Hile Rutledge
Trainer, author

Hile Rutledge

CEO and owner of OKA (Otto Kroeger Associates), a training and consulting firm specializing in leadership and team development.


Not Dark Yet

Q: Sure, Bob Dylan is "the age's iconic singer-songwriter and rock's poet laureate.'' All the same, the Wall Street Journal suggests, he should hang up his hat. The Journal caught Dylan, 69, at a bare ballroom in an Atlantic City casino, his voice a "laryngitic croak'' as people walked out to play the slots. Are there age limits on success? Do you go out at the top of your talents, or do you soldier on, doing what you love?

So the Wall Street Journal has decided that Bob Dylan, at 69, should wrap it up and exit the stage, provoking us to wonder whether there is an age limit on success. So a critic wrote an unflattering review about Dylan's voice and show -- I can't count how many times that has happened over the last 50 years.

Remember that people were disapproving and walking out on a fresh-faced Dylan in the 1960 when this 20-something singer/songwriter/poet defied all convention by composing his own songs, delivering them in totally new-sounding everyman voice and plugging in his electric guitar to the sometimes wild boos and consternation of crowds -- who kept paying to see show after show.

If this were a matter of a 69-year-old Bob Dylan who kept making the rounds and cashing in by croaking out his 1960s hits, this call for Dylan's retirement would be understandable. But Dylan is not this and as such, he gives us not only an unequalled body of work in which to revel, but a model to emulate as we grow older in our careers.

For nearly 50 years Bob Dylan has been making music. Before the Stones and the Beatles, 10 years before Springsteen and 20 years before U2 and REM, there was Bob Dylan, not just making music but changing the way we all thought about music and its relationship to our lives.

The 1960s Dylan became a meteoric success, an icon. Dylan then quickly withdrew, regrouped and proceeded to produce some of the most thoughtful and relevant music through the 1970s, both in the studio and on the road. Around 1980, Dylan produced a series of gospel records that confounded secular fans and critics alike. But looking back, the music was tight and attractive, and the records stand up quite well. The 1980s and early 1990s saw Dylan produce many excellent pieces of work, though his output was sporadic and many critics and fans assumed the bud was off the rose.

Dylan, however, at age 57, came out with arguably the most remarkable statement of the relinquishment and diminishment demanded by age in the album Time Out of Mind and the stand-out song on that album: "Not Dark Yet." This album, a masterpiece that stands shoulder-to-shoulder with any he has ever done, went on to win multiple Grammies, including Album of the Year.

A couple years later, Dylan wrote a "Things Have Changed," which won the Academy Award for Best Original Song. It was at this time -- at the age of 60 -- that Dylan started producing his own albums. His last two self-produced albums are wonderful; both hit number 1 on the sales charts and won multiple awards.

Dylan is about to turn 70 years old, and he continues to push himself artistically and professionally -- to find both new ideas and musical expressions. Because this work is so good, he is finding new audiences, while keeping most of those who have always loved his music. I did not tune in to Dylan seriously until my 30s -- Dylan was already in his 60s.

I feel grateful to Bob Dylan for two reasons aside from the 50 years and counting of wonderful music. Dylan is a model to me of how to keep busy, keep sharp and keep relevant -- even 50 years into a career.

We used to live in a work world that expected a couple decades of production and then a move out to pasture. The thought that I could stay fresh and vital -- that my ability to be competent and compelling does not have a forced expiration date on it -- is a vastly comforting thought.

More importantly, however, I get with Dylan what none of us have gotten before -- the chance to see what happens when a visionary rock artist braves life into old age. We lost the chance to follow Elvis, Hendrix and Holly into that room, but Dylan is taking us there. And with his artist's eyes, poet's pen and welcoming guitar, I look forward to know what awaits me.

By Hile Rutledge  |  December 20, 2010; 12:00 AM ET  | Category:  Success and age Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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I have some real singing talent. Dylan's genius and talent is probably about one million times mine.

I'm guessing that it's a tough call, when you're one of the most outstanding musical and cultural geniuses of all time, when to stop.

I would've stopped by now, if I were Mr. Dylan --- but not for one second would I be so stupid to presume to know what goes on in the mind of an iconic, legendary superstar, one of the greatest of all time.

Posted by: StevenK3 | December 20, 2010 11:26 PM
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Thanks for your thoughtful article. It is one of the most reasonable pieces I have read about Dylan lately.
The last paragraph is particularly good. I could not feel more fortunate to have been along for the whole ride. Just hope it is far from over.
BTW, I for one do not think Lennon (or anyone else) can hold a candle to Dylan.

Posted by: giratacutus | December 20, 2010 9:00 PM
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I am a huge fan of Bob Dylan. It is amazing to me that he is still performing; however, I find his music relevant. I feel his songs are giving voice to contemporary issues. His music gives all listeners a fresh perspective. Bob Dylan is a very good artist, and he is my folk hero.

If you read THE ARTISTS WAY by Julia Cameron, you will find more inspiration. We all have the potential to express and create. There are no limits on creativity!

Posted by: rmorris391 | December 20, 2010 7:53 PM
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I cannot speak for the man, but his constant touring tend to indicate his own variation on Descartes - I play, therefore I am.
Play on, Bob.

Posted by: quicksilverer | December 20, 2010 4:34 PM
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He's one of the fathers of modern American poetry.

Seeing Dylan, as long as he remains sane, is analogous to seeing Allah or Jesus.

For some of us, anyway.

I dunno -- may the WSJ guy should listen to the Sirius Theme Time Radio Hour shows...

