Writing on the topic of Bob Dylan is for me a pleasure and a privilege. He is a
person I have never become bored with which is to say I'm never unsurprised. He
has created a hunger in me for his work that I feel I will never grow full from
it. On the other hand, he satiates my desires to a point I feel I have just
Dylan has always been a spellbinder for me. I get the sensations from his music that come from out of the blue. He will say things that I'm sure I've never heard before as if it was his totally original thought.
An example might be his legendary, "Blowing the Wind". When I hear him sing this song, I am sure there is some self-found truth that has sprung up from his inner well to enable him to write those lyrics. The effect on me is a need to absorb and immortalize his words which creates in me more and more hunger to hear the words again. It's a self perpetuating situation from which I can't escape.and don't want to.
Another facet of his skill is his ability to deliver. Dylan writes with a lot of rhyming. For a lot of writers this could be a problem. For Dylan it's his forte. He uses it to drive home his point. The end rhymes are like the satisfaction of a basketball player sinking both his/her free throws. It is an accomplishment rather than perfunctory give-me's. His lyrics rebound one after the other as though he's playing tennis with himself. For me it is very satisfying like crossing the finish line after a race.
When he sings, Dylan seems to be driving his point home and home again. What he's really doing is allowing the listener to reflect the world around himself. We have the hunger to have more and the plate right in front of us. I first became aware of Dylan when I was in high school back in the early 70's. He was considered to be very hip and was already known as a spokesman for his generation. The music appealed to me because of its message. I easily tied in Dylan's anti-war, non-conformist, and free-spirited ideas with my own teenage rebellion. His music then, affirmed my world view.
But there were other artists who expressed these sentiments; what made Dylan special? I guess at the time I thought it was him personally. He had such an interesting story. He came to New York to make it big and a lot of people didn't know who he was - he told people that he was an orphan from New Mexico - and he continued to snub his upbringing for many years. That made him bigger than life. In his popular song, "If I don't think Twice, It's All right", he inspired to be a rambling, quick to forget kind of lover. When he said, "I'm not saying you treated me unkind, You just kind of wasted my precious time", my girlfriend at the time thought it was good enough to use on me. Dylan spoke for everybody.
What it was is that people wanted to speak like him. Life was like the way he said it. He either left a lot of us feeling inferior or otherwise we went along for the trip. What a trip it was. He had broke on the scene as a folksinger getting his start in good of Minneapolis in the vicinity of the U of M. Then in the early 60's at a folk concert in Monterey California, he brought out the electric stuff. Many folkies booed him, but deep down Dylan knew he was a rock-n-roller. He could never have been contained in a world of coffeehouses and acoustic guitars.
He needs to shout his music. I've been to maybe 10 concerts of his. They've all be electrical with some acoustic selections. What I've really noticed is his need to be all alone in the spotlight, despite his lament in "Rainy Day Women" that "I would not feel so all alone.", and his choice to belt out his poetry. It's when he is at his best. His lyrics depend heavily on rhyme and when we get it, it is a gift to us rather than a weak poetic device.
I'm not sure how Dylan gets away with this when end rhymes fail for so many other poets. Over the years I've be less in awe of his personality and more in awe of his work. He succeeds where others fail, mainly by his uncanny wit and humor, and most of all because it is musical. He might be a very average poet from a purely craft analysis point of view. It's his instincts brought alive in his music that keeps him on top. On the hand, I wouldn't sell him too short on his lyrical ability. He sustains a focus that is hard to argue against. He's always on point, pounding at us, not coming up for a breather. He doesn't aim to take us to heaven, he's trying to define our confusion, give us understanding, and mostly a strong feeling.
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