Bob Dylan to the rescue! The bard granted a rare interview last week to Douglas Brinkley, and man he did not disappoint, offering his brilliantly in-the-world-but-not-of-it perspective on Little Richard, COVID, and the mysterious nature of songwriting. Reminiscent of his transfiguration interview from a few years ago, and the line about the Eagles made me laugh out loud (“Pretty Maids All in a Row” really is fantastic!). Dylan’s first new record of original material in eight years, Rough and Rowdy Ways, arrives next week and at least one reviewer has gushed.

In the meantime, here’s this from that interview:

Why didn’t more people pay attention to Little Richard’s gospel music?

Probably because gospel music is the music of good news and in these days there just isn’t any. Good news in today’s world is like a fugitive, treated like a hoodlum and put on the run. Castigated. All we see is good-for-nothing news. And we have to thank the media industry for that. It stirs people up. Gossip and dirty laundry. Dark news that depresses and horrifies you.

On the other hand, gospel news is exemplary. It can give you courage. You can pace your life accordingly, or try to, anyway. And you can do it with honor and principles. There are theories of truth in gospel but to most people it’s unimportant. Their lives are lived out too fast. Too many bad influences. Sex and politics and murder is the way to go if you want to get people’s attention. It excites us, that’s our problem.

Little Richard was a great gospel singer. But I think he was looked at as an outsider or an interloper in the gospel world. They didn’t accept him there. And of course the rock ’n’ roll world wanted to keep him singing “Good Golly, Miss Molly.” So his gospel music wasn’t accepted in either world. I think the same thing happened to Sister Rosetta Tharpe. I can’t imagine either of them being bothered too much about it. Both are what we used to call people of high character. Genuine, plenty talented and who knew themselves, weren’t swayed by anything from the outside. Little Richard, I know was like that.

But so was Robert Johnson, even more so. Robert was one of the most inventive geniuses of all time. But he probably had no audience to speak of. He was so far ahead of his time that we still haven’t caught up with him. His status today couldn’t be any higher. Yet in his day, his songs must have confused people. It just goes to show you that great people follow their own path.

On the album “Tempest” you perform “Roll on John” as a tribute to John Lennon. Is there another person you’d like to write a ballad for?

Those kinds of songs for me just come out of the blue, out of thin air. I never plan to write any of them. But in saying that, there are certain public figures that are just in your subconscious for one reason or another. None of those songs with designated names are intentionally written. They just fall down from space. I’m just as bewildered as anybody else as to why I write them …

[The song from the new album] “I Contain Multitudes” is more like trance writing. Well, it’s not more like trance writing, it is trance writing. It’s the way I actually feel about things. It is my identity and I’m not going to question it, I am in no position to. Every line has a particular purpose. Somewhere in the universe those three names must have paid a price for what they represent and they’re locked together. And I can hardly explain that. Why or where or how, but those are the facts …

Do you think of this pandemic in almost biblical terms? A plague that has swept the land?

I think it’s a forerunner of something else to come. It’s an invasion for sure, and it’s widespread, but biblical? You mean like some kind of warning sign for people to repent of their wrongdoings? That would imply that the world is in line for some sort of divine punishment. Extreme arrogance can have some disastrous penalties. [Emphasis added.] Maybe we are on the eve of destruction. There are numerous ways you can think about this virus. I think you just have to let it run its course.

“A forerunner of something else to come” sounds about right to me. There’s such a push to interpret COVID–and the Floyd protests–as they are happening, in such a way that they mean one thing and not another (and usually to bolster the narrative we’ve invested in). Could it be that the course isn’t fully run? This course, which tracks through more than a few valleys on its way to inconceivably greener pastures? Or, to borrow more of Dylan’s vocabulary, the fugitive good news is still out there eluding capture.

I find that notion hopeful–not to mention faith-producing.

I also find the notion hopeful that someone (Daniel Romano’s Outfit) went and recorded a version of Dylan’s Infidels record in the style of the brilliant SNL performance of “Jokerman.” So inspired.