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Page last updated at 06:15 GMT, Monday, 23 May 2011 07:15 UK
Dylan tapes reveal heroin addiction

Rebecca Jones
By Rebecca Jones
BBC arts correspondent

Bob Dylan in 1962
Bob Dylan has previously refused to talk about his heroin addiction

A previously unheard interview with Bob Dylan has revealed that the singer was once addicted to heroin.

After a concert late one Saturday night in March 1966 Bob Dylan, while on tour in the US, boarded his private plane in Lincoln, Nebraska bound for Denver with his friend Robert Shelton.

Over the next two hours Shelton taped an interview with Dylan which he later described as a "kaleidoscopic monologue".

At one point, the singer, who turns 70 this week, admits he had been addicted to heroin in the early 1960s.

"I kicked a heroin habit in New York City," he confesses. "I got very, very strung out for a while, I mean really, very strung out. And I kicked the habit. I had about a $25-a-day habit and I kicked it."

There have been rumours that Dylan was involved with heroin. But Mick Brown, a writer on The Daily Telegraph who has interviewed Dylan, says he has never heard the singer confirm the speculation.

"It's extraordinary that he should be talking about it quite so candidly," he remarks.

Elsewhere on the tapes, Dylan reveals he contemplated suicide after people started calling him a genius.

"Death to me is nothing... death to me means nothing as long as I can die fast. Many times I've known I could have been able to die fast, and I could have easily gone over and done it."

"I'll admit to having this suicidal thing... but I came through this time," he says.

Shelton describes Dylan as "twisting restlessly" during the interview - animated at times, despondent at others.

Bob Dylan
Bob Dylan turns 70 this week

And for a man who is still touring and still making records today, he is surprisingly dismissive about his work, especially his writing.

"I take it less seriously than anybody," he says. "I know that it's not going to help me into heaven one little bit, man. It's not going to get me out of the fiery furnace.

"It's certainly not going to extend my life any and it's not going to make me happy."

"You can't be happy by doing something groovy."

Shelton then asks Dylan what would make him happy.

"I'm happy," replies Dylan. But he goes on to say that happiness is "kind of a cheap word." And he returns to the theme of suicide.

"I'm not the kind of cat that's going to cut off an ear if I can't do something. I'm the kind of cat that would just commit suicide."

"I'd shoot myself in the brain if things got bad. I'd jump from a window... man, I would shoot myself. You know I can think about death, man, openly."

Bob Dylan in 1965
By 1965, Bob Dylan was an international star

The next day, Shelton recorded another interview with Dylan, which lasted an hour and forty minutes, at the Motel de Ville in Denver.

Wearing a faded old shirt and jeans, Dylan gets angry when talking about people he thinks are taking advantage of him.

"I'm sick of giving creeps money off my soul. When I lose my teeth tomorrow, they are not going to buy me a new pair of teeth.

"If it's not the promoter cheating you," he adds, "it's the box office cheating you. Somebody is always giving you a hard time."

Listening to all the tapes they provide a remarkable insight into Dylan's state of mind at the time they were recorded.

By March 1966 Dylan was a global superstar. He was hailed as a protester, poet and prophet - the most important voice of his generation.

But behind the scenes he was struggling to cope with the scrutiny - and the weight of people's expectations.

He trusted Robert Shelton though, who was the man credited with "discovering" him.

Shelton was a music critic and in 1961 he saw Dylan play and wrote a review that described him as "a bright new face in folk music". The next day Dylan was offered a record contract.

The two men became close and Dylan gave Shelton unprecedented access - to him, his friends and his family.

Shelton's biography, No Direction Home, took 20 years to complete and first came out in 1986. The tapes were uncovered during research for a revised and updated edition, which has been published to coincide with Dylan's 70th birthday.

A film is now in production about the tapes.

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