Bob Dylan’s Amazing Balancing Act

“There must be some way out of here, said the joker to the thief.”

Photo by Bekir Dönmez on Unsplash

Bob Dylan is the consummate story-teller. Even when it’s surreal (“Changing of the Guard”) and even when a few of the facts are wrong (“Hurricane”), and especially when it feels very personal (“Tangled Up In Blue”), he knows how to tell a good story. He’s been telling them in song all his life.

What makes a good story? First, there are the characters. And it’s the author’s task to make the reader or listener care about those characters.

Second, there is a theme. “Simple Twist Of Fate” is about cognitive dissonance, and perhaps a $100 misunderstanding. “Neighborhood Bully” is a penetrating overview of Jewish history and why this beleaguered nation behaves as it does.

Third, there is plot. “Lily, Rosemarie and the Jack of Hearts” not only has a storyline in spades, it’s just plain fun as a tune.

Fourth, there’s usually a setting, a space in time. Again with Lily etc. it’s the wild west.

Finally, the story illustrates another feature of story writing: conflict. “There’s something funny going on, you could feel it in the air.” In the end there are decisions made... with consequences.

Illustration by the author.

If you read Chronicles, Volume One, you’ll find that Dylan’s not only a good story teller in song, but a writer of stories as well. Dylan’s autobiography won’t tell you the whole story of his life, and it won’t be told in the traditional start to finish manner that many biographies follow. I’ve read it twice and recently picked it up to read again.

Dylan’s Chronicles is about characters whose lives intersected with his in one way or another. Anecdotal accounts of his influences are peppered throughout…. John Hammond, Buddy Holly, Gorgeous George, Bobby Vee, Jules Verne, H.G. Wells, Van Ronk, Joan Baez… in settings far and wide. But what amazes me most after reading more than a dozen other Dylan biographies over the years is that he had so much privacy that he could still write volumes about things we never knew about.

Dylan is perhaps one of the most public of all public figures. His website,, tells where his every live concert has been played for more than a half century, and every playlist from these concerts. We can track where he’s been and where he is going, how many times he’s played “Gotta Serve Somebody” and how many tours of Europe he’s taken.

Which leads one to wonder how people in the spotlight create private spaces and thereby preserve their internal sense of self. Dylan has not only been a master of the craft of songwriting and performing, he’s also demonstrated a brilliant ability to balance his public and private spaces and selves. It’s an amazing balancing act.

On one level, who Dylan really is is none of my business. But he’s had a heckuva run telling stories that co-mingle with all of our business. It’s an amazing balancing act.

Originally published at

An avid reader who writes about arts, culture, literature & other life obsessions. @ennyman3 Look for my books on Amazon

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