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Bob Dylan has no philosophy His new book is the work of a talker, not a thinker

Bob Dylan is no Hamlet. (Rolling Thunder Revue)

Bob Dylan is no Hamlet. (Rolling Thunder Revue)


November 15, 2022   6 mins

This is something special, obviously. Consider, for a moment, the author’s credentials. PelĂ© knows a lot about playing football, as does Floyd Mayweather about boxing, but do they have the chops to transfer their instinctive and acquired expertise into the realm of language? Unlikely. Here, though, is someone who knows more about modern song-writing than anyone, whose linguistic skills were so far in excess of those displayed by anyone else in his line of work that a Nobel Prize seemed adequate — if appropriately inappropriate — recognition.

“He did it in Las Vegas / And he can do it here,” Bob Dylan sang on “Went to See the Gypsy”; Chronicles Volume 1 proved that, having done it on record, he could do it on the page too. Dylan writing about songs is roughly the equivalent of Shakespeare writing about drama, or Tolstoy on the novel, or
 That’s about it really. (Beethoven could only write about music in music.) So you’d be well-advised to attend closely to what he has to say in these 60-odd little essays about songs that have caught his ear. And not only that; courtesy of a Spotify playlist you can have them in your ears while reading about them. Plus, with Dylan circumnavigating the globe with his Rough and Rowdy Ways tour, the book is a hefty and highly appealing bit of merch.

None of which distracts from — possibly even draws attention to — the foundational problem with the project, a problem inextricably linked with the guarantee afforded by the author’s matchless qualifications, namely the songs. The discrepancy between the quality of Dylan’s own songs and the ones he’s chosen to write about is nothing short of chasmal. I’d estimate that a hundred Dylan songs are better than all but a handful celebrated here. We’d rather be reading Dylan trying to fathom the origins and inner workings of his own songs, so The Philosophy of Modern Song is actually a stand-in for what we really wanted for Christmas: Chronicles Volume 2.

Having said that, Greil Marcus was among the first to explain how the immense edifice of Dylan’s work was built on what had gone before — something we have become more conscious of as Dylan entered his late phase, dating from 1992’s Good As I Been To You onwards. He’s massively indebted to the stuff he writes about here, songs he heard as a teenager on the radio or jukebox. He couldn’t have become who he is — and we, in turn, couldn’t have become who we are — without it, without Elvis and all the rest (much of it junk). So yes, it’s of interest even when it’s about stuff — songs — of no interest.

Initially, I thought the reading would lag behind the playlist, that two or three pages might take longer to read than a three-minute song would take to hear, but as I skipped track after track the book took the lead. Then it all got jumbled as I found myself reading about songs that were three selections behind or four ahead of what I was hearing until, eventually, the book was being read without any supporting audio evidence, that is to say it was being read as a book. At this point another kind of syncing issue emerged, a disjuncture between words and readerly attentiveness to them. I started skipping not just the songs but the pages about them, so the whole experience of this immersive tandem became a tug-of-war between the impulse to fast-forward and the need for disciplined resistance to this urge. The impatience was mine — I couldn’t wait to get to “London Calling”! — but it was engendered by the meshed quality of what was on the stereo and on the page.

This, needless to say, is not a work of critical scrutiny, and the titular philosophy is manifest only in the Nietzschean sense that any philosophy is a form of transferred autobiography. So when Dylan writes about The Temptations’ “Ball of Confusion”, he’s chuckling in the mirror about “one of the few non-embarrassing songs of social awareness”. Writing songs like this — like “Masters of War”, say, or “Blowin’ in the Wind” — is easy: “First you assemble a laundry list of things people hate. For the most part, people are not going to like war, starvation, death, prejudice and the destruction of the environment. Then there’s the trap of easy rhymes. Revolution/evolution/air pollution.” Ha ha. Johnny Cash was right when, in the liner notes to Nashville Skyline, he wrote that Dylan could “rhyme the tick of time”. He’s a great rhymer who, at any time, can also be a terrible rhymer. I’ve never made it through to the end of “Murder Most Foul” because of the crime of the rhymes. And the first time I listened to “Key West” — his best song of the last however many years? — I burst out laughing on hearing: “Twelve years old and they put me in a suit/ Forced me to marry a prostitute.”

