By James Whittaker
Bob Dylan is not just a name; Bob Dylan is not just a person. Bob Dylan is an idea that has changed and transformed many lives all around the world.
Unlike the popular musicians of the time, the simplicity of Dylan’s poetry made his message stand out and reach the hearts of millions bringing him the Nobel for
literature, an Oscar, and a ceaseless ever expanding recognition of his contribution to music through the composition of well over 500 songs (as this site indeed shows).
Dylan indeed has a worldwide appreciation which very, very few popular music artists have ever had. People use his music as something to study (hence this site gets the appreciation of many literary students who use the indexes on the site that link Dylan’s work to the writers who have influenced him), as a way of comprehending and dealing with an ever more incomprehensible world, as straightforward entertainment, and indeed even as background music. In fact on my recent travels to New Zealand I met a fan who was listening to a You Tube sequence following one of the “Missing Gems” that were highlighted here recently while contemplating New Zealand on line casino reviews. When I said I thought that an interesting combination he gave me the link – so I pass it on to you.
And that led us to Dylan’s gambling songs like “Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts” – a song that has probably been taken to bits more often than any other song covered on this site. But long before that there was Ramblin Gamblin Willie.
His point was one can read Dylan’s work for hours without being bored – it has such a great charm around it, or you can listen to it intently, or you can have the music on while you read the reviews – the music can be used at every level – or you can use it as an accompaniment to something completely different.
The point made by my friend for a day was that you can debate whether the writings of Dylan can be classified as true literature comparing him to the likes of Ernest Hemingway or Albert Camus. And he made the point that maybe it was his lyrical easiness and
openhearted approach that led many to consider his work less than serious, notions the Oscar and Nobel Prize both served to set aside.
But that does not undermine the importance of his works which are still relevant today. We can still find the relevance of Dylan’s message where he pleads to the congressmen and
senators to take heed in the song “The Times They are A Changing.” His message of bringing peace still holds paramount importance with Americans continuing war in the Middle East and thousands of innocent citizens dying in the bombings in Syria.
So just as millions were influenced by songs like “Blowing in the Wind” and “Hard Rain” and took up the call for the end of war, there is no doubt that some will have been influenced by “When He Returns” (via the live version so often mentioned in reviews on this site!)
But what makes this all so fascinating is that when we look at the songs in the order they were written, there is clearly no thought-out transformation from one style to another. Dylan has always sung and written in the style that suited him at that moment, with the message that was on his mind. With Dylan the blues is always there, folk is always there, old time classics are always there, rock n roll is always there; each just comes out in different ways at different times.
I doubt that any of us can quite work out how Dylan was thinking and what led him to compose “Caribbean Wind” and “Groom’s still waiting at the alter”, straight after “Every Grain of Sand”, and just before “Yonder Comes Sin.” It’s just what he did at the time. It is what he always does. He takes us by surprise.
It does not matter if someone considers him a writer or a singer as long as they can get something out of the lyrics and the music. It doesn’t matter whether you focus totally on Dylan and the music, or whether you are doing something else at the same time. It is still Dylan. It is still unique. There really is no one else like Dylan, and no music of any era that is like the music of Dylan.