A Different Kind Of Disc From Bob Dylan

His lyrics talk back on new computer software

July 17, 1986
Bob Dylan
Bob Dylan
Ebet Roberts/Redferns

Would you like to talk with Bob Dylan in the comfort and privacy of your own home? Do you have any burning questions for him about current affairs or the meanings of his songs? Thanks to a new computer software series called Rockware, you can communicate directly with Dylan's muse through his song lyrics.

Developed by Thunderstone — an artificial-intelligence software company based in Chesterland, Ohio — Rockware will consist of either one or two floppy discs containing files of all of Dylan's published song lyrics. You simply input a question to Dylan on the computer and the Rockware program finds a correlative answer in one of his songs. Often, the answer is as enigmatic as Dylan himself.

"The day when the U.S. bombed Libya, we asked, 'What do you think of bombing Muammar Qaddafi?' " said Thunderstone chairman Michael Pincus. "What we got was a response from the 'Masters of War' file: 'How much do I know/To talk out of turn/You might say that I'm young/You might say I'm unlearned.' It was not a positive or negative response, but sort of diplomatic."

Pincus, 38, claimed the idea of creating a software program of Dylan songs came about by accident late last year. He was using the lyrics of "Masters of War" to test data correlation on another software program, "and the response that came out of the file was wonderful." Pincus later met with Dylan and demonstrated a prototype Rockware program using his lyrics. "He related it to William Burroughs's cut-up style of writing. He started playing with the program and got new responses out of the lyrics." Dylan subsequently gave Thunderstone permission to use all of the songs in his existing catalog, including those on last year's Empire Burlesque album.

According to Pincus, the Rockware Dylan program can be used as a songwriting tool. "You could take a lyric of your own and input it to see what Dylan might have said that would correlate it. You could just as easily put a line from another artist in to see what Dylan would have done with it." Nonmusicians can simply "carry on a conversation with the lyrics."

Available in late August by mail order and possibly through select record stores, Rockware will be compatible with IBM, Commodore and Apple computers and will retail for twenty dollars. Pincus, who is planning a Rockware series featuring songs by other top pop stars, is encouraged by the early response to the Dylan program: "A sixty-five-year-old surgeon from Chicago called me the other day wanting to order twenty-five copies for all of his grandchildren."

This story is from the July 17th, 1986 issue of Rolling Stone.

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