Bob Dylan is an American singer-songwriter, author, and artist who has been an influential figure in popular music and culture for more than five decades. Much of his most celebrated work dates from the 1960s, when he became a reluctant “voice of a generation”with songs such as “Blowin’ in the Wind” and “The Times They Are a-Changin'” which became anthems for the Civil Rights Movement and anti-war movement. In 1965, he controversially “went electric”, branching out from his earlier work and alienating some fans of the American folk music revival, recording a six-minute single, “Like a Rolling Stone,” which enlarged the scope of popular music. Dylan’s lyrics incorporate a wide range of political, social, philosophical, and literary influences. They defied existing pop-music conventions and appealed to the burgeoning counterculture.
What is your idea of perfect happiness? Just surviving. Being no smarter than the next guy. Things are going to happen whether I know why they happen or not. Look at educational institutions. Colleges are like old-age homes; except for the fact that more people die in colleges than in old-age homes, there’s really no difference. People have one great blessing—obscurity—and not really too many people are thankful for it. Everybody is always taught to be thankful for their food and clothes and things like that, but not to be thankful for their obscurity. Schools don’t teach that; they teach people to be rebels and lawyers. I’m not going to put down the teaching system; that would be too silly. It’s just that it really doesn’t have too much to teach. Colleges are part of the American institution; everybody respects them. They’re very rich and influential, but they have nothing to do with survival. Everybody knows that.
What is your greatest fear? Strumming “Blowin’ in the Wind” for three hours every night.
What is the trait you most deplore in yourself? I feel like there are certain things that don’t attract me anymore that I used to succumb to very easily.
What is the trait you most deplore in others? People that use God as a weapon should be amputated upon. You see it around here all the time: “Be good or God won’t like you, and you’ll go to hell.” Things like that. People that march with slogans and things tend to take themselves a little too holy. It would be a drag if they, too, started using God as a weapon.
Which living person do you most admire? I admired Buddy Holly a lot.
What is your greatest extravagance? I lost my one true love. I started drinking. The first thing I know, I’m in a card game. Then I’m in a crap game. I wake up in a pool hall. Then this big Mexican lady drags me off the table, takes me to Philadelphia. She leaves me alone in her house, and it burns down. I wind up in Phoenix. I get a job as a Chinaman. I start working in a dime store, and move in with a 13-year- old girl. Then this big Mexican lady from Philadelphia comes in and burns the house down. I go down to Dallas. I get a job as a “before” in a Charles Atlas “before and after” ad. I move in with a delivery boy who can cook fantastic chili and hot dogs. Then this 13-year-old girl from Phoenix comes and burns the house down. The delivery boy—he ain’t so mild: He gives her the knife, and the next thing I know I’m in Omaha. It’s so cold there, by this time I’m robbing my own bicycles and frying my own fish. I stumble onto some luck and get a job as a carburetor out at the hot-rod races every Thursday night. I move in with a high school teacher who also does a little plumbing on the side, who ain’t much to look at, but who’s built a special kind of refrigerator that can turn newspaper into lettuce. Everything’s going good until that delivery boy shows up and tries to knife me. Needless to say, he burned the house down, and I hit the road. The first guy that picked me up asked me if I wanted to be a star. What could I say?
What is your current state of mind? I don’t feel I have any responsibility. Whoever it is that listens to my songs owes me nothing. How could I possibly have any responsibility to any kind of thousands? What could possibly make me think that I owe anybody anything who just happens to be there? I’ve never written any song that begins with the words “I’ve gathered you here tonight…” I’m not about to tell anybody to be a good boy or a good girl and they’ll go to heaven. I really don’t know what the people who are on the receiving end of these songs think of me, anyway. It’s horrible. I’ll bet Tony Bennett doesn’t have to go through this kind of thing. I wonder what Billy the Kid would have answered to such a question.
On what occasion do you lie? “Don’t Look Back” was…somebody else’s movie. It was a deal worked out with a film company, but I didn’t really play any part in it. When I saw it in a movie house, I was shocked at what had been done. I didn’t find out until later that the camera had been on me all the time. That movie was done by a man who took it all out of context. It was documented from his personal point of view. The movie was dishonest, it was a propaganda movie. I don’t think it was accurate at all in terms of showing my formative years. It showed only one side. He made it seem like I wasn’t doing anything but living in hotel rooms, playing the typewriter and holding press conferences for journalists. All that is true, you know. Throwing some bottles, there’s something about it in the movie. Joan Baez is in it. But it’s one-sided. Let’s not lean on it too hard. It just wasn’t representative of what was happening in the Sixties.
