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Alessandro Carrera is Moores Professor of Italian Studies and World Cultures and Literatures at the University of Houston, Texas. He has published extensively in the fields of Continental Philosophy, Italian and Comparative Literature, Art, Cinema, and Music (classical and popular). He is the author of La voce di Bob Dylan (Milan: Feltrinelli, 2001, 2011, 2021) and three other short books on Dylan. He has translated the songs and prose of Bob Dylan into Italian, all published by Feltrinelli: Chronicles Vol. 1 (2005), Tarantula (2007), Lyrics in various annotated editions, the most recent in three volumes: Lyrics 1961-1968, Lyrics 1969-1982, Lyrics 1983-2020 (published in 2021). 

Sarah Gates is the Craig Professor of English at St. Lawrence University, where she teaches British literature of all periods, poetry, and songwriting.  She has published on Shakespeare, Charles Dickens, George Eliot, Tennyson, Joni Mitchell, and most recently, Louise Erdrich.  She is also a musician with the local indie-rock band Bee Children.

Michael Gray is an independent scholar who pioneered the serious study of Dylan’s work with Song & Dance Man: The Art of Bob Dylan, 1972. His books include the massively updated Song & Dance Man III(1999), The Bob Dylan Encyclopedia(2006), Hand Me My Travelin’ Shoes: In Search Of Blind Willie McTell (2007), and Outtakes On Bob Dylan: Selected Writings 1967-2021. He has delivered guest lectures in Europe and North America, including at Stanford, California and Bath Literature Festival. His website is www.michaelgray.net

Timothy Hampton is professor of Comparative Literature and French at the University of California, Berkeley, where he also directs the Doreen B. Townsend Center for the Humanities. He has written widely on literature and culture, across several languages and centuries.  He is the author of Bob Dylan: How the Songs Work (Zone Books, 2019). A recent article is “Bob Dylan in the Country: Rock Domesticity and Pastoral Song” (Representations, 152, fall 2020). A new study, Cheerfulness: A Literary and Cultural History will be published in 2022 by Zone Books.  He writes about literature, music, and education at www.timothyhampton.org.

John Hughes‘s writings on Dylan include Invisible Now: Bob Dylan in the 1960s (Taylor & Francis, 2013). He is Professor of Nineteenth-Century Literature at the University of Gloucestershire and has published widely on nineteenth and twentieth-century literature and philosophy, particularly Thomas Hardy and William Wordsworth. 

Jeffrey S. Lamp is Professor of New Testament and Instructor of Environmental Science at Oral Roberts University, Tulsa, Oklahoma. His primary research and publishing interests are in the field of ecotheology. He has authored five books and co-edited one. He was a translator and editor for the Modern English Version of the Bible (Passio/Charisma House). He is a frequent presenter at academic conferences, has published articles in several journals, dictionaries, and volumes of collected essays, and is the editor of Spiritus: ORU Journal of Theology.

Michele Ulisse Lipparini, born in Milano where he’s based, is an independent scholar who started listening to Bob Dylan in 1988 at age 16. Digging into Dylan’s songs pushed him into learning English, which led him to work as a translator and eventually to collaborate for a few years with Delfina Vezzoli, Italian translator of Don DeLillo’s masterpiece Underworld. In addition to completing Vezzoli’s translation of John Edgar Wideman’s Brothers and Keepers, Lipparini has translated graphic novels and published articles about Bob Dylan in magazines such as Isis, Buscadero and on various websites, and contributed consistently to Olof Bjorner’s website, www.bjorner.com. He also held a conference about the Nobel Laureate as part of the Sant’Arcangelo di Romagna Poetry Festival in 2015. He has attended 170 Bob Dylan concerts all over the world.

Anne Marie Mai is professor of literature and a chair of DIAS at The University of Southern Denmark. She has published more than 200 articles, book chapters and monographs. She nominated Bob Dylan for the Nobel Prize, which he won in 2016. She has published Bob Dylan. The Poet (University Press of Southern Denmark, 2018, German translation will be published 2021), she edited the anthology New Approaches to Bob Dylan (University Press of Southern Denmark, 2019) and contributed to The World of Bob Dylan (ed. Sean Latham, Cambridge University Press, 2021).

