The legendary singer-songwriter talks about his new disc, ‘Shadows In The Night
Rob Love from AARP (American Association of Retired People) interviewed Bob Dylan about “Shadows In The Night
Now is the right time (to make this record). I’ve been thinking about it ever since I heard Willie [Nelson]’s Stardust record in the late 1970s. All through the years, I’ve heard these songs being recorded by other people and I’ve always wanted to do that. And I wondered if anybody else saw it the way I did.
There’s a lot of types of songs I’ve sung over the years, and they ( my fans) definitely have heard me sing standards before.
I love these songs, and I’m not going to bring any disrespect to them. To trash those songs would be sacrilegious. And we’ve all heard those songs being trashed, and we’re used to it. In some kind of ways you want to right the wrong.
When you start doing these songs, Frank’s (Sinatra’s) got to be on your mind. Because he is the mountain. That’s the mountain you have to climb, even if you only get part of the way there.
And it’s hard to find a song he did not do. He’d be the guy you got to check with. People talk about Frank all the time. He had this ability to get inside of the song in a sort of a conversational way. Frank sang to you — not at you. I never wanted to be a singer that sings at somebody. I’ve always wanted to sing to somebody.
I myself never bought any Frank Sinatra records back then. But you’d hear him anyway — in a car or a jukebox. Certainly nobody worshipped Sinatra in the ’60s like they did in the ’40s. But he never went away — all those other things that we thought were here to stay, they did go away. But he never did.
(Singing Sinatra is) like walking across a field laced with land mines? Or working in a poison gas factory? There’s nothing risky about making records. Comparing me with Frank Sinatra? You must be joking. To be mentioned in the same breath as him must be some sort of high compliment. As far as touching him goes, nobody touches him. Not me or anyone else.
I think first of all (Frank)’d be amazed I did these songs with a five-piece band. I think he’d be proud in a certain way.
Early on, before rock ’n’ roll, I listened to big band music: Harry James, Russ Columbo, Glenn Miller. But up north, at night, you could find these radio stations that played pre-rock ’n’ roll things — country blues. You could hear Jimmy Reed.
Then there was a station out of Chicago, played all hillbilly stuff. We also heard the Grand Ole Opry. I heard Hank Williams way early, when he was still alive.
One night, I remember listening to the Staple Singers, “Uncloudy Day.” And it was the most mysterious thing I’d ever heard. It was like the fog rolling in. What was that? How do you make that? It just went through me.
I managed to get an LP, and I’m like, “Man!” I looked at the cover, and I knew who Mavis was without having to be told. She looked to be about the same age as me. Her singing just knocked me out.
This was before folk music had ever entered my life. I was still an aspiring rock ’n’ roller. The descendant, if you will, of the first generation of guys who played rock ’n’ roll — who were thrown down. Buddy Holly, Little Richard, Chuck Berry, Carl Perkins, Gene Vincent, Jerry Lee Lewis.
They played this type of music that was black and white. Extremely incendiary. Your clothes could catch fire. When I first heard Chuck Berry, I didn’t consider that he was black. I thought he was a white hillbilly. Little did I know, he was a great poet, too.
And there must have been some elitist power that had to get rid of all these guys, to strike down rock ’n’ roll for what it was and what it represented — not least of all it being a black-and-white thing.
Racial prejudice has been around awhile, so, yeah. And that was extremely threatening for the city fathers, I would think. When they finally recognized what it was, they had to dismantle it, which they did, starting with payola scandals.
The black element was turned into soul music, and the white element was turned into English pop. They separated it. I think of rock ’n’ roll as a combination of country blues and swing band music, not Chicago blues, and modern pop.
Real rock ’n’ roll hasn’t existed since when? 1961,1962? Well, it was a part of my DNA, so it never disappeared from me. I just incorporated it into other aspects of what I was doing. I don’t know if this is answering the question.
I said to myself, “One day you’ll be standing there with your arm around that girl.” I remember thinking that. Ten years later, there I was — with my arm around her.
I sure hope (the record) sells, and I would like people to listen to it.
But the way people listen to music has changed, and I hope they get a chance to hear all the songs in one way or another.
But! I did record those songs, believe it or not, in that same order that you hear them. We would usually get one song done in three hours.
There’s no mixing. That’s just the way it sounded. No dials, nothing enhanced, nothing — that’s it. It’s been done wrong too many other times. I wanted to do it rightly.
It’s different than being an actor, where you call up sources from your own experience that you can apply to whatever Shakespeare drama you’re in. An actor is pretending to be somebody, but a singer isn’t. He’s not hiding behind anything.
So a song like “I’m a Fool to Want You” — I know that song. I can sing that song. I’ve felt every word in that song. I mean, I know that song. It’s like I wrote it.
In a way I’m glad I didn’t write any of them. I’m good with songs that I haven’t written, if I like them. I already know how the song goes, so I have more freedom with it.
I just like these songs and feel I can connect with them. I would hope people will connect the same way that I do. It would be presumptuous to think these songs are going to find some new audience. The people who first heard these songs are not with us anymore. Besides, when I look out from the stage, I see something different than maybe other performers do.
I see a guy dressed up in a suit and tie next to a guy in blue jeans. I see another guy in a sport coat next to another guy wearing a T-shirt. I see women sometimes in evening gowns, and I see punky-looking girls. I can see that there’s a difference in character, and it has nothing to do with age.
I went to an Elton John show; there must have been at least three generations of people there. But they were all the same. Even the little kids. They looked just like their grandparents. It was strange. People make a fuss about how many generations follow a certain type of performer. But what does it matter if all the generations are the same?
These songs are songs of great virtue. That’s what they are. People’s lives today are filled with vice and the trappings of it. Ambition, greed and selfishness all have to do with vice. Sooner or later, you have to see through it or you don’t survive. We don’t see the people that vice destroys. We just see the glamour of it — everywhere we look, from billboard signs to movies, to newspapers, to magazines. We see the destruction of human life. These songs are anything but that.
I think “Love Sick” (from Time Out of Mind is the best song about heartache)
Look, you get older. Passion is a young man’s game. Young people can be passionate. Older people gotta be more wise. I mean, you’re around awhile, you leave certain things to the young. Don’t try to act like you’re young. You could really hurt yourself.
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.
For the full story see AARP.
Also available from iTunes “Shadows in the Night – Bob Dylan“.
By Stephen Pate, NJN Network