The Rolling Stone 20th Anniversary Interview: Bob Dylan

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Do you still listen to the artists you started out with?
The stuff that I grew up on never grows old. I was just fortunate enough to get it and understand it at that early age, and it still rings true for me. I'd still rather listen to Bill and Charlie Monroe than any current record. That's what America's all about to me. I mean, they don't have to make any more new records — there's enough old ones, you know? I went in a record store a couple of weeks ago — I wouldn't know what to buy. There's so many kinds of records out.

And CDs too.
CDs too. I don't know. I've heard CDs. I don't particularly think they sound a whole lot better than a record. Personally, I don't believe in separation of sound, anyway. I like to hear it all blended together.

The Phil Spector approach.
Well, the live approach. The world could use a new Phil Spector record, that's for sure. I'd like to hear him do Prince.

Do you think Prince is talented?
Prince? Yeah, he's a boy wonder.

Lately he's seemed to be a little trapped inside of it all.
Well, there must be a giant inside there just raving to get out. I mean, he certainly don't lack talent, that's for sure.

Who are some of the greatest live performers you've ever seen?
I like Charles Aznavour a lot. I saw him in sixty-something, at Carnegie Hall, and he just blew my brains out. I went there with somebody who was French, not knowing what I was getting myself into.

Howlin' Wolf, to me, was the greatest live act, because he did not have to move a finger when he performed — if that's what you'd call it, "performing." I don't like people that jump around. When people think about Elvis moving around — he didn't jump around. He moved with grace.

Mick Jagger seems to jump around onstage a bit too much, don't you think?
I love Mick Jagger. I mean, I go back a long ways with him, and I always wish him the best. But to see him jumping around like he does I don't give a shit in what age, from Altamont to RFK Stadium — you don't have to do that, man. It's still hipper and cooler to be Ray Charles, sittin' at the piano, not movin' shit. And still getting across, you know? Pushing rhythm and soul across. It's got nothin' to do with jumping around. I mean, what could it possibly have to do with jumping around?

I don't know. Showbiz — well, I don't dig it. I don't go to see someone jump around. I hate to see chicks perform. Hate it.

Because they whore themselves. Especially the ones that don't wear anything. They fuckin' whore themselves.

Even someone like Joni Mitchell?
Well, no. But, then, Joni Mitchell is almost like a man [laughs]. I mean, I love Joni, too. But Joni's got a strange sense of rhythm that's all her own, and she lives on that timetable. Joni Mitchell is in her own world all by herself, so she has a right to keep any rhythm she wants. She's allowed to tell you what time it is.

Well, what about Chrissie Hynde?
Chrissie Hynde's a rock & roll singer who really should go back and study some country music. She should go deeply into the heart of that stuff and then come back out. Because Chrissie Hynde is a good rhythm-guitar player. That's all you gotta be is a rhythm-guitar player and singer, and she writes good, and she's got good thoughts. She knows what's right and wrong.

So you're not saying women shouldn't be performers, are you?
No, absolutely not, man.

Do you see any bands of merit on the scene today? What about U2? They're friends of yours, aren't they?
Yeah, U2 will probably be around years from now. John Cougar Mellencamp, he'll be around as long as anybody will be. Sure, there's people. But, you know, as time goes on, it gets just a little more diluted . . . In many ways, what's happening now in music is very corrupting. Especially European rock & roll — it's so weird. It all comes out of what America did, but it's so far from the early guys, like Little Richard and Chuck Berry. That was so pure, you know? But what's become of it? It's become degraded . . . Like, I like U2 a lot, but, well, U2 are actually pretty original. But they're Irish; they're Celtic — they've got that thing goin'. You've gotta get away from America in order to make anything stick. America will just bombard you with too much shit. You have to make a conscious attempt to stay away from all the garbage. Whereas in the past, I don't remember ever having to make a conscious attempt to stay away from anything. You could just walk away, you know? Now, you walk away, it gets you no matter where you are.

Do you think there's any point today in people getting together — the way they did in the Sixties — to try to change things?
Well, people are still strivin' to do good. But they have to overcome the evil impulse. And as long as they're tryin' to do that, things can keep lookin' up. But there's so much evil. It spreads wider and wider, and it causes more and more confusion. In every area. It takes your breath away.

Because so many of the things that were scorned in the Sixties, like living your life just to make money, are accepted now?
Yeah. But it isn't really accepted. Maybe in America it is, but that's why America's gonna go down, you know? It's just gonna go down. It just can't exist. You can't just keep rippin' things off. Like, there's just a law that says you cannot keep rippin' things off.

Have you ever considered moving to another country? Where would you feel more at home?
I'm comfortable wherever people don't remind me of who I am. Anytime somebody reminds me of who I am, that kills it for me. If I wanted to wonder about who I am, I could start dissecting my own stuff. I don't have to go on other people's trips of who they think I am. A person doesn't like to feel self-conscious, you know? Now, Little Richard says if you don't want your picture taken, you got no business being a star. And he's right, he's absolutely right. But I don't like my picture being taken by people I don't know.

But you are a star . . .

Yeah, well, I guess so. But, uh . . . I feel like I'm a star, but I can shine for who I want to shine for. You know what I mean?

This is a story from the November 5, 1987 issue of Rolling Stone.

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

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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."

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