Bob Dylan’s Philosophy

I just finished reading Bob Dylan’s The Philosophy of Modern Song. There is no philosophy in it but plenty about song. He clearly has never read any philosophy of music, or perhaps any philosophy at all (bit of Nietzsche maybe). I don’t know what he means by “Modern Song”: certainly there is nothing classical in it, though it ranges from 1849 onwards. Folk, rock, blues, Broadway, country–it’s all there. For me the biggest takeaway was the song “Nellie was a Lady”, which I had never even heard of before. Written by a white man about a freed slave’s dead wife, it is as sad as songs get (as Dylan points out), but with a beautiful melody. The lyrics are problematic and could not be sung today without an uproar (modern renditions update them completely), but it is a great song. Thanks, Bob.

7 replies
  1. Mark L
    Mark L says:

    Hi Colin,

    Hope you are well.

    After reading this, I read the lyrics to “Nellie was a lady” – I have a little tear in my eye.

    I’m often, in my very limited way, inspired by some philosophical concept when writing songs. However I’d never even thought about the philosophy of music and what could be meant by such a term. I have an Oxford compendium from the 30s which discusses theory, the works and life of famous composers, the science of note creation etc, but I don’t recall philosophy of music itself. I’m curious but also frightened by this concept – that knowing it might ruin the creating process.

    Could you point me in the direction of a musical philosopher of note?(Har de Har!).Have you yourself written on the subject?



  2. Jeffrey Kessen
    Jeffrey Kessen says:

    On the consequences of a momentary lapse of judgement. So, about three months ago while working at the Court-house at night I noticed that a trash bag set in one of the first-floor corridors was leaking fluid. I thought it best to do something about it. I found a janitor’s closet, grabbed a mop and mopped up the spill. What I didn’t do was put up a “Caution: Wet floor” sign . After putting the mop away, I rounded the corner just in time to see one of three lawyerly-looking persons slip and fall on the very same spot (there was night-court going on at the time). You can guess the rest. I gave my deposition. It’s all on camera. It was my fault, as I profusely acknowledged at the time (again, all on camera). Having had back-pain myself for over twenty years, it grieves me to think that I would be the cause of someone else’s pain. I seek no defense counsel—there’s simply no point. This is nothing in comparison with what you are going through.


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