There’s refracted autobiography here — I’m talking about the social-awareness songs, rhymes and so on, not marrying prostitutes — and in some ways the book might be seen as a belated textual equivalent of the derided album of cover versions, Self-Portrait from 1970.  But this is an autobiography that contains multitudes. The stories are his, everybody else’s and nobody’s in particular, though they end up sounding like (cover versions of) Denis Johnson’s. Hence the tendency to deploy the second person, a “You” who is simultaneously a given song’s protagonist — the one doing the driving, dancing, drinking or whatever — and the “you” listening to it. But this “you” is identifiably Dylan in the sense that his DNA is imprinted in the syntax, in its waywardness and the ideas hatching within it.

What this means, in practice, is that he’s riffing on things. You — by which I mean everyone — love guitar riffs. At a gig in Rome in the Nineties, Patti Smith introduced her teenage son Jackson, on guitar, who proceeded to chop his way into “Smoke on the Water”, a beginner’s riff that is also an enduringly great one. But riffing on the page can become wearisome because it lacks exactly the propulsive quality that makes the riff of “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” irresistible. There’s a drift or aimlessness to verbal riffing that is absent in a musical one. A riff in music is narrative in primal form. It could be said, I suppose, that Hamlet riffs on various topics but these are integral to the play’s dramatic scheme of actively suspended volition.

There are fun bits and scattered off-the-cuff insights in The Philosophy — “The thing about being misunderstood is that it diminishes your enjoyment of life”; “Complex relationships come with a high price” — but Dylan is neither a Hamlet nor a thinker. Don’t let me be misunderstood: his trade does not require him to think things through so that’s not an issue. It does matter, however, that these pages don’t feel written. They feel talked through, like his Theme Time Radio Hour from a dozen or more years back. Or talked over, both in the sense of on top of (as in talking over the music) and warmed-over.

A pleasant quirk of radio is that you can listen to it while doing other things — “lots of other things,” to quote Cash from Nashville Skyline again — which makes it compatible with drift. Now, a tendency to drift helped make Chronicles absorbing. We hoped it might unlock the mystery of Dylan’s working, the process of how he became what he is (to go back to Nietzsche again); and it did, sort of: by straying into further increments of mystery, by adding extra layers of myth, by leaving stuff out. Even if it wasn’t a work of genius it was clearly the work of a genius. With the new book we tune — drift — in and out as we might while listening to the radio and doing chores, some taking us into rooms where the radio is out of earshot. Or on a road trip when the signal comes, fades and disappears, but we never feel like we’re getting anywhere, even by dint of accumulation.

With the route through the songs unclear the navigating voice grows slovenly, weary, even, when approaching the outskirts of superlatives, surprisingly bland. “If You Don’t Know Me By Now” by Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes is “beautifully arranged and performed to perfection”, as if it were an item on the menu of a road-side diner you only stopped at because there was nowhere else for hundreds of miles in either direction. Tonally, some patches are weirdly out of kilter, as when Clint Eastwood and Travis Bickle in Dirty Harry or Taxi Driver are said to have “thumbed their noses” at earlier standards of morality. What on earth is that phrase doing here (or anywhere for that matter)? The same question could, in fairness, be asked of lines in even his greatest songs.

Long ago Clive James wrote that one of the defining features of Dylan’s work was the way that wonderful turns of phrase existed in the tightest proximity to woeful ones. The combination of apparent carelessness and incessant revision — both pre and post-release of a given number — is a key part of his restlessness and of our endless fascination with what emerged from it. You’d listen closely, on the stoned edge of your seat, because there was no telling what was going to come next, even when what came next ended up sounding retrospectively inevitable (another aspect of rhyme). I never approached, let alone sustained, that state of tranced and fulfilled expectation while reading — scanning, skipping, scuttling back and forth among — these decorative pages. I wanted to, but the words wouldn’t let me.


