“How can the life of such a man
Be in the palm of some fool’s hand?”
– from ‘Hurricane‘, a song written by Bob Dylan and Jacques Levy, 1975
From any angle, radical defines Bob Dylan.
His work, which consists of his songs spanning over 50 years of songwriting and singing, is rooted in a vocal counterculture that wanted to turn away from wars and the oppressive structures and systems of creeping bureaucracy. His gravelly voice, cawing like a crow, vocalizes his rhyming long verses more in a way that calls to mind the chanting of indigenous tribes in their most raw element, than the accepted folk-revival singing of his peers in the industry.
His song lyrics pointedly question established norms & vices, even one’s private emotions, and are always interesting in their own expressions of strong emotions of resentment, love, cynicism, hope, scorn, compassion, loss, victory, revenge, light-heartedness, the yearning to be free, to reform, be they political, economic, social or personal, delivered with the authenticity of one who carries the sufferances of these emotions.
Radical defines the ease with which he switches from acoustic to electric & back to acoustic, and as a result, ‘electrifies’ or ‘electrocutes’ his audience . Radical defines his initial romance with, and subsequent alienation from, his folk music audience and leftist causes, while retaining his gravitas as he evolved from rumored runaway kid to folk star to rock star to multigenerational international icon. And more radical was his realization that he was not really interested in writing a novel or a play, but that he definitely wanted to be a writer, a writer of songs, no more no less, and this realization coming after he wrote what he considered as his breakthrough song, ‘Like A Rolling Stone’ which he described in a Canadian Broadcasting Company Radio (Montreal) interview with Martin Bronstein in Feb. 20, 1966 as something “…I wrote … after I’d quit, I’d literally quit singing and playing…” and found himself writing this “… long piece of vomit, 20 pages long….”
It has now come to the point where, judging by the range of opinions weighing in after the announcement of the Nobel Prize in Literature for 2016, radical defines Bob Dylan’s winning of the award without even his trying. In one masterful stroke, the Swedish Academy, while not exactly admitting it, “widens the horizon” of literature itself when it honors Dylan’s lifetime work of songwriting, removing the very fine line between music and poetry, thus reminding us all that musical lyricism is not only literature too, but can be among the best of literature as well.
Bob Dylan, in the same interview in 1966, best described this success as an “accidental thing …I never strived for it”. And when asked what his pastime was, he could not name anything except “write and sing”.
Truly, an authentic, modern-day Bard Laureate.
The Radical Authenticity of Bob Dylan
Copyright © SSJ October 2016. All rights reserved.
Thank you for your perspective (this coming from one who was only familiar with Blowing in the Wind – quite popular in the Philippines in the ’80’s). I have just recently looked up some of his songs (I still have difficulty with his musical genre) and appreciated the lyrics.
You’re welcome, Imelda. I first heard of Bob Dylan’s songs in the late 60s and early 70s as covered by other groups (such as the Peter, Paul & Mary trio singing ‘Blowing in the Wind’, ‘Don’t Think Twice, Its All Right’, & ‘The Times They Are A-Changin’, and the Byrds’ performing ‘Mr. Tambourine Man’). Listening to these other artists, it was not difficult at all to appreciate the songs and the songwriter. Bob Dylan, as the singer/performer himself, only came to my awareness in the mid-70s when I got to watch the movie coverage of the George Harrison and friends Concert for Bangladesh. And yes, it was quite different and initially ‘jarring’ 😀 to see him actually sing his songs after getting used to those mushy-melodious covers by the other artists. But that’s Bob Dylan for me, he’ll work his way into one’s mind in the manner that Bruce Springsteen described the first time he heard Bob play ‘Like A Rolling Stone’: “that snare shot that sounded like somebody kicked open the door to your mind.” After a while, you get to appreciate that too. Very much. Thanks for your taking time to leave comments in my posts.