Sally Kirkland Interview On The Tracks, Bob Dylan by: Guido Bieri, 2002

Sally Kirkland was born in New York on October 31st, 1941. The daughter of a fashion editor for Vogue and Life magazines and a Mainline Philadelphia scrap metals merchant, Sally began her professional career as a child model for Vogue and other magazines and started acting at age 10. At 17, she was studying acting with Uta Hagen at the Herbert Berghof Studio and from there went to work for many years with Lee Strasberg at the Actor’s Studio, first as a student and later as a teacher herself.

She launched her acting career off-Broadway in the early 1960s, and began her film career in 1964 with Andy Warhol’s 13 Most Beautiful Women, followed by Coming Apart with Rip Torn, The Sting and The Way We Were. She has never stopped acting and now has 91 film credits and 80 stage credits to her name.

Nominated for an Oscar as Best Actress for her brilliant role in Anna in 1987, Sally Kirkland won the Golden Globe Award, the L.A. Film Critics’ Award and the Independent Spirit Award for that role. She has acted in numerous films and TV movies (a complete list may be found at imdb.com) and is therefore probably best known as an actress. However, a woman of many talents, she has also produced, directed, and taught acting. As one who knows what it is to be a survivor, she also works as a consultant for women with Silicone Adjunctive Disease, offering them alternative health therapies and spiritual support. Sally is, on top of all, a talented painter, a published poet, and last but not least, a yoga master, and an ordained minister for the Church of the Movement of Spiritual Inner Awareness (MSIA).

As a minister, she not only performs weddings, funerals, baby blessings, and services, she also teaches spiritual seminars worldwide and conducts Forgiveness Workshops in L.A. She has been an AIDS, heart disease, and cancer caretaker for many people. For additional information on Sally’s many pursuits and activities, interviews, a biography, photos, articles, etc., please visit her homepage at sallykirkland.com.

In the course of several phone conversations, and an extensive email, mail and fax exchange over several months, Sally Kirkland shared with me some very interesting information on her friendship with Bob Dylan, although she quite understandingly wished to avoid giving too many details of a personal nature. Sally only has words of praise and affection for Bob, and she comes through as a good-humored and a highly talented and spiritual woman, full of gratitude for the love and close friendship Dylan and she have shared for almost 30 years.

Besides their close personal relationship, Sally Kirkland has also been involved professionally with Dylan on several occasions. Most Dylan fans may remember her appearance in the 1990 music video “Unbelievable” (from Under The Red Sky), in which she played the receptionist of the motel where the protagonist couple stay, until the girl (played by Molly Ringwald) steals her lover’s money and his car (love & theft indeed!) and takes off. Bob played the chauffeur who gives the deceived young man a ride in a car with the enigmatically symbolic license plate “LSD.” Sally looks charming, very seductive, but we don’t get to know if the abandoned lover falls under her spell! At the risk of reading too much into the video, one cannot deny that even if the characters Bob and Sally play don’t actually meet in the story, they are clearly “connected,” and have much in common, since they both help the young couple find their way together.

Their second professional collaboration was Dylan’s contribution of two songs, “New Pony” and “No Time To Think,” for the 1989 film High Stakes, in which Sally Kirkland played the lead character, Melanie Rose. Noteworthy for Sally’s vulnerable performance, High Stakes was, in a way, a forerunner of blockbusters Pretty Woman and Striptease. The film opens with Melanie Rose stripping to the sexy melody of “New Pony.” “No Time To Think” plays during a scene when Melanie, lonely and forsaken, walks home through Times Square to find a Wall Street stockbroker lying unconscious in front of her house. They eventually fall in love and rescue one another from their miserable lives. High Stakes also featured breakout performances by two then unknown actresses: Sarah Michelle Gellar as Melanie’s ten year old daughter and Oscar winner Kathy Bates as the Wall Street secretary.

Bearing all these facts in mind, as well as the relevant statements in Heylin’s Dylan biography, I never really expected Sally Kirkland to respond favorably to my request for an interview… but she did! I suspect she accepted partly because she was flattered that an unknown Dylan enthusiast from Switzerland, and not a journalist by profession (particularly not one looking for gossip to make a fast buck) was interested simply in learning more about the possible spiritual and artistic influence she might have had upon Dylan’s work and the purported (according to Kirkland “definite”) influence he had on her’s. She also has great respect for Rolling Tomes’ work, and was delighted to hear the interview would be published in On the Tracks.

