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.

Learning from Creative People – Bob Dylan

I have been making a concerted effort of late to spend at least an hour a day reading books on creativity and/or interviews with creative people (mainly writers, artists and musicians); to understand what inspires them, how they work, where they work, and how they tap into their creativity to access the ideas/inspiration which allows them to write with such beauty and intensity.

A hefty tome that sits on my desk at present is “Song Writers on Song Writing”, the expanded 4th edition by Paul Zollo.

It covers every genre of music form blues to pop and rock, interviews with 62 musicians/song writers. What is so interesting and inspiring for me, when reading the interviews is to discover that not all the writers just grab the lyrics from the air, some of them really anguish over them. Leonard Cohen took 3 years to write Hallelujah!

I have spent the last week, reading the Bob Dylan interview over and over again; I am a huge Dylan fan, have almost his entire song collection on vinyl and mp3, plus all his song lyric sheets and numerous biographies. For me he is a musical genius and one of our greatest living poets. Van Morrison agrees with me re him being our greatest poet 🙂

His comments on the environment that one needs to be creative ties in with what I read in the War of Art; one needs a peaceful, invigorating and stimulating environment to write. Although he does go on to say:

“Some songs are better written in peace and quiet and delivered in turmoil. Others are best written in turmoil and delivered in a peaceful, quiet way.”

He also says that he does not consider himself a professional song writer, and he clarifies this by saying it has always been more con-fessional that pro-confessional. That got me thinking about my writing, and what aspect/perspective am I writing from, i.e. inward or outward looking, and just how naked does one want/need to be, how close to ones “soul” must we dig, when one is writing?

Dylan refers often to how songs “come to him”, which brings me full circle to the muse/genius train of thought. Even if that is the case though you need to be receptive to the “arrival” of the inspiration. This is an area of my creativity that intrigues me, especially as I am science, logic and process driven. Despite this I too am finding ideas coming to me at strange times of the day and night.

Well that’s enough of my musings today, but I will be back with more ramblings and thoughts on making the entrance hall welcome for the muse/genius to arrive, and spoil me with his/her thoughts/dreams/visions.

Eternity is in love with the creations of time – William Blake