Adler: When you came on stage last night in London you received a fantastic ovation. Intoxicating, wasn't it?
Dylan: No, because I didn't think it was for me. It was an ovation for someone or something else.
Adler: In the English press this morning they're talking about you as a living legend, an electric poet...
Dylan: I don't care. It even annoys me a little. As soon as people start sticking a label on me that puts up a barrier between me and the public.
Adler: No you seem to be returning to the stage. Does that mean that the journey through the wilderness has ended?
Dylan: Yes, I believe so. I'm back on the tracks.
Adler: Is it for the money?
Dylan: No. Of course I need the money and I know how to spend it, but basically it's because I wanted to do the only thing I've ever known how to do; sing and play. I'm a musician that's all.
Adler: We won't need to wait another 12 years to see you again?
Dylan: No, no. The amnesia is finished (laughs).
Adler: In your new band there's a lot of percussion ...
Dylan: That's essential for me. My songs need a lot of rhythm. Next time I'll come with three drummers.
Adler: It's been said that in taking on three pretty singers you're paving the way to Las Vegas.
Dylan: Pfff! Ummmmm!
Adler: Are you going to present the same programme in Paris as in the States and in London?
Dylan: I still don't know. I might put in a few more songs from the new album, now that it's out. But that means I'll have to take out other ones, and I never know which ones to take out. There are so very many.
Adler: Legend has it that your very first song was dedicated to Brigitte Bardot.
Dylan: That's right.
Adler: Could you sing it again for me?
Dylan: I can't remember it anymore. I only know that it was very short (laughs).
Adler: How old was you when you bought your first guitar?
Dylan: I was 12. It was an electric guitar. I was mad about Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly and I played rock. And then, one day, I heard a record by Odetta, and everything changed.
Adler: I thought that you had been influenced at first by Woody Guthrie?
Dylan: No, it was the rock and rollers, then Odetta, The Kingston Trio, Harry Belafonte, The Carter Family. Guthrie only came along afterwards but what a shock! I learned off by heart more than 200 of his songs.
Adler: When you gave up the folk guitar for the electric, your early fans didn't appreciate it.
Dylan: Oh, no! They threw me off the stage in Newport in '65 (laughs). After that I got used to the whistles. Deep down I think that people enjoy whistling. Like at a ball game.
Adler: Why have you changed your name from Zimmerman to Dylan?
Dylan: Why do people change their towns, nationalities, lives? I don't possess this name. It just fell off my tongue one day, it rained on me, I kept it.
Adler: Is there any link with Dylan Thomas?
Dylan: No, none at all! If I were a fan of Dylan Thomas I would have sung his poems or I would be called Bob Thomas.
Adler: You've always remained very mysterious about your childhood. At one time you even pretended to be an orphan. Your biographies say that your father was a chemist or a miner or an electrician...
Dylan: No, none of these. My father was a very active man, but he was stricken very early by an attack of polio. The illness put an end to all his dreams I believe. He could barely walk. When we moved from the North of the country two of his brothers who were electrical fitters, opened a shop and they took him with them so he could mind the shop.
Adler: Before that, had he been a student?
Dylan: No. You know my grand father had come over from Russia in the 1920s. He was a peddler and made shoes. He has 7 sons and one daughter, well, my father never had the time to go to college. He used to do odd jobs to bring home some money to his mother. He died in '68.
Adler: Your motorcycle accident in '66 happened like a sign of destiny, at a time when you were burning the candle at both ends.
Dylan: I couldn't have kept going for at that pace...
Adler: Well, there was this long period when you seemed to disappear into thin air.
Dylan: Yes. That was the amnesia (laughs).
Adler: After Paris are you going to take a rest?
Dylan: No, not at all! I'm going to Sweden, then I return to England for a gigantic festival in the open air on a disused airfield. They are expecting more than 100,000 people. After that I'm on tour in America until the end of the year. Then I'll cut a new album.
Adler: Where and when do you write?
Dylan: Anywhere and anytime.
Adler: Do you often have ideas for songs?
Dylan: All the time. I put all my ideas down on paper.
Adler: Do you have a note book?
Dylan: No, loose leaves. Like you and the same pen as you (laughs).
Adler: Do you think that your recent songs touch on current events like those ones when when you were starting out?
Dylan: Yes, I think so. This will be even more obvious with the ones on my next album. I think these really ought to reflect the way people think about things today. At last the people I see.
Adler: Who are they?
Dylan: Musicians, painters. People who travel. I go everywhere where there are people. I listen to them talking. I listen to them chatting and I pick up on their feelings.
Adler: A song like "Times They Are A-Changin'" is 15 years old now. You're still singing it. Doesn't that bother you?
Dylan: Each time I sing it, I feel like I wrote it the day before.
Adler: What do you think of punks?
Dylan: I don't know much about this movement. I've heard some records and I've seen some groups. I think that above all they're releasing a lot of energy and that's important, but, to be frank, I mostly listen to good music. Rhythm & Blues, Hillbilly, Blues.
Adler: And those dark glasses you wear all the time, should they be seen as a sign of aggression?
Dylan: No, of insecurity, above all else (laughs). I really think that I wear them because I like wearing them.
Adler: You once said that you were a "guy under 30" and that you were counting on staying that way as long as possible. How do you feel now that you're 37?
Dylan: Well, now I'm a guy under 15 years old!