At the time of our first talks, in July 2002, Sally was exhibiting of her paintings in the Malibu Arts Festival, and although very busy with this, and later taken up with filming with Jim Carrey in Universal’s Bruce Almighty, she most kindly found the time to answer my questions. I sent her a rough draft, and we had further talks in September, October and December 2002. In March 2003, the final version of this interview was copy-edited and approved by Sally Kirkland, to whom I wish to express, once again, my most sincere thanks and my admiration.

Why Bob Dylan?

He’s the sexiest blues-musician I’ve ever met in my life. He turns me on 100% with his music, and he’s the closest thing to Shakespeare I ever want to meet. I was first attracted to Dylan in the early 1970s because of his biblical references, like on his first LP, the song “In My Time Of Dying”; and in his protest songs, “Masters Of War” and “With God On Our Side.” Of course, “Knocking On Heaven’s Door” and “I Shall Be Released” were the obvious spiritual songs that kept me going. I was inspired by John Wesley Harding’s “I Dreamed I Saw Saint Augustine,” and “All Along The Watchtower.” On the New Morning album, I was especially moved by “Three Angels,” and “Father Of Night.” Bob and I got together before the Street Legal album and of all those songs, I was most spiritually taken with “Señor.” I loved all the albums following, particularly Slow Train Coming, Saved, and Shot Of Love. I also loved Down In The Groove, spiritually speaking: “When Did You Leave Heaven?” and “Death Is Not The End.” It blew my mind that someone could sing about God, women, humanity and social justice and be equally brilliant in everything.

You once told me that “Gotta Serve Somebody” was your favorite Dylan song.

That’s the one I used for my radio show for two years, so I must have picked that for a reason! I believe that’s true, you do have to serve somebody. You know, it just has to do with spirit, like, you know… If we’re doing our life in service, then we’re not doing it in ego and if we’re doing it in ego it eventually backfires. We’re doing a service to a higher power, to the Lord in all of us, you know, be it Christian, Judaic, Buddhist, Hindu or Islamic… It’s all about God. We’ve all gotta serve somebody, truly.

There also was a time I sent Bob a twelve-month subscription to The Movement Newspaper, which was a periodical of my church, MSIA, and it was all about the Christ Consciousness, the Mystical Traveler Consciousness, Soul Transcendence, and service. That was somewhere around 1975 through ‘77.

When did you first meet Dylan?

I hung out with Fred Hellerman (member of Pete Seeger and the Weavers) for a while. When I was just out of high school he took me backstage after a Dylan concert at Carnegie Hall, where he introduced me to Bob and Joan Baez. I had been a huge fan of Bob’s ever since Folk City and The Café Wha on Bleeker Street, because I was working as a waitress at the Figaro and as a hat-check girl at The Bitter End, where Woody Allen was the comedian and Peter, Paul and Mary were singing “Blowin’ In The Wind.” I was at the recording session of their version of that, also, and sometime in that time frame… Carnegie Hall happened.2 I had first met Joan in Cambridge, Massachusetts at the Club 47 when I was 17 and a Harvard summer school student. She was singing four nights a week and I was performing the other three as Isadora Duncan in John Dos Passos’ USA. She kindly remembered me… Bob was meeting people, spending a little time with each special guest. When it came my turn, he was standing in front of me, saying “So you’re Freddy’s friend, etc..” And the eye contact was so profound, I thought I was going to pass out. There’s an expression in Sanskrit, the “Twa-Gi,” it means “the Gaze of God.” I felt like I was having an out-of-body experience and that I had known him for many, many lifetimes and I was coming home. I was a hippie revolutionary at the time and he was singing about equality, social justice, and the spirit of humanity. That meeting changed my life forever. From that point on, I attended every concert I could, and listened to every album of Bob’s around the clock. I lived, breathed, talked, and dreamt nightly about Bobby Zimmerman. I was obsessed with the personal connection I felt when I met him and the brilliance of his vision. I knew my time would come with him, and it did in late ‘75/early ‘76… I was in the process of my divorce from a short-lived marriage to Michael Jarrett, the songwriter (he earned many platinum records for his songs for Elvis Presley and The Hues Corporation). Anyway, I heard Bob was separated from Sara. Sharon Kemp and her brother, Louis, who were Bob’s friends since childhood in Duluth, reintroduced me to Bob during the rehearsals for the Houston Astrodome “Get Hurricane Carter Out of Jail—Rolling Thunder Revue” concerts.3 He asked me to be his date for the trip to Texas which lasted 5 days… and the rest is history. On the private jet he flew us on [to Houston] where, among others, Ringo Starr, Rick Danko, Stephen Stills, Stevie Wonder, Ronee Blakely, Scarlet Rivera, Richie Havens, Dyan Cannon, Bob Neuwirth, David Blue, Harry Dean Stanton, Louis and Sharon Kemp, Steven Soles, Dave Mansfield and T-Bone Burnett….the list goes on and on. There were so many stars on that plane I remember saying if this plane goes down, the whole music industry goes down with it. While we flew, I drew him and he drew me on napkins (check out “Highlands” in Time Out of Mind). That Texas trip changed my life. He became my lover, my friend and briefly my yoga student. Poetically speaking, we cried on each other’s shoulders about our broken marriages. Bob asked Ratso to interview me about those days for his book on Bob and The Rolling Thunder Revue,4 but I was too shy to talk about our friendship at that time.

