Bob Dylan
Expecting Rain
Back to the "Love And Theft" page.

The Rome Interview

La Repubblica (Italy)

Date: Sat, 08 Sep 2001 18:03:00 +0200 Subject: La Repubblica interview From: dave flynn 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 autobiographical. - 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 - Every writer? - 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 core fans? - 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 the music? - 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 problem - 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 relating to? - 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 Ending Tour. - 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.

DN (Dagens Nyheter), Sweden

From: Tobias Levander 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 or not. 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 journalists. 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 after. 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 remain. - - 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 Elvis Presley? -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 an autobiography. -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 write. 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 past". 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. -Nils Hansson

Back to the Expecting Rain front page.