La Repubblica (Italy)
Date: Sat, 08 Sep 2001 18:03:00 +0200
Subject: La Repubblica interview
From: dave flynn firstname.lastname@example.org
Karl Erik. Sending you a translation of the La Repubblica interview.
regards. dave flynn.
Sometimes it happens that you meet history. Also outside the museum.
Bob Dylan is there, he comes into the room dressed like an gentleman
from the Old West. Black and Grey. He's got older, obviously, but time
has softened his face. These days it's more ironic, asymetrical,wiser
than than it was. He sits down opposite us on a sofa in the hotel
suite with a courteous expression but he's frightened, puzzled, faced
with something that's not familiar to him even after all these years
of music: talking about himself. Every line on his face tells the
story of a decade but in the centre of that face shadowed by untidy
curls there are two pale-blue eyes, frighteningly large and attentive,
darting like the windows of a great mind that works unceasingly. Dylan
opens up, he wants to talk, he even gets round to smiling. Maybe his
is a true rebirth. There have been many books published about you.
Have you read them?
- I stopped reading them after the Shelton biography. It's
difficult to read about yourself because in your own mind things never
happen in that way. It all seems like fiction
Have you ever been tempted to write about yourself?
- Yeah... to tell the truth I'm doing it
Do you think this is the right moment to reflect on your past, or have
you been preparing this book for years?
- I think that what I'm writing has been trying to find its way out
for some time now. It's not a story about the past for my own use
In the songs on Love and Theft there are phrases that could seem
- Probably, I don't see how it could be any other way... But there's
nothing premeditated. Many of these lyrics were written in a sort of
stream of consciousness. I never sit down at a table and meditate
about every single verse -
Do you worry about how other people will analyse them?
- No, I've got no idea what other people might discover in the
things I produce. Or do you mean analysis like Freudian or Idealist or
Marxist? I really have no idea -
Once you wrote ' For me the future is a thing of the past '.
- I said it for everybody. Aren't I the spokesman for a generation?
I speak for all of us -
When you play live you often sing old songs, like Song to Woody. Is it
more than just an abstract relationship with the past?
- It's because I'm happy to have written that song. Leaving
everything aside, Woody Guthrie is a phenomenal performer. He's like
Charlie Parker, Hank Williams or others of that stature -
Your songs are hardly just background music
- No, my songs are all singable. They're relevant. This is the Iron
Age, but before there was something else and we can't conceive of it
yet. If you walk around the streets of a city like Rome you realise
that there were people before you and maybe they were on a higher
level than we can ever reach -
Are you influenced by some poets?
- To tell the truth I don't study poetry much -
But you look out for new writers?
- Yeah, but I don't believe there are any, because we live in
another age. The media is very invasive. What could you possibly write
that you haven't seen every day in the newspapers or on television -
But there are emotions that have to be expressed.
- Yeah, but the media control people's emotions, anyway. When
there were people around like William Blake, Shelley or Byron there
probably wasn't any form of media. Just gazzettes. You could feel free
to put down whatever you had in your mind -
Don't you feel free when you write?
- Like I said I'm not used to sitting down and writing. My words
go into the songs and they've got a precise structure and they have to
conform to a certain idiom. They're not free forms. There's no way you
can put ideology inside. You can't do it with a song -
Even though you've done it.
- If it happened it happened but I never set out with that
intention. Maybe others do that but not me -
Do you think the TV and the media have killed poetry?
- Oh, absolutely. Because literature is written for a public.
There's nobody like Kafka who just sits down and writes something
without wanting somebody to read it -
- Yeah, sure, but the media does this for everbody. You can't see
things that are more horrible than what the media give you. The news
shows people things that they couldn't even dream about and even ideas
that people thought they could repress, but they see them and they
can't even repress them anymore. So what can a writer do when every
idea is already exposed in the media before he can even grasp it and
develop it -
How do you react to all this?