Tell me about the performance at the Houston Astrodome.

I thought it was like the most brilliant and communal music I had ever heard. He asked me to sing with him on stage. I was too scared to do that, but, lucky girl, I got to bump and grind on stage right—partially visible to the audience! I jumped up and down for him (laughs), “Sally and the all‑American jump,” in a sexy, purple Giorgio Di Sant’ Angelo dress. I asked Bob to sing “Lay, Lady, Lay” and “Just Like A Woman” for me, and he turned and sang them to me while simultaneously performing for the audience. That trip and what was to follow over the years was my favorite intimacy in my life. I’ve never loved anyone romantically as much as Bobby Zimmerman.

How would you describe your relationship then?

I moved to L.A. in 1972 partially because of The Sting and The Way We Were, but also because Bob had moved to Malibu from Woodstock. And I was so in love with him… Granted, at that point from afar, it was like following The Pied Piper. It would’ve been better for my stage career if I had stayed in NYC, but I was in love with Bob Dylan, so I followed my heart. When we became good friends in L.A. in late 1975 to early 1976, he was separated from Sara and I was also separated from my then husband, Michael. I’d like to think for a while I became his muse, and he became my muse. I taught him all I knew about Christ Consciousness, mysticism, meditation and yoga. He was blown away when I told him I’d been pronounced dead by a drug overdose in 1966 and had been lucky enough to have a “life after life” experience. He wanted to know what it was like on “the other side,” as well as “the light,” “the sound current,” and seeing people in their “soul form.” I encouraged him to write about “the light” for his own healing process, as well as for all of his fans, along with the broken-hearted love songs. It was around that time he wrote the Street Legal songs. I told him how much he was a “light child” and how “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” had kept me going since the early 1970s. Because I was a licensed yoga teacher (with Swami Satchidananda and the Integral Yoga Institute—Bob expressed a desire to meet him) and I was simultaneously studying to be a minister, I had quit drugs, liquor, tobacco and this seemed to inspire him. This was all after the Desire album and before Hard Rain. I was in Peace Theological Seminary, studying to become an ordained minister with MSIA, where Jesus Christ sits at the head of the Church, but it also acknowledges Eastern and Western philosophy.

The Street Legal songs hinted at a spiritual quest and, of course, shortly afterwards came Dylan’s conversion. Can you expand on that?

Like I said, I was sharing with him about my understanding of The Christ Consciousness and the Mystical Traveler Consciousness, which has been around since “before Jesus was born on Earth.” He wanted to meet my spiritual teacher John-Roger, the founder of MSIA. Bob was happy when I told him that John-Roger was working with him spiritually on the other side. I gave Bob many John-Roger books and tapes. He asked me to bring him to the Universal Amphitheatre so he could meet him, but someone had forgotten to leave backstage passes.5 He called me the next day and asked “Where is John-Roger? I really wanted to meet him.” The spiritual connection was made then, but they didn’t physically meet until 1998, when I introduced them backstage in Anaheim6 along with Ron Howard (I was filming Ed TV with them), Woody Harrelson and their wives. He said to John-Roger, “Sally’s been talking about you for so many years.” Bob was so childlike and adoring. John-Roger was beautiful with him and of course has been praying for him all these 30 years. He gave him his book Spiritual Warrior and signed it to Bob to the “higher grounds.”

