Bob Dylan On Being Young On His 80th Birthday

In an imaginary interview with Delaney Tarr, Bob Dylan divulges thoughts on aging, politics, and Gen Z’s experience. 


 

Bob Dylan in Hamburg, May 1984 ( Photo : Heinrich Klaffs)

On May 24, 2021, American singer-songwriter Bob Dylan turned 80 years old. The famously reclusive musician is hard to contact, but political reporter Delaney Tarr found another way to contact him– by not doing it at all.

Sat in the wood cabin at his Malibu compound, cigarette in hand, Dylan eased into a conversation. In his hit song Like a Rolling Stone, Dylan asked his listeners, “How does it feel? To be on your own?”. Decades later, his lyrics stand against the stark life of a Gen Z-er, completely unknown. Dylan discusses how his lyrics are still relevant today while Delaney Tarr takes note. 

—It’s lovely to talk to you. Happy Birthday, by the way! How old are you? 

Bob Dylan: Thanks. Somehow I made it to 80. I’m doing pretty well, but I’m pretty damn old. 

—You seem like you’re doing well. Now, you’ve long been considered the “voice of a generation” when it comes to your music. What are your thoughts? Do you agree?

Bob Dylan: I don’t want to be a spokesman for anyone. People have always told me that I’m a protest singer or the voice of a generation, but I write for me. My music comes from who I am. It’s my own voice, and it’s not for anybody else. If people connect to my concern and my reality, that’s great, but I’m not trying to be anything for anybody. 

Music Vinyl display in music retail record store in Dublin City Centre. Editorial credit: Derick Hudson / Shutterstock.com

—You’re still seen as the young man who made revolutionary music. As you age, what’s it like looking back at that? 

Bob Dylan: I’m the old man I used to brush off, which makes it interesting to look at young people now. I see it from the other side. Someday, you’ll be like me– a ripe 80 years old– but right now, you’re free. You, youngsters, don’t really have a sense of the past. Your history is all so recent; you get to live life in every moment. One day you’ll realize you spend all your time looking back, but for now, your anxieties are about the future.

—Is that something you felt as a young person? 

Bob Dylan: I know my concerns were tied into the moment of Civil Rights and America’s many issues. Now I see what’s happening in the world and recognize how similar it is to when I was young. 

 

Bob Dylan shakes President Barack Obama's hand ( Photo: Pete Souza)

—Do you think anything has changed? 

Bob Dylan: Yes and no. I remember when I would work with Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee ( SNCC ) and play concerts while they organized. They fought so hard then. Seeing senseless murders like George Floyd’s continue is so heartbreaking. But it’s a different world now. It’s still good to see young people doing work like that, though. 

—Do you still feel connected to these young people? To Gen Z? 

Bob Dylan: I don’t necessarily understand everything about young folks right now, but I think the feeling of being young will always be the same. Every generation has its adolescence interrupted. It's the painful transition from hope to cynicism. We learn about the world, we get angry, we feel adrift. The landscape changes, and so do the issues, but the feelings stay the same. 

—Gen Z and millennials have a lot of talented songwriters. Who would you say is our generation’s, Bob Dylan? 

Bob Dylan: Your generation? I barely know what it means to have that title, much less who it could be. Wouldn’t you be more qualified to tell me who it is? 

—I’m not sure.  I thought you might have some insight into current talent. 

Bob Dylan: I don’t really keep up with the current talent. I listen to a lot of artists from my era, and I make my own music. I doubt there’s another “me” because the best artists are simply following their own path. 

Bob Dylan in Lincoln Square (Photo: Mac3, CC)

—This interview was primarily inspired by the song “Like a Rolling Stone”, released in 1965. Does that song still resonate with you now? 

Bob Dylan: God, I made that song a long time ago. It was really a vomit of 20 pages that turned into something big. I try to keep moving and creating, but I know people still connect to the lyrics. Feeling lost and adrift, missing the lifestyle we once had and all that. It kind of works no matter what era the song plays in. I guess that’s why it lasted so long. 

—Do you have any advice for young people today? 

Bob Dylan: I’m not the advice-giving type. Be better than I was, I guess. Feel the poetry in your lives and keep moving on. It’s what I do. It’s gotten me this far.

—That’s all we really can do. Thanks so much for your input today. 

Bob Dylan: It’s my pleasure since I’m a figment of your imagination. 


 

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