I've got twenty-two or twenty-three albums out on Columbia alone and about seventy-five bootleg records floating around, so it gets to a point where it doesn't matter anymore. You want each new record to be your best, but you know you're going to write more songs and make another album anyway. People who get hit with the new album for the first time . . . it surprises them, it's coming at them from someplace and maybe they haven't thought about things that way. But that's not for me to say. That's my life, and if they can find identity in that, okay – and if they can't, that's okay, too.
A song like "No Time to Think" sounds like if comes from a very deep dream.
Maybe, because we're all dreaming, and these songs come close to getting inside that dream. It's all a dream anyway.
As in a dream, lines from one song seem to connect with lines from another. For example: "I couldn't tell her what my private thoughts were/But she had some way of finding them out" in "Where Are You Tonight?" and "The captain waits above the celebration/Sending his thoughts to a beloved maid" in "Changing of the Guards."
I'm the first person who'll put it to you and the last person who'll explain it to you. Those questions can be answered dozens of different ways, and I'm sure they're all legitimate. Everybody sees in the mirror what he sees – no two people see the same thing.
Usually you don't specify things or people in your songs. We don't know who Marcel and St. John are in "Where Are You Tonight?" or who the "partner in crime" is in that same song....
Who isn't your partner in crime?
But in a song like "Sara" you seem fairly literal.
I've heard it said that Dylan was never as truthful as when he wrote Blood on the Tracks, but that wasn't necessarily truth, it was just perceptive. Or when people say "Sara" – as written for "his wife Sara" – it doesn't necessarily have to be about her just because my wife's name happened to be Sara. Anyway, was it the real Sara or the Sara in the dream? I still don't know.
Is "Is Your Love in Vain?" to be taken literally? You've been accused of being chauvinistic in that song, especially in the line, "Can you cook and sew, make flowers grow?"
That criticism comes from people who think that women should be karate instructors or airplane pilots. I'm not knocking that – everyone should achieve what she wants to achieve – but when a man's looking for a woman, he ain't looking for a woman who's an airplane pilot. He's looking for a woman to help him out and support him, to hold up one end while he holds up another.
Is that the kind of woman you're looking for?
What makes you think I'm looking for any woman?
You could say that the song isn't necessarily about you, yet some people think that you're singing about yourself and your needs.
Yeah, well, I'm everybody anyway.
There's a lot of talk about magic in Street Legal: "I wish I was a magician/I would wave a wand and tie back the bond/That we've both gone beyond" in "We Better Talk This Over"; "But the magician is quicker and his game/Is much thicker than blood" in "No Time to Think."
These are things I'm really interested in, and it's taken me a while to get back to it. Right through the time of Blonde on Blonde I was doing it unconsciously. Then one day I was half-stepping, and the lights went out.
And since that point, I more or less had amnesia. Now, you can take that statement as literally or metaphysically as you need to, but that's what happened to me. It took me a long time to get to do consciously what I used to be able to do unconsciously.
It happens to everybody. Think about the periods when people don't do anything, or they lose it and have to regain it, or lose it and gain something else. So it's taken me all this time, and the records I made along the way were like openers – trying to figure out whether it was this way or that way, just what is it, what's the simplest way I can tell the story and make this feeling real.
So now I'm connected back, and I don't know how long I'll be there because I don't know how long I'm going to live. But what comes now is for real and from a place that's . . . I don't know, I don't care who else cares about it.
John Wesley Harding was a fearful album – just dealing with fear [laughing], but dealing with the devil in a fearful way, almost. All I wanted to do was to get the words right. It was courageous to do it because I could have not done it, too. Anyway, on Nashville Skyline you had to read between the lines. I was trying to grasp something that would lead me on to where I thought I should be, and it didn't go nowhere – it just went down, down, down. I couldn't be anybody but myself, and at that point I didn't know it or want to know it.
I was convinced I wasn't going to do anything else, and I had the good fortune to meet a man in New York City who taught me how to see. He put my mind and my hand and my eye together in a way that allowed me to do consciously what I unconsciously felt. And I didn't know how to pull it off. I wasn't sure it could be done in songs because I'd never written a song like that. But when I started doing it, the first album I made was Blood on the Tracks. Everybody agrees that that was pretty different, and what's different about it is that there's a code in the lyrics and also there's no sense of time. There's no respect for it: you've got yesterday, today and tomorrow all in the same room, and there's very little that you can't imagine not happening.
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