Bob Dylan on Old America and 'Modern Times'

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I was struck by your account of coming to New York when you were young, going to the public library, and by the very deliberate and methodical fashion in which you went about learning your craft and building your knowledge.
But I was learning everything I needed to learn from real live people who were really there at the time, so I was in it firsthand. I think that's where my feelings came from, in terms of all of them early songs. Even songs at later dates, it's "What is human nature really like?" Not "What am I like, what do I like, what don't I like, what am I all about?" Not that kind of thing, but "What are all these invisible spirits all about?" I think that's where songs like "Blowin' in the Wind" come from. It's a more ancient struggle than what might currently be seen as the fulcrum of where the lyrics are coming out of.

Are you surprised that you made a record today that's as vital and as important and as creative as any you've made in the past?
No. No, I knew I was going to make it. I'm surprised that it sold as many records as it did, so a lot of people must feel a similar way.

Why do you think people reacted so strongly to you in the 1960s ? What did you reach in people that resonated so deeply?
Because I had – and perhaps still do have – that originality that others don't have. Because I come from a time when you had to be original, and you had to have some kind of God-given talent just to begin with. You couldn't manufacture that. Just about everybody and anybody who was around in the Fifties and Sixties had a degree of originality. That was the only way you could get in the door. That was just a necessary part of your makeup, which needed to be there.

My thing was never heard or seen before, but it didn't come out of a vacuum. There's a direct correlation between something like "Highway 61 Revisited" and "Blue Yodel No. 9," by Jimmie Rodgers. It just doesn't spring out of the earth without rhyme or reason.

Nobody had heard stuff said that way or spoken that way.
But nobody had heard the stuff that we heard. You came up in the Fifties. There was more freethinking then, there wasn't such mass conformity as there is today. Today, a freethinking person gets ridiculed. Back then, they were just sort of ostracized and maybe avoided. The popular consensus at the time, in this time we're speaking about, was a very mild form of entertainment; it was boring and uninteresting. Beneath that surface, though, there was an entirely different world.

And you tapped into that world?
We all did. Some of us decided we could live in this world. Others decided, well, they could visit it once in a while, but it wasn't necessarily their thing.

So you lived in it.
I did.

And everybody else was just visiting?
Yeah, like tourists. Like at the sock hop.

So people entered your world and were awed by it, but couldn't live in it?
No, I don't think you could, any more than . . . did you ever see Little Richard perform? You could be awed by it, but you were not a part of it. Unless, of course, you wanted to be a part of it, then it was open to you.

Last night, you chose to close with "All Along the Watchtower," which has now become an anthem of yours.
Who knew?

Did you rediscover that song because of Hendrix?

Had you heard that before, in your mind, what he did with it?
No, that record's kind of a mystery to me, anyway. When he made it, it caused me to sit up and pay attention. Like, "Oh, there might be more to that than I had dreamed."

What did you do from Highway 61 Revisited last night, "Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues"? How did you choose that one? I love the rearrangement.
You know, it's not rearranged. There's a different dynamic. The dynamic on all of those songs can change from night to night, because of the style of music that I've grown accustomed to playing, which I always could play. But you can't do everything. You can't just display everything at the same time.

You change them to make it more fun for yourself?
Well, it's more contrived than that.

Why is it more contrived?
It's because I have so many different types of songs, speaking musically: fast ballads, slow ballads, minor-key twelve-bar things, major-key twelve-bar things, twelve-bar pieces that differ greatly in the dynamics of the rhythm, which causes the lyrics, the way you deliver them, to change from night to night. It's based on an infinite system where you don't necessarily have to feel good to play it, but if you just follow the rules, you can do different things every night.

Take "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue," for instance, which you did last night. Don't people come to the show and want to hear that original, mournful version?
I don't know who would, unless it's somebody who bought that record in 1960-what. But it's the same song, and I'm the same person, and it's always been there. Those early songs I made with just an acoustic guitar. In a way, those are like demos, because that's what people do when they demo a song, they just go in and play it with their acoustic guitar, and that's what it is. Then they develop the song later.

Do you think your performance of it in this way gives it a different meaning? Originally it was lost and sad; now it's assertive.
Yeah. Astrologically, you're dealing with a different day every day of the week. Every day is a different color, a different planet rules it. You could say the same thing, you could feel the same way, you could write the same thing, but if it's on a Tuesday, it's going to be different than if it comes out on Friday. That's just a fact. You can ask any astrologer.

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