Bob Dylan Calls Writer a ‘Scurrilous Little Wretch’ for Insulting His Mother in Newly Surfaced Letter
A letter Bob Dylan wrote in 1994 but never sent has surfaced at an auction. It was written to the editors of the magazine Song Talk and finds the famed verbal gymnast going off on a writer who published a fictional interview with Dylan's mother.
The target was Dan Bern, a singer-songwriter who spent a good portion of the '90s being compared to Dylan for his topical and often satirical folk-rock. But before he got his break, Bern had a regular column in Song Talk, where he wrote semi-autobiographical stories about the people he had met in the music industry.
As Bern, who is a huge Dylan fan, recounted in Salon, one of the pieces he wrote was a fake interview with Dylan's mother. "The Milli Vanilli scandal was fresh in the news," he wrote, "so I made up a 'scandal' about Dylan not having actually written his songs. Turned out, I said, that his mom had written all of his songs. And I 'interviewed' his mom. To great comic effect, I thought. They printed it, I had a laugh and forgot all about it."
Coincidentally, the column ran in the same issue as an interview with Dylan, who wasn't too happy when he found out about it three years later while on tour in Tokyo. He picked up a piece of the hotel's stationery and penned a scathing rebuke.
Beginning by asking, "Does your house not have glass windows?," he took aim at Bern's piece. "Having a prefabricated laugh at the expense of my own dear mother without provocation of cause is not my idea of gratitude for the interview, which took up 10 of more pages in your puerile smokescreen periodical masquerading as a songwriting litany! My mother is not a public figure to be satirized and ridiculed with silliness and malicious nonsense by some scurrilous little wretch with a hard-on for comedy!"
Dylan never sent the letter, but it showed up recently in a lot at Sotheby's, which is how Bern found out about it.
So what was Bern's reaction at being slammed by his hero? "At first I was speechless," he wrote. "After most of a lifetime of songwriting, performing, road-warrioring, record-making — always in the shadow of this guy, always somehow measuring myself against this guy — it seemed I had, indeed, pierced the bubble of his consciousness. And this was his judgment! ... I couldn’t believe it. It was like God finally acknowledges your existence, and when he does, he flicks you off his shoulder like an annoying flea."
The letter was expected to fetch between $12,000 and $18,000 when it was auctioned off two weeks ago, but was unsold.
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