Why Dylan Matters to Me

Scholar Richard F. Thomas's recent book Why Dylan Matters has a title that invites Dylan fans everywhere to ask themselves the same question. While it seems that Thomas has presented an argument that Dylan is a major western cultural figure in the tradition of the ancient Greek and Roman poets, it'd be fascinating to see a sampling of reflections that speak to the highly diverse nature of Dylan fans. Here is one from Dr. Ernie Panscofar, which you can also view on his blog here.
  • Many of his songs have a nice, easy beat to walk to during my daily exercise on the treadmill;
  • I like using his tunes to write alternative lyrics to convey thoughts and events that are on my mind;
  • The cover songs by other artists allow me to appreciate his lyrics in new ways;
  • I can share my interest with Dylan's work with friends;
  • Individual segments of prose, to me, are worth more than the composite whole of the entire set of lyrics;
  • He brings out my creativity in expressing myself using some of his songs / lyrics;
  • He has influenced many other musicians whose work is of greater excellence because of that influence;
  • I don't want to know what any of his songs are about or mean ... they are what they are and not more or less;
  • I appreciate knowing where he's going next;
  • He has enriched my life by his presence.
New Morning: My 1st favorite album

So why does Dylan matter to me? I'll give it a go. Warning: this list is off the cusp, and not planned out, or really edited for that matter. I'm going with whatever flows down the river of my mind:

  • Bob Dylan taught me to love vinyl. I realize this makes me sound 100 years old, but when I was in high school I bought New Morning on vinyl for 50 cents from a now defunct junk store in Wallingford, CT, called Chicks Trading Post. I was already a Beatles fan, and had read about Dylan in a 2004 issue of Rolling Stone that documented the "best" albums of all time. I loved that record, the stew of the harmonica, drums, bass, guitar, and organ. It was the lighter side of the wild thin mercury sound. I still prefer to listen to it under the crackle and hiss of the record player. 
  • Bob Dylan opened up a new world of music to me. From DJ Bob via the Theme Time Radio Hour (which I wrote about here) to uncovering the traditional sources of many of his songs, listening to Bob Dylan is like receiving an education in the history of American music. 
  • Bob Dylan's lyrics have made me better person- they've educated me ("With God on Our Side"), uplifted my spirits ("You Changed My Life", "What Can I do For You?"), told stories ("Hurricane", "The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll"), and enriched my emotional vocabulary (pick one. . . "Mississippi"?). In short, Bob Dylan's songs document the human experience from all angles, from the individual to the collective, and everywhere else in between. Now that Bob Dylan is entering his later years, a full, rich, holistic lifetime's worth of work is available for our enrichment. 
  • Bob Dylan's voice is great. I extract a great deal of joy just listening to it. I love the way he sings, mostly because it is always changing. From his Woody Guthrie imitation to his country croon all the way to his current Sinatra swoon, Bob always keeps it interesting. The changes in his voice suggest that different situations can be approached from new and exciting angles. 
  • Bob Dylan has connected me to other people. Whether it is sharing a playlist with a family member or discussing his songs with friends, Bob's music gives me something to talk and think about. 
And that's why Bob Dylan matters to me. 


  1. Let it flow, let if flow! Our paths to receiving Bob are incredibly similar. I too began as a Beatles fan-turned Dylan enthusiast (yet, I would hardly claim to have your encyclopedic knowledge of all things Zimmy). And while The Beatles hold permanent real-estate in my life's soundtrack, the Dylan-experience is unlike any other.


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