When it comes to Bob Dylan, you’d probably think about his folk anthems and his unique voice that many people can easily recognize in any era of his career. Bob Dylan has been well documented through music history; people have written books trying to analyze his lyrics and his statements during interviews; and there are those who are left guessing about Bob Dylan. One of the most well known of people who have studied the life of Bob Dylan is A.J. Weberman. Rolling Stone has named him “The King of all Dylan Nuts.” One of Weberman’s most well known of research methods was digging through Bob Dylan’s garbage, and Weberman has been the source of ridicule and controversy. At the same time, Weberman’s material has contributed to over 400 books on Bob Dylan from various writers.
The discoveries in Dylan’s trash that Weberman has shown the world have been rejected songs and poems, scribbled sketches, and even lived to tell the tale about coming across Jakob Dylan’s dirty diapers. Weberman has also extensively studied the lyrics and has come up with a method in how he reads Dylan’s lyrics. He was even the subject of a documentary in 2006, ‘The Ballad of A.J. Weberman.’ Weberman moved on to dig through the trash of other celebrities and public figures and coined the term “garbology” and even wrote a book about his life going through the garbage to get the facts and the dirt (literally) on other public figures.
Weberman is back with a new book, ‘The Devil and Bob Dylan.’ The book discusses the very moment that Dylan went bad, which Weberman believes was in 1961, when a young Bob Dylan supposedly sold his soul to the devil to become the famous musician he would become. Weberman also brings his own revelations from his research about Dylan through his discarded poetry that Dylan is a closeted racist, that “Blowin in the Wind” is a song that contains lyrics about lynching African-Americans, that Dylan is HIV positive, has connections with Palestinian terrorist organizations, and many other facts about Dylan that Weberman has stated in previous years with further insights.
I tried to read through this book with as much as an open mind as possible. I found it to be very interesting in some places, I found places where there’s some good old- fashioned yippie radicalism at work, and I also found a lot of the information to be intriguing. So, I wanted to ask A.J. Weberman some questions about his life digging through Bob Dylan’s trash, about how he views Bob Dylan, and of course some of the things in the book.
When you first started going through Bob Dylan’s garbage, did you ever think there would be anything in there that would keep you digging through it? When was the exact moment that you knew you were going to keep digging through Dylan’s trash?
Dylan told me that one morning he got up and there was an empty wine bottle on his stoop so he opened his garbage can and realized the trash that the maid had disposed of last night was like gone. He set up a video camera was a relieved to find out it was me and not someone trying to find out his routine so they could kidnap his kids.
I’ve seen some of the things that you have shown publicly that you have taken out of the trash. Some of which is Dylan’s poetry, which you seem to have a deep interest in. You mention at the beginning of the book in the pretext that you had the gift of being able to provide insights into classical poetry while studying in college, and that you applied the same methods to analyzing Dylan’s lyrics and poetry. You also mention that you make your assumptions based on clusters of words around one specific word, and that Bob Dylan is also, like you, politically incorrect. Some people believe that Bob Dylan was a civil rights hero, a folk hero with liberal beliefs in the same light as Woody Guthrie, and someone who would hardly be in the light that you paint him in. When you say that Bob Dylan uses racist analogies in songs like ‘Blowin in the Wind,’ do you believe that there’s a level of accuracy you can hold to such a claim?
I believe that I have pointed out many dog whistle racist words in an entire series of Dylan poems. You can read the book and it is up to you to decide if I prove my case.
The first chapter of the book is when you say Dylan made his deal to the devil and subtly admits it in an interview that was done in 2004 for ’60 Minutes.’ They say that Robert Johnson, one of the earliest influences in blues, also made a pact with the devil in exchange for talent and fame. Robert Johnson sang about making the pact at the crossroads, you say Dylan sang about his pact with the devil on Highway 61. It seems the two of them have something in common about revealing their flaws, or their supposed deals with the devil.
Here is one verse from Highway 61: "Well Georgia Sam” well the Communist Party USA controlled by the Soviet Union “had a bloody nose” idiomatic expression, they were defeated and damaged but not permanently and seriously by McCarthyism “Welfare Department” the anti-Communist liberals who invented the welfare state “they wouldn't give him no clothes” they wouldn’t let the Communists express themselves in words that clothed their true Soviet puppet totalitarian agenda “He asked poor Howard” the Communists asked a folksinger, poor Howard “where can I go? Howard said there's only one place I know” the folksinger responded that there is only one outlet that entertained Communist thought “Sam said tell me quick man I got to run” the Communist folk singer said tell me quickly as it is urgent I run for office, take over America, run at the mouth “Ol' Howard just pointed” the Depression Era folkie just wrote a song direct and obvious in meaning and reference; often unpleasant; ‘a pointed critique’ ‘a protest song’ “with his gun” accompanied by his acoustic guitar “And said that way down on Highway 61” and Howard told Sam to infiltrate the world of folk music in order to receive mainstream media acceptance. It is not about the Devil.
The one era of Dylan’s career, which even I agree in finding to be comical, is the Christianity era. The one thing you mention is that was a period in his life where he was at the height of a heroin addiction. It’s also an era of his career that he hasn’t really addressed as it seems to have been something he sweeps under the rug. People wonder if he still practices Christianity. Not even T. Bone Burnett, who Bob Dylan confided in as they walked that path together, will even say if Bob Dylan is still practicing Christianity. What insights can you provide into that era of his career that we probably don’t know about?
After Dylan became a Christian he stopped shooting dope. If he were still preaching Christianity he would be in touch with his Minister, Michael Canfield, and Canfield would have mentioned it to me. A lot of Christian cats want to believe he is still a Christian but he is not. I don’t know where Dylan prays or if Dylan prays but I believe he, like others in Neturei Karta, pray for the destruction of Israel which they believe will hasten the coming of the Messiah.
Besides Bob Dylan’s garbage, you have also gone through the garbage of some other well-known figures. One of the more interesting of garbage piles that you have gone through was Richard Nixon’s. What interesting finds did you end up with in Nixon’s garbage?
Never got it. The Secret Service had the police arrest me.
You had an interesting history through the 80s and 90s. You belonged to the Jewish Defense Organization, where you taught people how to fire weapons; you lived in Israel for a short period of time where you found yourself involved in the middle of some controversy related to [domestic assassinations]; and you contributed research for a PBS documentary on Lee Harvey Oswald. You never settled down, you never became a stockbroker like Jerry Rubin, and you’re still going strong today. You’re obviously someone who isn’t going to go away silently or tone it down. If you had to define your life’s experiences and travels, how would you do so?
Well Jerry Rubin got run over and became road pizza. Cross at the green not in between. What a long strange trip it has been
When people say “A.J. Weberman is a madman,” is that as much of a compliment to you as someone saying, “A.J. Weberman is a genius” when they talk about you?
No one says I am a genius, but history will absolve me.
One last question… Will Bob Dylan’s Christmas album be playing in your apartment on Christmas morning?
Never bought it, as I know some of the money from it will be going to Palestinians.
Many thanks to A.J. Weberman for allowing me to interview him. You can learn more about A.J. and purchase his book through his website at Dylanology - The Study of a Poet Who Sold His Soul to the Devil
Book Trailer and Trailer for 'The Ballad of A.J. Weberman.'
Book Trailer and Trailer for 'The Ballad of A.J. Weberman.'