This year marked some critical moments in Bob Dylan's singular life. In February, he won an Oscar for Best Original Song for "Things Have Changed" (from Wonder Boys). In May, he turned sixty. (He didn't make much of the event — as he noted in a recent song, "Old, young, age don't carry weight/It doesn't matter in the end"). In September, he released a new album, Love and Theft, that makes most contemporary pop music seem jejune and passé by comparison. In October and November, he capped 2001 with a nationwide tour with his current band and, along the way, delivered some of his most vigorous and transfixing performances since his historic tour with the Hawks (later the Band), in 1965 and 1966. In other words, Dylan spent the better part of 2001 proving that, indeed, age doesn't necessarily matter when it comes to marking the peak points in one's creative life.
There's been a number of biographies and books about your work published in recent years. Have any of these biographers stirred resentment as they've pried into what were clearly undisclosed aspects of your life?
I don't feel that way at all. At the same time, there's a person that writes these kinds of books that has what they call a poetical lack of self. I think it's more of an elitist thing to write about me and have other people read about me. I mean, what is there to expose? We all belong to the human race, I assume. Am I that uncommon? But I don't think that anything's even come close to the truth.
I understand that next year Simon & Schuster will publish the first in a series of autobiographical volumes, to be called "Chronicles."
Columbia Records was going to release three of my old albums, and they were going to include outtakes and other songs I'd written at the same time that had never been on the albums. Seeing that I'm never really sure when I'm going to record a new record, I wasn't too excited about it, because I wouldn't have wanted them to compete with my new work. I didn't think too highly of the idea, but, just the same, I was thinking, "How would these things happen?" Of course, it would make sense if I was to write something fundamental in the historical process of what was going on at the times when I did make these records.
The records they wanted to do were Oh Mercy, Blood on the Tracks and Freewheelin'. So I blueprinted what I would want to say about these records and then I suddenly started remembering things, all triggered off these records, that I thought readers would find interesting. I got completely carried away in the process of . . . I guess call it novelistic writing. So what started out as just maybe notes for a record turned out to be something much more than that, where I got a handle on how to write something which could deal with the present, the past and the future, because I was writing from the future. It turned into something that felt far weightier than just notes on a CD, which are hard to read anyway.
It's not like I was writing the stuff for frivolous reasons. I was actually being led to do it, and I felt that I needed to do it. But it took so much out of me, because you need a lot of mental light. It's easy to get burned out, and I don't like getting burned out on anything. So then I kind of wrote some other stuff about things, that all sprung from records I've made. You know, I've made so many of them that I could take any of these records, and if I wanted to go more deeper into it — and that's when I just saw that it was an endless process.
There's a whole bunch of pages piled up. It's a biography. It's biographical, in every sense of the word. But there's more to it than that, because I'm a public figure, and so I can mention all kinds of things that have been written about already, but I bring a different resonance to it. My story on myself would have to be more interesting than anybody else that could look at it from the outside. Right?
This is a story from the December 6, 2001 issue of Rolling Stone.