Geoff Dyer is a writer and critic based in Los Angeles. His most recent book is The Last Days of Roger Federer


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Wonder Walker
Wonder Walker
1 year ago

What is it about Dylan’s brand of deliberately obscure philosophising that inspires such mountains of long winded guff about his genius. He is a highly successful arch stylist specialising in the troubled intellectual stance with a nifty line in pretentious rhyming and a gloriously depressive world view. I think the quote from the ever prescient and much missed Clive James in the last paragraph nicely puts things into context.

Andy Aitch
Andy Aitch
1 year ago
Reply to  Wonder Walker

This ‘long-winded mountain’ (sorry!) garnered the author a fee presumably and he did, after all, write a book about not writing a book so he has form.
If this piece warns even one potential purchaser away it’s done it’s job.
(Mr Dyer is better when looking at photographs by the way…)

Allison Barrows
Allison Barrows
1 year ago
Reply to  Wonder Walker

When Bob Dylan sang for his grandson’s kindergarten class, all the children cried out of fright. Hard to fool little kids.

Andrew Boughton
Andrew Boughton
1 year ago

Bravo Allison.

Last edited 1 year ago by Andrew Boughton
Sean V
Sean V
1 year ago

You sound like a TV evangelist in the Sixties telling his congregation “Last week my dog heard the Beatles and, well, he started howling. It seems like that ol’ hound has a lot more sense than some of these teenagers! Ha ha ha.”

Allison Barrows
Allison Barrows
1 year ago
Reply to  Sean V

Okay, I may be a woman, but his noise makes me cry like a little girl.

NIGEL PASSMORE
NIGEL PASSMORE
1 year ago
Reply to  Wonder Walker

I’ve tried over 50 years to get/like Bob Dylan as a muscian and a people’s poet. I now conclude he is rubbish at both despite 50 years of trying to convince myself otherwise.
He is the ultimate Emperor’s’ New Clothes Woke Herd Product; all packaging and no substance. And he can’t even sing – he is a howling droogie.
If he is your thing good luck to you, but we need to stop pretending he is everyone’s thing – Vanilla Ice has more to offer musical heritage.
Regards

NHP

Ian Stewart
Ian Stewart
1 year ago
Reply to  NIGEL PASSMORE

Ah thanks for this Nigel. I’ve tried to like his stuff over a long time too – thinking my tastes might change and because he is on that pedestal created by those who dictate good taste – but no, I came to the same conclusion as you. I can’t stand his music, and I love most stuff including krautrock, punk and prog.

Last edited 1 year ago by Ian Stewart
John 0
John 0
1 year ago
Reply to  NIGEL PASSMORE

OK, it was “pop” in its day, but has passed and doesn’t have the soul of classic country or rock. Bizarre evaluation in the verbiage of the essay.

elaine chambers
elaine chambers
1 year ago
Reply to  Wonder Walker

You either liked Dylan or you just didn’t get it. He wrote songs which I greatly enjoyed, ‘Subterranean Home Sick Blues’ is a brilliant rap. All the analysis is a waste of time. You either got it or you didn’t, And if you didn’t get it, I wouldn’t worry yourself about it and waste time criticising. It’s best left there.

Hugh Bryant
Hugh Bryant
1 year ago

Why was his Nobel Prize any more inappropriate than that, say, of Barack Obama?

Frank McCusker
Frank McCusker
1 year ago
Reply to  Hugh Bryant

Because awarding a literature prize to a mere song-writer is a category error.  
Obama, whether you agreed with him getting it or not (and, obviously, being a right wing person, you’ll disagree), but the point was he at least was from an eligible category, namely, influential world leaders / figures.  
By contrast, no writer of pop songs, no matter how good such songs are as songs, is ever appropriate to receive literature prize for the simple reason that songs are not literature. Ergo, no song writer should ever even be in the running for such a prize. 