Andrew Muir current commitments include teaching language and literature at The Leys School, Cambridge, UK and delivering Shakespeare and Dylan talks at a variety of conferences. Dylan publications: Razor’s Edge (2001), One More Night (21013), Troubadour (2003). An examination of historical and contemporary outdoor Shakespeare performances: Shakespeare in Cambridge followed, in 2015. This led to a comparative study, Bob Dylan and William Shakespeare: The True Performing of It, (2nd edition 2021).

Jacqueline Osherow is the author of eight collections of poetry, most recently My Lookalike at the Krishna Temple (LSU Press, 2019). She’s received grants from the Guggenheim Foundation, the NEA, the Ingram Merrill Foundation and the Witter Bynner Prize. Her poems have appeared in many magazines, journals and anthologies, including The New Yorker, The Paris Review, American Poetry Review, the Wadsworth Anthology of Poetry, Best American Poetry, The Norton Anthology of Jewish American Literature, The Penguin Book of the Sonnet, Twentieth Century American Poetry, and The Making of a Poem. She’s Distinguished Professor of English at the University of Utah. 

Allesandro Portelli has taught American Literature in the universities of Rome “La Sapienza” and Siena. He has served as advisor on democratic historical memory to the Mayor of Rome and founded the Circolo Gianni Bosio for the critical study and historical presence of people’s culture, folk music, and oral history. He is the author of many books on literature, popular culture, working-class history, including The Order Has Been Carried OutThey Say in Harlan Dean County; The Death of Luigi Trastulli. Form and Meaning in Oral History.

Christopher Rollason: M.A. in English, Trinity College, Cambridge. Doctorate in English, University of York. Author of numerous published articles, lectures and conference papers on Bob Dylan. Attended international Dylan conferences held in Caen (France), 2005 and Tulsa (Oklahoma), 2019.

Jim Salvucci, since receiving his Ph.D. from the University of Toronto, has served as an English professor, dean, and vice president at several institutions of higher education. For many years he taught an advanced course in Bob Dylan studies, and he continues to blog, present, and publish on Bob Dylan. Currently he lives in Newburgh, NY, and serves as a management consultant to nonprofits and other mission-driven organizations. He can be found online at jimsalvucci.com.

John H. Serembus, PhD., is an Associate Professor of Philosophy at Widener University. In his forty-plus years in the classroom, he has taught a wide variety of courses, but mainly those in Logic (both formal and informal), Critical Thinking, Ethics, and Values.

David Thurmaier is Associate Professor of Music Theory and Chair of the Music Studies Division at the University of Missouri – Kansas City Conservatory. His research focuses on the music of Charles Ives, as well as the Beatles. He has published book chapters on George Harrison’s connections to popular music, John Lennon’s political music, and has a forthcoming chapter on Paul McCartney’s use of pastiche. In 2019, he presented a paper examining the musical relationship between Harrison and Bob Dylan at the “World of Bob Dylan” conference in Tulsa. He also co-hosts two podcasts: “I’ve Got a Beatles Podcast,” and “Hearing the Pulitzers.”

FORUM CONTRIBUTION BY Timothy Hampton, University of California, Berkeley

Bob Dylan’s epochal recording, Blonde on Blonde (1966) hits its stride on its third track, the majestic “Visions of Johanna.” Here the great themes of the album — memory, debt, betrayal, fidelity — come into focus, against the backdrop of a smoky room, after hours:

Lights flicker from the opposite loft

In this room, the heat pipes just cough

The country music station plays soft

But there’s nothing, really nothing, to turn off.

The rhymes of the four lines beautifully reflect the sense of stasis that penetrates the song. The vowels of the four rhyme words link up through assonance. But within this sameness there is difference. The first and third rhyme exactly, as do the second and fourth.  There’s stasis, but also change, in the rhymes, as there is in the story of the song.  

