Legend Of Dylan

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While the lyrics on Time Out of Mind are stark and dreary (the first line on the album is "I'm walking through streets that are dead"), the lyrics on Love and Theft are vibrant and visionary, loose-limbed and jokey. On Cry a While, Dylan actually uses the phrase "booty call"; on Po' Boy, he tells a knock-knock joke. On Mississippi, he summons up his old outsider spirit, singing, "I was raised in the country, I been workin' in the town/ I been in trouble ever since I set my suitcase down." But on Summer Days, he acknowledges that things have changed for the old rebel icon: "Well I'm drivin' in the flats in a Cadillac car/ the girls all say, 'You're a worn-out star.'" Says Dylan: "I heard somebody say that to me."

Dylan's relationships with women have often been the subject of scrutiny, both in his lyrics and in the media. "There ain't no limit to the amount of trouble women bring," he sings on Sugar Baby, the last track on Love and Theft. In 1977 he went through a messy divorce from his first wife, Sara Lowndes. (One of their five children, Jakob, has gone on to become a rock star with his band the Wallflowers.) A book that came out this year, Down the Highway: The Life of Bob Dylan by Howard Sounes, revealed that in 1986, Dylan had a child with one of his backup singers, Carolyn Dennis, and later married her. Although they are divorced, Dylan says he never tried to conceal the relationship. "It's not private to me," he says. "I've never tried to hide anything. I mean, not that I know of. I don't have any skeletons that I don't want anybody to see." Speaking about Dennis publicly for the first time, he says she is "a fantastic singer. She's a gospel singer mainly. One of her uncles was Blind Willie Johnson. What more do you need to know about somebody?" Dylan's daughter with Dennis is in her teens and apparently doesn't share her father's musical tastes. Says Dylan: "I get in fights with her if I talk about music."

Dylan, in fact, hates most modern music. "The radio makes hideous sounds," he says. He thinks Beck, the folk/rock/hip-hop singer-songwriter who is often compared with him, should focus: "You just can't be that good at everything you touch." He hasn't really listened to Eminem's work--when it comes to rap, he prefers the Roots--but he says, "I almost feel like if anything is controversial, the guy's gotta be doing something right." Among the few contemporary acts that excite him is jazz singer Cassandra Wilson. "She is one of my favorite singers today," says Dylan. "I heard her version of Death Letter Blues--gave me the chills. I love everything she does." He says he would like to see her cover some of his songs.

Meanwhile, the old man is doing just fine performing his own work. He plays about 120 dates a year, and in recent years his shows have become stronger than they have been in decades. His set lists change as constantly as the weather, and his live song interpretations often differ radically from their recorded versions. Dylan is wandering around his history, making changes as he sees fit. The veteran folk-rocker says his inspiration comes directly from God. "I've had a God-given sense of destiny," says Dylan. "This is what I was put on earth to do. Just like Shakespeare was gonna write his plays, the Wright brothers were gonna invent an airplane, like Edison was gonna invent a telephone, I was put here to do this. I knew I was gonna do it better than anybody ever did it." Well, actually, Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone. But who says you can't remake the past?

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