- We live in a world of fantasy where Disney has won, the fantasy
of Disney. It's all fantasy. That's why I think that if a writer has
something to say he should say it at all costs. The world is real.
Fantasy has become the real world. Whether we realise it or not -
You have written that the modern world is a sort of new Dark Ages.
- The Stone Age, let's put it like that. We speak about the Golden
Age which I believe would be that of Homer, then we had the Age of
Silver and then the Bronze Age and there was a Heroic Age somewhere in
there. Then we have what we call the Iron Age, but it could be the
Stone Age -
Maybe the Silicon Age?
- Oh, yeah ( laughs ), that's right -
There have been important changes in your career. One of these
happened in the middle of the sixties after Blonde on Blonde, when you
had the motorcycle accident. After some time John Wesley Harding came
out and many people thought it was a different Dylan. It was the time
of Love and Peace and the record was completely different from
everything else. Was it the accident that changed things?
- It's difficult for me to know whether I made a conscious decision
or not. But obviously at that time I had no great desire to go out and
play music. I never felt that I was part of that culture -
Springsteen once said that Elvis liberated people's bodies and Dylan
liberated their minds.
- He said that? Liberate the mind? It's good to be liberated from
everything... We should all think like that -
Don't you think there's a sort of religious feeling amongst your hard
- I don't think I've got a group of hard core fans. There are a few
people that we see at many concerts... And then what religion would they
have? What sacrifices do they make, and for who? If they do then okay
we've got a hard core religious group and I'd like to know when and
where they make those sacrifices because I'd like to be there, too -
You once wrote a novel, Tarantula. Did you feel that was a contrast to
- Things were happening wildly in that period. I never had any
intention of writing a book. I had a manager who was asked: he writes
all those songs, what else does he write? Maybe he writes books. And
he must have replied: obviously, sure he writes books, in fact we're
just about to publish one. I think it was on that occassion that he
made the deal and then I had to write the book. He often did things
like that. Once he set me up as an actor in a show and I knew nothing
about it till the day it happened. I thought I was going to sing.
These things happened in the old days... last century -
Have there been what you would consider difficult phases in your life?
- Sure, there have been many. There are strange moments when you
have to take on a new personality to survive -
Which moment, which years?
- Basically you have to surpress your own ambitions in order to be
who you need to be -
What type of ambitions?
- That's exactly what you have to discover -
Some people say you're happier on your bus when you're on tour than in
any one of your 17 homes. Is that true?
- Well, the bus has become more or less luxurious now. If I think
about how I feel at home I'd have to say that I feel at home wherever
I am. I never want anything that isn't what I've got right in front of
me at any given moment -
Has your son Jacob heard the new record?
- I think he got it from one of his brothers or sisters. But I'm
not sure, I've been travelling around for a long time -
How does it feel to be Dylan today. Easier than in the past?
- I'm not the right person to ask. It's a philosophical question -
You've said you don't like listening to things from the past doesn't
this autobiography force you to do just that?
- I'm just looking at everything from a new point of view.Many
things go from one point to another without there being a reason. Why
did they happen, could they have happened if something else hadn't
happened? And if they seemed so bad at the time why did they bring
long term benefits? I like to write. But I'm certainly not meticulous
Thinking about your 43 records, which one do you think was the most
successful from your point of view?
- Successful? To tell the truth I never listen to them! I'm sure
they were all successful in their own way and I'm sure in their own
way they were all failures -
There must be records that you consider better than others, though.
- I don't listen to them because I don't think the songs were ever
done perfectly. I often think a song wasn't recorded perfectly or at
least not in the way I heard the song in my head. Six or seven months
later the song would be released in the way it was. By people I had
trusted. It happened too many times. I'm often asked how I can be such
a bad judge of my own material, that I don't put the best things on
the records. I don't know how anyone can judge which song is better
than another. I don't judge the material, more or less I like to put
anything on the record. It happened with Time Out of Mind. It wasn't
recorded particularly well but luckily it wasn't relased immediately
so I was able to record it again from the start. But years ago that
could never have happened -
On the new album there's no producer. Why's that?