What strikes one most powerfully, however, is the final line. There’s nothing to turn off. We get it. But why is there “nothing, really nothing” to turn off? Why the insistence? Why the herky-jerky clause? It is true that the line mirrors the metrics of what precedes — two short syllables followed by a long syllable, ta-ta-taaa. But it gives us too much information. Dylan could just as easily have sung, “But there’s nothing to turn off.”  The melody would have worked fine. What kind of sentence is this, anyway? Would you ever say “there’s nothing, really nothing, to turn off” in a normal conversation? In what context? It’s a line that calls attention to its own artificiality, to the fact that it is colloquial diction, used in a completely uncommon way.

This little verbal blip teaches us a number of things that we can recall, now, at Bob Dylan’s 80th birthday, as we listen as fully as we can to the whole range of his music. In the moment of Blonde on Blonde it announces the curious, conversational mode of that album. After the somewhat grand public pronouncements of 1965’s Highway 61 Revisited, we are now moving to a quieter, more private lyric mode, in which the lyricist seems to be talking to intimates, or in some cases, as here, to himself. It’s a new step forward in Dylan’s marvelous mastery of English poetic diction.

But it also delivers a message about what makes up art, and about the relationship between poetry and social experience. Though Dylan plays with “Visions of Johanna” on various outtakes (released, now, on The Cutting Edge), “nothing, really nothing” appears to have been part of the lyric throughout the different versions. Either way, by its emphasis, it calls our attention to what we might “turn off” if we were, for example, in the business of turning things off. We could turn off the flickering lights. We could turn off the heat to keep the old radiator from rattling. Or we could turn off the country station. But the point is that to turn off any of these things would be to shut down the moment, to impoverish the density of this scene, this instant, this memory. There is really nothing to turn off.

We are being educated here, taught about poetry and the senses. There is no “I” in the scene, so far. Only a vague “we,” an undefined “you” (“tempting you to defy it”), and a mention of a mysterious woman called Louise. The real story only begins a few lines later, when the singer announces that he’s overcome by visions of Johanna. Dylan is here working as a stage manager, a manipulator of décor. As the poet Rimbaud reminds us, poetry is built out of a mixing of all senses, a confusion of our learned categories for making sense of the world. Here, Dylan is applying this disorientation to set a scene in which there is no hierarchy of the senses. Everything, from the most irritating radiator noise to the most beautiful country ballad, is essential to the moment. The extra language, “really nothing,” is, thus, not really nothing at all. It is, in fact, the most important detail in the scene, since it reminds us that everything is music, that sensory experience makes up the material of art.

This is one of the lessons that Dylan has taught us — to open our ears, not only to the grand multi-part harmonies of the Staple Singers, or the zinging guitar solos of the Butterfield Blues Band, but to the music of everyday life. And of everyday speech. Not only do the songs blend high culture and street speech, Blake and Bebop, but the performances are marked by moments where we learn to listen to things we never thought were music. We hear it in the mumbled lyric of “Stuck Inside of Mobile,” “When, uh, he built a fire on Main Street,” where the “uh” is as important as anything else in the line. Or in the interjection in the chorus of “Like a Rolling Stone,” (“to nnnnnahh, be on your own”). Or in the rickety vocal duets on Desire, where Emmylou Harris struggles to harmonize with Dylan’s eccentric delivery. All of these bits of sound — these grunts, groans, hesitations, rattles, misplayed notes, urgings — are as integral to Dylan’s work as the harmonica solos. They are the stuff of everyday speech, but also, when integrated into the form of the song, the stuff of great art. Like the subway tickets stuck into the paintings of Picasso, or the bits of advertising talk in the sonnets of Ted Berrigan, they are Dylan’s way of teaching us that beauty is all around us. The poetry of the everyday is part of the compositional world of his songs. They are not the only place it can be found. But without them, we might not pay attention to it. Listen! There is really nothing to turn off. With Dylan, we can hear music everywhere, in the heat pipes, in the country music station — but, also, in the sky above, in the tall grass, and the ones we love.