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AARP The Magazine


Bob Dylan Does the American Standards His Way

In his first interview in nearly three years, the legendary singer-songwriter talks about his new disc, ‘Shadows in the Night,’ his love for Frank Sinatra and about life in his 70s

Bob Dylan Cover, Family

Family man: With wife Sara and kids Jesse, Anna and Sam at home in Woodstock, New York, 1968. — Elliot Landy/Magum

Q: In a period around 1966, you went into seclusion for more than a year, and there was much speculation about your motives. But it was to protect your family, wasn’t it?

A: Totally. That’s right.

Q: I think people didn’t quite want to understand that, because your idiosyncratic view of the world as an artist made them think you were an idiosyncratic person. But you were a typical dad trying to protect his kids. 

A: Totally. I gave up my art to do that. 

Q: And was that painful?

A: Totally frustrating and painful, of course, because that intuitive gift — which for me went musically — had carried me so far. I did do that, yeah, and it hurt to have to do it. But I didn’t have a choice.

Q: Your life is largely spent on the road: 100 nights a year. I read that your grandmother once told you that happiness is not the road to anything. She said it is the road.

A: My grandmother was a wonderful lady.

Q: You obviously get great joy and connection from the people who come to see you.

A: It’s not unlike a sportsman who’s on the road a lot. Roger Federer, the tennis player, he’s working most of the year. Like maybe 250 days a year. I think that’s more than B.B. King does. So it’s relative. I mean, yeah, you must go where the people are. But happiness — are we talking about happiness?

Q: Yeah. 

A: OK, a lot of people say there is no happiness in this life and certainly there’s no permanent happiness. But self-sufficiency creates happiness. Just because you’re satisfied one moment — saying yes, it’s a good meal, makes me happy — well, that’s not going to necessarily be true the next hour. Life has its ups and downs, and time has to be your partner, you know? Really, time is your soul mate. I’m not exactly sure what happiness even means, to tell you the truth. I don’t know if I personally could define it.

Q: Have you touched it?

A: Well, we all do.

Q: Held it?

A: We all do at certain points, but it’s like water — it slips through your hands. As long as there’s suffering, you can only be so happy. How can a person be happy if he has misfortune? Some wealthy billionaire who can buy 30 cars and maybe buy a sports team, is that guy happy? What then would make him happier? Does it make him happy giving his money away to foreign countries? Is there more contentment in that than in giving it here to the inner cities and creating jobs? The government’s not going to create jobs. It doesn’t have to. People have to create jobs, and these big billionaires are the ones who can do it We don’t see that happening. We see crime and inner cities exploding with people who have nothing to do, turning to drink and drugs. They could all have work created for them by all these hotshot billionaires. For sure that would create lot of happiness. Now, I’m not saying they have to — I’m not talking about communism — but what do they do with their money? Do they use it in virtuous ways?

Q: So they should be moving their focus here instead of …

A: Well, I think they should, yeah, because there are a lot of things that are wrong in America, and especially in the inner cities, that they could solve. Those are dangerous grounds, and they don’t have to be. There are good people there, but they’ve been oppressed by lack of work. Those people can all be working at something. These multibillionaires can create industries right here in America. But no one can tell them what to do. God’s got to lead them.

Q: And productive work is a kind of salvation in your view? To feel pride in what you do?

A: Absolutely.

Q: You’ve been generous to take up all of these questions this afternoon. 

A: I found the questions really interesting. The last time I did an interview, the guy wanted to know about everything except the music. People have been doing that to me since the ’60s — they ask questions like they would ask a medical doctor or a psychiatrist or a professor or a politician. Why? Why are you asking me these things?

Q: What do you ask a musician about? 

A: Music! Exactly.

Robert Love is the Editor in Chief of AARP the Magazine.

Want to read more? Click here for the full, extended interview with Bob Dylan »

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