more political in his art and life. It's not as well known that Weberman taped some phone conversations with Dylan himself, and yet less common knowledge that 48 minutes of such material was actually issued on the second of these CDs, The Classic Interviews, Vol. 2: The Weberman Tapes. In and of itself, what Dylan and Weberman are discussing on these January 1971 recordings usually isn't interesting; basically they're hashing out what Weberman will write in an article he's doing, Dylan frequently getting annoyed and asking for improvements in the accuracy of how he's quoted and portrayed. Without the context of exactly what Weberman's planning to write and what Dylan's getting upset about -- the nature of Dylan's relationship with Johnny Cash, for instance, is one sticking point -- it's just not that easy to follow what they're discussing, let alone use it to gain notable insight into where Dylan's head was at when this back-and-forth took place. As a snapshot of the repartee between a cultural icon and a somewhat deranged follower/antagonist, however, it's not without its creepy fascination, not so much for the content of the material as for the psychological jousting between the pair. Weberman comes off as a pretty misguided soul, intent on both examining and lighting a fire under his hero, but pretty oblivious as to how intrusive (and obnoxious) his behavior is. What's more puzzling is why Dylan was even engaging in such extended dialogue with someone who actually pored through his garbage. He keeps Weberman on the line, occasionally insulting or needling him, long past the point where most people would have hung up in anger or reluctance to let such a guy any closer to his world than he already was. There are the occasional juicy bits of conversation that are of actual interest to fans of Dylan's music, such as a suggestion that he's considering releasing the legendary mid-'60s outtake "She's Your Lover Now" as a single. There are also Dylan's rapid-fire thumbs-up/thumbs-downs to numerous artists Weberman throws at him as examples of peers who are outdoing him, with some (including Gordon Lightfoot, Procol Harum, George Harrison) meeting with guarded approval, and others (including Creedence Clearwater Revival, John Lennon, and Roger McGuinn) dismissed as not being in his league.
The Classic Interviews, Vol. 3: 1979-1981 focuses on the period immediately following his well-publicized embrace of Christianity, which was heavily reflected in his music and personal life. It's reflected in these interviews too, but not as much as you might think, with the chats also covering a variety of topics related to his then-current and past music, touring, and career. Dates and sources aren't given for any of the interviews, unfortunately, and though audio clarity is acceptable to good, the (apparently French) interviewer in the final segment clearly isn't totally fluent in English, affecting the quality of both the questions and Dylan's replies. While Dylan was sometimes criticized during this era for being too fervent in his evangelism, in fact he's markedly more polite, considered, and even-keeled in his responses here than he was in the more notorious interviews in his '60s heyday (as heard on the first CD of this series, The Classic Interviews 1965-1966). But as hard as it might be to admit since he was clearly an easier person for the media to deal with at this time, he was also a blander interview subject, if not exactly boring. Dylan is occasionally emphatic about his newfound religious beliefs, but never to the point of proselytization. In more earthly matters, he also discusses the production of the albums he was recording during this period, and (at least in the excerpts presented here) doesn't avoid talking about the past. In a couple of the more interesting such bits, he remembers being rejected by some of the more prominent independent folk labels when he was starting out in the early '60s, as well as being booed at the Newport Folk Festival, though he takes care to note that there weren't as many boos as have often been reported. On the whole, however, there isn't much of interest here that hasn't been reported elsewhere in the Bob Dylan literature. And since this wasn't the most interesting of his career phases -- although you'll find some who will disagree on that point -- this has to be considered the least interesting disc in the series.