His times still are a-changing

Music: Even after 40 years in the spotlight, there's still much to learn about the singer-songwriter.

November 14, 2001|By Robert Hilburn | Robert Hilburn,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

HOLLYWOOD - "Five stars!"

Those are Bob Dylan's first words as I step into his hotel suite to talk about his new album, Love and Theft. "That's what Rolling Stone gave the new album. How many artists have you interviewed in the last 15 years that have gotten a five-star review?"

Could the most acclaimed songwriter of the modern pop era really care about a single review? I can't even imagine his being excited about winning a Grammy, or an Oscar, as he did earlier this year for "Things Have Changed" from Wonder Boys.

"Wouldn't you be excited if you won a Pulitzer Prize?" he replies.

It's a quintessential Dylan moment. Every time you think you have him figured out, he taunts you with his elusiveness. For 40 years, he has been a man of constant change who weaves conviction and contradictions into his work with artful sleight-of-hand.

Dylan always has been true to the country, blues and folk sounds that thrilled him as a youngster in Minnesota, and he and his dazzling road band play with the defiance of believers who feel pop music has been taken over by charlatans. They stop tomorrow night at the MCI Center in Washington.

As always, he resists questions about his personal life and the meaning of particular lines or songs, but he speaks passionately about his legacy and his roots.

Dylan, 60, is working on his autobiography, but will he step from behind the veil even there? He hints that the events in the book might be a bit fuzzy. "My retrievable memory isn't as good as it should be," he says with only the barest trace of a smile.

You can't buy the book yet, but here's a brief glimpse at the man behind the pen.

On songwriting:

"Some things just come to me in dreams. But I can write a bunch of stuff down after you leave about, say, the way you are dressed. I look at people as ideas. I don't look at them as people."

On politics:

"Did I follow the election? Yeah, I followed to see who would win. But in the larger scheme of things, the government is irrelevant. Everybody, everything can be bought and sold."

On his own legend:

"I'm not sure people understood a lot of what I was writing about [in the '60s]. I don't even know if I would understand them if I believed everything that has been written about them by imbeciles who wouldn't know the first thing about writing songs. I've always said the organized media propagated me as something I never pretended to be - all this spokesman of conscience thing."

On vocal critics:

"Miles Davis has been booed. Hank Williams was booed. Stravinsky was booed. You're nobody if you don't get booed sometime."

On his low points:

"I think the tour I did with the Band in 1974 was superficial. I had forgotten how to sing and play. I had been devoting my time to raising a family, and it took me a long time to recapture my purpose as a performer."

On where his latest roll began:"[It was] in the early '90s, when I escaped the organized media. They let me be. They considered me irrelevant, which was the best thing that could have happened to me. ... No artist can develop for any length of time in the light of the media, no matter who it is."

On the future:

"I see myself fulfilling the commitments at the moment. Anything beyond that, time will have to tell."

On life:

"Any day above the ground is a good day."

Robert Hilburn is a music writer for the Los Angeles Times, a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

Bob Dylan

Where: MCI Center

When: Tomorrow, 7:30 p.m.

Tickets: $49.50, $39.50, $35

Call: 410-481-SEAT

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