Last edited 1 year ago by Frank McCusker
JOHN KANEFSKY
JOHN KANEFSKY
1 year ago
Reply to  Frank McCusker

“Much as I admire certain songs by various artists, they’re not literature”
Sez you. Exclusive definitions of “literature” smack of elitism to me.

Rocky Martiano
Rocky Martiano
1 year ago
Reply to  Frank McCusker

I beg to differ. Dylan’s lyrics (not all of them, but enough within a very large body of work) stand comparison with any poetry of the 20th century.

Phil Rees
Phil Rees
1 year ago
Reply to  Rocky Martiano

His recent piece on the death of JFK for example.

Jonathan Smith
Jonathan Smith
1 year ago
Reply to  Frank McCusker

Did you listen to his acceptance speech where he addresses just that question?

Benedict Waterson
Benedict Waterson
1 year ago
Reply to  Frank McCusker

Watch dylan performing Chimes of Freedom, Hattie Carrol, or It’s Alright Ma, and tell me it’s not literature.
The origins of ‘literature’ were in performance, and bardic traditions, not words on the page. So you could argue that he’s tuning in to even deeper literary traditions than many novelists, by bringing back that oral connection.
Also many disparate people have one the nobel prize for lit – including Churchill, performance artists, and playwrights whose works are ensemble pieces meant to be watched in performance

Rocky Martiano
Rocky Martiano
1 year ago

I’d agree that performance is the true essence of literature. One only has to listen to Dylan Thomas reading “Under Milk Wood” to connect to that ancient tradition.
The songs you mention are all Dylan at his best, but for me “A Hard Rain’s a’Gonna Fall” is an extraordinary piece of writing for a 20 year old poet.

michael harris
michael harris
1 year ago
Reply to  Rocky Martiano

‘Oh where have you been my blue-eyed son’
Not poetry? Please!

Ed Newman
Ed Newman
1 year ago
Reply to  Rocky Martiano

Absolutely.

Hugh Bryant
Hugh Bryant
1 year ago
Reply to  Frank McCusker

It has less to do with being a ‘right wing person’ than with not being an ocean-going snob.

Mark Kennedy
Mark Kennedy
1 year ago
Reply to  Frank McCusker

Obviously, the Nobel Committee doesn’t agree with this peculiar, decidedly ‘categorical’ (in two senses) opinion. As a retired reference librarian, neither do I. Poetry is undeniably a subset of literature–hence, it gets an 800 Dewey number–and there are Nobel Prize-winning poets; and what are lyrics if not poems set to music? “But in thy dark streets shineth the everlasting light; the hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight,” are lines from a Christmas carol; but are they not pure poetry?
 
You do realize that literature got its start in verse form (see The Iliad and The Odyssey), often chanted, right? Here’s a poem by William Blake that’s been beautifully set to music… and I don’t think we’ll be evicting Blake from the realm of literature for that reason:
 
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ukDSju1u1_I

[Edited to add:]

Ha! I should have thought of this before. Yeats is an actual Nobel Prize-winner!
 
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rVhmhwedhj0

Last edited 1 year ago by Mark Kennedy
Phil Rees
Phil Rees
1 year ago
Reply to  Frank McCusker

To the best of my knowledge Dylan never wrote any ‘pop songs’. If you don’t understand the difference between ‘pop’ and ‘rock’ then you should avoid making any comment on him.

Jim Veenbaas
Jim Veenbaas
1 year ago
Reply to  Frank McCusker

Obama got the prize even before he entered office. He hadn’t actually done anything. Madness.

