Measure for Measure: The Alchemy of Bob Dylan

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This article appears in our September/October 2015 issue, available on newsstands September 8.

Folk, rock, blues, country, rockabilly, the Great American Songbook – Bob Dylan has put his personal stamp on just about every American musical form, which is why Americana, the most eclectic genre of all, might be the only tent big enough to hold his restless muse.

But Dylan has always been reluctant to discuss his muse, as one young fan learned when she naively asked if his songs came from experience: “You shouldn’t even think about where they come from,” he said. “You shouldn’t think about anything. If you like ’em, you like ’em, if you don’t, you don’t – you don’t have to think about it, okay.”

Sometimes he deftly sidesteps with humor, as when a reporter asked, “Do you think of yourself primarily as a singer or as a poet.”

“Oh, I think of myself more as a song and dance man, you know.”

Exchanges such as these accustomed me to thinking of Dylan as a shooting star, never standing still long enough to shed any light on the art of songwriting, except by example. That’s why my jaw hit the floor when I heard his acceptance speech at the 2015 MusiCares award show.

Some folks latched onto the way he chided his critics. But what struck me as priceless was the nonstop parade of insights he gave into his art. The middle contained a motherlode, as he rattled off song after song and their... Sign In to Keep Reading

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