Bob Dylan: ‘I’m surprised I’ve sold any records, I was influenced by freakshows’

Legendary singer credits 'Atlas The Dwarf' as early inspiration

Bob Dylan has declared that his global success is a complete “mystery” as far as he’s concerned, particularly as claims he he learned his craft from freakshows.

Speaking to Bill Flanagan on Bobdylan.com, the legend said he never felt like he has fitted in with mainstream culture.

Suggesting that he is a “Byronesque” artist, Dylan explained: “When I started out, mainstream culture was Sinatra, Perry Como, Andy Williams, ‘The Sound Of Music’. There was no fitting into it then and of course, there’s no fitting into it now. Some of my songs have crossed over, but they were all done by other singers.”

Rejecting the tag of a cult leader, Dylan explained that he honed his early stagecraft after watching travelling circus performers.

“People have different emotional levels. Especially when you’re young. Back then I guess most of my influences could be thought of as eccentric,” he said. “Mass media had no overwhelming reach so I was drawn to the traveling performers passing through. The side show performers – bluegrass singers, the black cowboy with chaps and a lariat doing rope tricks. Miss Europe, Quasimodo, the Bearded Lady, the half-man half-woman, the deformed and the bent, Atlas The Dwarf, the fire-eaters, the teachers and preachers, the blues singers. I remember it like it was yesterday.

“I got close to some of these people. I learned about dignity from them. Freedom too. Civil rights, human rights. How to stay within yourself. Most others were into the rides like the tilt-a-whirl and the rollercoaster. To me that was the nightmare. All the giddiness. The artificiality of it. The sledgehammer of life. It didn’t make sense or seem real. The stuff off the main road was where force of reality was. At least it struck me that way. When I left home those feelings didn’t change.”

When it was pointed out that despite these “eccentric” influences Dylan has sold over “a hundred million records”, the singer-songwriter admitted: “Yeah I know. It’s a mystery to me too.”