September 12, 2012

5 entrepreneurial lessons learned from Bob Dylan.

A Wall Street Journal column — with no participation from Dylan, but not derived from lyrics:
Always have a passion for what you’re doing

When you are turned on by what you’re creating, you will recognize that the work is what matters. This will help you to get through the dark days, those times when you feel uninspired and dejected. Dylan plays about 100 concerts a year around the world. He no longer needs the money or even the fame or the acclaim to solidify his place in popular-culture annals. But clearly, this is a man who passionately believes in what he is doing.
I thought I found the key to the answer why he keeps traveling around, spending the evenings playing with his musician friend. I was listening to the early album "Freewheelin'" — the song "Bob Dylan's Dream." He has a dream where he sees his "first few friends" in the room where they used to laugh and sing together all night long.
With haunted hearts through the heat and cold
We never thought we could ever get old
We thought we could sit forever in fun
But our chances really was a million to one
It's now many years later, and he's wishing that "we could sit simply in that room again." He'd gladly give away his money "at the drop of a hat... if our lives could be like that." I think the Never Ending Tour is the closest he can get to that dream of being a young guy laughing and playing for the intrinsic fun of it, "long[ing] for nothin'" and "a-jokin' about the world outside."

You can call that "entrepreneurial" if you want, I guess.

AND: Here's Bob Dylan's new album "Tempest" — which comes out tomorrow.  And here's "Freewheelin'" — from 1963.


Shouting Thomas said...

No, he wouldn't give the money back.

But, what does that matter?

Shouting Thomas said...

I understand the nostalgia bit for Dylan. Everybody wishes they were young again.

But, the rest is just absurd BS.

The life of musicians below the level of those who get rich is almost uniformly brutal, vicious and stupid beyond belief.

It is precisely the money that made it worthwhile for Dylan to keep doing it.

There are some other ways to survive as a musician, such as becoming a teacher or become a church musician.

"Mama, don't let your babies grow up to be cowboys."

The Farmer said...

Shouting Thomas said...
But, the rest is just absurd BS.

The life of musicians below the level of those who get rich is almost uniformly brutal, vicious and stupid beyond belief.

Amen, brother. Fuck Bob Dylan and fuck people who perpetuate the myth that for musicians virtue= an empty wallet.

creeley23 said...

Scorcese's Dylan documentary, "No Direction Home," cleared up much of the Dylan mystery for me. Dylan's greatest desire was not to be the voice of his generation, but to make it as a professional musician.

That's all he really wanted. However, he found himself anointed first as the protest-singing conscience of America, then as the beatnik/hippie visionary messiah.

It's true that he brought much of that on himself by virture of his talent and his hunger for fame and success, but it backfired when he discovered that people developed huge expectations of him to practically become a world leader. Dylan was honest enough to know that was crazy and certainly nothing he wanted.

So he went through that long period from the late sixties onward to alienate people and smash their expectations of him.

Now we see Dylan as he really is: a professional musician who loves to play and perform.

I say good for Dylan. I'm glad he's alive. I hope he's happy. He's earned it.

Shouting Thomas said...

It's true that he brought much of that on himself by virture of his talent and his hunger for fame and success...

Dylan's career in its early stages was managed by one of the great geniuses ever in American popular music... Albert Grossman.

About 90% of the story is BS. I'm not saying that there aren't elements of truth in it.

But, the story was brilliantly stage managed by Grossman. PR comes in many different forms.

Shouting Thomas said...

And, not to beat this shit to death... but...

The music biz is, indeed, one of the last vestiges of Wild West capitalism left in the U.S.

And, the awful shit of the music biz is precisely what the remainder of the populace wants to be insured against.

That's why they elected Obama.

creeley23 said...

About 90% of the story is BS.

ST: 90% of what story? Dylan was talented. Dylan was driven to succeed. Dylan was practically deified. Dylan did back away from fame.

What's your point?

Shouting Thomas said...


I didn't mean to diminish in any way Dylan's achievements.

He's clearly one of the most important songwriters in American history.

I'm one of those people, however, who don't really care much to listen to him do his own songs. I'd rather listen to Bonnie Raitt do "Let's Keep It Between Us."

Ann Althouse said...

"I understand the nostalgia bit for Dylan. Everybody wishes they were young again."

Of course, he was young when he wrote the song in 1963. He was something like 22. Looking back.

Ann Althouse said...

