Bob Dylan Talks COVID-19, George Floyd, His Favorite Eagles Songs In Rare Interview
We’re one week out from the release of Rough And Rowdy Ways, Bob Dylan’s first album of original material in eight years. We can confirm that it’s one of this year’s best — more on that next week — but up until now we haven’t heard from the man himself about it beyond the three advance singles he’s shared. Today the New York Times has published a rare interview with Dylan, a wide-ranging conversation with his friend Douglas Brinkley.
Dylan, ever the elusive trickster, provides some extremely puzzling and oblique responses to Brinkley’s questions, but you still come away with an understanding of his worldview and state of mind. There is a heartfelt tribute to George Floyd, who was killed by police in Dylan’s home state of Minnesota: “It sickened me no end to see George tortured to death like that. It was beyond ugly. Let’s hope that justice comes swift for the Floyd family and for the nation.” There are tributes to Little Richard and John Prine, two fellow legends who recently died, and to Robert Johnson and Sister Rosetta Tharpe. He shares some perspective on his new songs, comparing the 17-minute epic “Murder Most Foul” to a painting (“you can’t see it all at once if you’re standing too close”) and describing album opener “I Contain Multitudes” as “trance writing.”
Unsurprisingly, Dylan sometimes seems to be taking the piss, as when he says this about the role of improvisation in his music: “None at all. There’s no way you can change the nature of a song once you’ve invented it. You can set different guitar or piano patterns upon the structural lines and go from there, but that’s not improvisation. Improvisation leaves you open to good or bad performances and the idea is to stay consistent. You basically play the same thing time after time in the most perfect way you can.” Given how much he transforms his songs in the live setting, and that he once toured with the Grateful Dead as his backing band, this seems suspicious.
He has a measured response to a query about whether the COVID-19 pandemic is a biblical plague: “I think it’s a forerunner of something else to come. It’s an invasion for sure, and it’s widespread, but biblical? You mean like some kind of warning sign for people to repent of their wrongdoings? That would imply that the world is in line for some sort of divine punishment. Extreme arrogance can have some disastrous penalties. Maybe we are on the eve of destruction. There are numerous ways you can think about this virus. I think you just have to let it run its course.”
And then there’s the part where he names his favorite Eagles songs, which Brinkley asked about because Don Henley and Glenn Frey somewhat surprisingly were among the string of icons rattled off in the “Murder Most Foul” lyrics. Dylan’s picks: “New Kid in Town,” “Life In The Fast Lane,” and “Pretty Maids All In A Row,” which he says “could be one of the best songs ever.” He also names the Rolling Stones songs he wishes he wrote: “Oh, I don’t know, maybe ‘Angie,’ ‘Ventilator Blues’ and what else, let me see. Oh yeah, ‘Wild Horses.'” But Dylan appreciating the Stones is one thing, and Dylan loving the Eagles is quite another. He really does contain multitudes.