Influence people

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Open for Inspiration?

Inspiration, says The Merriam-Webster Unabridged Dictionary, means "a divine influence" or "the act of drawing in."

Divine influence lies all around us, all the time. But we're not always ready to draw it in.

That's because we're so self-reliant, we don't stay open to random events.

Consider the following.

In his memoir, Chronicles, Bob Dylan recounts the days leading up to his first recording session.

The sheepish 20-year old visited the office of a Columbia Records producer, John Hammond, to sign a recording contract with the company. At the end of the meeting, Hammond handed Dylan an unpublished album by a Mississippi singer-songwriter no one had ever heard of in 1961, Robert Johnson, and Dylan took it home with him.

Dylan describes how, in the weeks that followed, the record enchanted him. "Over the next few weeks, I listened to it repeatedly, cut after cut, one song after another, sitting staring at the record player. Whenever I did, it felt like a ghost had come into the room, a fearsome apparition."

Dylan transcribed all of Johnson's lyrics and studied them for hours. "I copied Johnson's words down on scraps of paper so I could more closely examine the lyrics and patterns, the construction of his old-style lines and the free association that he used, the sparkling allegories, big-ass truths wrapped in the hard shell of nonsensical abstraction—themes that flew through the air with the greatest of ease."

Dylan realized he'd found the key to his artistry in Johnson's offbeat worldview. "I didn't have any of these dreams or thoughts but I was going to acquire them."

Dylan wonders what might have been, had Hammond not given him that record. "If I hadn't heard the Robert Johnson record when I did, there probably would have been hundreds of lines of mine that would have been shut down—that I wouldn't have felt free enough or upraised enough to write."

How about you?

Are you open for inspiration?

HISTORY BUFFS' NOTE: March 19 will mark the 50th anniversary of the release of Bob Dylan's first record.


  1. Bob, in your view, was it random that John Hammond passed the Robert Johnson record to Dylan (AKA Robert Allen Zimmerman)? My opinion is it was not. Dylan recognized the power in Johnson's music and lyrics, and he studied how to copy that passion and create innovative, world-changing music. Bob, have you experienced a foundational moment of inspiration that led you to create something? I have, at specific moments and in broader periods, sometimes over years. I learn how to utilize techniques and broad fields of wisdom, previously unfamiliar to me. I realized how I should live my life, and those moments transform me, even to this day. Bob, will you please describe one of your "moments" for your readers?

  2. Eric, I often think "there are no accidents." Then, on the other hand, I'm the first to say the universe is shot through with contingency. (Good joke: What's the skeptic's favorite Christmas movie? "Cooincidence on 34th Street.") I'm only sure of one thing, when it comes to metaphysics: My experience of this world simply does not provide me enough evidence to decide either way.


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