He has his money and I'm sure he likes it somewhere in the range of how most people like their money.

But he's adopted a lifestyle of travel and one concert after another, which seems pretty arduous, especially for a 71-year-old man who has the option of living a life of luxury.

There must be some really important psychic value to him, staying on the road, working like a musician who's scarcely made it at all.

I don't trust the "Scorsese" documentary as an explanation of anything. I would trust Dylan himself if he ever seemed to give a direct answer to the question why he's living like this.

It's a mystery. I found my answer in that old song.

Ann Althouse said...

But then I've been finding answers in Dylan lyrics since 1965.

Issob Morocco said...

Ann, seeing this blog, this morning during my 30 minute walk, I heard "Neighborhood Bully" by Bob Dylan (Infidel) and "Bombs Away" by the Police on random shuffle. Given world events it seemed so eerily "Aujourd'hui".

Knowing your like of Dylan I had to share my random moment of association.


Nov. 6th

Patrick said...

At some point, all of your Dylan posts are going to drive me to go listen to Dylan. I've got Blood on the Tracks, but never really went outside of that, although I liked "Things Have Changed" from a few years ago.

Scott said...

(Not on the other side of the WSJ paywall. Yay.)

I'm guessing Dylan still does 100 concerts a year because that's where the money is. Recording is a great way to develop a following, but it's a hard way to make a living.

It's like blogging. Great reputation enhancer, lousy living.

Wondering how much AA paid for her Dylan tix...

Walter Beckham said...

Hearing 'Positively 4th Street' on the radio in 1965 or so did it for me!

Amexpat said...

I think Dylan's been touring so much all these years because it's become a way of life. He most likely gets restless if he stays in one place for too long.

The WSJ article is nonsense. The new album, however, has some very good songs in it. "Tin Angel" and "Pay in Blood" are two.

William said...

Maybe he likes the adulation. I wouldn't mind travelling a lot if there was a pile of money and an admiring crowd in every town. No man is a rock star to his valet.

Shouting Thomas said...

Althouse, have you ever considered that Dylan just has nothing else to do?

And, I don't mean this in a negative way.

Most of the seniors I know live in dread of having nothing to do.

yashu said...

The new album, however, has some very good songs in it.

I agree! Loving the new album. It's Dylan the storyteller, which is maybe my favorite Dylan persona/ aspect. And as usual, I love Dylan's (some kind of) love songs -- bitter, sweet; sweet, bitter. Wonderful.

yashu said...

I've listened to the album multiple times in the last two days. The song "Scarlet Town" was to me naggingly reminiscent of something-- of a song I knew I really really loved, a favorite song I've listened to many times that had penetrated my bones, but I (frustratingly) couldn't put my finger on what it was. I could hazily "hear" the echo but could not identify it.

And I just now figured it out! (Memory itch scratched.) Hank Williams's "Ramblin' Man".

NB It's not a copy and it doesn't make me like the Dylan song any less; many of my favorite songs are inspired by other songs-- at a subconscious level at least. And I just know (from an acquaintance with his work, not anything he's said) that Dylan must love Hank Williams.

And Hank Williams may well have been inspired by some other tune himself. (My first instinct was to search in Harry Smith's Anthology, something by Dock Boggs, etc.)

creeley23 said...

yashu: Hank Williams ... yes! I didn't make that connection until I read the first of Dylan's memoirs, wherein Dylan settles many of his debts, and he owed much to Williams.

In particular Dylan was obsessed by Williams' album, "Luke the Drifter," which "[he] just about wore out."

When I got to "Luke" I realized that "John Wesley Harding" was Dylan's valentine back to Williams. In particular, compare "The Ballad of Frankie Lee and Judas Priest" to Williams' "Men With Broken Hearts."

creeley23 said...

I had always been mystified by Dylan's abrupt change in direction from that white-hot streak he had been on from "Bringing It All Back Home" to "Blonde on Blonde" which he broke with "John Wesley Harding."

My guess is that he couldn't maintain that intensity and perhaps the drug usage that went with those albums. There was also the motorcyle accident. So when he decided to do something different, he chose to do a hidden homage to Williams with "John Wesley Harding."

I've read two or three books on Dylan which barely mentioned Williams, much less a link to "Luke the Drifter." Nonetheless, I'd bet a cup of meat that there's a link.

yashu said...

creeley, thanks for the link & info. Oh yeah, I can totally hear Hank Williams in John Wesley Harding (and "The Ballad of Frankie Lee and Judas Priest," which I love).

