Notes from a 2001 Press Conference: Dylan, Rome and 11 Journalists
If you’ve not yet watched Bob Dylan 1990–2006, The Never Ending Narrative, it’s a must for all Dylan fans. Though not authorized by Dylan himself, his management or his record company, it’s a perty durn good overview of the Never Ending Tour and the series of events that put his career on the trajectory that led to this year’s Nobel Prize.
One of the surprise features is a candid interview in Rome in July 2001, less than two months before the release of Love and Theft. Throughout he’s quite natural and candid, humorous and at ease with the whole tango. What follows are some of my notes from the occasion, beginning with Bob seeming to give the nod, “Let’s start. It’s time to start.”
The first question is about how the look of the band has evolved with Bob and his band dressed something akin to cowboys and playboys in suits with hats and mustaches. Is this planned or did it just happen this way?
“Well, we’re kind of dressed like people where we’re from,” Bob explains, then begins searching for words. “It’s not a fashionable statement of any kind. I’m not aware that it is.”
A woman asks how he celebrated his sixtieth birthday.
“Just in the usual way. Blew out some candles.” To the follow up he adds, “Yes, just with family.”
“Are you younger than that now?” asks another man.
“Sure hope so,” Bob replies as others in the room laugh. “Yeah, that’s the song.” More laughter. “That’s correct. You got that right.” Laughs keep rolling.
To a question about winning awards and prizes. “Yeah, I know. I’m winning a lot of stuff. It’s funny, isn’t it.” This last is a statement, not really a question. And then he’s asked a follow up about how he’d feel winning the Nobel Prize.
“I dunno,” he replied. “Who would that put me in the company of?”
“I’m not sure I really belong in that category.”
Another journalist comments on his being a legend, and how does this affect him.
“95% of the time it doesn’t affect my life whatsoever,” Dylan replies. “The other part, well, we who get involved with fame, we just have to learn to deal with it any kind of way we can.”
One is struck by the manner or way he answers his interrogators.
“What kind of strategies do you use?”
“I don’t have any strategies for it,” he replies. “I just try to be as polite as possible.”
“Do you sometimes wonder ‘Why me?’”
In a dry, matter-of-fact tone: “Not at this point. I know what it is I’ve done to be so famous.”
A little further on…
“I didn’t really choose what I am doing. It chose me.” Maybe he could have done something different — scientist, engineer, doctor — but he ended up in this line of work even though “I don’t look up to entertainers at all…”
A woman journalist asks a question related to a line from a song. “I’ve been in trouble ever since I put my suitcase down. Is this still how it is?”
Bob’s reaction: “Is that the only line you remember? Do you want to know what was in the suitcase? Or where I set it down?”
Another asks, “Do you have fun?”
“What is fun? Do I kick a football?”
Lots of laughter
“I’m here. Is there any choice?”
Do you keep in touch with George Harrison?
“I do. I do do that.”
The press conference shows a very welcoming side of Bob Dylan, comfortable with himself and this kind of engagement with the press. He’s generous with his time and in good spirits.
On September 8 he again met with journalists in Italy, three days before the release of Love and Theft in the U.S., which coincided with the hijacking of four airplanes and the havoc that event generated. This second interview was transcribed by Dave Flynn and submitted to Karl Erik at Expecting Rain as “The Rome Interview.” Perhaps it should be called the Rome Interview II. It’s also quite interesting. Unlike mine here, it is complete. Read it to the end. You’ll enjoy the last two lines.
If you don’t already own it, find The Never Ending Narrative which covers Dylan’s career from Oh Mercy to Modern Times. The press conference can be found in the section marked EXTRAS.
Meantime, life goes on all around you. It really was a major year for Dylan fans. The mural in Minneapolis and his 75th birthday were pretty special, but there’s really nothing quite like a Nobel Prize. Congratulations, Mr. Dylan. The very best to you in 2020.*
*Originally published in 2016 at https://pioneerproductions.blogspot.com. The date in this last sentence was changed to correspond with the times.