Flashing back to 1976-1977, you were the person who “re-introduced” Dylan to Mary Alice Artes, weren’t you?

Yes, Mary Alice was coming with me to John Roger’s seminars at MSIA. She was staying at my apartment at the time, and had had a small part with Bob in Pat Garrett And Billy The Kid which Bob starred in. She asked me to bring her to see Bob. I warned her I would, “as long as you don’t fall in love with him, because I’m so in love with him and it would ruin our friendship and break my heart.” But and… Subsequently, they became an item and I nearly had a nervous breakdown, sobbing for weeks, if not months. Bob kept doing emergency breakthrough phone calls to me, but I was so devastated I wouldn’t accept them. He recorded “Baby Stop Crying” shortly thereafter, coincidentally or otherwise. At this point, Mary Alice had stopped attending MSIA seminars with me and she took Bob to the Vineyard Church (T–Bone Burnett was also attending that church, or started attending later). It was not my idea that he become a “born again” Christian— that was part of his own process of self-discovery—but I was certainly in support of any spiritual choice. But I was very happy that he had abandoned drugs and alcohol. I did it my own way, with being a yoga teacher and then following the MSIA path, not allowing consciousness-altering drugs. He went through one of those very passionate everything’s either black or white periods. It was very radical, and he didn’t speak to many of his old friends for a while, including Louis Kemp, his best friend, who was more into traditional Judaism. But Bob is sensitive enough to always have spiritual souls around him, whatever the faith.

Like, for instance, in 1988, I recall, I was with Bob and George Harrison at a concert of his in New York City and the energy was so brilliantly intense.7 Lorne Michaels, the “Saturday Night Live” producer was also there. I had met George Harrison many years before, in 1971, with Ravi Shankar, but hadn’t seen him since. George was so sweet… I had also met his wife, Olivia, a month before they got married. Olivia and I hung out with Guru Maharaji, not to be confused with Guru Maharishi. When I saw George again in 1988, I told him that I knew Olivia from before they got married. He was fascinated. I told George I got the part of the stripper in The Sting stripping to his “Apple Jam” from All Things Must Pass. Remember on Street Legal, “There’s a long-time golden-haired stripper on stage / And she winds back the clock and she turns back the page / Of a book that no one can write / Oh, where are you tonight?”8 Bob was so happy to see how grateful and thrilled I was to reconnect with his beloved friend George.

Let’s go back a little. Were you involved with Renaldo And Clara? How was that experience?

Dylan was depending on Bob Neuwirth and David Blue to bring some actors into the film. He asked David to ask me. However, I was under contract, shooting two Aaron Spelling series (Charlie’s Angels and Starsky & Hutch). My schedule conflicted with Bob’s shooting schedule. When he finished filming it, he asked me to see the first cut at Howard Alk’s house (which was one of Bob’s houses in Malibu). Howard was the filmmaker on Dont Look Back. He also asked me to bring Shelley Winters (my godmother) with me. It was about a four hour experience. Dennis Hopper and Alan Ginsberg may have been there too. Sara starred in it and was quite wonderful, along with Bob and The Rolling Thunder Revue. Anyone who loves Bob would’ve loved it, even at four hours long. It was a surreal, abstract, “Warhol meets Cassavetes” film, but in the form of Dylan. Ultimately, I was sorry I wasn’t able to be in it, if only to be directed by him. My loss.

Any other favorite moments in 1976?

Yes, the Band’s Last Waltz concert on November 25, 1976 at the Winterland Palace in San Francisco. In my Dylanworld, in my fantasy, I was “Hazel” with the “dirty blonde hair.”

