Bob Dylan and His Many Muses

In Paul Zollo’s book “Song Writers on Song Writing”, the expanded 4th edition, in teh interview he held with Bob Dylan; Dylan makes an interesting comment, in how often songs “come to him”. That’s how he could write “Blowing in the Wind” in 10 minutes, which he says came right out of that well spring of creativity.

Does Dylan think he can do it again today? No, says Dylan. “You can’t do something forever,” he says. “I did it once, and I can do other things now. But, I can’t do that.” when speaking to Ed Bradley on 60 minutes in 2004. he also goes onto to say: “I don’t know how I got to write those songs. Those early songs were almost magically written,”

Dylan seems to be saying that his muse, that wellspring of creativity he so magnificently tapped in that golden era of the early sixties, is gone and he is not able to access it anymore. Thom Hickey in his article You really should have been there says:

“Over the next 47 years he would never again attain the heights of inspiration achieved through to 1966 (neither would anyone else!)”

Before he even attained those great heights in the of the mid-60’s he was already writing lyrics that would never be matched. My favourite Dylan protest song “Masters of War” was written when he was just 22! Released in 1963 on his Freewheelin’ album, the message is timeless and still relevant to all the current ongoing conflicts across the globe.

Dragging the conversation back to its original question, has Dylan lost his muse and can one just lose your muse? Webster’s dictionary defines a “muse” as any of the nine sister goddesses presiding over song, poetry, the arts and sciences. Greek mythology aside, writers think of a muse as a source of inspiration, a guiding genius rife with ideas. Writing teachers say one way to not lose your muse is  “Just keep your hand moving and write!”- be your own muse.

Dylan has most certainly done that, he has published six books of drawings and paintings, released 36 albums (excluding live albums and bootlegs) and written well over 500 songs …and counting…

That wellspring of creativity, has sustained Dylan for more than 50 years, and it keeps on giving, and he keeps telling his tales in a different way, with each telling. People who attend his concerts say, that they do not even recognise some of his songs as being their favourite, until halfway through, he keeps experimenting, reinventing himself and his music. I think his muse has changed, if we track his career/life and all the transitions/phases he has gone through, he certainly does not have that 60’s muse anymore, but has proven he still has the craft and the gift. Although Dylan might disagree:

“I’m a ’60s troubadour, a folk-rock relic. A wordsmith from bygone days. I’m in the bottomless pit of cultural oblivion.” – 2004

His last album, Tempest, still proves he can tell a great story, despite his voice being a bit more gravelly. The title track still gives me goosebumps when I listen to it…all 15 minutes of it!

Tempest is fantastic, but being impressed by Dylan is old hat. That he still finds ways to surprise us is an achievement beyond all comprehension. -American Songwriter 2012

His angry protest song Pay in Blood, from the same album – Tempest – brings back memories of his 60’s anger. You can hear his anger, his sneering voice as he growls and rasps over cutting and biting lyrics.

“Another politician pumping out the piss,” he sings later, the microphone audibly struggling to cope with the ferocity of his delivery. “You bastard, I’m supposed to respect you? I’ll give you justice.”

Dylan does not soften the blow here, as he does on Like a Rolling Stone, he vents his anger fully, proving that he can still be angry and anti-establishment in his 70’s 🙂

Possibly one of Dylan’s muses is/was his first wife Sara. She is definitely a key player in Dylan’s history and worthy of remembrance as the inspiration for some of his most incredible songs. Notably Sara and Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands. Sara is possibly Dylan’s most public display of his own personal life, and an ambitious tribute to his wife, Sara. The song also gives us a rare glimpse into the intensely personal and closed life Dylan leads. Rarely does he address a real person in his music, here he does and it is very autobiographical.

Bob Dylan – Sara from the album “Desire”

This was released in 1976 on the album Desire, Sara and Dylan were divorced the next year in 1977. They have apparently remained close (despite the acrimonious divorce) and they have still travel/holiday together. In fact his son Jakob said:

“My father said it himself in an interview many years ago: ‘Husband and wife failed, but mother and father didn’t.’ My ethics are high because my parents did a great job.” Jakob Dylan – 2005

Well we wish Dylan and his many Muse’s well, he has provided us with many thought provoking and entertaining albums through the years and I believe he still has songs left in his well, its not dry yet, or dark.

