This chapter turns a literary-critical eye on one of the most enigmatic figures in pop music, Bob Dylan, dissecting his protean mythologies and shifting styles. As composer, interpreter, most of all as lyricist, Dylan has made a revolution. He expanded folk idiom into a rich, figurative language, grafted literary and philosophical subtleties onto the protest song, revitalized folk vision by rejecting proletarian and ethnic sentimentality, then all but destroyed pure folk music as a contemporary form by merging it with pop. Since then rock-and-roll, which was already in the midst of a creative flowering dominated by British rock and Motown, has been transformed. As Dylan’s songs have become more introspective, the introspections have become more impersonal. In the same sense that pop art is about commodities, Dylan’s art is about celebrity. It is a truism among Dylan’s admirers that he is a poet using rock-and-roll to spread his art. His chief literary virtue—sensitivity to psychological nuance—belongs to fiction more than poetry.
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