Bob Dylan Downplays Merle Haggard Diss, Praises Springsteen, Maintains That Steely Dan Is Not Rock In MusiCares Postmortem

Bob Dylan was honored at the 2015 MusiCares Gala as Person Of The Year last week prior to the Grammys, and his hour-and-a-half-long speech about the music industry became an event in itself. Today, on Dylan’s website, a new interview with TV executive Bill Flanagan popped up, clarifying and expanding on multiple points from the folk singer’s speech.

Was that a Merle Haggard comment a diss? Nope, just Dylan expounding on his history with Merle:

No, not at all, 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 counter culture, 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 counter culture … 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. Back then, though, Buck and Merle were closely associated; two of a kind. They defined the Bakersfield sound. Buck reached out to me in those days, and lifted up my spirits when I was down, I mean really down – oppressed on all sides and down and that meant a lot, that Buck did that. I wasn’t dissing Merle at all, we were different people back then. Those were difficult times. It was more intense back then and things hit harder and hurt more.

On Bruce Springsteen’s performance of “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door”:

Incredible! He did that song like the record, something I myself have never tried. I never even thought it was worth it. Maybe never had the manpower in one band to pull it off. I don’t know, but I never thought about it. To tell you the truth, I’d forgotten how the song ought to go. Bruce pulled all the power and spirituality and beauty out of it like no one has ever done. He was faithful, truly faithful to the version on the record, obviously the only one he has to go by. I’m not a nostalgic person, but for a second there it all came back, Peckinpah, Slim Pickens, Katy Jurado, James Coburn, the dusty lawless streets of Durango, my first wife, my kids when they were small. For a second it all came back … it was that powerful. Bruce is a deep conscientious cat and the evidence of that was in the performance. He can get to your heart, my heart anyway.

How did Dylan feel about those extra guitar solos Springsteen added?

Yeah, well that’s just Bruce being Bruce. He’s got to remind people that he can play that thing. It wasn’t incessant though. It didn’t detract from the song. He brought it in quick and pulled it back quick. He definitely knows when and how to stick something in and then move it back. He’s a great performer all around.

And he maintains that Willy DeVille is more rock than Steely Dan:

Yeah they might have rocked like a bastard, and I’m not saying that they didn’t, but put on any one of those records and then put on “In The Heat of the Moment” by Willy or “Steady Driving Man” or even “Cadillac Walk.” I’m not going to belittle Steely Dan but there is a difference.

Who wants to take bets that Donald Fagen addresses Dylan’s comments from the Coachella stage?