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The Bob Dylan Interview

The 71-year-old veteran musician opens up unflinchingly, with no aplogies

Mikael Wood Oct 25, 2012
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Time Out of Mind started with this image of somebody walking through streets that are dead.

A lot of walking in that record, right? I’ve heard that.

When that narrator talks about walking this or that road, do you have pictures of those roads in your mind?

Yeah, but not in a specific kind of way. You can feel it, without being able to see it. It’s an old-time thing: the walking blues.

The walking could be what somebody witnesses. It could be the road to death; it could be the road to illumination.

Sure, all those roads. How many roads must a man walk down? Not run down, drive down or crawl down? I’ve been raised on that. The walking blues. “Walking to New Orleans,” “Cadillac Walk,” “Hand Me Down My Walkin’ Cane.” It’s the only way I know. It comes natural.

The person who’s walking in these songs, is he walking alone?

Sometimes, but then again, sometimes not. Sometimes you got to get into your own space for a while. It never really dawns on me, though, whether I’m walking alone or not. Seems like I’m always walking with somebody.

In “Sugar Baby,” on “Love and Theft,” you sang, “Every moment of existence seems like some dirty trick.” Did these words convey a significant change from how you may have felt before?

No, there’s been no change whatsoever. I used to think most people felt that way about existence, and I still think that.

I want to know more about the matter of transfiguration. Is there a specific moment in which you became aware of it?

Yeah, I can refer you to the book [the Sonny Barger biography]. It happens gradually. I’d say that that accident, however, if you want to call it that, I think that was about ’64? [Referring to the death of Bobby Zimmerman, which, in fact, took place in 1961.] As I said earlier, I had a motorcycle accident myself, in ’66, so we’re talking maybe about two years ”” a gradual kind of slipping away, and, uh, some kind of something else appearing out of nowhere.

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And it makes perfect sense, because in the truth world, nothing does begin or end. You know, it’s like things begin while something else is ending. There’s never any sharp borderline or dividing line. We’ve talked about this. You know how we have dividing lines between countries. We have boundaries. Well, boundaries in the cosmological world don’t really exist, any more than they do between night and day.

After your motorcycle accident, you were in some ways a different person?

I’m trying to explain something that can’t be explained. Help me out. Read the pages of the book. Some people never really develop into who they’re supposed to be. They get cut off. They go off another way. It happens a lot. We all see people that that’s happened to. We see them on the street. It’s like they have a sign hanging on them.

Did you have an inkling of this before you read the Barger book?

I didn’t know who I was before I read the Barger book.

Here’s one way of looking at this: In the 1960s, people saw you as a revolutionary fireball up until the motorcycle accident. Afterward, with the music made in Woodstock with the Band, and with “John Wesley Harding” and “Nashville Skyline,” some were bewildered by your transformation. You came back from that hiatus looking different, sounding different, in voice, music and words.

Why is it that when people talk about me they have to go crazy? What the fuck is the matter with them? Sure, I had a motorcycle accident. Sure, I played with the Band. Yeah, I made a record called John Wesley Harding. And sure, I sounded different. So fucking what? They want to know what can’t be known. They are searching ”” they are seekers. Like in the Pete Townshend song where he’s trying to find his way to 50 million fables. For what? Why are they doing this? They don’t really know. It’s sad. It really is. May the Lord have mercy on them. They are lost souls. They really don’t know. It’s sad ”“ it really is. It’s sad for me, and it’s sad for them.

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Why do you think that is the case?

I don’t have a clue. If you ever find out, come and tell me.

Are you saying that you can’t really be known?

Nobody knows nothing. Who knows who’s been transfigured and who has not? Who knows? Maybe Aristotle? Maybe he was transfigured? I can’t say. Maybe Julius Caesar was transfigured. I have no idea. Maybe Shakespeare. Maybe Dante. Maybe Napoleon. Maybe Churchill. You just never know, because it doesn’t figure into the history books. That’s all I’m saying.

Sometimes we can deepen ourselves or give aid to other people by trying to know them.

If we’re responsible to ourselves, then we can be responsible for other people, too. But we have to know ourselves first. People listen to my songs and they must think I’m a certain type of way, and maybe I am. But there’s more to it than that. I think they can listen to my songs and figure out who they are, too.

When you say that those who conjecture about you don’t really know what they’re talking about, does that mean that you feel misunderstood?

It doesn’t mean that at all! [Laughs] I mean, what’s there, like, to understand? I mean ”“ no, no. Just the opposite. Who’s supposed to understand? My in-laws? Am I supposed to be some misunderstood artist living in an attic? You tell me. What’s there to understand? Please, can we stop now? 

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