Bob Dylan: Songs were "almost magically written"

The newly awarded Nobel Prize winner gave a rare interview to 60 Minutes in 2004. Hear Dylan discuss the poetry in his lyrics

Bob Dylan has become the first singer-songwriter to win a Nobel Prize in literature since the award’s inception in 1901. The Swedish Academy says it awarded him the prize “for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition.” Dylan is also the first American to win the prize in more than two decades. (Novelist Toni Morrison won it in 1993.) 

“Those early songs are almost magically written,” says Dylan.

Dylan rarely grants interviews. Rolling Stone once called him “the most secretive and elusive person in the entire rock and roll substructure.” But in 2004, he gave an interview to 60 Minutes correspondent Ed Bradley. It was Dylan’s first television interview in 19 years.

He spoke about his life and his music and reflected on his songwriting. In the clip above, Dylan recites the opening lyrics of “It’s Alright, Ma,” telling Bradley, “Those early songs are almost magically written.”

In a surprising admission, Dylan reveals he no longer has the same songwriting ability. “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.”

Permanent secretary of the Swedish Academy Sara Danius made the Nobel Prize announcement Thursday, explaining the Academy’s decision to award the songwriter.

“If you look back, far back, you discover Homer and Sappho, and they wrote poetic texts that were meant to be listened to,” she said. “They were meant to be performed. It’s the same way with Bob Dylan. But we still read Homer and Sappho. [Dylan] can be read and should be read.”

In the clip above, Bradley asks Dylan how it feels for him to perform his early songs. Dylan says the meaning of those songs changes over time, but they stay relevant to the audience when he performs them.

“They hold up because they’re so wide and there are so many levels in them,” Dylan says. “So you don’t have to act them out. Pop songs, you usually have to act out.”

Dylan also says he doesn’t see his songs as sermons or protests, but he does acknowledge the poetry in his lyrics.

He points to one song as particularly poetic: “Only a Pawn in Their Own Game.” The song is about the death of Medgar Evers, a civil rights activist who was murdered in 1963. In the clip above, Dylan reflects on this line: “A bullet from the back of the bush took Medgar Evers’ blood.”

“It’s written about a real thing,” he says, “but it’s also done with a rhythm and a certain type of poetic nuance that-- I don’t know how I derived that.”

When Bradley asks how he wrote his famous song “Blowin’ in the Wind,” Dylan says only that it came out of “that wellspring of creativity,” having been inspired by his life to that point.

He says he probably wrote the song in a matter of minutes.