But something tells me he still won't get it -- : }

Posted by: thegreatpotatospamof2003 | December 20, 2010 3:05 PM
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I agree in concept with Rutledge. I want Bob to continue to write until he actually croaks, not just his voice. However, I sure do understand the WSJ reaction having seen him recently. Henceforth, I'll buy a CD but never again a concert ticket. No one has said anything about his XM show, where he obviously is having a great time, and usually entertaining. One last comment on stars getting older. I am in my fifties so I saw a lot of the remaining survivors in my teens when they were younger, too. But they weren't necessarily in their prime or perhaps, better, they have enjoyed numerous spurts in their careers, like Bob. B.B. King was already a legend when I saw him in 1972 or 1973 and it was a memorable show (circa 'Live at Cook County Jail' for you fans. But I saw him at the Strathmore here in Montgomery County last year and he was awesome. For my money, his best records have been made since he was 65 (he's 83 or 84 now). I hope both B.B. and Bob die with their instrument in their hands, getting in one last lick. They should get together and make a record, call ist 'Still Kickin.'

Posted by: johnbradfield | December 20, 2010 1:13 PM
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Ummm...with all due respect FJOSHUA - your comment that John Lennon (!) doesn't hold a candle to Dylan is super amusing. Dylan is a genius - no doubt - but he is absolutely no John Lennon. Not even a close call. Sorry.

Posted by: keberg2003 | December 20, 2010 10:25 AM
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Dylan retire? What would he do all day? He's a performer. Sure, he's an old croaker now, but just pop in the Unplugged dvd (1995)and be reminded of his true stature.

Posted by: sabbaghjoe1 | December 20, 2010 10:02 AM
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Artists choose to share their work. Interested patrons choose to attend performances.

Dylan's live art is a national treasure, in my opinion. I have seen him over 30 times since February, 1974. Yes, some nights are better than others; however, I have never been disappointed.

He grows with his songs and features his current work along with selected pieces from his repertoire covering 48 years. He does not roll out the hits; he has never offered a tired, rote "show" of concert. Dylan live always offers concert patrons an experience to hear interpretations of a body of work unparalleled in the history of popular music.

Dylan retire? When he chooses (if he chooses) it will be his choice. I, for one, say, "Long may he play."

Posted by: JimPilewski | December 19, 2010 7:05 PM
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This is a great article. Whether you like Dylan's music or not (yesterday or today), you have to respect that the man has kept working assiduously. In addition to his recorded music and concerts, he put out 100 episodes of Theme Time Radio Hour, all of them gems; he wrote (volume 1) of his autobiography, Chronicles, which reviewers rated among the best books of that year (2003?); and he has a set of paintings on display in galleries abroad.

Posted by: farpq | December 19, 2010 6:53 PM
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My answer is simple. I first saw Dylan in 1990/1991 at Wolf Trap. It still stands now as the worst concert I've attended. I tried again in 1994 and then saw him almost every time he hit the DC area until 2003 or so. Every show was great (and croaky). In the last five years I've listened to a fair number of "field recordings" and have not liked them so much (not the fidelity -- I'm used to that).

I've passively decided that *I* have retired Bob Dylan live shows from my repertoire. This could change (things do, right?) but I don't foresee it. But just because I've retired him doesn't mean he should. If that's where he feels alive and productive, if that's what he enjoys and what pays for his future generations' 529 accounts (take THAT, WSJ!) then he should keep on keeping on.

He's resurged before and may again; I'm waiting and ready for one more ticket should that happen.

Posted by: IronWaffle | December 19, 2010 7:59 AM
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thank You foe your article.
I agree. I have been listening to Dylan for most of his career. I've always been a big fan and in the last decade (or two) I find my appreciation deepening.
I have been ruminating on what is the stage that is past fandom.

Certainly when one starts gleaning life lessons from the example of the man rather than getting some insights from his lyrics, however profound, a corner has been turned. Fan doesn't seem to cut it. A Dylanologist I am not andhave a vague dislike for the term.

Certainly he's not a guru, though he certainly has always had a prophetic voice whether he acknowledges it or not is irrelevant. I would guess most "prophets" never saw themselves that way- they were just speaking, singing, writing the truth as they saw it and as it came to pass they were hailed as prophets.

but I digress, which is not unusual.
I too have recently become aware of Bob Dylan as an example of someone who keeps going on, is productive, evolving, contributing and has incredible conviction in his art. His work ethic is astounding.He has made a habit(?) of doing what it takes, despite setbacks, harsh critics and even outright hostility at times.
I could, should, and need to somehow take this into my own being and life somehow- though I am at a loss. How does one change after 62 years of other kinds of habits?

I'd just like to add to your list of later Dylan output his remarkable album 'OH MERCY" which I find mysterious and moving and right up there with time Out of Mind and the others.

Also historian Sean Wilentz has an interesting take on the two acoustic album and the so called trilogy. Though some critics gave the albums short shrift Wilentz notes how it brought Dylan back to his earliest toots and he began again from there.Personally I love those albums- when will I ever get to hear/see Dylan play solo acoustic music live again? Not likely, but with him, who knows? These albums at least record him as an older artist reaching back into his original inspirations, being nourished and then continuing to bring a new sensibility and artistic depths from within.

I began writing about this whole phenomenon that is Dylan on my blog "The Language That He Used"

Your article has given me the impetus and inspiration into writing more.

I thank You.

Posted by: ohmercy | December 18, 2010 1:56 PM
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With all due respect, ETTEBJ1, Morrison, Janis and, yes, Lennon, don't hold a candle to Dylan: Then or now.

Posted by: fjoshua | December 18, 2010 10:15 AM
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Let's not forget Lennon, Janis, Morrison. Thanks for this article, especially the last paragraph. I've followed Bob from the mid seventies to present day and feel so lucky to share this time with him. I was hoping that by this stage in his career he would be playing in lounges to just a couple hundred people who still got it. A selfish fantasy on my part.

Posted by: ettebj1 | December 18, 2010 8:49 AM
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