Where am I?

Nervous breakdown.


No kidding.

No, you’re at The Nervous Breakdown.


What is that? Some sort of mental institution?

Yes, you could say that: booby hatch, loony bin, funny farm. Actually, it’s a digital mental institution. The advantage being no bedpans, no IVs, no nurses. They’ve all been replaced by pixels and psychiatric apps.

I’m going to miss the nurses.

They all say that.


So how did I end up here?

You were babbling on the IRT something about what are the keeys to the raiiin?


I thought the IRT didn’t exist anymore.

Precisely, the IRT was replaced by the #7 train years ago.  About the time you went round the bend.  Or, as you would put it, “around the time the doorknob broke.”


Was that some kind of joke?

You were claiming to be Napoleon XIV.


No, that was Bob Dylan.

You do seem to have a problem distinguishing between fantasy and reality.


That’s perceptive of you.

Got it from these “Notes On The Patient’s Condition,” or as you insist on calling it, your biography of Bob Dylan.


I don’t have to listen to this abuse.  The book’s right there in front of you.

Yes, I see it, and guess what it’s called? Who Is That Man?



This is a clear case of schizophrenia, identity theft or at the very least, what they laughably call an autobiography.


But it’s not about me; it’s about Bob Dylan.

We’re not so sure about that. The New York Times says your book is a “sort of literary equivalent to the cinematic expedition that was Being John Malkovich.”


Are you telling me The Nervous Breakdown gets its information from the New York Times? I thought this was virtual, man. There is no paper in cyberspace … or inside the Gates of Eden for that matter.

Let’s just say we’re on to you.


Who do you think you are, Wikipedia?

Part of your pathology, as we see it, is your need to write another Bob Dylan biography when there are already 617 books on him out there already?


Most of the books about Dylan are by train spotters and stamp collectors, and as an avid reader of Dylanobilia I say this fondly—God bless the industrious little Dylanologist elves who have unearthed all these treasures—biographical, musicological, bootlegological. The most conscientious and relentless biographers pursue Dylan’s like as if it were inch-by-inch trench warfare, but, to quote Bob himself, “nothing is revealed.” In the end these approaches to Dylan would be like explaining a car by listing the automotive components, its statistics—but failing to explain how the internal combustion engine works.  Does that answer your question?

You don’t understand, we’re here to help.  Don’t you see this is pure self-delusive rationalization?  Let’s face it, you’re in denial.


Listen, man, questioning someone’s very existence is the most demoralizing thing you can do.

Perhaps if you were to explain to us your “theory” regarding Bob Dylan it would shed some light on your own condition.


Ah, well, that I can do. It’s the old Walt Whitman, three-card monte trick.  You know, I first learned about all this from Wiggle Foot, least that’s what I think his name was, or maybe it happened when I was working in the great north woods, or as a cook for a spell, or was it when I was down in Peru in that circus they got there.

Are you aware you’re beginning to sound just like him?


Why thank yee, kind sir! Yes, I admit I have a bad case of the Mona Lisa highway blues and my doctor won’t even tell me what I got.

This may be more serious than we thought.


Yes, I’m probably going to have to go to the de-Bobification clinic and get my brain rinsed with intercortical detergent.

How did you get into this predicament in the first place?


So, here’s what happened. I found myself in some kind of hospital with bars on the window. The guy in the bed next to me was in really bad shape. In fact they’d taken his brain out and put it in a stainless steel bowl.  The fucking thing was glowing! I looked at the guy’s face. By God, it was him: Bob Dylan. They had him in there for this histio-plan-Moses virus.

You mean histioplasmosis.


Whatever. I’d always been curious about the contents of Bob’s brain. So I took an electrode and touched it to the medulla oblongata, which controls…

We know what the medulla oblongata is.  We’re doctors, remember?


So you say.

Go on.


So as I began probing Dylan’s brain these weird phrases started coming out that I couldn’t decipher.

But people say that all the time about Dylan’s lyrics.  Most of the time, they don’t make any sense at all.


So, anyway to make out what he was saying I went to see a resentful mathematician.

Resentful?  Why?


Well, you know the line from that song, “some are mathematicians, some are carpenter’s wives.” Wouldn’t that piss you off? Anyway, I want to see this guy to find out what the hell Bob was talking about. He said he’d use this algorithm that he created for his famous cheese doodle app. 

You’re losing me, but go on.


The algorithm allowed me to actually enter Bob’s brain.

And what did you find in there, David?


Jesus, where to start. I found Jimmy Hoffa, Amelia Earhart, the Loch Ness monster, Bigfoot, big Bill Broonzy, the missing link, the keys to the highway….

Sounds pretty crowded in there.


Oh, it is. It’s like an attic. I opened a trunk and there was Bob Dylan totally intact from 1966, complete with shades and polka dot shirt and talking that wild mercury talk. There were dozens of Bob Dylans in these … [gasp!] pods. There was the dustbowl singer, street-urchin, son of Ramblin’ Jack, folk messiah, neon Rimbaud, Old Testament prophet, Amish farmer, howdy-neighbor country boy, white-face death’s-head mummer, Shropshire Lad with flowers in his hat, Christ-like Bob, born-again Bob, Hasidic Bob, Late-Elvis Dylan with the big WWF belt, Endless-Tour Dylan, Jack Fate, Living Nation Treasure Dylan….

