He was born in a Jewish family in the Middle-West.
He is said to be brash and never bothers being mean with lesser mortals.
Part of his work is said to be a synthesis of some others’ contributions, rather than a fully original creation.
He doesn’t really like historical accounts of his life and prefers reinventing his own history.
But in spite of all these controversies, it is rather difficult to deny him genius, acute intelligence and an amazing sense of humor and self-derision. All in all, he is considered as one of the greatest minds of the past century.
For all these reasons, we can think there are some similarities between Bob Dylan and Paul Samuelson.
But here is an excerpt of Dylan’s Chronicles that I find particularly striking. At the end of the 1980s, while he is in New Orleans, in the process of recording one of his masterful albums, Oh Mercy, with Canadian producer Daniel Lanois, Bob (re)discovers a way of playing guitar that, he thinks, might change his life (it’s pages 158-161 of the paperback edition, emphasis added):
The system works in a cyclical way. Because you’re thinking in odd numbers instead of even numbers, you’re playing with a different value system … I had too long been freeze in the secular temple of a museum anyway. It’s not a complicated thing. There are thousands if not millions of these patterns so you never run out of ideas. You’re always at some unexploited fixed point. It’s not a heavy theorized thing, it’s geometrical. I’m not that good at math but I do know that the universe is formed with mathematical principles whether I understand them or not, and I was going to let that guide me. My playing was going to be an impellent in equanimity to my voice and I would use different algorithms that the ear is not accustomed to. It should be, but it’s not.
Okay. That might sound a little bit confused and obfuscating … but I think I definitely love it ! And I think it captures the mathematical zeitgeist of the second half of the twentieth century quite well. I hope a music writer will write a piece like “Dylan as a positivist” in the near future.