Dixie Darr

The Times They Are A Changin’

In creativity, Uncategorized on October 15, 2016 at 8:06 am

closeupwithhatSo, Bob Dylan won the Nobel Prize in Literature this week. Who could have predicted that? The news took me scrambling to my Amazon Music account to listen to a few favorite songs: Positively 4th Street, Maggie’s Farm, Forever Young, To Make You Feel My Love. There are so many great ones that it’s hard to pick favorites.

Then I found a story from last year on NPR called The Day Dylan Got it Right, which detailed the process of recording Like a Rolling Stone. At first it was awful. Playing it in a waltz rhythm just didn’t work. Switching to 4/4 time helped, but it wasn’t until a young Al Kooper started fooling around with the organ that the song started to take its final shape.

Another story from Matt Thomas at Submitted for Your Perusal, compared Dylan’s creative process, writing a song in as little as 15 minutes, to Leonard Cohen’s taking five years to write his masterpiece, Hallelujah. Some People are Cohens, some people are Dylans.

You can listen to Malcolm Gladwell describe the various iterations of Hallelujah in his podcast, Revisionist History.

Although many people lauded the Swedish Academy for its surprising choice, others were less than thrilled. Joni Mitchell once famously called Dylan a fake and a plagiarist. He dismissed those claims while admitting to using others’ influences in his songwriting. In a Rolling Stone interview he said, “That’s what I learned from Woody Guthrie. You borrow a tune here, then change it a little bit. You borrow some words there. Then add to them. You don’t claim to be original.”

Dylan, Cohen and Mitchell all share information about their creative process in the comprehensive Songwriters on Songwriting by Paul Zollo.

Ironically, it was plagiarism and making up quotes from Dylan that tripped up Jonah Lehrer in his book Imagine. Although the book was pulled from shelves, and Lehrer lost his writing job at The New Yorker and for a while, his career, it’s still one of my favorite books on creativity.

Dylan’s creativity is on display in the 1967 documentary, Don’t Look Back. I’ve never seen the film, but Amazon is streaming it, so I may watch it this weekend.

One of the most surprising things I’ve learned from the proliferation of What You Don’t Know About Bob Dylan articles that popped up after the Nobel announcement is that he did not take his name from the poet Dylan Thomas, but from the TV show Gunsmoke, whose main character was Matt Dillon. I just love that.


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