Bob Dylan, Reaganite


Photo of Bob DYLAN

As we arrive in 1981, Ronald Reagan is in the White House and Margaret Thatcher lives at 10 Downing Street. The times they are a-changin’, and not for the better. Let’s check in with Bob Dylan, and see what he has to say about the politics of the times, courtesy of an interview conducted by Dave Herman on 2 July 1981 and broadcast at the end of that month on WNEW radio in New York (transcript here):

Herman: We are sitting in London, and Mrs Thatcher is the prime minister here and back home it seems to be a kind of a new political wave of conservatism sweeping across the world and I wonder if that kind of concerns you at all, if you’ve noticed the change in the political winds?

Dylan: No. I don’t know much change between conservatism or liberalism. I can’t see much differences between either of those things.

The reading of Dylan as a serious left-wing political singer has always been so incredibly partial. For a long time it has been clear that he isn’t and wasn’t interested in organized politics, and by 1981 he seems almost completely disengaged from these sorts of issues. Shot of Love, which I have just started to listen to for the first time this morning, is still mostly a religious album, even if it is a little more eclectic than the previous two (although there are readings of even songs like “Lenny Bruce” as religious, that I’ll try to get to this week). He is still finding his answers in God, so the day to day issues of politics seem to hold little interest for him. He definitely feels like he is a part of the Reagan Democrats phenomenon. On abortion:

Dylan: I don’t know … Now abortion is important, I personally don’t believe in it but …, unless of course somebody needs to have their life saved.

On gun control:

Dylan: But they have a much lower crime rate over here [in England, where the police don’t carry guns] too. Well, you can’t change the States in that kind of way. It’s too many people. It didn’t get off on the right start … You know the United States is like gun crazy, always has been gun crazy. White man used to shoot the Indians with guns. Guns have been a great part of America’s past. So, there’s nothing you can do about it. The gun is just something which America has got, lives with. I don’t think gun control is making any difference at all. Just make it harder for people who need to be protected.


The interview has a lot more going on in it – particularly about the way he views the relative value of live performance relative to his albums – but I found the political issues raised here really fascinating. Dylan is almost forty here, a born-again Christian, and clearly drifting politically to the right. Perhaps it should have been expected?