This would be a good time to read or reread Bob Dylan's Chronicles. It's a work of fiction, mostly, though if you said that to Dylan, he's probably tell you there's more truth in it than all the facts you can dig up. It's a truly great piece of American literature (hey, it was written by a Nobel Laureate), and with Dylan's 38th studio album, Triplicate due out March 31, Chronicles could work as a twisted companion piece, walking around how Dylan got here, reimagining standards over three discs, reanimating post-war classics with a spark of gruffness and grace that's totally confounding despite the familiarity of the songs themselves.
Last night, Dylan shared a third of Triplicate with NPR and you can listen to the tracks at the bottom of this page. Around the same time, an 8,000 word interview appeared on Dylan's official website. It was conducted by author and music writer Bill Flanagan and, while it doesn't contain half as many half-truths as Chronicles, it's a fascinating look into the 75-year-old's head--or at least intentions--as he releases one of his more ambitious projects.
There are some great lines in the interview, some warm and funny moments, and some fascinating reflections on the role of the artist, but holy shit, Bob Dylan just checked off The Stereophonics on a list of his favorite recent albums. He just drops it in there next to Iggy Pop, Imelda May, Norah Jones, and a Ray Charles tribute record. He just comes right out with it: "The Stereophonics." He also talks through his love for Amy Winehouse, telling Flanagan that "she was the last real individualist around."
There are some brilliant anecdotes that you'd call revelations if it weren't for Dylan's mischievous desire to bend history. When Flanagan asks for the "real story" behind a recording session that Elvis Presley had booked with Dylan and George Harrison, he responds by saying that Elvis "did show up, it was us that didn't." That's that resolved, then. He also confirms that he was offered the role of Clyde Barrow in Bonnie and Clyde; he and his manager were fighting at the time, he says, so the offer never got to Dylan himself. Flanagan's follow-up question, which is great, doesn't get much of a response from Dylan:
You could have had some love scenes with Faye Dunaway – any regrets?
The real joys of the interview, though, come when Dylan talks about the passing of time and his understanding of the world now, compared to back in his early days.
In my 20s and 30s I hadn't been anywhere. Since then I've been all over the world, I've seen oracles and wishing wells. When I was young there were a lot of signs along the way that I couldn't interpret, they were there and I saw them, but they were mystifying. Now when I look back I can see them for what they were, what they meant. I didn't understand that then, but I do now. There is no way I could have known it at the time.
A little later:
When you see footage of yourself performing 40 or 50 years ago, does it seem like a different person? What do you see?
I see Nat King Cole, Nature Boy – a very strange enchanted boy, a terribly sophisticated performer, got a cross section of music in him, already postmodern. That's a different person than who I am now.
And then a reflection on the absurdity of, um, everything:
You start out wondering why you bought those blue pajamas and later you're wondering why you were born. You go from the foolishly absurd to the deadly serious and you've passed through the gaudy and the nasty along the way. You get to the edge and you're played out and you wonder where's the good news? Isn't there supposed to be good news?
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