The Bob Dylan Interview
The 71-year-old veteran musician opens up unflinchingly, with no aplogies
Why do you have that need to constantly reshape things?
Because that’s the nature of existence. Nothing stays where it is for very long. Trees grow tall, leaves fall, rivers dry up and flowers die. New people are born every day. Life doesn’t stop.
Is that part of what touring is about for you?
Touring is about anything you want it to be about. Is there something strange about touring? About playing live shows? If there is, tell me what it is. Willie [Nelson]’s been playing them for years, and nobody ever asks him why he still tours. Look, you travel to different places and you encounter things that you might not encounter every day if you stayed home. And you get to play music for the people – all of the people, every nationality and in every country. Ask any performer or entertainer that does this, they’ll all tell you the same thing. That they like doing it and that it means a lot to people. It’s just like any other line of work, only different.
Yet for a long time, from 1966 to 1974, you left touring behind. Did you always expect to return to live performance, as part of doing what it is that you do?
I know I left it behind, but then I picked it up again. Things change. Also, there are performers that don’t go on the road. They might go to Vegas and just stay there. You could do it that way — who knows, I may do that too, someday. There are a lot of worse ways to end up. It’s always been this way for everybody who’s ever done it, going back to those ancient days. The carnival came to town, the carnival left and you ran off with them. It’s just what you did. You don’t travel to the end of the line until someone gives you a gold watch and a pat on the back. That’s not the way the game works. People really don’t retire. They fade away. They run out of steam. People aren’t interested in them anymore.
What do you think of Bruce Springsteen? U2?
I love Bruce like a brother. He’s a powerful performer — unlike anybody. I care about him deeply. U2’s a force to be reckoned with. Bono’s energy has far-reaching effects, and in some ways, he’s his own tempest.
Miles Davis had this idea that music was best heard in the moments in which it was performed — that that’s where music is truly alive. Is your view similar?
Yeah, it’s exactly the same as Miles’ is. We used to talk about that. Songs don’t come alive in a recording studio. You try your best, but there’s always something missing. What’s missing is a live audience. Sinatra used to make records like that — used to bring people into the studio as an audience. It helped him get into the songs better.
So live performance is a purpose you find fulfilling?
If you’re not fulfilled in other ways, performing can never make you happy. Performing is something you have to learn how to do. You do it, you get better at it and you keep going. And if you don’t get better at it, you have to give it up. Is it a fulfilling way of life? Well, what kind of way of life is fulfilling? No kind of life is fulfilling if your soul hasn’t been redeemed.
You’ve described what you do not as a career but as a calling.
Everybody has a calling, don’t they? Some have a high calling, some have a low calling. Everybody is called but few are chosen. There’s a lot of distraction for people, so you might not never find the real you. A lot of people don’t.
How would you describe your calling?
Mine? Not any different than anybody else’s. Some people are called to be a good sailor. Some people have a calling to be a good tiller of the land. Some people are called to be a good friend. You have to be the best at whatever you are called at. Whatever you do. You ought to be the best at it — highly skilled. It’s about confi dence, not arrogance. You have to know that you’re the best whether anybody else tells you that or not. And that you’ll be around, in one way or another, longer than anybody else. Somewhere inside of you, you have to believe that.
Some of us have seen your calling as somebody who has done his best to pay witness to the world, and the history that made that world.
History’s a funny thing, isn’t it? History can be changed. The past can be changed and distorted and used for propaganda purposes. Things we’ve been told happened might not have happened at all. And things that we were told that didn’t happen actually might have happened. Newspapers do it all the time; history books do it all the time. Everybody changes the past in their own way. It’s habitual, you know? We always see things the way they really weren’t, or we see them the way we want to see them. We can’t change the present or the future. We can only change the past, and we do it all the time.
There’s that old wisdom “History is written by the victors.”
Absolutely. And then there’s Henry Ford. He didn’t have much use for history at all.