Monday, September 27, 2004

POSITIVELY NEWSWEEK. The number-two newsmagazine opens Debate Week with something of far more consequence than politics: a cover story on Bob Dylan, who's written a memoir called Chronicles, Volume I.

David Gates opens his interview with Dylan this way: "When I tell Bob Dylan he's the last person I'd have expected to turn autobiographer, he laughs and says, 'Yeah, me too.'" No kidding. Since the beginning of the television age, no major cultural figure has lived as public and yet as inscrutable a life as Dylan. Judging from the candid, straightforward tone of the excerpt - a meditation/rant on the hell of living with the Dylan legend - that inscrutability is about to get a whole lot more, well, scrutable.

It was Gates who interviewed Dylan in 1997 on the occasion of his late-blooming masterpiece Time Out of Mind. Gates observes that Dylan is weirdly dismissive of the work he did between the late '60s and Time. But there's no question that Time signaled that Dylan had found a way of living with himself and his legend, and of recapturing the inspiration he'd once had, if not quite all of the gifts of youthful genius. In the new interview, Dylan - and Gates - explain it like this:

"The difference between me now and then [Dylan says] is that back then, I could see visions. The me now can dream dreams." His early songs, he says, were visionary, however much they drew on his meticulous observation of the real world around him. "What you see in 'Chronicles' is a dream," he says. "It's already happened."

You would have to be Bob Dylan ... to grasp fully what he's trying to tell you. But it must have to do with his having to accept the loss of his original mode of creation, in which the songs seemed to come to him without his knowing what he was doing. Does he still have that same access to - I don't know how to put the question. He helps me out. "No, not in the same way," he says. "Not in the same way at all. But I can get there, by following certain forms and structures. It's not luck. Luck's in the early years. In the early years, I was trying to write and perform the sun and the moon. At a certain point, you just realize that nobody can do that."

Dylan is also said to have written six to eight songs for a new album, which will be his first since 2001's "Love and Theft."

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