Bob Dylan – Thinking Outside Boxes

Journalist: Do you think of yourself primarily as a singer or a poet?
Dylan: Oh, I think of myself more as a song and dance man, y’know.


— Bob Dylan, press conference at KQED, San Francisco, Dec. 1965, quoted in: Joe Kohut and John J Kohut, eds., Rock Talk (1994)

Do you remember Bob Dylan? Have you ever even heard of Bob Dylan? I do not know for sure, but I am certain you heard his music because it has been re-recorded by countless artists including:

Adele – Beck – The Black Crowes – The Black Keys – Eric Clapton – Jimi Hendrix – Kelly Clarkson – Elvis Costello – Elvis Presley – Duran Duran – Grateful Dead – Red Hot Chilli Peppers – Kenny Wayne Shepherd –  William Shatner – Bruce Springsteen -U2 – UB40 – The White Stripes, and many more. 

Bob Dylan is not known for  dancing. The song and dance man quote was his joke. One of the things Dylan often comments on is that he does not like to be placed in a box. He has written songs that are considered folk and rock, and some that might be considered other genres, but the artist does not consider himself a “folk” or “rock” artist. We could argue the point on either side, but we would be missing his bigger point.

Dylan’s point is “If we put people in boxes, we label them, and we miss out on who they really are. If we put things in boxes, we miss out on seeing all their facets.”  Ok, to be clear, Dylan did not say that specifically, but that is what I have taken from numerous quotes and interviews when people asked him if he was a folk singer or writer.

People do like to put things in boxes, and even though we may resist, we end up putting things in new boxes even if we get rid of some of the old boxes.  Boxes are convenient, and they can be helpful to understand things. 

The same can be said for academic disciplines. It is useful to say: this is science, this is art, this is music, and this is math, but many things fit into more than one box. You know this if you have ever gone into a Walmart and realized you were looking for a product that could be in one of number of aisles or departments.

You also might realize this if you play the electric guitar, an electronic keyboard, or produce beats for Hip Hop on a computer. You may be making music, but you are using electronics and/or computer technology to help produce it and record it. In fact, if you are using a computer program or iPad program to produce beats to make your own Hip Hop song, you soon discover that by programming drum beats, you not only learn more about music, but you learn about math, because beats are fractions of a measure, and a measure is just a segment of time or a group of beats. A computer can help you make your own music without really understanding math or music, but as you get better at making music with a computer you will learn both music and math without even realizing it.

I have taken classes with a number of professors who I knew as experts in one subject.  I assumed that was all they were – an expert in X.  Then I discovered these people had interests and talents that I would not have guessed.

I had a drawing professor who was a professional sculptor — and also held a a master’s degree in physics.  Another professor who taught psychology turned out to belong to a number of departments including Performing Arts. My favorite perhaps is the sculpting professor from Austria who designed and built his own glider and piloted it. He taught me things about engineering and math as he taught art.

Music, art and other subjects can teach you about math and science, and math and science can teach you more about music and art. The key to understanding them is not to lock them in boxes. They are like puzzle pieces that interlock with each other.  Each puzzle piece you fit in one may show you where a new puzzle piece fits in another.

—–Dean McIntrye


Use the link below to find out how many artists have recorded a Bob Dylan song? How many do you recognize? Who is your favorite artist and what is your favorite Bob Dylan song? 

Wikipedia link

About Bob Dylan

Read more about the artist whose lyrics earned him a Nobel Prize in poetry in 2016.

Bob Dylan homepage