Oh, yes. We were both legally separated from our spouses and had been seeing each other romantically, and as friends. I was co-hosting parties in his honor and simultaneously preparing to be ordained in December 1976. I surrounded him with people that I felt would be good for him such as Mary Alice, Lainie Kazan, and Ronee Blakely. That particular night, I invited him to this party at the L.A. Roxy where Ronee Blakely was singing. I invited Lainie Kazan, Bobby DeNiro, Diahnne Abbott DeNiro, David Cohen,9 and Martine (Mrs. J. Paul) Getty III. I was upstairs with Bob Dylan and I told him that Bobby DeNiro and Diahnne Abbott DeNiro were downstairs and Dylan cried in surprise, “Are you kidding me?” and again I told him it was true, and he got very excited and said, “I want to meet him! I gotta meet him! He’s my favorite actor, I gotta meet him! Please, Sally, go down and bring him upstairs!” It was very odd, because Bob Dylan was very shy about meeting people. So I went downstairs and told Bobby that Dylan wanted to meet him. Bobby was dumfounded, and said, “Are you putting me on? Bob Dylan is here and he wants to meet me? Bob Dylan?” and I said “Yes,” and he said “Bob Dylan? Really? He wants to meet me?” I said, ”Yes, he says you’re his favorite actor.” DeNiro couldn’t believe it! Bobby was also terribly shy then, but Diahnne said, “Bobby go with Sally.” He followed me upstairs and after I introduced them, Bob Dylan asked me, “Quick, Sally, go find a photographer!” (This was shocking because Bob never wanted to be photographed.) So I did, and Dylan threw his arms around DeNiro telling him how much he loved him and how much he admired his work, and Bobby didn’t know what to say, he couldn’t believe this was happening to him!

Here’s a funny thing, you know, years later, Bob Dylan and Bobby DeNiro were together at a party, and they called me, and said, “Hey Sally, we’re both at this party, why don’t you come over?” and I said that friends were giving me a party for my birthday, and asked them to come over instead, but they insisted: “No, no, please Sally, you’ve got to come to this party and be with us.” You know, a typical power contest, (she laughs) as if I were some slave and they were the kings or something! [laughs again] So I thought, “Wait a moment, it’s my birthday, and 100 people came to see me, so I can’t very well abandon my own party, that would be rude,” and I didn’t go to see them.  I suppose it must be difficult to say “no” to Dylan… Well, during the late 80s, our relationship was back on. I was talking to some of my spiritual teachers about Dylan, and I told them, “I can’t understand what’s the matter with me: I can’t live with this guy and I can’t live without him, what’s going on here?” And it was suggested to me that probably Bob and I had been together in many previous lifetimes. If “my memory serves me well,” I was told I had at least five lifetimes with him, as his mother, his lover, his best friend, etc. in England, Israel, Ireland, France, and Italy, and much of the time Bob had been a minstrel and I was a sort of muse to him. They added, “He’s a poet and you bring him information of what people need to hear. He depends on you for that. You two have been working with the same spiritual consciousness for many, many lifetimes.”

So you were close again in the late 80s, but after a few years in which you hadn’t seen much of each other? Have you heard of a play called Same Time, Next Year?

Yes, I’ve seen the movie. Ellen Burstyn and Alan Alda did it, right? Well, like in the play, between ‘76 and ‘98 with some time out for other girlfriends and a short marriage and my other love liaisons and a short marriage, we would almost get together every year or every few years and pick up where we left off. Romantic reunions all over the country: L.A., Malibu, New York., New Jersey, D.C., Philadelphia, Connecticut, Santa Barbara, San Diego, San Francisco, Oakland and finally in Salt Lake City, Utah where he proposed to me, but I’ll never know if he was serious. Someday I’ll do justice to him in my autobiography. Very simply, next to my spiritual teacher, John-Roger who’s been in my life since ‘73 (in this lifetime), I have never loved anyone as passionately or profoundly as I have Bob. But being an actress and being in love with a rock icon sets up immediate and external challenges. He has always been on the road, and I have been acting nonstop for 38 years. I believe he’s married to his work and I’ve been married to my work. Someone once asked me what emotional recall I used for my performance in Anna, for which I won a Best Actress Oscar nomination. I said it was my frustrating love affair and broken heart over Dylan. He gave me enough juice for some 60 movies and 40-something television films. I can cry on cue within 2 minutes just thinking about how much I loved him and how impossible it was to be in love with him all those years. So I have Bob to thank for five Best Acting Awards.

