He has been called a poet, most famously by Van Morrison, though he doesn’t really like the word. Yet fans easily recognize the poetic beauty in Bob Dylan’s lyrics. His style is unmistakable. And while he might not call himself a poet, he can recognize his own talents.
In 1991 Dylan gave a lengthy interview to Paul Zollo that is included in the book Songwriters on Songwriting. His insights into creativity during that interview are special. He talks about the importance of the environment to creativity; how we need somewhere peaceful, but invigorating; and how it shaped the songs he wrote. For Dylan, creativity is about accepting all the unconscious thoughts that enter the mind, and controlling them.
“First of all, there’s two kinds of thoughts in your mind: there’s good thoughts and evil thoughts. Both come through your mind… You must get rid of all that baggage. You ought to be able to sort out those thoughts, because they don’t mean anything, they’re just pulling you around, too. It’s important to get rid of them thoughts. Then you can do something from some kind of surveillance of the situation. You have some kind of place where you can see it but it can’t affect you.”
Dylan’s words are no less relevant today. When you think about how much content we consume, it can be hard to sift through the daily clutter. Achieving the sort of clarity of thought Dylan talks about isn’t easy. But it’s crucial. For me, the right environment can be as simple as getting a moment at a nearby park, or having a quiet beer on a rooftop bar. A brief, unscripted moment of reflection is often all we need to pick out the ‘bad’ thoughts and let the good ones flow.