- When you work with a producer you know that he can take you in
this direction or that direction if you're not particularly
determined. Many of my records have been altered. Often the producer
or the engineers are prisoners of the legend. They don't think about
how my things should really sound. When I sing live people say: but
the songs don't sound like they do on the record. Obviously not, also
because they weren't recorded in the right way -
On the new album your voice sounds darker than usual.
- I don't think it's ever been recorded in a more accurate way. I
don't think I was singing better than in the past -
Do you think it's difficult to record your voice?
- I don't think so. Even though it seems like nobody has ever
understood. For the new record I found a young engineer who
understood. I don't need special effects or tricks. The fact is that
my voice goes up and down. It's irregular, and it subverts the
classical recording systems. But I really think the right way is the
most simple way. All you need is an analogic recording, realistic -
Do you think there are preconceived ideas about certain voices like
yours and Leonard Cohen's and Lou Reed's?
- I think Leonard's voice is easily understood because his vocal
range is low and straightforward (lineare). Lou has his own way of
singing and speaking at the same time. Recording them shouldn't be a
It seems like your audience is growing. Are there many young people at
your concerts along with your old fans?
- I don't think there are many old fans. The fact is that people of
my age die, or change their lives. At a certain point in your life new
problems arise. Family, children. priorities change, entertainment
becomes less important -
Do you consider yourself to be an entertainer?
- No, but I have to face up to the world of entertainment -
Do you think you'll be going to visit George Harrison?
- I'm in contact with him, but at the moment I haven't got the
time. If I have the possibility then I will -
Do you think The Travelling Wilburys where you were together with
Harrison could come back?
- Who can say? It's difficult to know -
When you're on stage do you have in your mind any idea of who you're
- Yeah, I'm playing for the people who are furthest away. I don't
look at the people near me because it's usually the people who you see
at every concert. They'll enjoy the concert in any case -
After many years you're still on tour. Some people call it The Never
- It annoys me when I hear people talking about The Never Ending
Tour. Obviously everything must finish. That which ties everyone
together and which makes everyone equal is our mortality. Everything
must come to an end -
Do you think about death often?
- I wouldn't say often but it certainly happens when people who are
close to me die -
And about your own mortality?
- Well, I can see myself in other people, that's the way you can
think about it. I don't think about it any more than everybody else.
As soon as you enter this world you're old enough to leave it -
translation. david flynn. email@example.com
DN (Dagens Nyheter), Sweden
From: Tobias Levander firstname.lastname@example.org
I have roughly translated Swedish 'Dagens Nyheters' account of the Bob
Dylan press conference on July 23, 2001. Enjoy!
A ROCK LEGEND FULL OF SURPRISES
ROME. He's a rock icon with a thousand different disguises - from
reclusive family man to fervent preacher, from weird painter to golf
player. DN:s Nils Hansson has, as the only Swedish journalist, met Bob
Dylan during a day-off on his "never ending tour".
He's 15 minutes late.† He sits in a sofa behind a wall of microphones
and tape recorders, he's growing a thin, old-fashioned moustashe and
he's wearing a white cowboy hat. He looks strikingly thin and small.
In front of him him there are thirteen journalists, tense, full of
adrenaline and with a thousand questions to ask.
The anticlimax is immediate.† Bob Dylan seems to be uncomfortable and
nervous, saying 'eeh, hmm, I don't know" and he only gives the
briefest of answers. Someone says that the new record Love & Theft is
the first Dylan album you can dance to.
-Oh, I'm sorry, says Bob Dylan and it's hard to tell if he's serious
It's an off-day on Dylan's European tour. The next day he's supposed
to play in Anzio, a resort town just south of Rome, yet another of the
100+ concerts he performs every year, on what his fans fans call the
Never Ending Tour, a phrase that Dylan hates.
