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November 6, 2016

The story of Bob Dylan

Scott Stockdale

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Many years ago, Bob Dylan said the reason he started writing songs was because "nobody wrote the kind of songs that I wanted to sing."

I thought that's the hallmark of a true artist. Half a century later, he has become the first songwriter ever to be awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature “for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition”.

Mr. Dylan said “these songs didn't just come out of thin air.” He said if others had listened to the work of numerous musicians who came before him as many times as he has they may have been able to write these songs too.

Reading his memoir Chronicles one can see that his songs were inspired from classic literature and poetry, which he was steeped in.  For example, his song Chimes of Freedom Flashing was inspired from a poem by the French poet Arthur Rimbaud.

Famed literary critic Northrop Frye said all of literature is in answer to questions raised in the bible. He said that when he heard Dylan he thought: “Now here is a man who knows the bible.”

While Mr. Dylan is now being characterized as “the Shakespeare of our times,” it's interesting to note a correlation between the works of the two writers.

Many years ago, Mr. Frye said that while numerous other writers covered many of the themes in Shakespeare, and many did an excellent job, in terms of imaginative impact, Shakespeare would always be first.

Be that as it may, it's difficult to underestimate the imaginative impact of Mr. Dylan's work. Long referred to as “the voice of his generation”, Mr. Dylan himself has always said he can't relate to that. He said that if you examine the songs, he doesn't believe you will find anything in them that indicates that.

It's because of the emotive effect his songs had on people - not the literal meaning of the words - that caused the impact on the imagination of a generation, not just in America, but throughout the developed world, and perhaps the whole world.

When I was in Guangzhou China in 2011, a Chinese guy was standing outside the subway entrance of an incredibly busy street, with an acoustic guitar, singing Dylan songs in English.

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