The recent Rolling Stone has an interview with Bob Dylan in it. That's good press, an interview with Dylan. The interviewer, Mikal Gilmore, was a good interviewer asking leading questions. I've listened to and casually sought information about Bob Dylan since 1964. He's been elusive to interviewers, critics, cameras and listeners. It was easy to call him a genius in the time of Blowin In The Wind, Mr Tambourine Man, It Aint Me Babe, Just Like A Woman, Like a Rolling Stone, on and on until I've covered every title he recorded. All are brilliant songs. Hard Rains Gonna Fall, Lonesome Death Of Hattie Carroll, Masters of War, Don't Think Twice It's All Right, Positively Fourth Street. These titles drawn from memory are songs just about everybody of my generation knows. I mentioned Dylan's new album Tempest to a guy in his late 20s in the coffee shop; he reminded me I'm his grandparents' generation and Bob Dylan doesn't mean a thing to him. It gave me a good laugh. I don't think it's so much over the age and generation differences as much as it is my reading of Dylan so universal it never occurred to me anyone could be indifferent to his songs.
It took me back to my parents listening to Frank Sinatra and Benny Goodman while I was listening to Little Richard and Chuck Berry. That was just from the 40s to the 50s, let alone from the 60s to the 00s. My grandparents listened to That Old Gang Of Mine, and old-time country music. Dylan is evidence that it doesn't matter where you're born. He came from a place called Hibbing, Minnesota. A Minnesota Jewish kid. He felt his calling early and went to New York, the place an American artist goes to get on the road toward making it. We have thousands of examples of people who went to NY and made it in their art form, but Dylan stands out separate from all around him. Who has written enough songs to fill 35 albums over half a century, performed and sung each one definitively, was a rock star as big as the Beatles, movies made about him, and never sold out? He refused a dinner invitation to the Nixon Whitehouse and happily received the Medal of Freedom from Obama. He said it was an honor to be regarded a peer of Madeleine Albright, Aretha Franklin, John Glenn, BB King, Duke Ellington and all the others awarded. It is a measure of what he has done as a singer-songwriter who left his home town to go for broke.
In the interview, he made a comment that he'd like to play LasVegas, as it is a part of the American musical tradition. It would not be like Elvis or Wayne Newton. It wouldn't be like Blue Man Group either. When rock and roll in America was faltering, Little Richard quit and became a preacher, Chuck Berry went to prison, Jerry Lee married his 13 year old cousin and lost all his fans in one day, the entire adult world was dead set against the new rock & roll that was lumped together with Communism as an evil influence. It was the rock & roll from Liverpool that kept the music going through that lean period when Freddy Cannon's Palisades Park was about all that was left of rock and roll in the USA. Dylan came on the scene with electric guitars liberating himself from Pete Seeger's belief that he controlled Bob Dylan. Seeger wanted Dylan to be the Great American folk singer. He wanted it so much he set out to stop Dylan from continuing electrically and alienated himself from Dylan in a serious way. Had Seeger not wanted Dylan to be the Great American folk singer in Pete Seeger's own image, he might have waited and seen that Dylan did a better job of becoming what Pete wanted him to be than Pete's ego could foresee. Imagine Elvis saying no to Colonel Parker.
Dylan is responsive in this interview, talking like he wants to give the best answer he can. It appears he is paying closer attention than the interviewer, refusing to go over the same subject twice, a couple of times. I was noticing when he reminded the interviewer they'd already covered the topic, it reminded me of interviews with older writers who don't hesitate to say we've already talked about that. I felt like it said something of Dylan's age, a mature writer who grew more intelligent as he grew older, instead of less. I don't know how the printed interview in Rolling Stone speaks to anyone not a Dylan fan. I can say from the perspective of a life-long fan that it satisfied what I wanted an interview with Dylan to be, an experience with his thinking on certain subjects, an experience with his talking, his rhythms of speech. His turn of mind is in all his songs. The interview gives a straight-on no-bullshit account from Dylan himself of his view of his life. He's most often elusive, in my experience. It seems like since the Medal of Freedom was draped around his neck, since his radio show experience of the American Tradition, he is looking at his legacy and is ready to draw a few more dots for us to connect in our attempt to make something like a hologram in our minds of Bob Dylan. It's in his songs, he says over and over. Looking for him we don't need a biography. We have 35 albums. The best part about the interview for me was that Bob Dylan, like in his memoir, Chronicle, told it plain and straight, his story as an artist, instead of as a star.