In "Sugar Baby," on "Love and Theft," you sang, "Every moment of existence seems like some dirty trick." Did these words convey a significant change from how you may have felt before?
No, there's been no change whatsoever. I used to think most people felt that way about existence, and I still think that.
I want to know more about the matter of transfiguration. Is there a specific moment in which you became aware of it?
Yeah, I can refer you to the book [the Sonny Barger biography]. It happens gradually. I'd say that that accident, however, if you want to call it that, I think that was about '64? [Referring to the death of Bobby Zimmerman, which, in fact, took place in 1961.] As I said earlier, I had a motorcycle accident myself, in '66, so we're talking maybe about two years – a gradual kind of slipping away, and, uh, some kind of something else appearing out of nowhere.
And it makes perfect sense, because in the truth world, nothing does begin or end. You know, it's like things begin while something else is ending. There's never any sharp borderline or dividing line. We've talked about this. You know how we have dividing lines between countries. We have boundaries. Well, boundaries in the cosmological world don't really exist, any more than they do between night and day.
After your motorcycle accident, you were in some ways a different person?
I'm trying to explain something that can't be explained. Help me out. Read the pages of the book. Some people never really develop into who they're supposed to be. They get cut off. They go off another way. It happens a lot. We all see people that that's happened to. We see them on the street. It's like they have a sign hanging on them.
Did you have an inkling of this before you read the Barger book?
I didn't know who I was before I read the Barger book.
Here's one way of looking at this: In the 1960s, people saw you as a revolutionary fireball up until the motorcycle accident. Afterward, with the music made in Woodstock with the Band, and with "John Wesley Harding" and "Nashville Skyline," some were bewildered by your transformation. You came back from that hiatus looking different, sounding different, in voice, music and words.
Why is it that when people talk about me they have to go crazy? What the fuck is the matter with them? Sure, I had a motorcycle accident. Sure, I played with the Band. Yeah, I made a record called John Wesley Harding. And sure, I sounded different. So fucking what? They want to know what can't be known. They are searching – they are seekers. Like in the Pete Townshend song where he's trying to find his way to 50 million fables. For what? Why are they doing this? They don't really know. It's sad. It really is. May the Lord have mercy on them. They are lost souls. They really don't know. It's sad – it really is. It's sad for me, and it's sad for them.
Why do you think that is the case?
I don't have a clue. If you ever find out, come and tell me.
Are you saying that you can't really be known?
Nobody knows nothing. Who knows who's been transfigured and who has not? Who knows? Maybe Aristotle? Maybe he was transfigured? I can't say. Maybe Julius Caesar was transfigured. I have no idea. Maybe Shakespeare. Maybe Dante. Maybe Napoleon. Maybe Churchill. You just never know, because it doesn't figure into the history books. That's all I'm saying.
Sometimes we can deepen ourselves or give aid to other people by trying to know them.
If we're responsible to ourselves, then we can be responsible for other people, too. But we have to know ourselves first. People listen to my songs and they must think I'm a certain type of way, and maybe I am. But there's more to it than that. I think they can listen to my songs and figure out who they are, too.
When you say that those who conjecture about you don't really know what they're talking about, does that mean that you feel misunderstood?
It doesn't mean that at all! [Laughs] I mean, what's there, like, to understand? I mean – no, no. Just the opposite. Who's supposed to understand? My in-laws? Am I supposed to be some misunderstood artist living in an attic? You tell me. What's there to understand? Please, can we stop now?
With this sort of question? Just one more: In the past 10 years, you've written an autobiography; there was a fictional film biography, I'm Not There; and there was Martin Scorsese's documentary, No Direction Home – three big attempts to come to terms with your history, the biggest being your book, Chronicles. Wasn't that, in a way, an attempt to explain certain things about your life?
If you read Chronicles, you know it doesn't attempt to be any more than what it is. You're not going to find the meaning of life in it. Mine or anyone else's. And if you've seen No Direction Home, you might have noticed that it ended in '66. And I'm Not There – I don't know anything about that movie. All I know is they licensed about 30 of my songs for it.
Did you like I'm Not There?
Yeah, I thought it was all right. Do you think that the director was worried that people would understand it or not? I don't think he cared one bit. I just think he wanted to make a good movie. I thought it looked good, and those actors were incredible.
I think the movie grew from a long-stated perception of you as somebody with a lot of phases and identities.
I don't see myself that way. But what does it matter? It's only a movie.
In Chronicles, you wrote about declining to write songs for a 1971 play by Archibald MacLeish because you thought the play, Scratch, "spelled death for society with humanity lying facedown in its own blood." Wouldn't that same vision apply to the 2003 film you co-wrote, Masked and Anonymous?
Uh, yeah. You could look at it that way.
Were you happy with Masked and Anonymous?
No. Whatever vision I had for that movie, that never could've carried to the screen. When you want to make a film and you're using outside money, there's just too many people you have to listen to.
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