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Bob Dylan Clarifies Merle Haggard Comments from MusicCares Speech in New Interview

For the record, Dylan was not dissing the country legend

Days after Person of the Year Bob Dylan gave a lengthy speech on the state of the music industry at last week’s 2015 MusicCares Gala, a new interview with TV executive Bill Flanagan has popped up on his website, where the legendary folkie expands upon a few of the points he made during his talk.

Dylan’s speech, if you’ll remember, seemed to diss country legend Merle Haggard (“Merle Haggard didn’t think much of my songs… Now I admire Merle …I love Merle but he’s not Buck [Owens]”), music critics (“Critics say I can’t sing. I croak. Sound like a frog. Why don’t critics say that same thing about Tom Waits? … Why do I get special treatment?”), and non-wrothy Rock and Roll Hall of Famers (“Metallica is [in there]. Abba is… Jefferson Airplane, Alice Cooper, Steely Dan… I got nothing against any of that stuff. But after all, it is called the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.”)

Here are some snippets from Dylan’s new discussion: 

On that Merle Haggard diss:

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 rock critics: 

I got no bitterness towards critics. Like Elvis said, “I know they have a job to do.” Some critics are better than others … some know how to write better, think better, some understand more of what they’re seeing and hearing better … some are more experienced in life. There are all kinds of critics … they’re not all on the same level. And sometimes, if they’re not saying bad things about you, you don’t really count. It’s nice to have their support, but then on a lot of different levels, it really doesn’t matter one way or another. The people will decide. Some seem to do a lot of griping for no reason, but you have to be sort of understanding. They don’t have any idea what it takes to be on a public stage and couldn’t do what you do not even for one single second. I particularly don’t like the ones who talk down with that attitude of superiority, like they know and you don’t. It’s nice to have their support, but if you don’t, you can’t let it bother you, they’re not players. I have no bitterness towards any of them, not at all.

And, finally, why 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.

Read the entire interview here, and check out the full transcript of Dylan’s speech at Rolling Stone.