What do you most dislike about your appearance? My hair. The thing that most people don’t realize is that it’s warmer to have long hair. Everybody wants to be warm. People with short hair freeze easily. Then they try to hide their coldness, and they get jealous of everybody that’s warm. Then they become either barbers or Congressmen. A lot of prison wardens have short hair. Have you ever noticed that Abraham Lincoln’s hair was much longer than John Wilkes Booth’s? Mathematically speaking, the more of it you can get out of your head, the better. People who want free minds sometimes overlook the fact that you have to have an uncluttered brain. Obviously, if you get your hair on the outside of your head, your brain will be a little more freer. But all this talk about long hair is just a trick. It’s been thought up by men and women who look like cigars—the anti-happiness committee. They’re all freeloaders and cops. You can tell who they are: They’re always carrying calendars, guns or scissors. They’re all trying to get into your quicksand. They think you’ve got something. I don’t know why Abe Lincoln had long hair.
Which living person do you most despise? I really don’t know if anybody’s parents are so bad. Now, I hate to come on like a weakling or a coward, and I realize it might seem kind of irreligious, but I’m really not the right person to tramp around the country saving souls. I wouldn’t run over anybody that was laying in the street, and I certainly wouldn’t become a hangman. I wouldn’t think twice about giving a starving man a cigarette. But I’m not a shepherd. And I’m not about to save anybody from fate, which I know nothing about. “Parents” is not the key word here. The key word is “destiny.” I can’t save them from that.
What is the quality you most like in a man? I’ve always lived the way George Harrison plays guitar—restrained and good.
What is the quality you most like in a woman? Gossip is a weapon traveling through the air. It whispers. But it does have a tremendous influence. A pretty woman as a goddess is just up there on a pedestal. The flower is what we are really concerned about here. The opening and the closing, the growth, the bafflement. You don’t lust after flowers.
Which words or phrases do you most overuse? Don’t use drugs. I wouldn’t advise anybody to use drugs—certainly not the hard drugs; drugs are medicine. But opium and hash and pot—now, those things aren’t drugs; they just bend your mind a little. I think everybody’s mind should be bent once in a while. Not by LSD, though. LSD is medicine—a different kind of medicine. It makes you aware of the universe, so to speak; you realize how foolish objects are. But LSD is not for groovy people; it’s for mad, hateful people who want revenge. It’s for people who usually have heart attacks. They ought to use it at the Geneva Convention.
What or who is the greatest love of your life? Sex is a temporary thing; sex isn’t love. You can get sex anywhere. If you’re looking for someone to love you, now that’s different. I guess you have to stay in college for that.
When and where were you happiest? I’m just like anybody else; I’ll try anything once.
Which talent would you most like to have? Waking up in different positions.
If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be? Everything has changed from before. Last spring, I guess I was going to quit singing. I was very drained, and the way things were going, it was a very draggy situation—I mean, when you do Everybody Loves You for Your Black Eye, and meanwhile the back of your head is caving in. Anyway, I was playing a lot of songs I didn’t want to play. I was singing words I didn’t really want to sing. I don’t mean words like “God” and “mother” and “President” and “suicide” and “meat cleaver.” I mean simple little words like “if” and “hope” and “you.” But “Like a Rolling Stone” changed it all; I didn’t care anymore after that about writing books or poems or whatever. I mean it was something that I myself could dig. It’s very tiring having other people tell you how much they dig you if you yourself don’t dig you. It’s also very deadly entertainment-wise. Contrary to what some scary people think, I don’t play with a band now for any kind of propaganda-type or commercial-type reasons. It’s just that my songs are pictures and the band makes the sound of the pictures.
What do you consider your greatest achievement? I hire people to look into my eyes, and then I have them kick me. Then I forgive them; that’s where my kicks come in.
If you were to die and come back as a person or a thing, what would it be? The President of the United States. The first thing I’d do is probably move the White House. Instead of being in Texas, it’d be on the East Side in New York. McGeorge Bundy would definitely have to change his name, and General McNamara would be forced to wear a coonskin cap and shades. I would immediately rewrite The Star-Spangled Banner, and little school children, instead of memorizing America the Beautiful, would have to memorize “Desolation Row”. And I would immediately call for a showdown with Mao Tse-tung; I would fight him personally—and I’d get somebody to film it.
Where would you most like to live? Well, you could hang around in Italy; you could go to Mexico; you could become a dishwasher; you could even go to Arkansas. I don’t know; there are thousands of things to do and places to go. Everybody thinks that you have to bang your head against the wall, but it’s silly when you really think about it. I mean, here you have fantastic scientists working on ways to prolong human living, and then you have other people who take it for granted that you have to beat your head against the wall in order to be happy. You can’t take everything you don’t like as a personal insult. I guess you should go where your wants are bare, where you’re invisible and not needed.