Now, Mr. Dalton, given your situation, you don’t want to over excite yourself.


So, what are you telling me, that I’m having a virtual nervous breakdown?

In a sense, yes.


But why can’t I just close this application and get out of here?

It’s up to you, Mr. Dalton, if you want to get better or not. Also, we must advise you if you shut down this site you will also erase your entire internet history.



But, unfortunately you will no longer exist and neither will your book.  I actually have a personal question of my own I’d like to ask.


Go for it.

The way Bob Dylan looks today….


You mean his Vincent-Price-in-The House of Usher look?

Yeah, how did that come about?  I mean up through the 1990s he sorta looked like himself, you could connect the old Dylan with….


Oh, I can explain that easily. Hotels, motels, and 7-11s. That’s where weird things occur in this climate. They’re the most haunted places in the USA.  Forget all those Haunted History TV shows—that’s just comic book stuff.  Hotels and motels are Stations of the Cross. Aliens with tractor beams are sitting out in air-conditioned vans in the parking lot, siphoning off your brain while you’re sleeping or jerking off to internet porn. The 7-11, strip club, biker bar, the smoke shop, some chain restaurant masquerading as a roadside diner with prefab artifacts, okay, Applebees, TGIF. Gas stations with quaint names like “The Country Store” and mass-produced weathered wood sign with folk art pictures of mild and bread. It’s a chain! Every store is a fucking franchise. Everywhere you go it’s like a fake western town with counterfeit storefronts. The road is Nowheresville. No wonder musicians go mad on the road. It warps your mind and eventually—if you’ve been on the road as long as Bob it’ll contort your face, too. 

We’re curious—that is assuming any of this nonsense ever happened—what did you learn from your exploration of Dylan’s brain?


Well, it’s a little complicated.

Try me.


First of all, there is no “I” in Dylan, by which I mean, um, y’know, man, “I is another.” That’s Dylan’s mantra, you know. Or, to put another way, it’s like Walt Whitman, saying, “I contain multitudes.”

Are you aware that these are all classic delusions of the bipolar biographer, the schizoid autobiographer?


Now, wait a minute. It’s more like, you know those science experiments, where they can’t figure out, is it a wave or a particle. Or, Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle.

Okay, now you’re pulling my leg.


No, that would be Bob Dylan, that’s his specialty.

Where do you see yourself going from here?


I usually take the local and then change to the express at 14th St.

Nurse!  Please administer 10 cc of  something or other. Mr. Dalton, you seem to be suffering from a rare case of Zimmermanitis. I hope you recover soon.


Why would I want to do that? 

You need to recover your sanity and get back to reality.


I think I’d rather stay right here. I think I just saw Einstein playing the electric violin on Desolation Row.

Hopeless case! I give up.


Which way is the subway? And where are my shoes?




DAVID DALTON is a New York Times bestselling author, a founding editor of Rolling Stone, recipient of the Columbia School of Journalism Award, and winner of the Ralph J. Gleason Best Rock Book of the Year award for Faithfull. He has written twenty-four books, including biographies of James Dean, Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin, Sid Vicious, the Rolling Stones, and, in 2010, a critically acclaimed biography of Andy Warhol, Pop. Dalton is the coauthor (with Jonathon Cott) of Get Back, the only book ever commissioned by the Beatles, and the screenwriter for an upcoming Janis Joplin biopic. He lives with his family in upstate New York.

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TNB Nonfiction features some of the web's best essays, excerpts of up-and-coming books, self-interviews, profiles, and humor from a wide range of authors. Past and future writers include Emily Rapp, Mira Bartók, Nick Flynn and Melissa Febos, among many others.  Our editorial team includes:  SETH FISCHER is the Nonfiction Editor. His work has appeared in Guernica, Joyland, Best Sex Writing, and elsewhere, and he was the first Sunday editor at The Rumpus. His nonfiction was selected as notable in The Best American Essays, and he has been awarded fellowships by Jentel, the Ucross Foundation, Lambda Literary, and elsewhere. He is also a developmental editor of nonfiction and fiction, and he teaches at Antioch University Los Angeles, UCLA-Extension, and Writing Workshops Los Angeles.

2 responses to “David Dalton: The TNB Self-Interview”

  1. Elmergantry says:

    In relation to Paul Clayton there is a glaring (and rather ridiculous) error about him in David dalton’s new book about Bob.

    In it, Dalton claims that Clayton streched the idea of the folk ‘concept’ album to such lengths that he actually recorded an album about ‘Hunt The Cutty Awk: Awk Hunting in the Inner Hebrides’…

    Of course, there is no such album and the title was one of Dave Van Ronk’s typical jokes in his brilliant memoir, which was put together by Elijah Wald after DVR’s death…

    The fact that a simple google search or a check on the excellent discography of Clayton’s work at http://www.wirz.de/music/claytfrm.htm wold have shown that such an album does not exist does not fill me with great confidence in the rest of Dalton’s research..

  2. Sam Jasper says:

    This is convoluted, but after reading the wonderful piece above I think Mr. Dalton will understand. I am trying to contact Mr. Dalton in order to contact another person, Joe B. Stewart (from the Dylan/Mardi Gras story). I know he was a teacher in Mobile for a while but think he might live here in New Orleans. I’m trying to reach Mr. Stewart because he may be of help in my current research on PD East.

    I know it’s convoluted. Can you help?

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