You'd Better Start Swimmin': What Bob Dylan Can Teach Us about Staying Innovative, Shunning Naysayers and Never Sinking like a Stone When the Times Are (Inevitably) A-Changin'

By Friedman, Jon | Success, September 2012 | Go to article overview

You'd Better Start Swimmin': What Bob Dylan Can Teach Us about Staying Innovative, Shunning Naysayers and Never Sinking like a Stone When the Times Are (Inevitably) A-Changin'


Friedman, Jon, Success


What does Bob Dylan mean to you?

Do you think of him as the impossibly young-looking folk singer who in his early 20s wrote such civil. rights and antiwar anthems as Blowin' in the Wind, The Times They Are A-Changin' and Masters of War? Or is he the frenetic rock 'n' roll star behind the shades who got in your face and howled "How does it feel?" in his first hit single, Like a Roffing Stone?

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Then again, perhaps your indelible image of Dylan rings truer to the man on the cover of his Nashville Skyline album, the country squire of Woodstock, N.Y., who crooned Lay Lady Lay. Maybe he sparks impressions of the 30-something wounded romantic who opened up his heart in 1975 in the brilliant confessional album Blood on the Tracks and then followed it up by telling an unforgettable saga of racial injustice in t he hard-rocking song Hurricane.

Then again, the younger Dylan fans want to live in the moment, right now. They prefer to reflect on "their" Bob Dylan, by admiring the beauty and power of contemporary Dylan and appreciating the world-weary troubadour who opened the 21st century by singing: "I used to care, but things have changed." He told the grim story of the post-91l I reality in America in the classic tune Workingman's Blues #2. And Dylan reminded us of another national problem in 2009 in the aptly titled song Life Is Hard, which fccused on the song huge percentage of young adults who graduate college and can't find a job.

Any one of these representations, as well as a plethora of others, would lit and be completely reasonable. Everyone has his or her special image of Dylan, alter all. What separates Dylan from so many others in his field is his stunning longevity.

And Dylan, who turned 71 on May 24, refuses to rest on his ample laurels. He continues to make profound musical statements and add to his legacy. And what a legacy! Remember, the man has remained a major presence in our lives for as long as most of us can remember--since the early 1960s, to be exact.

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But it is a shortsighted mistake not to look beyond Dylan's music when you want to understand his 50-year record of success. Naturally the music is an entry point. But think about it: What qualities have enabled this man to touch our lives again and again and again, in so many ways?

We can learn many valuable life lessons as we strive to realize the greatness in ourselves by studying Dylan's life. We can look at the many occasions when he had to pick himself up off the canvas after getting knocked down by critics. Dylan can show us how we can reinvent ourselves, something he has clone repeatedly to great results. He does things on his own terms. He has crafted a vision for his path from clay one and has refused to veer from it, even though he might well have experienced lofty short-term gains. This man is the ultimate careerist--and I mean that as a compliment.

Granted, maybe you can't learn how to write a song as majestic as Blowin' in the Wind. But you can understand from studying Dylan's example how to solve your problems and remain in control of your life and work.

Having just published a book on him, 1 have a special appreciation for Dylan's less-publicized gifts: his intellect, work ethic, competitive nature, restlessness, quest for excellence and his desire to continue to evolve. He stands for a lot more than a batch of wonderful, iconic songs. I have scrutinized the ways in which Dylan has flourished, and I glimpse much more than a minstrel or a troubadour. He is never content merely to go along with fads and trends. He observes the scene of the nation, the music industry and the world around him, and he makes it his own. When you think about it, this is the secret sauce of achieving longevity, of remaining relevant in changing times and of being regarded by your fans as a leader in turbulent times. …

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