In a recent interview for the philosophy blog 3:16, Richard Marshall speaks with Timothy Hampton about Bob Dylan: How the Songs Work. Click here to learn more about the book. Click here to read the full interview. An excerpt appears below:
“3:16: Your approach to Dylan’s work resists the usual route of ‘building an edifice around the fragile core of the biography’ as you put it. You’re more interested in how he gets the job done! To give us sense of what you’re up to, can you say something about why you don’t follow the usual route and take this approach instead?
TIMOTHY HAMPTON: When I began working on the book—which was before Dylan won the Nobel Prize, by the way–I wanted to think about Dylan as an artist, as a maker of songs. It seemed to me that, whereas Dylan is usually thought of as a very clever wordsmith, these songs were extraordinarily carefully crafted in ways that had not been explored seriously. So, what does Dylan do when he makes a song? How is it put together? What is its effect? These seem to me to be questions we have to ask of any artist, from Hitchcock to Jane Austen. Yet, because Dylan works in popular song, and because we live in an age obsessed with celebrity, many listeners have a hard time separating the art from some vision of the artist’s life or personality that they have invented for themselves. This is one of the things that Dylan has complained about across his career, but it’s also just not a very interesting way of thinking about art, since it doesn’t give primacy to the work. So, my first step was to try to clear aside all of the hoopla about Dylan’s biography: his hair, his various love affairs, his medical records, his taste in shoes, etc. ”