When Bob Dylan was awarded his Nobel Prize in October 2016, the world threw up in happiness. News articles, poignant newspaper headlines pouring out love and showing their support and appreciation for the legendary bard. But there was also a silent crowd that just sighed, had a moment to themselves and murmured, about time. Songwriters have had an unsaid responsibility to speak for a greater audience.
In the 60s, Dylan played a pivotal role in shaping and revolutionizing the contemporary mind of the audience with the sound and taste of his music. People flocked to hear him create visions out of his words and movements with his creative insight.
His presence seeped through all genres of music. From folk music to pop, from the feel-good blues, till the very edge of rock, Dylan’s lyrical magnificence overwhelms all. His greatest tool is his skill of weaving words to create an auditory canvas that can only be felt and inspired from. Even after all these years, he manages with that singular strength to remain in the hearts of hundreds and thousands of people who consider him not just a singer-songwriter but some sort of a fellow traveler, liberator.
His words are woven with threads of honesty, compassion and are spoken in a manner that is less didactic and more out of genuine concern. That is perhaps why artistic career that has thrived for more than five decades without a moment of hesitation.
He is a songwriting mastermind, knowing how to reach his desired audience or a current situation with only his skills of wordplay. So on this occasion, let us see some of Bob Dylan’s greatest pieces of writing that went on to be remembered by people as some of the most poignant and heartbreaking lyrics ever.
Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright (The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan, 1963)
I’m walkin’ down that long, lonesome road, babe
Where I’m bound, I can’t tell
But goodbye’s too good a word, gal
So I’ll just say fare thee well
This song truly manages to capture the essentially heartbreaking, and yet comforting quality of Dylan’s music. He talks of old relationships, how things fail to work out and how every ending often brings out a latent sourness. Don’t think twice, it’s alright feels like Dylan’s way of sending out what seems to be a universal message to people everywhere who have had a bad day or have been unexpectedly let down.
He says it will okay. And saying that he sends out a parting message to his former lover with what seems like a heavy but once affectionate, heart.
Blowin’ In The Wind (The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan, 1963)
Yes, 'n' how many years can some people exist
Before they're allowed to be free?
Everyone that’s ever considered listening to music, has heard of this song and for good reason. Blowing in the Wind declared Dylan as a man who experienced, voiced and reacted to social situations like an aware, thinking man. The song talks of racism and slavery that was and still is a very prominent issue in America.
He stresses the importance of the lives and rights of all men, irrespective of class, color, race. Over time, this song has rightfully developed into a kind of anthem for the young and the old with a common ground for believing in a safer, better world achievable through freedom, peace, and compassion.
The Times They Are a-Changin (The Times They Are a-Changin, 1964)
There's a battle outside
And it is ragin'.
It'll soon shake your windows
And rattle your walls
For the times they are a-changin'.
This became the instant theme song for the frustrated youth of America. He comes out as a keen observer of the prevailing social conditions. He acknowledges the many sudden changes erupting around him and his fellow sufferers in life, but he has the wisdom and foresight to not overlook it but evaluate it earnestly.
He is calling forth all members of his community to carefully examine the change in current and choose the correct direction to follow. The song is ripe with poetic melody and political insight, but never too far away from the distant lull of change.
If You See Her, Say Hello (Blood on the Tracks, 1975)
If you see her, say hello, she might be in Tangier
She left here last early Spring, is livin' there, I hear
Say for me that I’m all right though things get kind of slow
She might think that I’ve forgotten her, don’t tell her it isn’t so
This is undoubtedly my favorite Bob Dylan song. The sheer pain and anguish of losing someone, percolates through every line in the entire song. His heightened knowledge of words and appropriate expressions just gives this song a zenith like no other.
Further along, there’s more revelation which leads us to the knowledge that the separation was mutual, but does that in any way decrease the intensity of pain that runs through our minds and body? The experience is bittersweet and the poetry, simply exquisite.
Not Dark Yet (Time Out of Mind, 1997)
I’ve been down on the bottom of a world full of lies
I ain’t looking for nothing in anyone’s eyes
Celebrated mostly as one of his more mature albums, Time Out of Mind carries this masterpiece of a song that reminds most readers of contemporary artist Warren Zevon’s famous lines : It’s not dark yet/ But it’s getting there. We find Dylan deliberating here on existential thoughts, reminiscing on the life he has spent and the inevitable realization of mortality.
It is significant to note that he encountered several inspirations during his formative years that not only enhanced but also molded him into becoming the artist that he is today. Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac and William S. Burroughs, the writers of the Beat Movement in America were, in my belief, instrumental in shaping the artistic conscience of Dylan’s vision.
They mutually extracted from each other’s literary depths and perceptions forming something exclusive and absolutely extraordinary for the world to experience.