7/20/12 - bob dylan disappears

Editor's Note: "Imagine: How Creativity Works" by Jonah Lehrer was pulled from retailers following the disclosure that the author fabricated quotes from Bob Dylan.

In today's excerpt - from obscure beginnings in Minnesota, Bob Dylan rocketed to superstardom in the early 1960s. By 1965 he was overwhelmed and depleted:

"Bob Dylan looks bored. It's May of 1965 and he's slumped in a quilted armchair at the Savoy, a fancy London hotel. His Ray-Bans are pulled down low; his eyes stuck in a distant stare. The camera turns away -- Dylan's weariness feels like an accusa­tion -- and starts to pan around the room, capturing the ragged entourage of folkies and groupies following the singer on the final week of his European tour.

"For the previous four months, Dylan had been struggling to maintain a grueling performance schedule. He'd traveled across the Northeast of the United States on a bus, playing in small col­lege towns and big-city theaters. (Dylan played five venues in New Jersey alone.) Then he crossed over to the West Coast and crammed in a hectic few weeks of concerts and promotion. He'd been paraded in front of the press and asked an endless series of inane questions, from 'What is the truth?' to 'Why is there a cat on the cover of your last album?' At times, Dylan lost his tem­per and became obstinate with reporters. 'I've got nothing to say about these things I write,' he insisted. 'I just write them. There's no great message. Stop asking me to explain.' When Dylan wasn't surly, he was often sarcastic, telling journalists that he collected monkey wrenches, that he was born in Acapulco, and that his songs were inspired by 'chaos, watermelons, and clocks.' ...

"By the time Dylan arrived in London, it was clear that the trip was taking a toll. The singer was skinny from insomnia and pills; his nails were yellow from nicotine; and his skin had a ghostly pal­lor. ... Dylan was taking too many drugs and was surrounded by too many peo­ple taking drugs. ...

"Dylan couldn't escape from the crowds, so he learned to dis­appear into himself. He packed a typewriter in with his luggage and could turn anything into a desk; he searched for words while surrounded by the distractions of touring. When he got particu­larly frustrated, he would tear his work into smaller and smaller pieces, shredding them and throwing them in the wastebasket. ... Although Dylan's creativity remained a constant -- he wrote because he didn't know what else to do -- there were in­creasing signs that he was losing interest in creating music. For the first time, his solo shows felt formulaic, as if he were singing the lines of someone else. He rarely acknowledged the audience or paused between songs; he seemed to be in a hurry to get off-stage. ...

"Before long, it all became too much. While touring in Eng­land, Dylan decided that he was leading an impossible life, that this existence couldn't be sustained. The only talent he cared about -- his ceaseless creativity -- was being ruined by fame. The breaking point probably came after a brief vacation in Por­tugal, where Dylan got a vicious case of food poisoning. The ill­ness forced him to stay in bed for a week, giving the singer a rare chance to reflect. 'I realized I was very drained,' Dylan would later confess. 'I was playing a lot of songs I didn't want to play. I was singing words I didn't really want to sing . . . It's very tiring having other people tell you how much they dig you if you yourself don't dig you.'

"In other words, Dylan was sick of his music. He was sick of strumming his acoustic guitar and standing in the spotlight by himself; sick of the politics and the expectations; sick of the bur­den of being a spokesman. People assumed that his songs always carried a message, that his art was really about current events. But Dylan didn't want to have an opinion on everything; he wasn't in­terested in being defined by the sentimental self-righteousness of 'Blowin in the Wind.' The problem was that he didn't know what to do next: he felt trapped by his past but had no plan for the fu­ture. The only thing he was sure of was that this life couldn't last. Whenever Dylan read about himself in the newspaper, he made the same observation: 'God, I'm glad I'm not me,' he said. 'I'm glad I'm not that.'

"The last shows were in London at a sold-out Royal Albert Hall. It was here that Dylan told his manager he was quitting the music business. He was finished with singing and songwriting and was going to move to a tiny cabin in Woodstock, New York. Although Dylan had become a pop icon -- the prophetic poet of his genera­tion -- he was ready to renounce it all, to surrender the celebrity and status, if it meant he might be left alone.

Dylan wasn't bluffing. As promised, he returned from his Brit­ish tour and rode his Triumph motorcycle straight out of New York City. He was leaving the folk scene of the Village behind, heading upstate to an empty house. He was done writing songs -- he had nothing else to say. Dylan didn't even bring his guitar."


Jonah Lehrer


Imagine: How Creativity Works


Houghton Mifflin Harcourt


Copyright 2012 by Jonah Lehrer


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