The Solace in the Silence

I was driving listening to one of my favourite guitarists the other day, David Gilmour (have all my favourite Pink Floyd and all his solo albums on a play-list). Listening to his guitar work made me realise, what makes him of of the greatest guitarists (in my humble opinion), because of the chords he does not play… the silence inbetween his chords, when he plays a chord… strums/plucks the string/s … and then waits….. that waiting for the next chord to me is at times the best part of his music. That for me is what makes Gilmour such a magnificent guitarist, to me he is the master of the sublime and the understated. To make a statement or impression one does not need to make a noise, neither does one as a guitarist need to rip, shred or wail.

The pause resonates, this then took my mind off on one of its (many) tangents. 🙂

The importance of the unsaid versus the said, the importance of what is not said, in the moments of silence. Interestingly my favourite Pink Floyd album is Wish You Were Here, and it is ironic, that the album explores themes of absence (silence). The lyrics encompass Roger Waters’ feelings of alienation from other people, notably within the band and the tension that they were experiencing.

Well back to my musings of the silence between the chords and lets explore this dynamic in life; lets explore how the silent conversations can benefit our relationships and way of life. The comfort of being in someone’s presence and just being … silent …. the silent conversations we have with a loved one or close friend. This silence does not alienate, but brings us closer together, we find comfort, solace in the silence. The importance of silence in conversation can carry more weight than the spoken word.

The silence echoes around the enclosed walls of our minds, encouraging us to break down the alienation and find solace in the silence, and learn the importance of being silent, quiet … amongst those we feel close too, and then taking this silence out into the rushed and frenetic world in which we live. This can help us to slow down in the fast paced world we live in, for when speed is king, anyone or anything that gets in our way, that slows us down, becomes an enemy. Thanks to speed, we are living in the age of rage. That to is ironic, the fast pace of life alienates more than the comfort we can find in silence.

By opting out we do not have to drop out…


As 2014 draws to a close and we review what has happened over this past year, we also look forward to 2015 and all of it challenges. Numerous organisations and commentators have written of the challenges that lie over the horizon for 2015, as regards Global Health. From my own experience of working on the continent I have identified the following challenges for 2015 for Africa.

Some of the issues/challenges overlap and/or influence one another. They do not stand alone, the one can exacerbate the other.

1. Water

Water, on its own, is unlikely to bring down governments, but shortages could threaten food production and energy supply and put additional stress on governments struggling with poverty and social tensions. Water plays a crucial role in accomplishing the continent’s development goals, a large number of countries on the continent still face huge challenges in attempting to achieve the United Nations water-related Millennium Development Goals (MDG)

Africa faces endemic poverty, food insecurity and pervasive underdevelopment, with almost all countries lacking the human, economic and institutional capacities to effectively develop and manage their water resources sustainably. North Africa has 92% coverage and is on track to meet its 94% target before 2015. However, Sub-Saharan Africa experiences a contrasting case with 40% of the 783 million people without access to an improved source of drinking water. This is a serious concern because of the associated massive health burden as many people who lack basic sanitation engage in unsanitary activities like open defecation, solid waste disposal and wastewater disposal. The practice of open defecation is the primary cause of faecal oral transmission of disease with children being the most vulnerable. Hence as I have previously written, this poor sanitisation causes numerous water borne disease and causes diarrhoea leading to dehydration, which is still a major cause of death in children in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Africa is the fastest urbanizing continent on the planet and the demand for water and sanitation is outstripping supply in cities” Joan Clos, Executive Director of UN-HABITAT

2. Health Care Workers

Africa has faced the emergence of new pandemics and resurgence of old diseases. While Africa has 10% of the world population, it bears 25% of the global disease burden and has only 3% of the global health work force. Of the four million estimated global shortage of health workers one million are immediately required in Africa.

