Bob Dylan reveals all at last

Over sixty years Dylan has retained an air of being an enigma, his songs, indeed his whole life, seen by so many as puzzles to be unravelled. This writer has long cleaved to the heretical notion that Bob Dylan is a human being influenced by as many as he has himself influenced; a man, then, who sleeps and drinks and eats, watches TV, reads books and makes as much of his life as he is able. In some ways this is to suggest that the mystery is that there is no mystery.

Can he articulate moods that chime with society’s changes? Yes. Can he produce the poetry of love? Yes. Can he be vindictive in his put downs of those who have slighted him? Oh, yes indeed. Has Dylan, though, wasted his life setting us all cryptic crossword puzzles?  If for no-other’s than his own sake you’d have to hope not.

And so to ‘I Contain Multitudes‘ – Dylan’s newly released list song, and this time the hook is that this is the list that finally reveals Dylan in total – after all, even the President of the United States must sometimes stand naked.  Opening to gently strummed guitar notes Dylan looks over his shoulder, notes the time gone and sombrely sets his position in the world “today and tomorrow and yesterday too the flowers are dying, like all things do“. This acknowledgement of little time left leads to a revelation of personality that could have leapt from that famous 1965 press conference; to a question like “what do you do Bob?” he may have responded “I fuss with my hair and I fight blood feuds“.   And almost as an echo of that same seminal press conference he admits that “I paint landscapes and I paint nudes” – well, you always said that you would.

There’s something more of that casual revelation which really tells one nothing as Dylan discusses influences – a thief steals, an artist borrows and Dylan name drops Poe, Mott the Hoople, Indiana Jones, The Rolling Stones and, most surprisingly Anne Frank.  That last will feed a dozen PhD theses – what should we take from this?  That Dylan is, or has been, Jewish, has been physically or mentally hunted and forced to hide from those who seek to harm him, or, at a more superficial level that he is a diarist whether literally or through his art?  The real, and unsurprising revelation, is that Dylan see’s himself as “a man of contradictions I’m a man of many moods I contain multitudes” a man who can listen to “Beethoven Sonatas, Chopin’s preludes“. He is no one thing, but who is?  There’s your secret if you need to be told it. Although Dylan does have the decency to tell the greedy wolves of analysis that “I’ll show you my heart but not all of it“. Or, as he could have put more succinctly “nothing was revealed.”

A new song from Dylan is always going to spike interest, and two within a matter of weeks surely suggests that a new album is, like a slow train heralding its arrival,  a-comin’.

Author: Jonathan Aird

Sure, I could climb high in a tree, or go to Skye on my holiday. I could be happy. All I really want is the excitement of first hearing The Byrds, the amazement of decades of Dylan's music, or the thrill of seeing a band like The Long Ryders live. That's not much to ask, is it?

13 thoughts on “Bob Dylan reveals all at last”

  1. “This writer has long cleaved to the heretical notion that Bob Dylan is a human being influenced by as many as he has himself influenced…”

    Dylan has never denied he borrowed from others (numerous interviews or just read Chronicles and he lays bare his influences in that superb book.

    1. Well written. Dylan has long been a mystery. In many ways that will never change. He gave a glimpse of some of what motivations him and a bit of his emotions, but no major reveal. I like it that way. His music is the best insight to the inner Bob. Figuring out what he truly means in many songs is an impossible task. Likely just the way he wants it

    2. Have a listen to his Nobel acceptance speech..its ALL in there.!
      I heard him read it out this morning..sorry cant remember just where..

  2. Your argument assumes that Dylan is using his own voice. It is just as likely that, like all authors do, he is using the perspective of a fictional narrator.

    Is he really giving anything away about himself?

  3. Yes. There has to be some mystery to the art, artist, for it to endure, attract and entice. That he is a master of mystery is what gives credibility to his work. Some times it is better to wonder and accept what you cannot know. No chance of being disappointed that way-

  4. Although an artists might borrow from the past,it is incumbent on them to recreate visions for those that follow.

    1. Correction to first comment….

      Although artists might borrow from the past it is incmbenton them to create a vision for future generations.
      .

      1. Yes & no. Of course an artist should take responsibility for the impact its work has on those who follow. One could only hope it’s a direction towards life-fulfilment and growth and not a downward spiral into drug addiction or fascination with death.

        1. No way that Bob is spiraling down or fascinated with death. Although, in that he “contains multitudes”, maybe so… But I recall a warm summer evening in Burgettstown, PA & Bob alternated opening the concerts with Paul Simon…Bob walked on stage with his band, geared up & announced “It’s Sunday, so let’s start off with a hymn..” & this was long after “Saved”…the first interview I ever read was in Playboy mag just after Bob rocketed in the conciousness of all those aware of Art. He was asked what he was looking for & said, “Salvation”, “Just plain salvation'”..this has stuck with me through the decades…

  5. Part of the fun with Dylan is definitely the mystique. We don’t wanna know who the real Dylan is! Lol We’d rather focus on what he has to say, in his inminitable ways, what he needs to tell us… There’s always context. Take it or leave it!

  6. Some of the lyrics are better than others….at least there’s always something to say often with an accompanying instrument

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