It's well past 1 o'clock when the driver announces that the bus is approaching Chicago, about a third of the way to South Bend, and the conversation has switched to Hollywood's fascination with rock 'n' roll. Given his role in the culture of the '60s, it seems probable that some filmmaker would want to use his story to explain America in the '60s.
"Absolutely not," he says, almost contemptuously. "No one knows too much about (my life), so it's going to have to all be speculation. Who was it that said it: Fame is a curse. There's a lot of truth in that."
Looking through the side window at the lights on the outskirts of Chicago, he adds: "Look at Elvis--he's bigger now than when he was living. He lives on in people's mind. But you wonder if people are remembering the right things about his music, rather than all the stuff that people wrote about him."
WHEN THE TOUR BUS stops to let the reporter off at a motel near O'Hare International Airport, Dylan says he wants a cup of fresh coffee. One would assume that somebody would go and get it for him. Instead, Dylan walks into an all-night diner and sits at the counter with a tour aide. He's unnoticed amid a handful of truckers and motorists taking a break from the icy highway. It's a bleak scene, worthy of an Edward Hopper painting, and seeing Dylan as part of it suggests, at least momentarily, a clear image of faded glory.
Not everyone at 50 would want to spend all these months on the road, especially in the numbing cold of winter.
If Dylan maintains the pace of the Never-Ending Tour, he'll do about 120 shows this year. "That may not sound like a lot," he says. "Willie (Nelson) and B. B. King do a lot more, but it's a comfortable number for me." He also says that he reserves the right to halt the tour at any time. "Whenever it does start feeling like work, that's when I want to stop," he says. "Get away from it for a while. You don't want to be a prisoner of this (touring) any more than you want to be a prisoner of anything in life if you can avoid it."
But for now, the road is his choice and he seems grateful for the chance, after all these years, to be able to move about the world at his own pace, freed somewhat from the prison of his '60s mantle.
In the last analysis, the reasons for Dylan's cultural impact are as much a puzzle to the enigmatic performer as they are to others.
"There's no one to my knowledge that isn't surprised by their longevity, including myself," Dylan said wearily, wiping the sleep from his eyes as the bus made its way from concert to concert. "But it's very dangerous to plan (far ahead), because you are just dealing with your vanity. Tomorrow is hard enough. It's God who gives you the freedom, and the days you should be most concerned with are today and tomorrow.
"It's one thing to say, 'There's a new record out and people are responding to the new songs,' which is encouraging. But that's not the case. There's no new album, and it's hard for me to know just what that means, why people come out and what they are looking for or listening for. . . . Maybe the same things I was looking for when I wrote them."