Community Health Workers (CHWs) deliver life-saving health care services where it’s needed most, in poor rural communities. Across the central belt of sub-Saharan Africa, 10 to 20 percent of children die before the age of 5. Maternal death rates are high. Many people suffer unnecessarily from preventable and treatable diseases, from malaria and diarrhoea to TB and HIV/AIDS. Many of the people have little or no access to the most fundamental aspects of primary healthcare. Many countries are struggling to make progress toward the health related MDGs partly because so many people are poor and live in rural areas beyond the reach of primary health care and even CHW’s.

These workers are most effective when supported by a clinically skilled health workforce, and deployed within the context of an appropriately financed primary health care system. With this statement we can already see where the problems lie; as there is a huge lack of skilled medical workers and the necessary infrastructure, which is further compounded by lack of government spending. Furthermore in some regions of the continent CHW’s numbers have been reduced as a result of war, poor political will and Ebola.

3. Ebola

The Ebola crisis, which claimed its first victim in Guinea just over a year ago, is likely to last until the end of 2015, according to the WHO and Peter Piot, a scientist who helped to discover the virus in 1976. The virus is still spreading in Sierra Leone, especially in the north and west.

The economies of West Africa have been severely damaged: people have lost their jobs as a result of Ebola, children have been unable to attend school, there are widespread food shortages, which will be further compounded by the inability to plant crops. The outbreak has done untold damage to health systems in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. Hundreds of doctors and nurses and CHW’s have died on the front line, and these were countries that could ill afford to lose medical staff; they were severely under staffed to begin with.

Read Laurie Garrett’s latest article:

The outcome is bleak, growing political instability could cause a resurgence in Ebola, and the current government could also be weakened by how it is attempting to manage the outbreak.

4. Political Instability

Countries that are politically unstable, will experience problems with raising investment capital, donor organisations also battle to get a foothold in these countries. This will affect their GDP and economic growth, which will filter down to government spending where it is needed most, e.g.: with respect to CHW’s.

Political instability on the continent has also lead to regional conflicts, which will have a negative impact on the incomes of a broad range of households,and led to large declines in expenditures and in consumption of necessary items, notably food. Which in turn leads to malnutrition, poor childhood development and a host of additional health and welfare related issues. Never mind the glaringly obvious problems such as, refugees, death of bread winners etc…

Studies on political instability have found that incomplete democratization, low openness to international trade, and infant mortality are the three strongest predictors of political instability. A question to then consider is how are these three predictors related to each other? And also why, or does the spread of infectious disease lead to political instability?

5. Poverty

Poverty and poor health worldwide are inextricably linked. The causes of poor health for millions globally is rooted in political, social and economic injustices. Poverty is both a cause and a consequence of poor health. Poverty increases the chances of poor health, which in turn traps communities in poverty. Mechanisms that do not allow poor people to climb out of poverty, notably; the population explosion, malnutrition, disease, and the state of education in developing countries and its inability to reduce poverty or to abet development thereof. These are then further compounded by corruption, the international economy, the influence of wealth in politics, and the causes of political instability and the emergence of dictators.

The new poverty line is defined as living on the equivalent of $1.25 a day. With that measure based on latest data available (2005), 1.4 billion people live on or below that line. Furthermore, almost half the world, over three billion people, live on less than $2.50 a day and at least 80% of humanity lives on less than $10 a day.

Christmas Cornucopia – Twelth Day

excellent article… absolutely love Bob Dylan, I have also written a blog post about his music as a source of inspiration… thanks for the link via twitter, much appreciated, festive regards, Mike

The Immortal Jukebox

So, at last – the twelfth day of our Sleigh’s journey and it’s Christmas Eve. I hope you have enjoyed the music and reflections on the way here.

I have agonised over the music choices in this series and have a couple of years worth stored up for Christmases to come (you have been warned!). But today’s choices were the first I wrote down and were my inevitable selections for the day before the great Feast.

First, the Keeper of American Song, Bob Dylan, with his inimitable spoken word rendition of Clement Moore’s, ‘The Night Before Christmas’. It is safe to say that Bob’s pronunciation of the word ‘Mouse’ has never been matched in the history of the dramatic arts! Of course, in the process of his more than 50 year career Bob has continually been reinventing himself and in so doing has gloriously renewed American culture.

The clip,above comes…

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