In anticipation of the release of his 33rd album, Together Through Life, Bob Dylan sat down with rock critic and MTV producer Bill Flanagan for a lengthy and unusually candid conversation (three previously released portions of the interview can be read at bobdylan.com). In the fourth installment, published below, Dylan discusses The Rolling Stones, Hitler, acting, and sheds some interesting light on the songwriting in Together Through Life.
Bill Flanagan: Getting to politics, what did you think of Jesse
Ventura, being a Minnesotan and all?
Bob Dylan: He did some good things or tried to. I never met him. All I
know about the governor is that he's a Rolling Stones fan.
BF: You're old cohorts?
BD: I hear from Keith once in a while but that's about it.
BF: What do you think of the Stones?
BD: What do I think of them? They're pretty much finished, aren't they?
BF: They had a gigantic tour last year. You call that finished?
BD: Oh yeah, you mean Steel Wheels. I'm not saying they don't keep
going, but they need Bill. Without him they're a funk band. They'll be the
real Rolling Stones when they get Bill back.
BF: Bob, you're stuck in the 80's.
BD: I know. I'm trying to break free.
BF: Do you really think the Stones are finished?
BD: Of course not, They're far from finished. The Rolling Stones are
truly the greatest rock and roll band in the world and always will be. The
last too. Everything that came after them, metal, rap, punk, new wave,
pop-rock, you name it .... you can trace it all back to the Rolling Stones.
They were the first and the last and no one's ever done it better.
BF: This Dream of You has this wonderful South of the Border feel,
but at the same time, I detect echoes of Sam Cooke, the Coasters, the Brill
Building, and Phil Spector. Were those records from the 50's and 60's
important to you? Did you try to capture some of that flavor in This
Dream of You?
BD: Those fifties and sixties records were definitely important. That
might have been the last great age of real music. Since then or maybe the
seventies it's all been people playing computers. Sam Cooke, the Coasters,
Phil Spector, all that music was great but it didn't exactly break into my
Back then I was listening to Son House, Leadbelly, the Carter family, Memphis
Minnie and death romance ballads. As far as songwriting, I wanted to write
songs like Woody Guthrie and Robert Johnson. Timeless and eternal. Only a
few of those radio ballads still hold up and most of them have Doc Pomus'
hand in them. Spanish Harlem, Save the Last Dance for Me, Little Sister
... a few others. Those were fantastic songs. Doc was a soulful cat. If you
said there was a little bit of him in This Dream of You I would take
it as a compliment.
BF: Even though many of the tracks on the album are about love, the album
is full of pain - sometimes in the same song. In Beyond Here Lies
Nothing, the song is underscored by a feeling of foreboding. You're
moving down "boulevards of broken cars." You're going to love "as
long as love will last." Is pain a necessary part of loving?
BD: Oh yeah, in my songs it is. Pain, sex, murder, family - it goes way
back. Kindness. Honor. Charity. You have to tie all that in. You're
supposed to know that stuff.
BF: Getting back to This Dream of You , the character sings, "How
long can I stay in this nowhere café?" Where is that café?
BD: It sounds like it's south of the border or close to the border.
BF: You're not saying?
BD: Well, no, it's not like I'm not saying. But if you have those kind
of thoughts and feelings you know where the guy is. He's right where you
are. If you don't have those thoughts and feelings then he doesn't exist.
BF: The character in the song reminds me a lot of the guy who is in the
song Across The Borderline.
BD: I know what you're saying, but it's not a character like in a book
or a movie. He's not a bus driver. He doesn't drive a forklift. He's not a
serial killer. It's me who's singing that, plain and simple. We shouldn't
confuse singers and performers with actors. Actors will say, "My character
this, and my character that." Like beating a dead horse. Who cares about the
character? Just get up and act. You don't have to explain it to me.
BF: Well can't a singer act out a song?
BD: Yeah sure, a lot of them do. But the more you act the further you
get away from the truth. And a lot of those singers lose who they are after
a while. You sing, "I'm a lineman for the county," enough times and you
start to scamper up poles.
BF: What actor could you hear singing This Dream of You?
BD: Gosh I don't know, James Cagney, Mickey Rooney
BF: How about Humphrey Bogart?
BD: Yeah, sure, him too. Funny thing about actors and that identity
thing. Every time I run into Val Kilmer, I can't help myself. I say, "Why,
Johnny Ringo - you look like somebody just walked on your grave." Val always
says, "Bob, I'm not Johnny Ringo. That's just a role I played in a movie."
He could be right, he could be wrong. I think he's wrong but he says it in
such a sincere way. You have to think he thinks he's right.
BF: Do you think actors have to be sincere?
BD: Not at all. Mae West wasn't. She was just who she was on the
screen. Just like Jimmy Stewart and Burt Lancaster.
BF: And Johnny Weissmuller.
BD: Yeah, Lon Chaney, too.
BF: Could that mean that Alec Guinness is Hitler?
BD: Well sure, a part of him is. But of course he's not Hitler. And
neither is anybody else. Hitler was Hitler.
BF: Do you remember images of Hitler from growing up?
BD: No, not growing up. He was dead by the time I was four or five. I
never had a real understanding of that.
BF: Never had an understanding of what?
BD: How you take a failed landscape painter and turn him into a
fanatical mad man who controls millions. That's some trick. I mean the
powers that created him must have been awesome.
BF: Well, the social and economic conditions of the Weimar Republic were so
different than now.
BD: Yeah sure, looking back in hindsight, you can see that someone
would have to take control. But still, it's so perplexing. Like why him? You
could see that the man's a total mutt. No Aryan characteristics whatsoever.
You couldn't guess his ancestry. Brown hair, brown eyes, pasty complexion,
no particular type of stature, Hitler mustache, raincoat, riding whip, the
whole works. He knew something. He knew that people didn't think. Look at
the faces of the millions who worshipped him and you see that he inspired
love. It's scary and sad. The torch of the spoken word. They were glad to
follow him anywhere, loyal to the bone. Then of course, he filled up the
cemeteries with them.
BF: It brings to mind Hitler talking to the crowd in Triumph of the Will
by Leni Riefenstahl.
BD: Yeah, it's clear as day.