Bob Dylan, the dexterous singer/songwriter, poet and painter, leaves his fans with little more than breadcrumbs to follow
If you thought learning how to tie a tie was gruelling, try getting Dylan to label his music. For decades, Dylan has become infamous for slamming, or downright ignoring the press. During most interviews, the wordsmith keeps his answers vague and esoteric, leaving listeners famished and clueless. Heck, when he was awarded the Nobel Prize for creating "new poetic expressions within the great American songwriting tradition", he didn't even show up. News flash - Dylan doesn't give a rats what you think.
All his evasiveness leads us to look solely across his records to find answers. And while his lyrics are cryptic, they are laden with sharp observation, rich discoveries, and musings to ponder over. It's in this published material that we learn lessons about ourselves and the world we inhabit. Lessons of war, lessons of politics, lessons of class. Lessons of life, lessons of death. Most potently I'd argue, are Dylan's lessons on love. If you care to indulge, I'd love to scour over the artists' most memorable quips and discuss the nuggets of truth that have shaped my perceptions of love. Love in all forms, gentle and fierce.
Love grows stronger with time
If love is a burning fire, time can do one of two things. One, it can slowly extinguish the flames until it becomes ash; forgotten and distant. Two, it can be the gasoline, making the fire burn brighter than ever before. This is why memories of love often feel so visceral. They etch into your daily conscious, influencing your decisions and outlook to a severe degree.
"Please, see if her hair hangs long
If it rolls and flows all down her breast
Please, see for me if her hair's hangin' long
'Cause that's the way I remember her best"
For Dylan on Girl From The North Country (1963), the memory is so vivid that it dare not be tainted with. Even the way the hair fell on his old partner is so precious that it must remain intact. At least in his mind, because that's where it can rest; peacefully and permanently. Here, Dylan teaches us that time cuts the fat, leaving only the strongest feelings behind.
Love cannot be forced
Have you been in a relationship where no one's in the wrong, but the whole affair feels stale? You've climbed to the top of the ladder but the view doesn't live up to the promise. It's unfortunately a pretty common situation. If you reach this point, the best thing to do (probably!) is gently close the relationship, even though it's going to be rough for your partner.
You say you're lookin' for someone
Who's never weak but always strong
To protect you and defend you
Whether you are right or wrong
Someone to open each and every door
But it ain't me, babe
It Ain't Me Babe (1964) kisses off a dying relationship in the most blatant manner possible, teaching listeners that ending a relationship is a necessary hurt. The single encourages us to seek passionate love and never to settle for anything less. There's a liberating feeling that comes from this knowledge. Best to take it and run fast.
Love can turn spiteful
When your lover hops on a plane, leaves for another or takes time to themselves, it doesn't take long for an ego to bruise. A connection once dearly valued has been discarded and deprioritized. The radical change can make you wonder if it even meant anything in the first place.
"She takes just like a woman
Yes, she does, she makes love just like a woman
Yes, she does, and she aches just like a woman
But she breaks just like a little girl"
Nothing captures this bitter aftertaste quite like the sneer of Just Like A Women (1966), which unfairly focuses on the partner's actions, instead of ones own. The protagonist is unreasonable and snarky, but they portray a real feeling that's all too easy to fall into. With vivid imagery bringing life to the tilted scene, "her fog, her amphetamines, and her pearls", spiteful love becomes a lesson seldom forgotten.
Love reveals love
Have you noticed that even the most cliche-ridden love songs hit harder when you're in a relationship (or recently out of one)? This isn't a coincidence. As soon as you've revelled in the feverish delights of intense love - you'll see it in everything. For Dylan, the catalyst to this epiphany was reading the works of an Italian poet from the 13th century. He reveals this in Tangled Up In Blue (1975), a song that took him "10 years to live and 2 years to write".
And every one of them words rang true
And glowed like burnin' coal
Pourin' off of every page
Like it was written in my soul
From me to you
Tangled up in blue
When all the signs on the street point back to love, you know you're in deep. As the associations roll in, it'll get harder and harder to close the blinds
Love is about sacrifice
The blistering fact is... if your love is indeed real, you'll sacrifice anything to have it. The book of Job (Old Testament), Benigni's WWII film Life Is Beautiful, and thousands of other retellings explore this unflinching realisation. Of course, Dylan's portrayal on Make You Feel My Love (1997) struck a chord with creatives everywhere, from Billie Joel to Adele.
I'd go hungry, I'd go black and blue
I'd go crawling down the avenue
No, there's nothing that I wouldn't do
To make you feel my love
When we're swept up in the euphoric rush of young love, giving up everything is easy. The real test comes over time. Will you crawl down the avenue year after year to prove your love? What is it worth to you? These are the questions that surface when such selfless claims are sung so adamantly.