Forget the tributes, drop the hero worship: Bob Dylan just wants to be known as a working musician.
"It's all about a livelihood. . . . It's all about going out and playing," he said, his blue eyes sparkling. "That's what every musician who has ever crossed my path strives for."Yes, but Bob Dylan isn't just the Average Joe musician.
He strolls into a small, stuffy room at his manager's office, wearing jeans and cowboy boots topped off with a black Australian cowboy hat. He sits down in a chair, leans back and plucks the hat off his head, propping it on his knee where it rests for nearly an hour.
Dylan, who rarely gives interviews, is clearly uncomfortable at first, not divulging much and giving terse replies. But it doesn't take long for him to shed his elusive facade, exhibiting annoyance at today's music, bashfulness about his own achievements and fervor about taking his guitar and harmonica on the road again.
"To me it's a dream come true," he says. "What could be bad about traveling places, seeing different things, moving? It keeps you alive."
In his latest North American tour, he paired up with old pal Carlos Santana, allowing concertgoers to hear the contrasting sounds of Dylan's folksy rock music with Santana's fusion of Latin American, African and blues rhythms.
It was Dylan who inspired Santana back in the 1960s with such classics as "Blowin' in the Wind" and "Like a Rolling Stone" - songs that helped bring social consciousness to rock 'n' roll.
"Life to me is like light and you're the projector, man. If you don't like what you're showing just change the light. He (Dylan) made me aware of that," Santana said.
"With most bands, as soon as you unplug the amplifier it's over. Not with his music, not with my music. When people go home, men or women, they feel pregnant with his consciousness. And they go home and they want to cook something delicious or they want to write poetry because it's very infectious."
As Dylan hears all this coming from his friend seated on a nearby couch, he stares off into the corner as if he's not listening. When asked about the adulation, he says simply: "Well, my feelings are the same about Carlos' music. It's great to be supported by your fellow musicians."
At 52, Dylan's stature as rock 'n' roll sage is perhaps only rivaled by the late John Lennon. Although he has inspired everything from a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award to an obsessed fan sifting through his garbage, he tries not to think about it.
"It's important to be impervious to all that stuff," he said. "Maybe if my shows weren't continuing year after year it would give me some sense of satisfaction."
Dylan has carried his music through three decades of constant change, but he's not real happy about how the music industry has evolved.
"Music can save people, but it can't in the commercial way it's being used. It's just too much. It's pollution," he said.
"Have you ever been in the city, walkingon down the street, and the car comes down the street, `Boom, Boom, Boom, Boom, Boom.' It's like a `Jaws' movie or something. It's frightening. You know it is," he says, mimicking the beat of a rap song. " `Boom, Boom, Boom, Boom, Boom.' You want to take a machine gun and blast it off the street."
He uses an analogy of two very different German composers to explain the difference between his music and the songs that jam the radio waves.
"My feeling is that the guy who's taken up modern music is what you hear in Wagner," Dylan said. "Wagner, to me, is like one of the archcriminals of all time. Like Beethoven would be the antithesis of Wagner, and Beethoven you didn't hear very much."
"Wagner makes you feel gloomy and depressed, but he's popular too, and he dictates the music of the day whether you like it or not," Dylan said.Comment on this story
Though Beethoven didn't start his career playing in coffee houses, he and Dylan share the same romantic view of music.
"Music is what saved me in this world. It gave me something to do when others around me were just doing stuff which didn't interest me. My heart wasn't into any of that other stuff.
"The music grabbed me. It just grabbed my heart, you know. And it's been important not to trample on that and not to explore it and not let others make something out of it what they would prefer to make it."