Bob Dylan Hits the Big Themes, From Religion to the Atomic Age

'We really don't know much about the great Judgment Day that's coming, because we've got nobody to come back and tell us about it,' Dylan says in Rolling Stone's 2007 interview

May 10, 2011 11:50 PM ET
Bob Dylan Hits the Big Themes, From Religion to the Atomic Age
Photograph by Matthew Rolston

You've been on the road pretty steadily for forty years.
I like the originality of being on the road. It's real life, in real time.

What is it that is so enjoyable?
The groupies and the drinking and the parties backstage . . . [Laughs] Why would anybody? Performers are performers. Why do you still edit your magazine?

It's something I do well, and one gets pleasure out of something one does well.
Exactly. It's the one thing in life you find you can do well.

This article appeared in the May 3-17, 2007 issue of Rolling Stone. The issue is available in the online archive.

You said that going out on the road makes you write more.
Yeah. That would be true, to a certain degree. But if you don't have to write songs, why write them? Especially if you've got so many you could never play — there wouldn't be enough time to play them all, anyway. I've got enough where I don't really feel the urge to write anything additional.

dylan-promo Bob Dylan Quiz 20 Overlooked Dylan Classics 10 Greatest Bob Dylan Songs Full Bob Dylan Coverage Bod Dylan 70th Birthday

You just released this amazing new record. The title, Modern Times, seems to be a very deliberate statement.
Well, I don't know. Can you think of a better title?

Highway 61 Revisited. How did you decide on that title?
Titles are something that come after you've done whatever it is you've done. I don't set out with a title. It was something that probably just passed through my mind. Why, does it have some impact?

Rolling Stone's 100 Greatest Singers of All Time: Bob Dylan

It seems that you set out to assess America right now. Is there a general theme to the record?
You would have to ask every individual person who hears it what it would mean. It would probably mean many things on many levels to many different kinds of people.

To me, it seems that it's about war and corruption.
Well, all my records are, to a certain degree. That's the nature of them.

Your records are about power, knowledge, salvation.
That would be not so easy for me to relate to, what a record is about. It is a statement, it's its own statement, its own entity, rather than being about something else. If I was a painter . . . I don't paint the chair, I would paint feelings about the chair.

Photos: Bob Dylan's First-Ever China Concert

You're a student of history. If you were to take the current moment and put it in a historical context, where do you think we are?
That would be hard to do, unless you put yourself ten years into the future. It's not the nature of a song to imply what's going on under any current philosophy any more than . . . how can I explain it? Like all the music that came out of the First and Second World Wars. Did you ever notice how lighthearted it was? If you listen to the songs from that period, you would think that there's nothing gloomy on the horizon.

Do you think it's gloomy on the horizon?
In what sense do you mean?

Bob, come on.
No, you come on. In what sense do you mean that? If you're talking about in a political sense . . .

"Together" With Bob Dylan: His Greatest Collaborations

In a general political, spiritual, historical sense. You're talking about the end of times on this record, you've got a very gloomy vision of the world, you're saying, "I'm facing the end of my life and looking at all this . . ."
Aren't we all always doing that?

No, some people are trying to avoid it. But I'm trying to interview you and you're not being very helpful with this.
Jann, have I ever been helpful?

You have been in the past. You gave some really great interviews in the last several years.
Yeah, but I wasn't on tour when I was doing them; I could be fully present. But now, I'm thinking about amps going out and . . .

You don't have people taking care of those for you?
You would hope.

You can't find a good road manager, is that the problem here?
Yeah [laughs].

Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Albums of All Time: Bob Dylan's Highway 61 Revisited

To read the new issue of Rolling Stone online, plus the entire RS archive: Click Here

Music Main Next

blog comments powered by Disqus
Around the Web
Powered By ZergNet
Daily Newsletter

Get the latest RS news in your inbox.

Sign up to receive the Rolling Stone newsletter and special offers from RS and its
marketing partners.


We may use your e-mail address to send you the newsletter and offers that may interest you, on behalf of Rolling Stone and its partners. For more information please read our Privacy Policy.

Song Stories

“Bird on a Wire”

Leonard Cohen | 1969

While living on the Greek island of Hydra, Cohen was battling a lingering depression when his girlfriend handed him a guitar and suggested he play something. After spotting a bird on a telephone wire, Cohen wrote this prayer-like song of guilt. First recorded by Judy Collins, it would be performed numerous times by artists incuding Johnny Cash, Joe Cocker and Rita Coolidge. "I'm always knocked out when I hear my songs covered or used in some situation," Cohen told Rolling Stone. "I've never gotten over the fact that people out there like my music."

More Song Stories entries »