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Dylan's Visions of Sin
By Ricks, Christopher
Songs, Poems, Rhymes
Dylan has always had a way with words. He does not simply have his way with them, since a true comprehender of words is no more their master, than he or she is their servant. The triangle of Dylan's music, his voice and his unpropitiatory words: this is still his equilateral thinking.
One day a critic may do justice not just to all three of these independent powers, but to their interdependence in Dylan's art. The interdependence doesn't have to be a competition, it is a culmination -- the word chosen by Allen Ginsberg, who could bean awe-inspiring poet and was an endearing awful music-maker, for whom Dylan's songs were "the culmination of Poetry-music as dreamt of in the '50s & early 60s". Dylan himself has answered when asked:
Why are you doing what you're doing?
[Pause] "Because I don't know anything else to do. I'm good at it."
How would you describe "it"?
"I'm an an artist. I try to create art."
What follows this clarity, or follows from it, has been differently put by him over the forty years, finding itself crediting the words and the music variously at various times. The point of juxtaposing his utterances isn't to catch him out, it is to see him catching different emphases in all this, undulating and diverse.
WORDS RULE, OKAY?
"I consider myself a poet first and a musician second."
"It ain't the melodies that're important man, it's the words."
MUSIC RULES, OKAY?
"Anyway it's the song itself that matters, not the sound of the song. I only look at them musically. I only look at them as things to sing. It's the music that the words are sung to that's important. I write the songs because I need something to sing. It's the difference between the words on paper and the song. The song disappears into the air, the paper stays."
NEITHER ACOUSTIC NOR ELECTRIC RULES, OKAY?
Do you prefer playing acoustic over electric?
"They're pretty much equal to use. I try not to deface the song with electricity or non-electricity. I'd rather get something out of the song verbally and phonetically than depend on tonality of instruments.
JOINT RULE, OKAY?
Would you say that the words are more important than the music?
"The words are just as important as the music. There would be no music without the words."
"It's not just pretty words to a tune or putting tunes to words, there's nothing that's exploited. The words and the music, I can hear the sound of what I want to say."
"The lyrics to the songs ... just so happens that it might be a little stranger than in most songs. I find it easy to write songs. I have been writing songs for a long time and the words to the songs aren't written out for just the paper, they're written as you can read it, you dig? If you take whatever there is to the song away -- the beat, the melody -- I could still recite it. I see nothing wrong with songs you can't do that with either -- songs that, if you took the beat and melody away, they wouldn't stand up. Because they're not supposed to do that you know. Songs are songs."Continues...
Excerpted from Dylan's Visions of Sin by Ricks, Christopher Excerpted by permission.
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Meet the Author
Christopher Ricks is a Warren Professor of the Humanities, codirector of the Editorial Institute at Boston University, and a member of the Association of Literary Scholars and Critics. He was formerly professor of English at the universities of Bristol and Cambridge.
Ricks is the author of Milton's Grand Style (1963), Tennyson (second edition, 1989), Keats and Embarrassment (1974), The Force of Poetry (1984), T.S. Eliot and Prejudice (1988), Beckett's Dying Words (1993), Essays in Appreciation (1996), Allusion to the Poets (2002), and Reviewery (2003). He is also the editor of Poems of Tennyson (second edition, 1987), The New Oxford Book of Victorian Verse (1987), A.E. Housman: Collected Poems and Selected Prose (1988), Inventions of the March Hare: Poems 1909–1917 by T.S. Eliot (1996), The Oxford Book of English Verse (1999), Selected Poems of James Henry (2002), and Decisions and Revisions in T.S. Eliot (2003).
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This book is for those who enjoy academic and overzealous analytical writing. It is neither a quick nor enjoyable read.
I love Bob Dylan's voice and his lyrics. He really can change you with his music. His life is just amazing. He is a wonderful artist with a lot of soul. And his son and his band are my favorite. Breach is my favorite Wallflowers cd. Jacob gets his passion from his dad. Their music will change your life if you give it a chance.
Sorry but no cigar for this scholar's one o'clock failed attempt. Is there anything more useless than a critic. No one ever built a statue to a critic. Any good Dylan biography is better than this critical mess. Written for academics only. Please enough is enough. Just get the song books and read the lyrics for your self. Stay away from professors. Dylan does. He wont go near them. He hates those who anaylze his works. Anyway there is nothing here that Paul Williams of Crawdaddy didnt cover years ago. Stay clear of this awful tome.