Four hours before the interview, all the invited journalists -
thirteen journalists from twelve European countries,† gather in a
luxurious hotel to listen to the new album, "Love and Theft", and eat
delightful sandwiches and drink wine.
After just a few seconds everyone realises that this is no straight
follow-up to 1997's "Time Out Of Mind", an album characterized by
bitterness and gallows humor. "Love and Theft" is old-timey, happy and
extremely varied. You can hear blues, rockabilly, old-timey jazz and
songs that could have been ballads from, say, 1948.
The expectations on Love and Theft are high, much higher than when
Dylan released one lacklustre album every year during the 80's. The
predecessor, Time Out Of Mind,† got more rave reviews than anything
he's done in two decades, and it's one of his greatest commercial
successes.† Since then he's picked up three (American) Grammies, an
Oscars statuette and a Polar Music Prize.
When I ask him how these successes affect his career he answers that
he never listens to his old albums. When I remind him that he in an
interview declared that he had no idea how to handle all these praises
- after being dismissed so many times - he interrupts:
-I have no idea what I said back then. Don't you worry about it. It's
like something you wrote five years ago, who cares about that now?
Everyone's laughing. I feel embarassed. Bob Dylan, every journalist's
nightmare,† is as mean as he's ever been.
But he's not unfriendly. He's slippery and vague, but he's
surprisingly funny. He seems to enjoy this mental wrestling with
That Bob Dylan gives an interview is news in itself. He is known as
one of the more unwilling interview victims in rock music. Few
musicians have as Bob Dylan punctured a question, bounced it back to
the journalist, or just answered with a one-syllable non-answer or
just been better in avoiding to specify anything.
Of course, Bob Dylan doesn't have to kiss anyone's ass. He's perhaps
the most important artist of the 20th century, in any category. At
least he's one of the few who can compete for that title. He could
have withdrawn completely in 1966, and still be known as the person
who raised the IQ of rock music more than anyone else, before or
Instead he's spent the last 35 years doing what no one expected of
him. He's been a reclusive family father, he's been a fundamentalist
preacher, he's sung evergreens and old standards, he's collaborated
with Johnny Cash and Michael Bolton, he's been painting quite
strangely an he's done a few weird films, he's rearranged his old
songs so noone can recognize them and he's started to play golf.
All this can be seen as attempts to deconstruct the Bob Dylan myth, or
to tempt the fans' patience so that just a manageble number will
- - It's also possible to view all this as simple confusion. Confused
or not, Dylan has been able to deliver at least one masterpiece every
decade, "Blood on the Tracks" in 1975, "Oh Mercy" in 1989 and "Time
out of Mind" in 1997.
There is one thing Dylan loves to talk about. "Love and Theft" is
recorded without any heavy-handed producer - which is paradoxial,
since L&T sounds more produced than any Dylan recording in recent
memory - and it's all because all producers are jack-asses and clumpsy
lots, to put it simply.
-Producers can take you wherever they want, Dylan says. It happens as
soon as you're not sure if a song should be in a certain way or not.
Most of my records turned out to be compromises because of insistent
producers. But if you have your own vision, there's really not much a
producer can contribute. I don't know much about sound quality, but
the arrangements are exactly like I wanted them this time,
The same applies to his voice, that this sounds deeper and more varied
than on any previous record.
-I've never been recorded in a good way, he says. It seems like my
special vocal range disturbs the entire system, both the low and the
high register disappears. On my last record they tried all kinds of
effects and overdubs to make my voice sound like it does in real life.
But on this record we had a young guy who knew exactly how to do.
Bob Dylan's sitting here in front of me and he's basically dismissing
everythings he's ever done, except the latest record. Every album is a
blueprint and a compromise. Except the new one, of course.
-It's no coincidence that other singers have had bigger hits with my
songs than I've had, he says. I'm basically just singing a song with a
guitar. It's called making a demo.
It's this attitude that's behind his famous habit to drastically
reinterpret his classics onstage, he says. That they never turned out
out the way they should on record. But since he's always able to get
up onstage the next night and correct what went wrong the night before
these things don't matter too much anymore.
