I’m in love with Bob Dylan.
Or, more precisely, his work.
A week and a half ago I learned about Dylan winning the Nobel Prize in literature. I thought that was a fascinating choice, all things considered. I was not, by any stretch, a Bob Dylan fan.
I asked my Introduction to Literature students what they thought about a songwriter being awarded literature’s highest prize. I was met with blank stares. Not a single one of my students knew who Bob Dylan was. I decided it was time to remedy that. I looked up information on Dylan and learned about his career and legacy, and what exactly made his songwriting different (though it’s evident when you listen to his music). Armed with this knowledge, I taught my students a bit about Dylan and had them listen to some of his music.
In the process of learning, I became interested in Dylan myself. I wanted to connect with his music and understand what exactly the Nobel Committee had seen, to understand why this was great literature. I felt inspired and excited to explore.
I started by turning to my own MP3 library. I didn’t expect to find more than a few songs, so I was pleasantly surprised to find a tidy, tiny collection most of which were from a “best of” type of album.
I am still, admittedly, wallowing through my current collection, though I’m sure I’ll broaden it soon. There’s so much depth to his work it’s easy to end up listening to the same song roughly a bajillion times and still want to hear it again (and again).
Here are a few of the songs which have been romancing me for the past week.
“Boots of Spanish Leather”: always one of my favorites, but listening to it again I can appreciate the simplicity and mastery of a poem which is a dialogue between parting lovers. It also made me cry.
“With God On Our Side”: this is, as the parlance of the internet goes, “salty” (saltiness factor Dead Sea, to be exact). Dylan deals sucker punch after sucker punch. It’s a wonder to behold, but it also can make one flinch — as it should.
“The Ballad of Hollis Brown”: also one of my favorites, mostly because I grew up listening to a Stephen Stills cover of the song. Stills has a beautiful voice, but Dylan’s original version is superior simply because it is spare and haunting. Though, I think the best cover of all has to be Nina Simone’s, which gave me chills.
“Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right”: witty, lonely, and sardonic. I just really enjoy how Dylan writes about separation, the way he sings “gal”, and how he (again) gets salty when he says his beloved hasn’t wasted anything, just his “precious time”.
“Isis”: follows in the tradition of folk stories where a hero is seduced by a mythic love or lover. It blends traditional poetic tropes with contemporary language and attitudes, particularly the section when the “hero” returns to his wife, Isis.
She said, where ya been?
I said, no place special
She said, you look different
I said, well, I guess
She said, you been gone
I said, that’s only natural
She said, you gonna stay?
I said, if you want me to, yeeeees
Whenever he sings “well, I guess”, I laugh.
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