Poets Drown in Lakes…Bob Dylan

by John Rotilie


Bob Dylan, rock3sixty5.com

DYLAN: “It’s called tradition, and that is what I deal in. Traditional, with a capital T.”

The Rolling Stone Interview, September 27, 2012: One wouldn’t expect to hear that from Bob Dylan, the man who wrote Desolation Row, Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands, and Visions of Johanna. He is the archetype Van Gogh creative artist of our time, this iconic, enigmatic . . . LIVING LEGEND. . . a live member of the pantheon of American artistic giants that includes the likes of Mark Twain, Herman Melville, Walt Whitman, and John Steinbeck. We grew up with him and we are growing old with him. He has been with us for fifty years.

And after all this time, we really don’t know him.

“To tell anybody I’m a poet would be just fooling people. Poets drown in lakes.”

It turns out there is a reason for that. He doesn’t want us to know him.  He doesn’t think we should try to know him. He wants us to listen to his songs. “It’s all in the songs.”  They are what they are, created in moments of unfiltered personal focus, using an intensely practiced songwriter/singing skill, by a human being who lives and feels a human life.  We are to listen to them, and get from them what we can. We are to be open to what they do for us.

We are not to think or feel what we are told to think or feel about them, and HE will not tell us what to think or feel about themAll these years, he has refused to explain his work, or give it any kind of social or political intention – which, by the way is what he is asked to do, in every, every interview.  Songs are to be experienced, not conceptualized.  Perhaps more than any other medium, songs evoke a totality of verbal, emotional, and physical impression, which may be why they have the largest of all artistic audiences. Like any art, songs are expressions, not statements, they are outside of explanation.  This is Bob Dylan’s message, and he has stuck with it, since the age of 20.


Bob Dylan, photograph by Richard Avedon, marshallmatlock.com









What others think about me, or feel about me, that’s so irrelevant. Any more than it is for me, when I go see a movie, say Wuthering Heights or something, and have to wonder what’s Laurence Olivier is really like.


The artist Bob Dylan writes lyrics and melodies and makes recordings of astonishing originality, authentic expression, and haunting poetic power. The performing Bob Dylan will play his songs nothing like they were recorded, sometimes bizarrely so. He just won’t give us what he has to know we want. There is an autism about him on stage. He seems to scowl and ignore the audience.  He can barely bring himself to say anything, and when he does it sounds forced. We almost feel insulted. We are put-off, in person, by the artist whose recorded songs resonate with our souls.

“My songs are personal music, they are not communal. I wouldn’t want people singing along with me. It would sound funny. I’m not playing campfire meetings.”

The objective as a performer  is encourage people to feel their own emotions, if Dylan is doing fulfilling his intentions, he doesn’t feel any emotion at all. Dylan does not make for a great concert experience.

There is going out, to others, and there is going inward. Bob is about a relationship with himself, his muse, his tambourine man, not a relationship with us. He wants to mine the UNIVERSAL SELF.


Bob Dylan at My Loft, photograph by John Cohen Third Avenue, artspace.com


Take me on a trip upon your magic swirlin’ ship
My senses have been stripped, my hands can’t feel to grip
My toes too numb to step
Wait only for my boot heels to be wanderin’
I’m ready to go anywhere, I’m ready for to fade
Into my own parade, cast your dancing spell my way
I promise to go under it…

Persona is the self that is constructed for others, to meet others half way.  Bob Dylan doesn’t do persona. He is the anti-persona.  The inner experience is where truth is, do not dilute that precious opportunity. The journey to the universal is individual.  In this way he is our modern day Emerson.

“And I’ll tell it and think it and speak it and breathe it
And reflect from the mountain so all souls can see it…”

Malcolm Gladwell writes in The Tipping Point, about innovators, people who must be different. They wear clothes in ways that others never would. They never follow the herd. They do not have whatever it is that makes most people want to join in and be like others. Think about it.  Always being different is a strategy for avoiding comparison, a good strategy for small, eccentric, otherwise not-so-beautiful types, people like a young Robert Zimmerman who nevertheless feel that they have much more to offer than meets the eye.


Barack Obama & Bob Dylan, AP, photograph by Charles Dharapak, eonline.com









You can win a game that only you are playing. Innovators are often small, eccentric, and quirky. Bob Dylan is small, eccentric, and quirky.





Dear Landlord
Please don’t put a price on my soul
My burden is heavy
My dreams are beyond control…

In her book: When God Talks Back, T. M. Luhrmann writes about individuals who have ‘high absorption’.  These are individuals who have a “disposition” for an inner concentration that can powerfully  engage their “perceptual, imaginative, and conceptual attention”, on the pageantry of their subjective experience of being alive.  They are drawn to the spiritual, and the mystical, and are more likely to experience God as a person.   And they can have the drive to train themselves in various skills and create original art.

“A song is like a dream, and you try to make it come true. They’re like strange countries that you have to enter.  You can write a song anywhere, in a railroad compartment, on a boat, on horseback – it helps to be moving.”

There has been, in modern times, with Durkheim, Foucault, and many others, including most present day sociologists, political scientists, and literary theorists, a notion that it is society, not the individual, that is the creator. Society is the script, the individual plays a role.  If there is something Bob Dylan is against, this is it.

This middle class kid from Duluth was tutored for bar mitvah by a rabbi from New York in an apartment over a drug store in Hibbing, Minnesota. How he came to know the nature of creativity and art, and managed to show the entire world is quite a story.

A religious believer, and a man in recovery, now, since just before Time out of Mind, he continues on.


Well my hearts in the highlands with the horses and hounds

Way up in the border country, far from the towns

With the twang of the arrow and a snap of the bow

My heart’s in the highlands

Can’t see no other way to go…


Bob Dylan

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