Though Jacques Levy ultimately ended up writing six songs with Bob Dylan, the songwriter and director said their initial meeting was marked by no small amount of trepidation.
“First of all, it got me a little nervous,” Jacques Levy says in the below video. “I said to him — and it was very funny at the time, though I don’t know how funny it will be now — I said: ‘You know, I write the lyrics; I don’t write the music.’ … It never dawned on me that he was going to ask me to write lyrics for him.”
Prism Films posted the archival talk with Levy, who passed in 2004, as he discusses his work on Dylan’s 1976 project Desire, which included songs about mafia hitman Joe Gallo (“Joey”) and, most memorably, about incarcerated boxer Rubin Carter (“Hurricane”).
“He asked me very early on whether I had any interest in Hurricane Carter,” Levy says. “As it turns out, I knew all about Hurricane Carter. It was just a coincidence. … Bob wanted to do something about it, felt he was an innocent man — and I agreed with him.”
Dylan met Levy subsequent to his work with Roger McGuinn, who’d reinterpreted a number of Dylan classics with the Byrds. Levy’s co-written song “Chestnut Mare” appeared on the Byrds’ 1970 effort Untitled; he later worked with McGuinn on a series of 1970s solo albums, including Thunderbyrd. Perhaps most famous in the world of theater for having directed the Broadway musical “Doonesbury” and for writing the lyrics for the stage version of “Fame,” Levy also composed for Carly Simon, Crystal Gayle and Joe Cocker — though he’ll always be best known in pop music circles for contributing to Dylan’s “Hurricane.”
“I think he liked the idea that I could tell a story, that there was a story in that song,” Levy adds. “Bob is not that good at telling stories. He’s doesn’t go from A to B to C to D to E. He’s got a lot of good stuff in his songs, but they don’t usually add up to a story.”