“I fought with my twin, that enemy within, ’til both of us fell by the way”
Human minds herd, mentally, the way animals herd in movement. A few will start off in a certain direction, and then, at an accelerating pace, the rest follow. There is wisdom in the crowd. There is madness in the crowd. We do GroupThink. We seem made to believe something when others do too.
Rare individuals, it seems, are immune to this. What everyone else does automatically, they won’t do at all. They need to be different. They don’t follow the crowd, they don’t follow fads. In fact, they often start fads. They set themselves apart. Malcolm Gladwell, in The Tipping Point, calls them Innovators, and describes how fashion marketers search for these types to foresee future trends.
All personality is strategy for social success. Being stubbornly different can be a way to avoid comparison. Combine this with a special talent or intelligence, and you can have a cultural creator, a ground breaking artist. Bob Dylan may be one of them.
Forty years on, he is still with us, still producing unpredictable, original, compelling music. A star in his 20’s, he’s a star in his 60’s. Relentlessly unique, his first act was to create his own name. He felt “born to the wrong parents”. And in all these years he has resisted explaining himself, resisted defining himself, resisted being categorized. He won’t let us have him.
To many, this has seemed contrived, a publicity stunt. It doesn’t help that he often performs badly. It seems purposeful. He almost seems compelled to now and then produce a lousy album. He accepts honorary degrees without saying anything. Those who have recorded with him will say that he is a highly practiced and skilled craftsman of the song writing, phrasing, guitar playing, and, yes, singing art.
Of all our cultural stars today, he will be the one, from our time, to enter the pantheon of singular american creative artists – artists like Mark Twain, Ralph Waldo Emerson, John Steinbeck, Frank Lloyd Wright, Andrew Wyeth, Georgia O’Keefe. Someday we will be quick to say to our grandchildren or great grandchildren: “when I was young I saw Bob Dylan”.
From the very beginning, he seems to have been precociously aware of the essential artistic imperative to stay fresh, stay true, unaffected, uncontrived. All of his evasions, and dodgings have served to prevent the self consciousness that can kill the art engine, steal the muse, stop the flow, make the work mechanical or predictable. Art isn’t art, after all, if it comes from the brain rather than the soul, from the head rather than the heart, from theory rather than experience.
How did he know this so young?
“They say every man needs protection, They say every man must fall, Yet I swear I see my reflection, Some place so high above this wall”