As he’s aged into his eighth decade on the planet earth, Bob Dylan has taken on a wonderful kind of curmudgeon persona in the public consciousness. Always one to stir things up when it came to interviews and push back on the prevailing thoughts and attitudes of the day, Dylan has morphed from an iconic iconoclast to an even more iconic but world-weary observer. He’s certainly earned the right, but it’s clear that he’s less willing than he’s ever been to play the music industry game.
It’s hard to say when this transition started, but it was certainly in full effect by the time the 1990s rolled around. More evasive than ever, Dylan was often taciturn in interviews, letting the whims of the day dictate what he would and wouldn’t discuss. For such a famously insular figure, Dylan is remarkably candid in his 1991 chat with SongTalk, the journal of the National Academy of Songwriters. Interviewer Paul Zollo was told to come alone, and was only told the time and place of the meeting a few hours before it happened. Early ‘90s Dylan was the real start of the kvetching Dylan, one who was sick of the way the public had viewed him over the past two decades.
By contrast, Dylan was in a good mood when he and Zollo sat down, even cracking a few jokes and laughing throughout the talk. But when Zollo puts on a slight reverential tone when it comes to Dylan’s songwriting, Dylan is quick to shoot him down. Zollo attempts to say that Dylan’s songs are more than pop entertainment, but Dylan responds with a quick and succinct, “Some people say so. Not me”. It’s about as curt as Dylan gets throughout the interview, and is more reflective of the more terse style of interview he was adopting – less playful and more annoyed.
When the conversation hits on this point of pop music, something Dylan has both been involved and vehemently turned his back to throughout the years, Dylan gives his personal viewpoint towards playing the industry games, giving a somewhat surprising shoutout to someone who he believes is the best at it: Madonna.
“Pop entertainment means nothing to me. Nothing You know, Madonna’s good,” he said. Madonna’s good, she’s talented, she puts all kinds of stuff together, she’s learned her thing… But it’s the kind of thing which takes years and years out of your life to be able to do. You’ve got to sacrifice a whole lot to do that. Sacrifice. If you want to make it big, you’ve got to sacrifice a whole lot.”
Dylan himself went through this cycle in the ‘60s, and still gets some of the most potent spotlight even in his twilight years. 1991 was Madonna’s return to the top of the world: ‘Vogue’ and a starring role in Dick Tracy the year before, plus a high profile relationship with her co-star Warren Beatty, followed by the Blonde Ambition Tour and the chronicling of said tour in the documentary Truth or Dare – Madonna was the biggest pop star in the world. Dylan gives his own tip of the cap, although he’s quick to state that he wants no piece of the pie.