B Luck
B Luck
1 year ago
Reply to  Frank McCusker

Alcaeus, Sappho, Bacchylides, Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides, Arnaut Daniel, Bertran de Born, Sordello, Thomas Campion, Burns, Blake, Isaac Watts, etc. Songs and sung words can be literature: not a ‘category error’ at all

Last edited 1 year ago by B Luck
Ian Stewart
Ian Stewart
1 year ago
Reply to  Frank McCusker

Right wing, schmight bing! Dont’cha know left and right don’t exist anymore Frank – it’s all about identity politics now.
Though you’re dismissal of Dylan as a mere song-writer goes too far – I would have agreed that he didn’t deserve it because his songs aren’t much cop.

Josef O
Josef O
1 year ago
Reply to  Hugh Bryant

In which case the question is: what is the Nobel prize all about? When it comes to Peace and Literature there have been various flops in selection in the last thirty years or so.

Philip Burrell
Philip Burrell
1 year ago
Reply to  Josef O

The Peace prize is just a sick joke when you consider many of the winners. The Literature prize is fine but as with all such prizes is the subjective judgement of those on the panel. It is hard to judge unless you are familiar with literature in all the languages of the world which I am not. It did however get me reading Naguib Mahfouz, Jose Saramago, Orhan Pamuk and Olga Tokarczuk which was good.

Last edited 1 year ago by Philip Burrell
Josef O
Josef O
1 year ago
Reply to  Philip Burrell

Frankly I object to Jose Saramago, a terrible antisemite. I read some of his books, I liked Blindness which I consider as an original piece of literature. However to read that a Nobel prize is accusing the Jews that they are continously scratching the wound of the Holocaust in order to keep bleeding, is revolting. Then there are many examples in which he is biased towards the Jewish religion simply because he has no idea of what he is talking about. Very poor.

Osmo Vartiainen
Osmo Vartiainen
1 year ago
Reply to  Josef O

The Peace prize is a political dip of the tongue into the murky canyons of the towering powers. Unfortunately the utter impossibility of honestly evaluating, rating and judging the annual output of literature on a global scale, the Lit prize has also become a ritual PC bow to all four corners. I absolutely agree with Dylan being awarded since there are no categories to the all encompassing Lit price. Yes, he’s a song writer. But, he’s also, and above all, a lyricist. That’s what he received the award for, and that, also, happens to be the oldest form of literary art.

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
1 year ago
Reply to  Hugh Bryant

While I thought Obama was a good president on balance, I agree with your indirect claim that he was undeserving of that prize. But the difference with the Dylan thing is a kind of genre fail: a songwriter taking a major prize for literature. Could a print-only book be so “lyrical” that it merits a Grammy award? Can a poet’s work be so rich in narrative art that it should take a Pulitzer for fiction or journalism?
Prestige notwithstanding, the concept and definition of Peace, with all the attendant subjectivity, political underpinnings, and tendency for the peace itself or reputation of the prize recipient to erode–for example, with Aung San Suu Kyi–makes the Nobel Peace Prize as an institution sound especially off-key to me. Maybe it’s time for a Worldwide Humility Award. Candidates should have to nominate themselves though.

Last edited 1 year ago by AJ Mac
SIMON WOLF
SIMON WOLF
1 year ago

Dylans 1960’s body of work is one of the great creative artistic periods in history.He must have written at least 50 songs in the 62 – 67 period that probably 99% of other singer-songwriters would have loved to have written themselves.And even all his pension age albums have had at least great song on them.His 1989 auto-biography Chronicles 1 as the article suggests is an outstanding literary work.How many other living artists or politicians have written memoirs that are anywhere near as good ?

Jonathan Smith
Jonathan Smith
1 year ago
Reply to  SIMON WOLF

Chronicles was published in 2004. ‘Scuse the pedantry.

polidori redux
polidori redux
1 year ago

“Long ago Clive James wrote that one of the defining features of Dylan’s work was the way that wonderful turns of phrase existed in the tightest proximity to woeful ones.”
James was right. And the truth is that neither the wonderful nor the woeful meant anything. I spent much of my youth listening to him, but it was as entertainment not as education. I am acutely aware that I was supposed to be reading for a philosophy degree at the time.