Hadn't thought of that album as a valentine to Williams, thanks for pointing that out. Luke the Drifter (not just 'his' songs-- which include "Ramblin Man"-- but the idea of that persona) would be right up Dylan's alley.

I love pretty much every album by Dylan I've listened to, and on different days I have different favorites, but I definitely have a soft spot for JWH and Nashville Skyline-- "country" Dylan. Among other soft spots.

Someday I have to get around to reading Dylan's memoirs.

creeley23 said...

yashu: You're welcome! So far there is only "Chronicles, Volume One." It dodges around in time and manages to skip most of the famous periods of Dylan's life. Some of this seems to be Dylan's usual reticence. Some of it seems to be his desire to credit influences that are largely unknown and Dylan can be quite generous.

Here's a surprise tip of the hat to Johnny Rivers:

Of all the versions of my recorded songs, the Johnny Rivers one was my favorite. It was obvious that we were from the same side of town, had been read the same citations, came from the same musical family and were cut from the same cloth. When I listened to Johnny's version of "Positively 4th Street," I liked his version better than mine I listened to it over and over again. Most of the cover versions of my songs seemed to take them out into left field somewhere, but Rivers's version had the mandate down—the attitude and melodic sense to complete and surpass even the feeling that I had put into it. It shouldn't have surprised me, though. He had done the same thing with "Maybellene" and "Memphis," two Chuck Berry songs. When I heard Johnny sing my song, it was obvious that life had the same external grip on him as it did on me.

creeley23 said...

Given Dylan's love for Rivers' version of "Positively 4th Street" I've wondered if Dylan's move to "Nashville Skyline" weren't partly influenced by the clean, countryish sound that Rivers had. (Of course, Dylan doesn't lack for country influences.)

After reading "Chronicles I" I went back to listen to Johnny Rivers and realized that he was a talented guy who didn't get as much recognition as he deserved. But from what I've read, he was happy to have a career and doesn't sweat his place in the pantheon.

yashu said...

Here's a short, acoustically secondhand/ lousy excerpt of "Scarlet Town" (can't find the complete version online yet, probably better versions to be found tomorrow).

And here's "Ramblin' Man."

Funny, when I wrote the comment about the Dylan/ Williams resemblance I hadn't noticed the Althouse post on Ira B. Arnstein, "the crank, noodnik, and loser, who 'for more than three decades he persistently sued the likes of Irving Berlin and Cole Porter, their publishers and their rights organizations for plagiarizing his own ditties.'"

Heh. But like I said originally, I'd never see the (not at all direct) Williams/ Dylan melodic similarity in that light. To hear that echo of a song I love is to hear Dylan's love for that song too. This is not plagiarism; it's influence/ inspiration/ impregnation/ love.

yashu said...

creeley, thanks (again!) for the Johnny Rivers info-- I must admit I'm completely ignorant about Rivers. You've sent me off on a very enjoyable exploration.

Amexpat said...


I've been listening to Tempest online for the past week here. . Bought the CD yesterday.

I agree about Scarlet Town, it may end being the best track on the album for me.

You should read Chronicles. Dylan is not always the most reliable narrator, but he is entertaining and has great insights about other artists.

yashu said...

Thanks Amexpat, will do.

Just ordered Chronicles: Volume One, via Althouse/Amazon.

creeley23 said...

yashu: Yes, I can hear "Ramblin' Man" in "Scarlet Town." Dylan wasn't always explicit about his influences, but he never denied that he was.

"Open your eyes and your ears and you're influenced," he once said.

The song Ann references, "Bob Dylan's Dream," is far more of a copy than anything Dylan did with Hank Williams. He copped the entire melody from "Lord Franklin," much of the form, and even some of the lyrics.

For instance the lines that bothered ST:

Ten thousand dollars at the drop of a hat
I’d give it all gladly if our lives could be like that

were based on the similar ending from Lord Franklin.

Ten thousand guineas I would freely give
To say on Earth that my Franklin does live

Here's the Pentangle version of "Lord Franklin", where I discovered that Dylan had rewritten an earlier folk song for his "Dream."

yashu said...

Thanks for the reference to "Lord Franklin," new to me.

I love Dylan's lyric echoes, allusions, rewordings. Plenty of that on this album too, e.g. (most obvious) Beatles and William Blake.