What is your most treasured possession? Salvation. Just plain salvation.
What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery? Death can’t get you at all. Death’s not here to get anybody. It’s the appearance of the Devil, and the Devil is a coward, so knowledge will overcome that. The Devil is everything false, the Devil will go as deep as you let the Devil go. You can leave yourself open to that. If you understand what that whole scene is about, you can easily step aside. But if you want the confrontation to begin with, well, there’s plenty of it. But then again, if you believe you have a purpose and a mission, and not much time to carry it out, you don’t bother about those things.
What is your favorite occupation? Now, I hate to come on like a weakling or a coward, and I realize it might seem kind of irreligious, but I’m really not the right person to tramp around the country saving souls. I wouldn’t run over anybody that was laying in the street, and I certainly wouldn’t become a hangman. I wouldn’t think twice about giving a starving man a cigarette. But I’m not a shepherd. And I’m not about to save anybody from fate, which I know nothing about.
What is your most marked characteristic? I’m not an IBM computer any more than I’m an ashtray. I mean it’s obvious to anyone who’s ever slept in the back seat of a car that I’m just not a schoolteacher.
What do you most value in your friends? People change, you know, they scatter in all directions.
Who are your favorite writers? It was Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac who inspired me at first—and where I came from, there wasn’t the sophisticated transportation you have now. To get to New York, you’d have to go by thumb. Anyway, those were the old days when John Denver used to play sideman. Many people came out of that period of time. Actors, dancers, politicians, a lot of people were involved with that period of time. Rilke. Chekhov. Chekhov is my favorite writer. I like Henry Miller. I think he’s the greatest American writer.
Who is your hero of fiction? Holden Caulfield. I must have identified with him.
Which historical figure do you most identify with? The first song I wrote was a song to Brigitte Bardot. I don’t recall too much of it. It had only one chord. Well, it is all in the heart. Anyway, from Odetta, I went to Harry Belafonte, the Kingston Trio, little by little uncovering more as I went along. Finally, I was doing nothing but Carter Family and Jesse Fuller songs. Then later I got to Woody Guthrie, which opened up a whole new world at that time. I was still only 19 or 20. I was pretty fanatical about what I wanted to do, so after learning about 200 of Woody’s songs, I went to see him and I waited for the right moment to visit him in a hospital in Morristown, New Jersey. I took a bus from New York, sat with him and sang his songs. I kept visiting him a lot and got on friendly terms with him. From that point on, it gets a little foggy.
Who are your heroes in real life? Well, I guess I’ve always wanted to be Anthony Quinn in La Strada. Not always—only for about six years now; it’s not one of those childhood-dream things. Oh, and come to think of it, I guess I’ve always wanted to be Brigitte Bardot, too; but I don’t really want to think about that too much. A hero is anyone who walks to his own drummer.
What is it that you most dislike? Statistics measure quantity, not quality. The people in the statistics are people who are very bored. Art, if there is such a thing, is in the bathrooms. The myth of the starving artist is a myth. The big bankers and prominent young ladies who buy art started it. They just want to keep the artist under their thumb. Who says an artist can’t have any money? Look at Picasso. The starving artist is usually starving for those around him to starve. You don’t have to starve to be a good artist. You just have to have love, insight and a strong point of view. And you have to fight off depravity. Uncompromising, that’s what makes a good artist. It doesn’t matter if he has money or not. Look at Matisse; he was a banker. Anyway, there are other things that constitute wealth and poverty besides money.
What is your greatest regret? I’ve stopped composing and singing anything that has either a reason to be written or a motive to be sung. Don’t get me wrong, now. “Protest” is not my word. I’ve never thought of myself as such. The word “protest,” I think, was made up for people undergoing surgery. It’s an amusement-park word. A normal person in his righteous mind would have to have the hiccups to pronounce it honestly. The word “message” strikes me as having a hernia-like sound. It’s just like the word “delicious.” Also the word “marvelous.” You know, the English can say “marvelous” pretty good. They can’t say “raunchy” so good, though. Well, we each have our thing. Anyway, message songs, as everybody knows, are a drag. It’s only college newspaper editors and single girls under 14 that could possibly have time for them.
How would you like to die? I’ve always wanted to be a boxing referee. I want to referee a heavyweight championship fight. Can you imagine that? Can you imagine any fighter in his right mind recognizing me? Here lies Bob Dylan / murdered / from behind / by trembling flesh….”
What is your motto? My motto is never follow anything.