Saturday, February 11, 2012

Bob Dylan on songwriting and more

When musician Bob Dylan turned 70 last year, he received accolades befitting a living legend. While his popularity has ebbed and flowed during the last 50 years, his impact on popular music cannot be denied.

He has made notable contributions to folk, rock, country and even Christian music during his career. How many artists have a resume like that?

When I write that he has made notable contributions, I mean that he has written and performed songs that likely will be played 100 years from now. The scope of his achievements is breathtaking.

During his early folk phase he wrote songs like 'Blowin' in the Wind' that became an anthem of the civil rights movement, and 'A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall' perfectly reflected the anxiety surrounding the Cold War. 'Like A Rolling Stone' is a rock and roll song so forceful that it influenced a generation of songwriters, and the country-flavored 'Lay Lady Lay' is one of the most beautiful love songs ever written.

For insight into Dylan I suggest reading the January/February issue of 'American Songwriter' magazine. The issue is a tribute of sorts to Dylan and includes an interesting interview with him originally done back in 1991. It touches on many songs he wrote as well as other topics.

Though long known for his love of folk singer Woody Guthrie, Dylan said he considers Hank Williams the best songwriter. Dylan said: “Hank Williams never wrote 'This Land Is Your Land.' But it’s not that shocking to me to think of Hank Williams singing 'Pastures of Plenty' or Woody Guthrie singing 'Your Cheatin' Heart.' So in a lot of ways those two writers are similar.”

Other songwriters on his radar include Randy Newman.

"To me, someone who writes really good songs is Randy Newman. Now Randy might not go out on stage and knock you out, or knock your socks off. And he’s not going to get people thrilled in the front row. But he’s gonna write a better song than most people who can do it. You know, he’s got that down to an art."

Additionally, while he feels that turmoil is not always necessary when producing memorable work, it does help in some respects. This lends support to the belief that the greatest art is often produced during difficult circumstances.

"Your life doesn’t have to be in turmoil to write a song like that but you need to be outside of it. That’s why a lot of people, myself included, write songs when one form or another of society has rejected you. So that you can truly write about it from the outside. Someone who’s never been out there can only imagine it as anything, really."

Additionally, Dylan advises that being a poet is not all fun though some of his comments were tongue-in-cheek.

"It's within me to put up myself and be a poet. But it’s a dedication. It’s a big dedication. Poets don’t drive cars. [Laughs] Poets don’t go to the supermarket. Poets don’t empty the garbage...They behave in a gentlemanly way. And live by their own gentlemanly code. And die broke. Or drown in lakes. Poets usually have very unhappy endings."

Then again, this may all be a moot point for new musical poets because he feels the world may have enough songs unless there are special circumstances.

"The world don't need any more songs. No. They've got enough. As a matter of fact, if nobody wrote any songs from this day on, the world ain't gonna suffer for it...There's enough songs. Unless someone’s gonna come along with a pure heart and has something to say. That's a different story."

Dylan is fantastic, and this interview is worth finding for those interested.

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