Funny, he once called me up and said “Sally, you know how you were going to teach me Method Acting, and how to cry on cue? Will you teach me now?” I said, “Are you serious? Why do you want to learn how to cry on cue?” He said, “I have to go to the bank tomorrow.” It was around the time of the post-alimony settlement with Sara—something like 12 million dollars and half of his music royalties. In all seriousness, he did always talk to me about acting. He had taken me to The Troubadour one night in 1976-77 to hear Tom Waits, and later to meet John Cassavetes and Gena Rowlands at Dan Tana’s Restaurant. (At that point, Tom Waits was living in his car in front of then Duke’s Restaurant). Years later, in ‘88 Bob heard I was filming Cold Feet with Tom Waits and Keith Carradine (also a friend of Bob’s), and he asked me if I could get him a part in the film. I called Robert Dornhelm, the director. He went crazy with excitement. He had an hysterically funny role for Bob, that of a horse doctor (“gangsta” type) who for a certain amount of money was going to open the horse’s stomach and hide our stolen jewels inside. We would then smuggle the horse and the jewels across the Mexican border. We were finally going to be working together! But in the 11th hour, the bad news came in from Jeff Kramer, Bob’s manager, that the shooting schedule conflicted with his European touring schedule. One thing he used to always say to me was, “Sally, no matter what, don’t ever stop working.”

When did he say that?

In ‘88. You know how Chekhov in his plays always has his characters talk about “to work”? Bob turned me into a workaholic.

Is that a good thing? Yes, in 42 years, I’ve never stopped working. I used to fantasize about retiring in my 90s with Bob. We’d be sitting there, two old people in rocking chairs, on a patio. Me, cuddling with him and making him laugh; him, strumming his guitar and writing one more love song (to me) or one more spiritual revelation. Fantasy, fantasy.

Did you ever hang out in Zuma Beach with him?

Yes, a number of times. Once in a sleeping bag on Zuma Beach, when he made me cry describing how imprisoned he felt by his fame. I also remember in 1988, watching High Stakes with him on his VCR at his Malibu home and showing him my “strip,” for which I was begging him to give me “New Pony.” He suggested instead I strip to “Shot of Love,” but the rhythm of “New Pony” was easier to dance to (“What Was It You Wanted?”). He was shocked that I was a minister and was comfortable stripping at the same time. (“When Did You Leave Heaven?” came right after that, coincidentally or not), it’s been an ongoing conversation of Religiosity versus Spirit. Another time, when he and [members of] The Band were recording with Eric Clapton at Shangri-La up Morning View Drive in Malibu (I used to live right near there), it was so special to dance all night long with Bob and all of them jamming—an out-of-body experience.12

The challenge, though, was the all-night partying and the lifestyle that went with it. I told Bob I had changed my lifestyle drastically to accommodate my church in order to work with spiritual energies. He was very supportive of that. I was ordained December 6, 1976 and never looked back. Since I had my heart and lungs stop in 1966 and a clinical death experience… I was thanking Christ and everyone I believed in for still being alive. I can have a glass of wine every once in a while, but since my parents died of alcoholism, it’s never been too tempting. I haven’t had social drugs, alcohol or cigarettes since 1976, and it’s 2003 now. I get so high just being with Bob and hearing his music, it’s been the greatest drug in the world.

Is it true you brought Bob Dylan to the Actor’s Studio in New York City?

Yes, I did. He had just visited James Dean’s family home. Bob always was a big James Dean fan, and he asked me to take him there. He arrived with Susie, his dresser, looking very James Dean-esque, in a black leather jacket, jeans, and dark glasses. I told him he should take off his shades since it was so dark once the lights went down. He just smiled. I also took Bob to the Met Theatre in Los Angeles, when he asked to meet Dwight Yoakam and see him act. I was coaching Dwight’s acting at the time.

Bob Dylan is sometimes described as a very egocentric and difficult artist, and other times as a very gentle, rather shy and introverted person. How would you describe him?

Bob’s a triple Gemini, I’m a Gemini on the ascendant. There’s a lot of personalities that go with that. It’s a Uranus thing. Revolution, unpredictability. Genius or eccentricity, depending on which way the soul is going that day. I think I relate to his light as much as to his darkness, because I’ve been there. Tell me what great artist is easy. Out of chaos comes creativity.

