Bob Dylan: My songs write themselves


LOS ANGELES • Legendary American folk singer Bob Dylan gave a glimpse into his songwriting process and commented on the death of Mr George Floyd in a rare interview published last Friday.

Dylan's wide-ranging conversation with The New York Times was his only interview outside his own website since he won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2016.

But the 79-year-old musician, regarded as one of the world's most influential singer-songwriters, gave few clues about what motivated his creativity.

He also did not reveal much about the meanings behind the new songs that are stuffed with pop culture references from the past five decades.

On Friday, he is set to release his first album of original songs in eight years, titled Rough And Rowdy Days

In late March, shortly after California imposed stay-at-home orders to contain the pandemic, Dylan surprised fans by releasing Murder Most Foul, his first original song since 2012's Tempest album.

He said he had been surprised when the 17-minute ballad, about the 1963 assassination of then President John F. Kennedy and the evolution of 1960s counterculture, rose to the top of the Billboard chart.

It was also the first song Dylan has penned and released since he reluctantly accepted the 2016 Nobel Prize for Literature. He is the first songwriter to be awarded the honour.

He said the songs came from a stream of consciousness.

"Most of my recent songs are like that. The lyrics are the real thing, tangible, they're not metaphors," Dylan told American historian Douglas Brinkley in the interview.

"The songs seem to know themselves and they know that I can sing them, vocally and rhythmically. They kind of write themselves and count on me to sing them."

Referring to the death of Mr Floyd who was pinned under the knee of a white police officer last month, Dylan said it "sickened me no end to see George tortured to death like that. It was beyond ugly. Let's hope that justice comes swift for the Floyd family and for the nation".

He revealed that he enjoyed the work of the Eagles and The Rolling Stones, some of the many cultural references on his new album.

Asked which Stones songs he wished he could have written, Dylan replied: "Maybe Angie, Ventilator Blues and what else, let me see. Oh yeah, Wild Horses."

The singer-songwriter maintained a relentless touring schedule until the coronavirus pandemic struck, forcing him to cancel a string of dates in Japan and North America this spring and summer.


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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 15, 2020, with the headline Bob Dylan: My songs write themselves. Subscribe