Long ago, I said I was going to write something about Bob Dylan.
Then I thought, “How do I write about Bob Dylan? What hasn’t been written about Mr. Robert Zimmerman?” I must have been feeling like a know-it-all when I asked myself that question about the Shakespeare from Minnesota, made familiar to all of the rest of us from Greenwich Village, and etc.
I don’t use this Shakespearian comparison lightly. I told a friend of mine, once upon a time, that I think Dylan is the American Shakespeare. He called BS on me. Three months later, he agreed. I’m still standing by that.
The more literary minded of you may be thinking: What about Robert Frost? What about Maya Angelou? What about Edgar Allan Poe (love the guy, but not even close)? What of Langston Hughes, William Carlos Williams, or Sylvia Plath? If you’re more rebellious – that is, if you’re a baby boomer, and you think your generation is the only one that ever mattered since you’re now in charge of the world – you might be thinking of Allen Ginsberg.
You know what? I kind of agree with you. Those are some amazing poets – some serious poets. Some men and women who managed to take the most gorgeous linguistic expressions of human experience and transfer those expressions into writing. I love them all, and you can find them here:
But Shakespeare wrote his words to be spoken. And Dylan has written his words to be sung. That’s the difference. Frost recited at JFK’s inauguration, and he was brilliant. And he could certainly recite his own poetry well.
But clearly that was meant for him, and him only. Readers: interpret at your own risk, appreciate and enjoy. You’re in Robert Frost’s head.
But Shakespeare wrote for the stage. Anyone who has ever directed or acted, or, for that matter, written for the stage, knows that all that is written is up for interpretation. Indulge me in some Shakespeare?
Yes, that’s right. It’s Doctor Who playing Hamlet. The words are lovely, and they were written long ago. Those words will always be lovely, no matter who says them. But they could be spoken in a different way. For example:
Like two different soliloquies, right? That’s the brilliance of the writing. Every person who reads it can have a different interpretation. I’m not doing anything new here, but check out Dylan’s version of “All Along the Watchtower”:
It seems like a folk music protest. There are metaphors abounding about class structure. But then you could listen to Jimi Hendrix’s version of the song, and you could listen to the lyrics in a more metaphysical fashion because of Hendrix’s arrangement. It’s more dramatic; it’s more emotional. It fosters mystery. In fact, Dylan once conceded that Hendrix’s arrangement was better than his, and he started playing the song this way.
I think that’s because Dylan seeks the transcendent in his lyrics.
He’s found something the rest of us don’t know about. So did jimi.
He wants to blow your mind because he’s blown his own. But we’ll get to that later. Let’s let Jimi blow your mind:
Dylan had his mind-blowers, though, too. His insight into everyday life is what made him Shaeskerperian:
I have more to say about Bob Dylan. But this should be enough for now.