The Bob Dylan Interview
The 71-year-old veteran musician opens up unflinchingly, with no aplogies
With this sort of question? Just one more: In the past 10 years, you’ve written an autobiography; there was a fictional film biography, I’m Not There; and there was Martin Scorsese’s documentary, No Direction Home – three big attempts to come to terms with your history, the biggest being your book, Chronicles. Wasn’t that, in a way, an attempt to explain certain things about your life?
If you read Chronicles, you know it doesn’t attempt to be any more than what it is. You’re not going to find the meaning of life in it. Mine or anyone else’s. And if you’ve seen No Direction Home, you might have noticed that it ended in ’66. And I’m Not There — I don’t know anything about that movie. All I know is they licensed about 30 of my songs for it.
Did you like I’m Not There?
Yeah, I thought it was all right. Do you think that the director was worried that people would understand it or not? I don’t think he cared one bit. I just think he wanted to make a good movie. I thought it looked good, and those actors were incredible.
I think the movie grew from a long-stated perception of you as somebody with a lot of phases and identities.
I don’t see myself that way. But what does it matter? It’s only a movie.
In Chronicles, you wrote about declining to write songs for a 1971 play by Archibald MacLeish because you thought the play, Scratch, “spelled death for society with humanity lying facedown in its own blood.” Wouldn’t that same vision apply to the 2003 film you co-wrote, Masked and Anonymous?
Uh, yeah. You could look at it that way.
Were you happy with Masked and Anonymous?
No. Whatever vision I had for that movie, that never could’ve carried to the screen. When you want to make a film and you’re using outside money, there’s just too many people you have to listen to.
I love that film.
I’m glad some people like it. I know people who do. There’s some performances in there. John Goodman. Isn’t he great? And Jessica Lange. Everybody was really good in it. Everybody except me. Ha-ha! I had no business being in it, to tell you the truth. What’s her name, Cate Blanchett [among the actors who played Dylan in I’m Not There], should’ve played the character that I played. It probably would’ve been a hit movie.
Will there be a Chronicles 2?
Oh, let’s hope so. I’m always working on parts of it. But the last Chronicles I did all by myself. I’m not even really so sure I had a proper editor for that. I don’t want really to say too much about that. But it’s a lot of work. I don’t mind writing it, but it’s the rereading it and the time it takes to reread it – that for me is difficult.
You’ve said before there are certain things you just don’t remember. I came away from Chronicles thinking that you remember almost everything. Why didn’t you ever talk before about that life of the mind you’ve gone through?
It’s not like I have a great memory. I remember what I want to remember. And what I want to forget, I forget. When you’re writing like that, it’s just kind of like one thing leads to another and another, you just keep opening doors and sliding in and finding a way out. It’s like links in a chain – you make connections as you go along.
In recent years, you’ve received numerous high honors, including one recently at the White House, where you were presented with a Medal of Freedom. You weren’t always comfortable with this sort of event. What makes you more accepting now of these laurels?
I turn down far more of those medals and honors than I pick up. They come in from all over the place – all parts of the world. Most of them will get turned down because I can’t physically be there to get them all. But every once in a while, there’s something that is important, an incredibly high honor that I would never have dreamed to be receiving, like the Medal of Freedom. There’s no way I would turn that down.
Do you accept the awards in part for your family, for your posterity?
I accept them for myself and myself only. And I don’t think about it any other way, and I don’t waste a lot of time overthinking it. It’s an incredible honor.
Receiving the Medal of Freedom had to be a bit of a thrill.
Oh, of course it’s a thrill! I mean, who wouldn’t want to get a letter from the White House? And the kind of people they were putting me in the category with was just amazing. People like John Glenn and Madeleine Albright, Toni Morrison and Pat Summitt, John Doer, William Foege and some others, too. These people who have done incredible things and have outstanding achievements. Pat Summitt alone has won more basketball games with her teams than any NCAA coach. John Glenn, we all know what he did. And Toni Morrison is as good as it gets. I loved spending time with them. What’s the alternative? Hanging around with hedge-fund hucksters or Hollywood gigolos? You know what I mean?
The Medal of Freedom, it’s an encircled star on a ribbon that hangs around your neck?
Yeah, I guess so. You should’ve told me you wanted to see it. I’d’ve brought it by and you could look at it, if you wanted.
Maybe next time.
Yeah. Sure, next time.
In July 2009, the police picked you up in Long Branch, New Jersey, while you were on a walk, supposedly looking for Bruce Springsteen’s old home. What happened on that occasion?
We were staying at a hotel. The bus was pulling out; I just decided I’d go for a walk. It was raining, and I guess that in that neck of the woods, they’re not used to seeing people walking in the rain. I was the only one on the street. Somebody saw me out of a window and reported me. Next thing I know, a cop car pulled up and asked me for ID. Well, I didn’t have any [laughs]. I wear so many changes of clothes all the time. The woman who was the police officer, she didn’t know me. Because most people don’t. They’ve heard the name. I might be in a place, nobody knows me. Right? All of a sudden, somebody will walk in who knows me, and I’ll have to tell e verybody in the p lace, and then . . . it gets uncomfortable.
That’s the side of people I see. People like to betray people. There’s something in people that they just want to betray somebody. “That’s him over there.” They want to deliver you up. Like they delivered Jesus. They want to be the one to do it. There’s something in people that’s just like that. I’ve experienced that. A lot.