So you kept coming back into each other’s life through the years: can you be more specific as to dates? Use Bob’s albums as references, if it’s of help…

I was around him at the time of Hard Rain (1976), Street Legal (1978), Slow Train Coming (1979), Dylan And The Dead (1987), Down In The Groove (1988), and periodically with the albums that followed. Let’s see… I was nominated for the Oscar the year of Down In The Groove, I invited him to be my escort for the Academy Awards. There was a story about it in Rolling Stone—he thought about it or at least he considered going with me when I won the Golden Globe—he politely bowed out but he was very proud of me and put me in the “Unbelievable” video. Paris Barclay made that with Molly Ringwald and me. I was blown away with “Shenandoah” for personal reasons (the line “I courted Sally for seven years”) and I was intrigued that there was another “Sally-song” on the same album: “Sally Sue Brown.” Oh Mercy, that was in ‘89, I was with him a lot, a very spiritual time. I was always giving him spiritual books by John-Roger. He gave me the first tape of the “Everything Is Broken” single before it came out, and asked me to give him feedback.13 Under The Red Sky in ’90, I was backstage and in front of the stage dancing my butt off for him, “so Sally’s doing the all-American jump” was going on all through that tour… Sometimes I’d dance onstage and then he’d ask me after how he did. I think Bob thinks of me as his perennial 21-year old cheerleader.

Time Out Of Mind in ’97, I played it for a year on my radio show, was with him quite a bit during that tour, and had a romantic, fun time in Malibu in 1998. For a while he talked to me about doing his musical life story on my radio show KYPA and KYBA. I had been playing all my favorite Dylan songs and talking on the radio with his friends and doing a radio play with Paige Dylan [Jakob Dylan’s wife] and Susan Traylor-Dylan [Jesse Dylan’s wife] called Laundry & Bourbon by James McClure. And just when he was ready to do the radio show, the network was sold and my show ended.

When Bob got really sick and there was a concern for his very life, John-Roger told me he was helping him from the other side, and suggested I go to him. I stayed up all night, praying and chanting, and flew to the East Coast to be by his side.

When was your last quality encounter with Bob?

I was with Bob in San Diego during the “Love And Theft” tour in Fall 2001. I was blown away of course. I told Bob it was a bummer that he had taken “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door” out of his set, since post–9/11 and that radio stations were refusing to play it—which I thought was criminal. He then added it to his set on and off for the rest of the tour. I was thrilled to hear about “Aunt Sally.”14 I reminded him that back in the 1970s he had once told me, “To know you are somewhere around on this Earth helps me keep going on, because I know you pray for me and hold the light for me.” He was thrilled that I was thrilled about all the Oscar stuff (“Things Have Changed” from the film Wonder Boys winning the Academy Award for Best Song). He kidded me about beating me to it! And he asked me if I was still a “High Priestess” [she laughs], and then I took the cigarettes out of his pocket and tried to throw them away. I saw all three shows at the Wiltern for “Love And Theft” last year,15 Bob was great, brilliant on keyboards. I took Scarlet Rivera the last night. Bob was magnificent, looser than I’ve seen him in years.

You had a wonderful art show in November and another in Malibu last summer. Could you tell us a little about it?

The November show was called “Women As Goddesses” and included paintings of Frida Kahlo, Marilyn Monroe, five Saint Joan paintings, Andy Warhol, Helen Of Troy, Clytemnestra, Aphrodite and myself.

Sally, I know you don’t want to be too lavish with your answers, because you are writing your own book. But could you tell us something about it, please? Can we expect to see it published soon?

I don’t know. I have 300 pages unedited so far. I haven’t shown it to any publishers yet. Some of these stories are excerpts from my forthcoming book. I love On the Tracks and I thank you for giving me the opportunity to share these memories with all its readers. For the record, I love everybody who loves Bob, particularly people who study his work! 

About the author: Guido Bieri, born in 1954, teaches languages and history in Switzerland. Bob Dylan’s music is his most inspiring source of creativity, together with romantic literature and philosophy. The updated  English translation and rewriting of his excellent 1999 German book, Life On The Tracks, traces the lives of Bob Dylan and other people in Bob Dylan’s songs. Pre-publication orders direct from Rolling Tomes will receive a substantial discount.

