On Tuesday, Bob Dylan returns to Arkansas to play the Riverfest Amphitheater. It's his first show in Little Rock since he and Willie Nelson played a sweaty, jubilant show at Ray Winder Field in 2005 (but didn't, much to the chagrin of the audience, play any duets). Strangely, Luke Wilson was in the audience. Before that he played an intimate concert at Nitelife Rocks, the warehouse club on the corner of Asher and University. Strangely, girls danced in cages under black lights. More than a decade before, he played the amphitheater and brought rockabilly pioneer and Pocahontas native Billy Lee Riley onstage and played back-up guitar while Riley sang “Red Hot.” You know, “My gal is red hot/Your gal ain't doodly squat.”
Despite a reputation for being media averse, throughout his four-and-a-half decade career he's averaged about an interview a month. In 2004, he published the first of a planned three-volume autobiography. Dozens — probably more like hundreds — of other books about him have been written, including Michael Gray's 700-page “Bob Dylan Encyclopedia,” which contains 12 pages of information about Dylan's use of nursery rhymes in his music.
He might be the most chronicled pop musician ever. Still, he's retained the illusionist's gift of always remaining mysterious and unpredictable. Here's hoping he'll give us some of that strangeness on Tuesday. In preparation, here are six of the best, strangest quotes from the artist formerly known as Robert Zimmerman.
“My real message? Keep a good head and always carry a light bulb.” In response to, “What's your real message?” (a follow-up question to “Why are you carrying a light bulb?”) during a 1965 tour of the U.K. documented in the D.A. Pennebaker documentary “Don't Look Back.”
“You know things go better with Coke because Aretha Franklin told you so and Maxwell House Coffee must be OK because Ray Charles is singing about it. Everybody's singing about ketchup or headache medicine or something.” In a 1993 interview with Cameron Crowe that comes as a companion to the “Biograph” box set. Almost 10 years later, Dylan appeared in a Victoria Secret ad. When asked, in 1965, what might tempt him to sell out, he'd said, “Ladies undergarments.”
“[Kurtis Blow] familiarized me with that stuff, Ice-T, Public Enemy, N.W.A, Run-D.M.C. … These guys weren't standing around bullshitting. They were beating drums, tearing shit up, hurling horses over cliffs.” From “Chronicles Volume One,” in a section about Dylan contributing a guest verse to rapper Kurtis Blow's “Street Rock.” Sample lyric: “Kids starving in Ethiopia/and we are getting needier/The rich are getting richer/and the meat is getting meatier.”
“Anyone who's either married or thinking of getting married would do well to read this book.” A back cover endorsement of Minneapolis Rabbi Manis Friedman's “Doesn't Anyone Blush Any More? Reclaiming Intimacy, Modesty and Sexuality in a Permissive Age.”
“This song here's about my hero. Everybody's got a hero. Where I come from heroes are … John Wayne, Boris Karloff, Henry Winkler, Michael Jackson, Bruce Springsteen, Ronald Reagan, Richard Nixon. Anyway, I don't care nothing about any of those people. I have my own hero.” Talking about Jesus in an introduction for the song “In the Garden,” March 10, 1986, in Tokyo.
“Somebody comes to see you for two hours or one and a half hours, whatever it is … I mean, they've come to see you. You could be doing anything up on that stage. You could be frying an egg or hammering a nail into a piece of wood.” Either displaying a healthy sense of ego or describing the endless potential for boring an audience, reportedly before a concert in Japan in 1986.