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Monday, July 03, 2006

A ghost writing a song

Reviewing "Bob Dylan: The Essential Interviews" by Jonathan Cott, Christopher Bray writes that Dylan, who he describes, in a positive way, as "one of our age’s great jokers," has "never had any time for the 20th century’s cult of the id." Bray writes:
Whatever else he may be doing as an artist, he’s adamant that he isn’t expressing himself. “The songs are the star of the show,” the Los Angeles Times’ Robert Hilburn quotes him as saying, “not me.” Yes, but he wrote them didn’t he? Not necessarily. “It’s like a ghost is writing a song,” he said of what is probably still his most iconic work, “Like a Rolling Stone.” “It gives you the song and it goes away. You don’t know what it means.” Only at the level of craftsmanship is he willing to discuss writing: “I’m not thinking about what I want to say,” he told Mr. Hilburn. “I’m just thinking ‘Is this OK for the meter?’“ Little wonder Mr. Dylan admits to loving “Don’t Fence Me In” and what he calls Cole Porter’s “fearless” rhyming.
I'm intrigued, in fact, by what space "Like a Rolling Stone" would occupy if it wasn't written by Dylan, but was a one-off hit by a singer-songwriter who created nothing else. I'm guessing it wouldn't be quite so iconic or influential. Outside the continuum of Dylan's life and career, it wouldn't have been such a big deal: but in the context of the rest of his work, and his place in his times, it is a rock-'n-roll classic. It wasn't written by no anonymous ghost, that's for sure.

(Link via email from Chandrahas.)
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