Notes:

1.         Clinton Heylin’s Behind The Shades Take Two states: “Actress Sally Kirkland had first known Dylan, in the biblical sense, in 1976, but had been supplanted in his affections by her roommate, Mary Alice Artes. In the 1980s, they resumed their friendship until, in 1989, Kirkland began to talk openly about their relationship, claiming that ‘we keep in touch through his songs and my poems’. She, too, laid claim to sections of Oh Mercy, alleging that certain specific lines in “Everything Is Broken” were directed at her. It seems Dylan still had no answer to that question, “Did you write that song for me?” Kirkland exemplified the kind of fierce loyalty and protective streak that Dylan seemed to command from his women friends (…)” (p.709). Kirkland did not remember Heylin ever interviewing her, so his information may be minimal in regard to her work and the true nature of her relationship with Dylan.

2.         Sally wasn’t sure of the exact date, however, it seems impossible to determine after which concert she was introduced to Bob. However, if it was at Carnegie Hall, the October 26, 1963 Carnegie Hall concert seems to be the most likely, because he was close to Joan Baez then, and “Blowin’ In The Wind” had been a hit that year for Peter, Paul & Mary. But then perhaps it was at the time of Dylan’s 1964 New York appearance with Joan Baez, on October 31st (Sally’s birthday), the show when Dylan famously explained that it was “Halloween and I have my Bob Dylan mask on.”

3.         The actual concert was the second benefit show for Rubin Carter, labeled “Night of the Hurricane 2” and it took place at the Houston Astrodome on January 25, 1976. Dylan played “Isis,” “Romance In Durango,” “Oh, Sister,” “One More Cup of Coffee,” “Sara,” and “Hurricane” from ‘Desire’, along with “Lay Lady Lay.” The first benefit concert was on December 8, 1975 at Madison Square Garden, NYC.

4.         Larry Sloman, On The Road With Bob Dylan. Rolling With The Thunder, Bantam Books, New York, 1978, reissued in 2002 by as On The Road With Bob Dylan, with a new foreword by Kinky Friedman.

5.         This probably took place at the time of Dylan’s seven-night residency at the L.A. Universal Amphitheater, in June 1-7, 1978.

6.         This must have taken place after the show at the Pond of Anaheim Arena on May 23, 1998.

7.         This likely refers to Dylan’s four-night residency at Radio City Music Hall in NYC, on October 16-19, 1988.

8.         Sally refers to the following lines from “Where Are You Tonight? (Journey Through Dark Heat)”:

There’s a babe in the arms of a woman in a rage

There’s a long-time golden-haired stripper on stage

And she winds back the clock and she turns back the page

Of a book that no one can write

Oh, where are you tonight?

            Sally reminds us that Dylan later wanted her to explain to Larry Sloman, so Sloman could include it in his book, about what was going on during his divorce from a feminine point of view—a very interesting correspondence between facts and poetry.

9.         David Cohen is better known—and has already been mentioned in this interview—under his artistic name, David Blue.

10.       In Heylin’s A Life In Stolen Moments the encounter is credited to March 1977 after a Ronee Blakely concert at the Roxy in Los Angeles. In Michael Gross’ The Illustrated Bob Dylan, the photo of the event is credited to Brad Elterman.

11.       The 1978 movie Same Time, Next Year, starring Ellen Burstyn and Alan Alda, was based on a play by Bernard Slade and directed by Robert Mulligan.

12.       In March, 1976, at the time of Clapton’s recording sessions for No Reason To Cry, which features his duet with Dylan on the latter’s “Sign Language.”

13.       Heylin, Behind The Shades, p. 458, quotes a newspaper article from 1989 in which Sally Kirkland stated: “He is often away on the road and I am working, but we stay in touch through his songs and my poems. In “Everything Is Broken” he wrote the lines for me: “Every time you leave/and go off some place/Things go to pieces in my face.”” When I mentioned this to Sally during a phone conversation, she laughed and said she didn’t really mean that Dylan wrote anything specific “about” her necessarily but… She now modestly puts it like this: “I was around him, when he wrote certain songs. He gave me an audio cassette and said, ‘Sally, you’re the only one who has this beside my producer so far.’”

14.       That must have been the concert in La Jolla near San Diego on October 17, 2001. Indeed Dylan sang “Sugar Baby” at that show, including the lines “I’m staying with Aunt Sally, but you know, she’s not really my aunt.”

15.       Dylan played the Wiltern Theatre in Los Angeles on October 15, 16, and 17, 2002.

Photo by: Brad Elterman from On The Tracks