Dylan Looks Back

Music Legend Talks To <B>Ed Bradley</B> In His First TV Interview In 19 Years

This segment originally aired Dec. 5, 2004.
There is no living musician who has been more influential than Bob Dylan.

Over a 43-year career, his distinctive twang and poetic lyrics have produced some of the most memorable songs ever written. In the '60s, his songs of protest and turmoil spoke to an entire generation.

While his life has been the subject of endless interpretation, Dylan has been largely silent. At 63, he wrote a memoir called "Chronicles, Volume One." Correspondent Ed Bradley got to sit down with this music legend in his first television interview in nearly 20 years.
Dylan is mysterious, elusive, fascinating – just like his music.

Over more than four decades, Dylan has produced 500 songs and more than 40 albums. Does he ever look back at the music he's written with surprise?

"I used to. I don't do that anymore. I don't know how I got to write those songs. Those early songs were almost magically written," says Dylan, who quotes from his 1964 classic, "It's Alright, Ma."

"Try to sit down and write something like that. There's a magic to that, and it's not Siegfried and Roy kind of magic, you know? It's a different kind of a penetrating magic. And, you know, I did it. I did it at one time."

Does he think he can do it again today? No, says Dylan. "You can't do something forever," he says. "I did it once, and I can do other things now. But, I can't do that."

Dylan has been writing music since he was a teenager in the remote town of Hibbing, Minn. He was the eldest of two sons of Abraham and Beatty Zimmerman.

How was his childhood? "I really didn't consider myself happy or unhappy," says Dylan. "I always knew that there was something out there that I needed to get to. And it wasn't where I was at that particular moment."

In his book, Dylan writes that he came alive at 19, when he moved to Greenwich Village in New York City – which at the time was the frenetic center of the '60s counterculture. Within months, Dylan had signed a recording contract with Columbia Records.

"You refer to New York as the capital of the world. But when you told your father that, he thought that it was a joke," says Bradley. "Did your parents approve of you being a singer-songwriter? Going to New York?"

"No. They wouldn't have wanted that for me. But my parents never went anywhere," says Dylan. "My father probably thought the capital of the world was wherever he was at the time. It couldn't possibly be anyplace else. Where he and his wife were in their own home, that, for them, was the capital of the world."

So what made Dylan different? What pushed him out there?

"I listened to the radio a lot. I hung out in the record stores. And I slam-banged around on the guitar and played the piano and learned songs from a world which didn't exist around me," says Dylan.

He says that he knew even then that he was destined to become a music legend. "I was heading for the fantastic lights," he writes. "Destiny was looking right at me and nobody else."

What does the word "destiny" mean to Dylan?

"It's a feeling you have that you know something about yourself - nobody else does - the picture you have in your mind of what you're about will come true," says Dylan. "It's kind of a thing you kind of have to keep to your own self, because it's a fragile feeling. And if you put it out there, somebody will kill it. So, it's best to keep that all inside."

When Bradley asked Dylan why he changed his name from Robert Zimmerman, he said that was destiny, too. "Some people – you're born, you know, the wrong names, wrong parents. I mean, that happens," says Dylan. "You call yourself what you want to call yourself. This is the land of the free."
Dylan created a world inspired by old folk music, with piercing and poetic lyrics, in songs such as "A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall." These were songs that reflected the tension and unrest of the civil rights and anti-war movements of the '60s.

It was an explosive mixture that turned Dylan, by 25, into a cultural and political icon - playing to sold-out concert halls around the world, and followed by people wherever he went. Dylan was called the voice of his generation – and was actually referred to as a prophet, a messiah.

Yet Dylan says he saw himself simply as a musician: "You feel like an impostor when someone thinks you're something and you're not."

What was the image that people had of him? And what was the reality?

"The image of me was certainly not a songwriter or a singer," says Dylan. "It was more like some kind of a threat to society in some kind of way."

What was the toughest part for him personally? "It was like being in an Edgar Allan Poe story. And you're just not that person everybody thinks you are, though they call you that all the time," says Dylan. "'You're the prophet. You're the savior.' I never wanted to be a prophet or savior. Elvis maybe. I could easily see myself becoming him. But prophet? No."

He may not have seen himself as the voice of the '60s generation, but his songs were viewed as anthems that sparked a moment.

"My stuff were songs, you know? They weren't sermons," says Dylan. "If you examine the songs, I don't believe you're gonna find anything in there that says that I'm a spokesman for anybody or anything really."

"But they saw it," says Bradley.

"They must not have heard the songs," says Dylan.

"It's ironic, that the way that people viewed you was just the polar opposite of the way you viewed yourself," says Bradley.

"Isn't that something," says Dylan.
Dylan did almost anything to shatter the lofty image many people had of him. He writes that he intentionally made bad records, and once poured whiskey over his head in public.

He also writes that, as a stunt, he went to Israel and made a point of having his picture taken at the Wailing Wall wearing a skullcap. When he went to Israel, he writes that the newspapers changed him overnight into a Zionist. How did this help?

  • Rebecca Leung

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