A Little Happier: Bob Dylan Isn’t a Singer the Way the Others Are Singers

As I mentioned last week, I recently watched a terrific 90-minute Netflix documentary called The Greatest Night in Pop. Here’s the description: “On a January night in 1985, music’s biggest stars gathered to record ‘We Are the World.’ This documentary goes behind the scenes of the historic event.”

The song “We Are the World” was a charity single recorded for USA for Africa in 1985. It sold more than 20 million copies.

To record the song, an unbelievable group of more than 45 top musicians came together for this one-night event.

Among these extraordinary musicians was Bob Dylan. Here’s a list of just some of the others:

  • Lionel Richie
  • Michael Jackson
  • Bruce Springsteen
  • Stevie Wonder
  • John Oates
  • Diana Ross
  • Huey Lewis
  • Cyndi Lauper
  • Sheila E.
  • Willie Nelson
  • Paul Simon
  • Tina Turner
  • Daryl Hall
  • Dionne Warwick
  • Bette Midler
  • Ray Charles
  • Al Jarreau
  • Billy Joel
  • Kenny Rogers
  • Smokey Robinson

At one point, the camera shows everyone singing the chorus together, then goes in for a close-up on Bob Dylan, who isn’t really joining in. From commentary from the present day, writer and record producer David Breskin reflects on this situation, and comments, in a matter-of-fact way, “Bob Dylan knows himself. He’s not a singer in the way that Stevie Wonder is. So Dylan was probably more uncomfortable than any other person that was here.” Bob Dylan certainly looks deeply uncomfortable. It’s comical!

But nevertheless, in the discussions of this group that has come together, everyone agrees that it’s a very big deal that Bob Dylan decided to join the effort. He’s an American singer-songwriter of legendary status, with an utterly distinctive style.

Here’s the lesson for me: Bob Dylan was not a singer the way that Stevie Wonder was a singer. He wasn’t a singer the way the others were singers. And yet he had his part to play. He absolutely belonged there.

It was yet another reminder of that important truth: There’s no one right way—to be a singer, to be a writer, to be a parent, to be happy.

And if someone says you can’t be a singer, you can decide, “I’ll be a singer, but maybe not in the way that others are singers.”

Side note: I’m not much of a music-lover generally, and I’m not a huge fan of Bob Dylan’s music, but I think his memoir Chronicles: Volume One (Amazon, Bookshop)  is one of the most brilliant and haunting books I’ve ever read.




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