Last edited 1 year ago by polidori redux
Benedict Waterson
Benedict Waterson
1 year ago
Reply to  polidori redux

‘neither the wonderful nor the woeful meant anything’ doesn’t mean anything either

Jeff Cunningham
Jeff Cunningham
1 year ago

Neither does that. It’s turtles all the way down.

polidori redux
polidori redux
1 year ago

Ditto your comment

Phil Rees
Phil Rees
1 year ago
Reply to  polidori redux

The notion that the lines of Chimes of Freedom, Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall, Lonesome death of Hattie Carroll were all devoid of meaning is patently absurd.

polidori redux
polidori redux
1 year ago
Reply to  Phil Rees

Run of the mill 60’s angst

Mary McFarlane
Mary McFarlane
1 year ago

A candidate for Pseuds Corner methinks

LCarey Rowland
LCarey Rowland
1 year ago

A rolling stone gathers no answers, but it does just keep rollin’ on. Run out of tunes and get back to roots, words without tune. The world is too much with us, late and soon. But soon we will all go home. The trick is to not think twice about it; it’s allright. There’s seven breezes blowin’ ’round the world wide door. His is one of them. At a certain point in time, his is one becomes his was one of ’em. Where have all the poets gone, long time passing? Gone to graveyards, every one. When will we ever learn? The world is too much with us late and soon. But the times they are a’changin and next thing you know there’ll be 21st century rhymer for whom Bob will be as Woody was for Bob. Take your place on the great mandela, sayeth the sage, the muse and the perennial music makers. . . as it rolls through our brief moment of time, for the times they are changin’ always were. . . always will. But don’t think twice cuz its allright, y’all come back now y’hear?

Tim Weir
Tim Weir
1 year ago

‘any philosophy is a form of transferred autobiography’
Er, no. Not in the Nietzschean sense or any other sense. ‘Transferred’ is vague enough to mean pretty much anything here, but autobiography is a sufficiently rare component of philosophy to really stand out where it’s visible – Rousseau is the obvious example. Philosophy is meta-analysis, it’s about the why.
Norman Mailer On God is a better example of a major artist actually trying to explain, not just what influenced his work but what system of belief underpins the way he thinks and the way he writes. It turns out that Mailer believed in a mighty but flawed and far from omnipotent creator God – not wholly unlike one N. Mailer.

John Edwards
John Edwards
1 year ago

Who’s ‘Howard’ Melvin? Hard to take an essay seriously when basic errors slip through.

Sean V
Sean V
1 year ago

Very odd that the author had so much trouble dealing with the fact that each essay didn’t take the exact same amount time for him to read as the corresponding song took to listen to.
ï»żPerhaps they can correct that in upcoming editions?

Last edited 1 year ago by Sean V
Jeff Cunningham
Jeff Cunningham
1 year ago
Reply to  Sean V

I can’t read with any comprehension and listen to anything at the same time. I doubt any one truly can, although maybe I am anomalous. I read somewhere – might have been Baumeister’s “Willpower” – that brains do not really “multitask”, that the conscious part is serially switching back and forth and that page-faulting degrades the result.

Tim Weir
Tim Weir
1 year ago

Listening to the radio while ironing works pretty well.

Jeff Cunningham
Jeff Cunningham
1 year ago
Reply to  Tim Weir

Ironing probably requires very little mental activity and once you’ve trained yourself to do it it’s all muscle memory. Like driving a well-known route. I believe some of the experiments Baumeister describes in “Willpower” had to do with testing how well people understood what someone was saying to them while trying to simultaneously do simple math problems. Degraded both activities, always.
Incidentally, according to Robert Trivers (I think it was), lying runs into related problems. Telling the truth requires a simple memory look up. Trying to lie about something requires shifting to a different part of the brain which constructs the fiction and error-checks it against other things you’ve said or that might catch you out. That’s why people delay a bit when they lie, and we’ve trained ourselves to watch for that and notice it. There’s a time and energy cost with switching between different brain activities.

