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Chapter 3 - Songwriting

from Part I - Creative Life

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  21 April 2021

Sean Latham
Affiliation:
University of Tulsa
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Summary

“Where do the words come from?” Bob Dylan has been asked some version of this question hundreds of times over the years by journalists, fans, and critics, all hoping to glimpse the origin of his seemingly boundless capacity for lyrical invention. When he first arrived on the New York folk music scene, Dylan typically responded by inventing an ever-more colorful history for himself and attributed some of his early tunes to a life lived on the road. He claimed, for example, to have studied at the feet of a nameless Chicago bluesman after running away from home and also suggested that he gathered material from his (entirely fictitious) years spent working in traveling circuses and carnivals.1 In 1962, just after the release of his first album, he playfully fended off Cynthia Gooding’s initial attempts to explore his creative process by complaining about the studio temperature when she asked how much of “Fixin’ to Die” he had written. When she got him back on track and again pressed the question, Dylan unwound a tale about a woman working in a side show known as the “elephant lady” before explaining that he wrote a song about her called “Won’t You Buy a Postcard” but somehow lost it. Two months later, he employed similar tactics with Pete Seeger when the leader of the folk movement asked about “some of the songs Bob Dylan has made up.” The young man again squirmed a bit before claiming that “I write a lotta stuff. In fact, I wrote five songs last night, but I gave all the papers away … someplace.”2

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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2021

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  • Songwriting
  • Edited by Sean Latham, University of Tulsa
  • Book: The World of Bob Dylan
  • Online publication: 21 April 2021
  • Chapter DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/9781108583398.004
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  • Songwriting
  • Edited by Sean Latham, University of Tulsa
  • Book: The World of Bob Dylan
  • Online publication: 21 April 2021
  • Chapter DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/9781108583398.004
Available formats
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Save book to Google Drive

To save content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about saving content to Google Drive.

  • Songwriting
  • Edited by Sean Latham, University of Tulsa
  • Book: The World of Bob Dylan
  • Online publication: 21 April 2021
  • Chapter DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/9781108583398.004
Available formats
×