There is one person who has dominated the music industry like no other, and his name is Bob Dylan. A folk artist, rock artist, and even a folk-rock artist, this Nobel Prize in Literature winner is insightful and tells important lessons through his lyrics. His lyrics should be a fundamental part of anyone’s life, especially in youth (where his stories and wisdom can influence individuals positively in their formative years). However, I have noticed something quite alarming: almost nobody in my generation has even heard of him. As an old soul who has always listened to Bob Dylan and grown because of it, this is concerning and even tragic to me, and I personally believe we cannot let this artist go as we have been.
I can guess what you’re about to say: if you know Bob Dylan but don’t listen to him, it’s because you don’t like his voice. Bob Dylan’s voice is, as most put it, bad. And while I wholeheartedly disagree with this statement, I can see where people are coming from. His voice is scratchy, raspy, sometimes harsh, and lacks any beauty to it. But this only grows my own personal love for him. Because of his less-than-perfect voice, he does these three things: he shows people success is possible even with the absence of a beautiful voice, he forces people to pay attention to his lyrics, and he creates an honest, raw feel to his music. All of this creates a personal feel, which is maybe why I have always felt understood by Dylan. The emotions he evokes in his listeners and the authenticity of his voice really do draw attention to his lyrics and, for me at least, create a charming atmosphere.
If you can’t get past his voice, that’s fine — I get it, he’s not everyone’s favorite. But don’t let his lyrics get lost because of his voice; if you have decided his unique voice just isn’t your taste, I ask of you to read his lyrics — the lyrics that not only won him the Nobel Prize in Literature, but also the words that were the first songs to earn the Nobel Prize ever (and this has yet to change). His words are beautiful, profound, and incredibly deep — not to mention filled with wisdom. Bob Dylan has the amazing ability to write from diverse perspectives and as different people, meaning, if you listen to him enough, his songs may just make you more insightful and empathetic.
Take “The Times They Are A-Changin,’” one of his most well-known tunes, as an example of his amazing lyrical talent. This song has so many wise lyrics we can learn from, my favorite of which is “don’t criticize what you can’t understand” (a lyric the twelve-year-old me claimed I would one day get a tattoo of). I believe this quote is extremely needed, a reminder to not only try to understand different sides and views, but a reminder that just because we cannot understand something doesn’t mean it isn’t valid. There is a slew of insightful lyrics and songs by Bob Dylan beyond this one, including “My Back Pages” (“I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now”), “Blowing in the Wind,” and one of my personal favorites, “Who Killed Davey Moore?” (a satirical, profound song that uses sarcasm to convey a wonderful point).
When the radio is filled with the meaningless lyrics and auto-tuned voices of today, there is something in society that is lost, an element unfulfilled. As Bob Dylan once said, “The stuff on the radio is so sweet it makes my tooth hurt.” Music is no longer being used to teach people valuable lessons and to tell stories, and when we are fed mindless lyrics, we lose the tendency to search for something deeper. We no longer have the desire to search for the meaning of life or its morals; but music is such an inescapable, important influencer that it infiltrates our thought process and lives, changing the way we think. I believe we have lost a certain dimension in our passion and societal function, and listening to Bob Dylan could help this — even if it’s just in a minor way.
Here’s what Bob Dylan means to me. On Oct. 22, 2019, I got to see my lifelong hero in person. The experience was surreal, for I had been waiting and dreaming of this moment for as long as I can remember (which I truly mean) — I know, not every four-year-old’s dream. Growing up from a child to present, his music always meant so much to me, and when I saw interviews of him or heard his songs, I always felt understood. Feeling semi-alienated is really just the kind of person I am, but when I read about Bob Dylan or his lyrics, they are wholly comforting to me because I know there’s someone out there who’s like me. Part of my attachment may be from fond memories of my dad singing Bob Dylan’s songs to me as a child — and if I had the capacity to remember, I would have memories of this from when I was a newborn, too.
And as a poet, I of course love his lyrics. In fact, I don’t think I’d have half the talent I hold in poetry writing if he were not present in my life, teaching me how to write insightful and beautiful lyrics through his own. What I’m trying to say is maybe I’m a little biased and maybe I’m expecting too much, but I truly believe that listening to Bob Dylan could actually make an impact on our society. So, why not give him a chance?