Last edited 1 year ago by Jeff Cunningham
Josef O
Josef O
1 year ago

In the last thirty years or so some of the assignments of the Nobels for peace and literature have raised eyebrows. No wonder that two or three years ago the Nobel for literature was skipped because of irregularities and biased judgement at the committee.

Corey o,Connor
Corey o,Connor
1 year ago

I like Bob Dylan. I think what is coolest about him is he was confident enough to risk his white privilege. He like Lady Gaga today became an ally of blacks when they needed it like Lady Gaga did to gays when they needed it. As someone who works with top level international artists. I work with some of the biggest artists in the world. Visual artists not musical but something I have grown to hate is how intellectually homogeneous they are and how cliche they are. They are all against the man, against the system, they hate Capitalism but each and everyone of them is the most greedy most cut throat and that hypocrisy of how they burn people on the business side
Of things are even when they aren’t burning you and screwing you over they are always teaming up with other artists to complain or have an us vs them attitude. The public always has their back. They can screw you over so bad and really there is nothing you can do about it most of the time. And so many of them focus their work against the status quo and against making money against cultural norms but each and everyone of them makes a ton of money. One in particular I work with a straight white male who focuses on what I would consider woke stuff: similar to this article it is easy material. Everyone wants pay equity, everyone or most everyone hates racism, but they don’t go any deeper. This guy makes ten times more than any the female artists and he literally will do a painting or print about pay equity but have in the contract silence and privacy clauses that he makes much more than collaborating female artists or other
Minority smaller known artists at events or festivals. I had one Canadian artist that did this hateful exhibit about America and against pharma while posting on Instagram to love Fauci and it is racist to question the WHO: the contradictions are so obvious to me. Many of these Artists are very narcissistic self involved nasty people but they do have talent and they have genius in much of their work. Bob Dylan was cool and is cool and is a cultural icon but I would argue Rod Stewart who isn’t idolized actually works with more black artists and produces more meaningful and soulful work.

Brendan O'Leary
Brendan O'Leary
1 year ago

I’m happy to follow Dylan’s word-piles of images and rhymes down whatever road they take me. I’m not that much interested in his thoughts on other songs but if it’s on Kindle I might give a look.

Dermot O'Sullivan
Dermot O'Sullivan
1 year ago

It sounds like a written up variant of his Theme Time Radio Hour program from a few years back. That was mostly good, with, if I may say so, an eclectic mix of music going back a few decades.

Mark Kidel
Mark Kidel
1 year ago

Thanks Geoof, for a thought-provoking piece. All of us writers have felt that impulse to write something about Dylan’s latest offering ! When I looked at what was on offer as an audiobook – the text read by the man himself and plenty of very good actors and actresses – I went for the pleasure of listening rather than print. I am delighted with my choice: moments of total brilliance, irony (in short supply in the USA), insight, and then passages that leave me cold. I feel that way about his entire oeuvre. I saw him live in London in 1963, many times in the ensuing years, and most recently in Oxford and Bournemouth. At the latter, he was incandescent and every bit as potent a performer as when he as a young man. He sang as if his life dependend on it. Still a poet and a fury at 81. As with so much of Dylan, this is a commentary on America. This is the story of the USA through popular song. If insight is part of the game of philosophising, then this is indeed philosohpy. Curiously, he has included very few women singers. I would suggest you give the audiobook a try, Geoff. Perfect for while you are stuck on the 405 (he even mentions that experience somewhere in the book.

