The Artist as Leader – Bob Dylan

One of the defects of the Leadership Industry is that it is isolated from the arts. Notwithstanding some exceptions, it is separate and distinct both from the fine arts and the liberal arts.

This apartheid was brought to mind by a recent article on Bob Dylan. The author, Richard Woodward, emphasized Dylan as a musical trailblazer, as a leader of other musicians who followed him in droves. Woodward writes, “Bob Dylan’s ‘Bringing It All Back Home,’ 50 years old on Sunday [March 22nd], has as strong a claim as any album of its day to be called the spark that ignited the music of the 1960s…. Lyrics with jagged edges, enigmatic visions of America adrift accompanied by dark, cynical laughter, were not common until Mr. Dylan’s surrealist poetry entered the mainstream of popular song.”*

But Dylan’s leadership was not limited. He led not only other musicians, but large swaths of the American people. Dylan played Pied Piper to a whole generation of mostly (though by no means wholly) young Americans thrilled to have found a troubadour they thought their own. Here is where came into play not so much Dylan’s music as his lyrics – that peculiar, particular, protest poetry that people have found perpetually powerful and persuasive.

“Blowin’ in the Wind,” arguably the most iconic of his tunes, has spoken as eloquently to those involved in civil rights movements – “Yes, ‘n’ how many years can some people exist, before they’re allowed to be free?” – as to those involved in antiwar movements.

“Yes, ‘n’ how many times must the cannonballs fly

Before they’re forever banned? …

Yes, ‘n’ how many deaths will it take till he knows

That too many people have died?”

Is this man, then, Bob Dylan, not a leader? A leader of his own kind, other musicians? And a leader in addition of countless numbers the world over who yearn to be emboldened by his art, so that they too can find their voice and speak truth to power?


“Dylan’s Double Personality,” Wall Street Journal, March 19, 2015.


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