October 3, 2006

The Genius of Bob Dylan

A friend recently sent me an article called The Genius of Bob Dylan from the latest edition of Rolling Stone. I have been a Dylan fan for as long as I can remember liking music, and so any talk with him would be entertaining for me, but I found this interview insightful and profound on a deeper level than your typical musician interview. Dylan really delves into the concepts of art and fame, and ultimately what it means to be human. I have cut and paste a few choice excerpts, but I suggest you read the article in its entirety here

Here are the highlights:

"This is how I feel? Why do I feel like that? And who's the me that feels this way? I couldn't tell you that, either. But I know that those songs are just in my genes and I couldn't stop them comin' out."

As ever, Dylan is circling, defining what he is first by what he isn't, by what he doesn't want, doesn't like, doesn't need, locating meaning by a process of elimination

"You listen to these modern records, they're atrocious, they have sound all over them. There's no definition of nothing, no vocal, no nothing, just like -- static. Even these songs probably sounded ten times better in the studio when we recorded 'em. CDs are small. There's no stature to it. I remember when that Napster guy came up across, it was like, 'Everybody's gettin' music for free.' I was like, 'Well, why not? It ain't worth nothing anyway.' ". . .

"The only fans I know I have are the people who I'm looking at when I play, night after night."

"I don't listen to any of my records. When you're inside of it, all you're listening to is a replica. I don't know why somebody would look at the movies they make -- you don't read your books, do you?"

"I can't stand to play arenas, but I do play 'em. But I know that's not where music's supposed to be. It's not meant to be heard in football stadiums, it's not 'Hey, how are you doin' tonight, Cleveland?' Nobody gives a shit how you're doin' tonight in Cleveland."

"You risk your life to play music, if you're doing it in the right way."

The struggle to capture Dylan and his art like smoke in one particular bottle or another seemed laughable to me, a mistaken skirmish fought before it had become clear that mercurial responsiveness -- anchored only by the existential commitment to the act of connection in the present moment -- was the gift of freedom his songs had promised all along. To deny it to the man himself would be absurd

"If I was me, I'd cover my songs too."

"And you know, when all's said and done, maybe I was never part of that art form, because my records really weren't artistic at all. They were just documentation. Maybe bad players playing bad changes, but still something coming through."

And my favorite:

"Let's face it, you're either serious about what you're doing or you're not serious about what you're doing. And you can't mix the two. And life is short."

So get serious about what you do, whatever that is!


  1. Do you have the Modern Times album? I can make you a copy.

    For a Bob Dylan interview that was pretty good, but that's not saying much. I am always surprised at how someone who's so good at writing songs can be so random and mumbly when being interviewed.

    I'm never sure if it's because he is such a genius that no one can understand his deep thoughts, or he hates interviews and doesn't put any effort into them, or he's high, or if he's actually just not as good at talking as he is at music, or what. You make a well-argued case for the genius/deep thoughts theory.

    Either way, the guy's one of my favorite musicians as well and deserves all the attention and praise. Even with that ridiculous little moustache.

  2. Actually I don’t have a copy of Modern Times and I would love to have one. Thanks for the offer. As for Dylan being a mumbling idiot who only spouts gibberish when not in song, I thought the same way until I watched No Direction Home, by Scorsese. Have you seen this?

    For Dylan fans only, this is three hours plus of amazing footage layered over a current interview where Dylan once again showcases his impressive outlook on life, fame and art. It is a must see. I can lend it to you if you wish.

    I agree that the moustache is quite lame, but come on! This is the guy who gave us __________(fill in the blank with a plethora of world changing music)

  3. Knocked Out Loaded?

  4. You should read his book - Dylan is an incredible artist, and his book talks about the early stages of his journey.

  5. I actually have read the book and I loved the beginning when he talks about his life in NYC, but I lost interest when he starts talking about his career in the 80's. Overall though I am glad I read it and would recommend to a diehard fans.

  6. I read the interview and loved it, myself...since we're talking "Dylan recommendations" I have to mention a film coming out where a writing/Zen teacher I studied with (and love) was followed by a film maker to Dylan's hometown and discusses his roots, "what land made him?"...anyone who loves Dylan and/or has learned from Natalie Goldberg (via her books or in real life) would appreciate this: www.tangledupinbob.com

    And, honestly, I'm not even being paid to say any of this...just wanted to join into the Dylan discussion here. Thanks for sharing it!