In the '60s Bob Dylan was more than just a rock star, a poet, a hero for a generation. He was almost a movement in himself.
Today he is still small and frail, with curly hair, and he likes to speak in riddles which are sometimes brilliant and at other times seem nonsensical. But the man himself seems changed - slowed down by the slow motion of the '70s and depressed over the break-up of his marriage, the loss of his children and the passage of time. All of which have left another lonely celebrity in fashionable Malibu.
At 36, Dylan likes to talk about "riding the same waves as before," from what he lovingly calls "the old days." He's granting interviews to push his new movie "Renaldo and Clara," but the fact that he's talking to the press at all is proof enough that things are not what they once were.
Ten years ago, Bob Dylan didn't need an interview to guarantee that people would line up and pay to see him. Today Dylan has hired Paul Wasserman, one of Hollywood's top press agents, to promote his new movie.
Bob Dylan, who once chided people for being "something they invest in," is now selling himself and his art. His press agent, Wasserman - who also represents Linda Ronstadt, Neil Diamond and Paul Simon - negotiates with magazines for covers in exchange for interviews. But Bob Dylan, interviewed at his barren West Coast headquarters, formerly a furniture store, doesn't seem to mind.
"I don't really care," Dylan says, flinging his hands, with long yellowish thumbnails, in the air. "We have a purpose in doing these interviews. If magazines want an interview, now is the time . . ."
He worries aloud about recovering the $1.25 million invested in the film. "We want to make money with it and if we make some money we will make some more movies. That's all we should do in my opinion," Dylan says, staring around the converted furniture storeroom. A cable television hook-up, a couch and a pair of large, stripped, stereo speakers are the only "furniture" left in the room.
"I don't know nothing about making movies," he admits bluntly. "I don't consider myself a filmmaker in the fashionable sense of the word or in the scholastic sense of the word. I don't think of myself as a film-maker. If DeVinci were alive or Van Gogh, or if Rembrandt were alive, they'd be making films too."
Dylan wrote, directed, produced and starred in "Renaldo and Clara" and Circuit Films, the Minnesota based film company run by his brother, David Zimmerman, is handling distribution. Elaborate and potentially lucrative distribution and soundtrack deals from major companies have been rejected, according to press agent Wasserman, in order to keep the project Dylan-dominated. His ex-wife, Sara, is among the cast of the film along with long-term Dylan associates Joan Baez, his former lover, poet Allen Ginzburg and guitarist Roger McGuinn.
Personal problems seem to be dominating Dylan's life. On the day of this interview, he just came out of taxing negotiations with his lawyer in the fight with his ex-wife over the custody of their four children. He can't really get involved with unldly issues, he says, because "I had a hard enough time dealing with my own life, on a day-to-day basis."
Dylan nods sadly that he's talking about the problems with Sara. "Yea. I lead a very complex existence. I can't think of all these cultural art or political things . . . these things don't mean anything to me." For a moment Dylan squirms into a corner of the couch and is silent for a while.
"I tried to raise myself out of the ashes before a swirling mass," he mumbles softly, "Well, it's like the song 'Ramona?" Then he chants:
Everything passes, everything changes.
Just do what you want to do
Some day, baby, who knows maybe
I'll come crying to you.
"That's," he says with an air of finality, "the way that it is."
Dylan speaks of missing the closeness and camaraderie of his Greenwich Village days when he was able to hang out anonymously in Italian coffee houses and close music clubs with friends like Dave van Ronk and "a whole lot of others whose names wouldn't mean anything to you."
Dylan also seems out of touch with Los Angeles, his home for the past four years. "I wouldn't be a very good poor guy. I'm not that familiar with it," Dylan says. "I like some of the people I've met here but I like New York better. I like rain and I like snow, I like weather." Has California's sun-soaked culture hurt his creativity? "Sure it does, you can't help being affected by that.
"It's too hard for people to relate to people out here; there's too much space between them. They'll never come together unless they want to come together - and if they don't have any reason to they won't."
Despite his reservations Dylan intends to stay. He does plan to do some more writing in the East and in the Iron Hills of the Masabe Range of Minnesota, his home state.
Not only Dylan out of touch with the city in which he lives but he also does not understand the time in which he is now living. "I don't know what the '70s are all about. The only generation I'm in tune with is my own generation. The experiences I've had have been basically the experiences I've shared with people of my own generation. I don't really know what younger people think or feel." The times have changed.
No more marches, freedom riders, or two-wheel Madonnas. In the self-centered '70s Dylan sits on the western edges of isolation.
"You are asking me if I feel different, if I feel alone," he says with a trace of regret. "I've definitely felt alone in a crowded situation, much more so than when I have been alone. Well, you're always alone you know. You're born alone and you die alone."
In the previous decade Dylan protested racism and war; during this decade his voice is muted. "I guess what it boiled down to," Dylan said, his eyes bloodshot, is, "Yeah, I'd like to do something maybe but I have to find that inspiration."