He's also often dismissed songs for a while, hoping to do them full
justice at some later point. But before he's had any chance to return
to them, they have turned up on some bootleg. And by then it's not too
much fun to get back to the studio and record them again.
A song like that is included on the new album, and that's because Bob
Dylan is guarding the outtakes harder than ever before. "Mississippi"
was recorded for "Time Out Of Mind", but it was not included on the
album. Now it's on "Love and Theft", but only because the original
version never leaked out.
-It would never have happened ten years ago, he says. All you would
have heard was the original, lousy version.
Bob Dylan has just finished his 31st studio album and he's for once
happy. With good concience he can keep† playing that same unexpected
mix of old and new songs, sometimes his own, sometimes other's, he's
played for all these years.
He's not just discontent with his records, he's also discontent with
his line of work:
-I didn't really choose to do what you are seeing me do right now. It
choose me. If I had any choice I would have been a scientist, an
engineer or a doctor. That's the kind of people I look up to. But I'm
an entertainer. I'm in light entertainment.
He's singing his songs for an audience that isn't what it used to be.
-Some fans remain, but not many. You know, at a certain age people
starts to get families and give priority to other things.
- - Someone asks him about his most devoted fans, the people who just
get too close, but Bob Dylan seems unwillng to even admit that there
are fans like that.
-I don't think I have any hardcore fans, he says. Some people attend
many concerts, but I don't think of them as hardcore..
New attempt: But these people who see you as a religious object....
-Yeah, that's right, what kind of religion is that? Dylan asks. What
are they sacrificing? And to whom? I would like to know where they are
making their sacrificies. I would like to be there.
We (the present journalists) try to ask Dylan more about the supposed
conflict between himself and the public image of him. He doesn't like
when people he's working with are too adoring, but he says that the
Bob Dylan myth is of no importance during 95% of a 24-hour period. The
rest of the time he just has to be nice.
But he also says that there's no place where he won't be recognized,
and that he can't remember when he last visited such a place.
Someone asks what it's like being Bob Dylan today, if it's more simple
than before.† He answers that he's the wrong person to ask. I ask him
if he's having much fun and he answers:
-What's funny? To kick a ball around?
Maybe to enjoy life, I say.
-I'm here. What more can I say? Is there a choice?
I say that some people have commited suicide.
-Yeah. But not voluntarily.
It's typical. He never looks happier than when he's disarmed a tense
situation with a witty remark. Someone asks him: Did you ever meet
-No, I never met him. That's what I'm supposed to say.
He isn't dismissing all questions, however. On his new record he sings
repeatedly about the sorrow after his mother's death.† Someone asks
him if these lines have anything to do with his own mother's death.
-Probably, he says slowly. I can't understand how it couldn't be like
that. Many of of these lyrics are written in a "stream of
consciousness" kind of mood, and I don't meditate on them afterwards.
My way to get to grips with something is often just to go right ahead.
Otherwise, Bob Dylan is reluctant to comment on his lyrics, even
though many journalists want him to explain them.
It's very rare that Bob looks back and tries to explain and adjust
things of the past. Everyone looks up when Bob says that he's writing
-It will be published in the form of articles. But in a book. The
point of departure will be the different songs, I've noticed that it's
a good way of remembering things from the past. That's how I got
started, I found this way of working.
-Currently, I'm studying the songs, but I look at them in a way I
never thought of before. Much of what is happening is just passing
through, but now I'm trying to find some kind of purpose. Various bad
things lead to something good. Could this have happened if this didn't
happen? It's an enormous project, and I'm doing it all in my spare
time. My impressions are from a great number of songs, and I'm trying
to see things from many points of view, and it's so much fun to
The most surprising statement of the interview comes late. Someone
asks him about the line: "the future for me is already a thing of the
In his answer he's using a cliché he's spent decades trying to
get away from:
-I'm speaking for all of us. I'm the spokesman for a generation.