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Bob Dylan: Is He a Troubadour or Troublemaker?

Updated on April 17, 2024
Bob Dylan, a haunting self-portrait
Bob Dylan, a haunting self-portrait | Source

Ages Well with Time

To talk about my favorite musical icon, Bob Dylan, is to talk about perhaps the greatest songwriter of all time. He is also a kaleidoscope of poetical colors that transcends time and space. An alpha poet among songwriters who seems incapable of running out of song ideas even at the age of 75.

Many call Dylan arrogant because he rarely talks to the media or picks up prestigious awards. But it's not arrogance that Dylan possesses. It's his passion for music that is all consuming, that seems to leave him little time for anything else.

i see Dylan as a man who flows like the river, never stays in one place for a very long time and is always heading downstream to parts unknown to harvest his muse. What he sings or how he appears one minute, changes the next. He is like a chameleon who needs to change and grow in order to survive.

It's hard to pin him down. It's even harder to label him. He wears a different disguise every decade, a different focus to his music, a different lyrical persona. So it's wise not to hang on to the past when it comes to Dylan, but to embrace his colorful present.

Bob Dylan's Lyrics, Tangled up in Poetry

He is Everything and Everyone

He's aloof, inaccessible and even perhaps has poor social skills, but he is always watching over us and connects with how we feel through his music. He may not be marketing himself, making guest appearances on the Late Show or showing up in person to accept his Nobel Prize, but he's always there, quietly among us, trying to keep up with the contemporary times.

Perhaps we know Bob Dylan better than anyone because he intrigues us so much and we always seem to be talking about him. We have followed him from a young boy in Duluth, Minnesota to the culture-changing folkie that played in clubs and coffee houses in Greenwich Village.

We've watched him evolve, winning Grammy after Grammy while his voice gets raspier and raspier. We've seen him sing songs at festivals and with other icons like Johnny Cash, Roy Orbison and George Harrison. We've watched him go electric at Newport, travel with the Wilbury's, write unbelievable songs on paper napkins and settle down at the piano and sing old standards like no one else can.

We have watched him grow old and mellow with wisdom and soul. No longer the hard edged folk singer who sings songs of rebellion and defiance, no longer the counterculture hero whose lyrics reflected a country in crisis. He is our conscience, our repressed unconscious that cries out to be heard. He is at once the same and different. He is at once deep as the ocean and as shallow as a pool of water. No matter how high or low, large or small, he is everything. He is us all.

The Prize that Dylan didn't have Time to get

Pulitzer Prize. One of the most sought after prizes in literature.  Apparently not so for Bob Dylan.
Pulitzer Prize. One of the most sought after prizes in literature. Apparently not so for Bob Dylan. | Source

He (Bob Dylan) is at once the same and different. He is at once deep as the ocean and as shallow as a pool of water. No matter how high or low, large or small, he is everything. He is us all.

Nobel or Not to Nobel

Which brings me to the Nobel Prize for Literature.

A prominent member of the academy which awards the Nobel Literature Prize slammed last 2016's laureate Bob Dylan as arrogant, citing his silence and elusiveness after the award was announced.

It just took Bob a little time, that's all. Dylan did receive the Nobel Prize, although not in person, and wrote a letter of his gratitude to those who chose him to receive this prestigious award. He didn't show up because of prior commitments. However, he wasn't the only Nobel prize winner to not jump for the golden ring. Jean Paul Sarte and Einstein snubbed the prize.

Perhaps it's not prizes or awards that Dylan is after. He first love is writing songs. His second love is singing them in front of people. He is 75 and still touring the country. Receiving awards is down on his list of priorities.

I wonder if awards distract him from being a humble songwriter or the focus that he needs to keep his creativity flourishing. My opinion is that awards and honors seem to take him away from who he is--a quiet individual who'd rather sing in front of appreciative audiences than to collect some notable hardware that might change him somehow, perhaps making him start to believe that he really is a deity and take him away from his humble roots.

In his speech at the Nobel Prize celebration on December 10, 2016, he compared his preoccupation with his craft to another great writer:

“Like Shakespeare, I too am often occupied with the pursuit of my creative endeavors and dealing with all aspects of life’s mundane matters. “Who are the best musicians for these songs?” “Am I recording in the right studio?” “Is this song in the right key?” Some things never change, even in 400 years.

The Young Man from Duluth Sings at the Newport Folk Festival

Preparing for a Dylan Concert

Preparing for a Dylan Concert is unlike any artist that you'll ever see. First you'll have to get the old Dylan out of your head who sang those classic songs like "Mr. Tambourine Man" and “Tangled Up in Blue. That Dylan is long gone. At 75 years old, the new Dylan is quite a bit slower, even more laid back and highly soulful.

1) Go to his concert with an open mind. Expect to see and hear someone you've never heard before.

2) Dylan constantly sings new material. He's one step ahead of us with his music. Be prepared for a musical shock or jolt that would seem out of character for Dylan.

3) Notice that his voice has more feeling and depth than in the past. Like fine wine, he gets better with age ( and quite a bit hoarser).

4) Be thankful that you're experiencing his poetic genius in the flesh. Dylan is only a fleeting troubadour who doesn't come around very often and probably won't be around much longer. And when he sings his final song, his final poetic masterpiece, hopefully he'll cast his musical spell on you like he did me:

Take me on a trip upon your magic swirling ship
My senses have been stripped
My hands can't feel to grip
My toes too numb to step
Wait only for my boot heels to be wandering
I'm ready to go anywhere, I'm ready for to fade
Into my own parade
Cast your dancing spell my way, I promise to go under it

From Mr.Tambourine Man by Bob Dylan

This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.

© 2017 Mark Tulin


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