Folk rock legend Bob Dylan has some strong words about America that many of his compatriots may not want to hear: He says the stigma of slavery ruined America and he doubts whether the country can get rid of the shame because it was “founded on the backs of slaves.”
Dylan spoke to Rolling Stone for a cover story that coincides with the release of his 35th studio album, “Tempest.” Dylan has long been an outspoken critic of American culture and its inherent inequalities, particularly during the 1960s when his songs “Blowin’ in the Wind” and “The Times They Are a-Changin’” voiced his generation’s support for civil rights and anger at the Vietnam War.
In his interview with Rolling Stone, Dylan, who has won just about every music and songwriting award on the planet, seems intent not so much on attacking America for its racist history but observing that racism has long been holding the country back.
“People (are) at each other’s throats just because they are of a different color,” he said. “It will hold any nation back.”
A 71-year-old man born in Minnesota at a time when blacks in many parts of the country couldn’t eat in white restaurants or use white water fountains, Dylan has seen a great deal of America’s progress and evolution during the past century—all the way to the election of the first black president. But clearly he has not seen enough progress. And he thinks it all goes back to the country’s founding.
He tells Rolling Stone that blacks know that some whites “didn’t want to give up slavery.” Only after a civil war cleaved the nation in two did slavery come to a reluctant end—after more than 600,000 Americans (including 260,000 Southerners) died in a war that started because the South wanted to preserve the institution.
“If slavery had been given up in a more peaceful way, America would be far ahead today,” Dylan observes.
When the magazine asked if the election of President Obama was helping to bring about a change, Dylan says: “I don’t have any opinion on that. You have to change your heart if you want to change.”
The magazine’s new issue hits newsstands Friday.