Mark Kidel
Mark Kidel
1 year ago

Thanks Geoof, for a thought-provoking piece. All of us writers have felt that impulse to write something about Dylan’s latest offering ! When I looked at what was on offer as an audiobook – the text read by the man himself and plenty of very good actors and actresses – I went for the pleasure of listening rather than print. I am delighted with my choice: moments of total brilliance, irony (in short supply in the USA), insight, and then passages that leave me cold. I feel that way about his entire oeuvre. I saw him live in London in 1963, many times in the ensuing years, and most recently in Oxford and Bournemouth. At the latter, he was incandescent and every bit as potent a performer as when he as a young man. He sang as if his life dependend on it. Still a poet and a fury at 81. As with so much of Dylan, this is a commentary on America. This is the story of the USA through popular song. If insight is part of the game of philosophising, then this is indeed philosohpy. Curiously, he has included very few women singers. I would suggest you give the audiobook a try, Geoff. Perfect for while you are stuck on the 405 (he even mentions that experience somewhere in the book.

Andrew Boughton
Andrew Boughton
1 year ago

When I was 14 the only kid I knew who liked Dylan was our class sociopath, who waxed lyric about ‘Desolation Row’. In his tragic declining days Oscar Wilde related to an old friend his nightmare of dining with the dead, to which his friend replied: “You must have been the life of the party.” Much as I admire his ability to write clear melody, or musical Haiku, that to me sums up Dylan. Just my experience, of course.

colr ptel
colr ptel
1 year ago

Yep, Bod Dylan has “no philosophy”, but “talker” makes his (great) works seem a bit worthless. I would rewrite it as “Bob Dylan is not a philosopher, but a storyteller”.
Btw, neither do I see big thing in this “Nietzschean sense”. Nietzsche I would name him “father of modern self-help” (not derogatorily), instead of “philosopher”. He has philosophical background and uses it, but his main achievement is a (greatly convincing) guide for self-help.

colr ptel
colr ptel
1 year ago

Yep, Bod Dylan has “no philosophy”, but “talker” makes his (great) works seem a bit worthless. I would rewrite it as “Bob Dylan is not a philosopher, but a storyteller”.
Btw, neither do I see big thing in this “Nietzschean sense”. Nietzsche I would name him “father of modern self-help” (not derogatorily), instead of “philosopher”. He has philosophical background and uses it, but his main achievement is a (greatly convincing) guide for self-help.

0 0
0 0
1 year ago

Zimmerman changed his surname to “Dylan” because he enjoyed the poems of Dylan Thomas. Would that he was as good. No point in commenting on the rest of his oeuvre other than, to these ears, his voice was simply unlistenable.

Nicky Samengo-Turner
Nicky Samengo-Turner
1 year ago

A most over rated tedious minstrel, with an appalling voice…

Nicky Samengo-Turner
Nicky Samengo-Turner
1 year ago

A most over rated tedious minstrel, with an appalling voice…

Kate Fletcher
Kate Fletcher
1 year ago

I’ve never liked Dylan. The Beatles copied his format but they are originals. Everything Dylan does stinks of plagiarism. Nothing original. Nothing interesting. And yes no philosophy.

Rocky Martiano
Rocky Martiano
1 year ago
Reply to  Kate Fletcher

Oh dear Kate, are we talking about the same artist? Nothing original? Perhaps you could give us an example of his plagiarism?

Sean V
Sean V
1 year ago
Reply to  Kate Fletcher

Kate, Dylan has written his share of mediocre songs, and yes, a few of them are clearly derivative of other songs. But that doesn’t change the fact that once you take those songs off the table, you are left with a staggering number of wholly original works of pure genius.
And if you can’t hear that, that’s fine, just as long as you understand that the Beatles, along with probably every other musician you have ever admired, are in awe of Dylan’s talent.

Last edited 1 year ago by Sean V
Phil Rees
Phil Rees
1 year ago
Reply to  Kate Fletcher

This takes the prize as the most inane comment made to any Unherd article ever written! I won’t honour it with any reply beyond that.