Adler: During your "amnesia" some of your fans formed a "Dylan Liberation Front" to force you to come out from your retreat, to take up your engagements. At one point they made a lot of noise about you having bought shares in an arms factory that was making napalm bombs.
Dylan: I've never done that (shrugging his shoulders). I've got my own armoury at home (laughs). I've got revolvers, pistols like all Americans. But there's no napalm, no, no.
Adler: Are you still living in your amazing house at Point Zuma?
Dylan: Yes, but I'm not often there. It's just a place to sleep.
Adler: It appears to be topped by a rather mysterious copper dome. People have said that it's an eagles' nest, an observatory, a peeled onion. Which is right?
Dylan: A landmark, so that I can recognize it (laughs).
Adler: At the time of your divorce from Sara, didn't your wife want to keep it?
Dylan: She'd gone elsewhere. Anyway, she hadn't lived there much.
Adler: Do you see your children often?
Dylan: Everytime I get the chance to.
Adler: What would you do if you learnt that one of them was taking drugs?
Dylan: Really ... (He looked like he was going to give a couple of claps, almost tenderly, then a burst of laughter). It depends on what kind of drug he was taking. You know. You can only talk, explain, people want to go through their own experiences themselves. In any case I've also acted in this way myself (pause). They need to have enough experience, a sense of their identity to have confidence in themselves. As for me, that was different, people were taking drugs and saying that they are creating these experiences. But I never got hooked on drugs. Yet I took every sort (grimace). In any case you can't lay down the law to make people live according to your own rules. (a silence). For my children I don't know what I would do. Perhaps they have already taken them (laughs). My oldest daughter has undoubtedly already taken them but I haven't been on the spot.
Adler: Knowing the influence that you exercise over millions of young people, don't you think it's dangerous to go on singing "Everybody Must Be Stoned"? (sic)
Dylan: But that song has lot of other meanings.
Adler: Maybe, but it does have a precise one.
Dylan: Marijuana isn't a drug like the others (a pause), today there are drugs that are a lot more dangerous than in my time. There's one called "Angel Dust". It's a tranquilizer that they give to elephants. People take it to get high (a pause). I think you can do what you want up until the moment when you realize you have to be responsible for yourself, or otherwise you've had it.
Adler: Did your film "Renaldo & Clara" get a rather cool reception in the States?
Dylan: At first I was disappointed about it, now I don't care. They didn't want to be impressed, but I didn't make this film to impress anybody. And then, they took exception to it, they only wanted to see the affair of Bob, Sara and Joan Baez - as though the film had nothing to see but that, I know that's a beautiful film. People need to get used to it that's all.
Adler: Is it still being shown over there?
Dylan: Yes, you can see it in some places. Let's say that it's not in the process of engulfing the planet, but one can see it (laughs).
Adler: Rumour has it that you're preparing a shorter version?
Dylan: It's done. Now there's a choice between a "Renaldo & Clara" of 4 hours and one of 2 hours (laughs).
Adler: As compensation, it was rather well received at the last Cannes festival.
Dylan: Oh yes, what do you want ... Nobody's a prophet in his home country (laughs).
Adler: Are you going to make another?
Dylan: Yes. Painting has always been my passion. For me a film is a painting that comes alive from a wall. If Michelangelo and Cezanne were alive today they would be film directors.
Adler: You often list Henry Miller amongst your influences.
Dylan: Yes. I think that he's the greatest American writer.
Adler: I believe you've met him. What did you talk about?
Dylan: We played table tennis (laughs).
Adler: You're still keeping to your definition of the role of the artist to instill disillusion into the world?
Adler: And President Carter, you've even met him.
Dylan: Yes, he's a friend. I once said his heart's in the right place. That's important.
Adler: Have you seen him again recently?
Dylan: No. He hasn't phoned me (laughs).
Dylan: If President Giscard D'Estang offered you an invitation during your stay in Paris, what would be your reaction?.
Dylan: Oh, but I don't think he would ever have heard of me.
Adler: You're surely mistaken. Once he invited Leonard Cohen.
Dylan: Oh, good! Well, he'll have to see about that with my agent (laughs).
Adler: Have you met many people since you've been on tour?
Dylan: No, I'm working. I haven't got the time.
Adler: Do you take your meals in the hotel or go out?
Dylan: I don't like restaurants or hotels. I enjoy eating when I know the person who's prepared the meal.
Adler: Have you friends in France?
Dylan: Yes, some in Paris, Marseilles, St Mares-des-la-mer, but I repeat that unfortunately I'm here to work (a pause). There's only one person I'm sure I want to meet in France, that's Mr President. Now there's a really good guy.
Adler: When are you going to see him?
Dylan: Where and when he wants. I am entirely at his disposal. Definitely and without discussion (laughs).
Adler: Did you say that failure was preferable to success?
Dylan: Yes, because failure engenders success, whereas success is the end of the line. I've not had the feeling of having succeeded and I'm very happy about that. If I had had that feeling, I would no longer be around. Already long gone.
Adler: Do you believe in God?
Dylan: Let's say, as he shows himself.
Adler: Do you often think about death?
Dylan: Yes, often.
Adler: Do you feel you're ready to face it?
Dylan: Me? Oh, no not at all. I've still got some time, eh? (laughs).
Originally published in French in L'Express No 1408 3-9 juillet 1978. Translated back to English by Sue Allen and reprinted in Fourth Time Around #2.