Seth Kahan
Author, consultant

Seth Kahan

Change expert and author who has advised executives in 50-plus organizations, including Shell, World Bank, Peace Corps and NASA. He can be reached at


The real deal

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?

If your primary aim is to establish a legacy, then, sure, leave while at the top of your game. But that is a more selfish motive than a true artist pursues. The expression and application of creative skill and imagination is the ongoing destination of every creator worth his or her salt. That is what Dylan continues to do.

In a society that values only the young and upcoming, he is a consternation. Yet he persists, and in public. Dylan is showing us what it means to grow old, and his constant reworking of classics to our dismay is irrelevant. Instead he continues to stir the pot, to see what new forms emerge. He has always tossed the need for perfection aside and instead gone after the life force as it emerges inside his being. What else can an artist do? And who are we to cast judgment?

As long as he can wrangle a stage, he is entitled. And all the pundits who spin their thread on his dime have a choice. They can spit and castigate or they can take note of an aged poet and his mysterious process. Of course Dylan will not conform to their demands. He set his course as an independent force long ago, and he stays on track. If disruption is the result, it takes place in a wider context than he can control. So he sticks to his guns and plays with his music and lyrics while the critics do their dance. Everyone has to serve somebody.

This is a priceless time for Dylan fans. Other greats like Michael Jackson, Jimi Hendrix, Frank Zappa, all left our world before they had a chance to hit maturity in their chosen form. Here we have a unique human being, scarred and disfigured by life's trials -- as we all are when lucky enough to reach our 70s with grit and love still intact.

By Seth Kahan  |  December 20, 2010; 12:00 AM ET  | Category:  Success and age Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
Previous: His real fans understand | Next: Age is what you make it


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thanks for your on target post. I read it the other day and enjoyed it. I thought I had commented but apparently I did not.

I read Virginia somebody hyphenated or other.
(no disrespect intended- really can't remember) and she really needs a Dylan primer. Perhaps you can enlighten her.

I find it interesting that so many people comment on the clueless column but only one comment here.

I guess we all want to defend those we respect, admire, love- and some of us have spent decades doing so!

Anyway, thanks again.

Posted by: ohmercy | December 24, 2010 1:01 PM
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Thank you for such an on-target. I am convinced that Dylan's artistic philosophy can best be summed up in a line from "It's Alright Ma (I'm only bleeding)," which he wrote in 1964, at the age of 23:
"He not busy being born is busy dying."

Dylan's rebirth has been constant; one has never known what Dylan, and what version of classic Dylan songs one was going to hear on any given evening. This has been enormously frustrating to those going to concerts expecting to hear recreations of beloved recordings, but it has been constantly challenging and inspiring to those wanting to see where Dylan was going to land at a particular moment in time.

Dylan seems to have, quite appropriately, been reborn most recently as an aging bluesman, reinventing classics of his own and all the greats of the blues pantheon. Perhaps he was croaking, and had laryngitis, the night the Wall Street Journal heard him. But Dylan is enough of a showman to know that the "show must go on," and also savvy enough to know that those hearing him in a casino are most likely really there to gamble anyway. Besides, what old bluesman doesn't sound croaky on occasion?

Posted by: bdcolen | December 20, 2010 3:50 PM
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