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A folksong is a song that has the ability to adapt culture, human history, and art. Folksong usually employs the language used by the target audience when conveying its message. Furthermore, many people use folksongs to present their messages, feelings, views, opinions, and suggestions to a certain set of individuals. Significantly, the songs have the power to change someone into a very different person, either temporarily or permanently.
The change depends on the level of engagement of an individual and the determination demonstrated by the person. Additionally, folksongs especially those sung by Dylan present some resemblance with the main character used by Whitehead in his book “John Henry Days.”
The similarities are presented by the passion possessed by Dylan towards folksongs and Henry towards the contest. Thus, this essay examines the power of a folksong in transforming an individual and the relationship between Whitehead’s book “John Henry Days” and Dylan’s folksongs.
The Power of a Folksong in Transforming a Person
The phrase “I is somebody else” used by both Dylan and Sante was sourced from Rimbaud who was a poet. The phrase demonstrates the power of folksongs in changing someone into a different individual. The phrase sheds some light into the life and experiences of Dylan. Evidently, Dylan quickly transformed from an unknown young man into a famous folksong star in New York City.
Dylan states that, life quickly changed when he began acquiring the status of a star in folksongs, because he “was quickly promoted to a poet, oracle, conscience of his generation, and in a lateral move, pop star.”1 Therefore, the life of Dylan changed from the previous self into a famous and popular star of New York.
The changes forced him to adopt new lifestyles and become a different person from what he initially was before the transformation.
Dylan’s life became different from his past life, and hence, he was no longer the previous unknown young man. He was a popular star known by a number of people in and outside the city of New York and the United States. His mode of dressing, eating, and the friends changed because of the new status acquired. He states that he “did everything fast, thought fast, ate fast, talked fast, I even sang the songs fast.
I needed to slow my mind down, if I was going to be a composer with anything to say.”2 This implies that Dylan’s was no longer his former self but a different person, a folk star. The change was evident from the new character adopted after acquiring the new status.
The change of Dylan from his former self to a different personality forced him to look for ways to escape and return to the previous self. He highlights that, after going through overwhelming experiences from the acquired state, he had to devise a number of strategies to escape the new state.3
He tried singing songs using different styles such as western and country. Since Dylan had acquired a new status of fame, he had to behave in a manner different from his previous self. This was attributed to the fact that the new life attracted attention and scrutiny from the public. According to Sante, since Dylan sang for people all the time, his life changed, and he started living a life based on what he practiced.4
Therefore, this explains the fact that folksongs can change the life of an individual into a different person.5 Although sometimes the changes may be temporary as is the case with many stage performers, some changes are permanent or long lasting, as was in the case of Dylan.
The personality of Dylan transformed from ordinary person to a mysterious person. In an interview with Los Angeles times Dylan states that, his life became a mystery from the time he produced his first record.
“Dylan is a complex, mercurial human being of astounding gifts, whose purposes are usually ambiguous, frequently elusive, and sometimes downright and unguessable.”6
Interviewer uses words such as complex and mercurial being to denote Dylan’s new change. This implies that Dylan was no longer his former self, but a mysterious person and a folk star
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Relationship between Dylan’s Songs and Whitehead’s Book
When asked about his fame and songs, Dylan gives reasons why his songs lasted for many years. He states that his songs were designed technically and professionally; hence, creating a form of attraction for the audience, who always wanted to listen to the songs.
According to Dylan, he employed poetical and folksong skills coupled with his knowledge of folksongs in creating the songs, which explains the reason why the songs lasted and remained in the minds of the listeners. For a song to captivate and last for a long time, it should be touching, inspiring, and motivating.7 Thus, Dylan technically and innovatively incorporated these factors into his songs to enhance their quality and durability.
Whitehead in his book “John Henry Days” employs poetical and literary skills creatively in writing the book. This results in the production of a captivating and interesting book. Over the years, many people have bought and read the book because it is interesting and educational.
In the book, Whitehead presents a journalist known as Henry who built a railroad and won a competition between him and the rock drill powered by steam before he fell down and died.8
According to Whitehead, Henry does not only look physically fit for the contest, but also the journalist proves to be prepared and ready for the race. The contest takes place in West Virginia and though Henry dies after the contest, he displays outstanding courage and stance.
While Dylan used folksongs to convey information to the target audience, Whitehead used literary skills to relay information to his audience. The folksongs of Dylan transformed his life in a manner similar to the writings in Whitehead’s book “John Henry Days.”
Some form of accord exists between Dylan’s songs and the resilience demonstrated by Whitehead in the book and the actors he used. In both scenarios, some form of determination is expressed either by the main players or by the characters employed in the context. For instance, Dylan set his standards high and his determination was driven by the ambitions and good life.9
The determination enabled Dylan and Henry to give outstanding presentations in their respective fields. Additionally, Dylan and Henry display passion in all the activities that they performed. The passion gave them strength and energy to perform these activities perfectly. This is evident from Henry who struggled and managed to complete the contest although he dies afterwards.10
This demonstrates the importance of passion and determination. Subsequently, it also explains the reason why Dylan’s folksongs and Whitehead’s book are among ancient literature, which have lasted for a long time and remain relevant in modern society. According to Brown, a story should have artistic style that renders the reader captive in an innovative manner.11
Hence, Henry who is the main character used in Whitehead’s book and Dylan’s folksongs, chronicles, have some level of agreement, as they both demonstrate the importance of good artistic skills and passion of one’s work.
Folksongs are powerful and can lead to changes in the personality of an individual to a different self. Changes presented by folksongs are either temporal, which last for a short period, or long lasting. The essay used the example of Dylan who was transformed himself into a popular star of folksongs. In the essay, Dylan changed from a young unknown man to a popular star admired by a number of fans.
In this case, Dylan’s change was a long lasting one. In addition, the essay argued on the relationship between folksongs of Dylan and Henry, a character used in Whitehead’s book titled “John Henry Days.” According to the argument, there exists some level of agreement between the two elements as both demonstrate artistic skills of creativity and innovation that makes them leave good legacies and captivate individuals.
Brown, Cecil. Frankie and Albert. New York: Oxford University Press, 2007.
Cantwell, Robert. When We Were Good. London: Harvard University press, 2009.
Dylan, Bob. Chronicles. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2004.
Sante, Luc. “I Is Somebody Else.” In Kill all your Darlings: Pieces 1990-2005.
Edited by Luc Sante. Portland: Verse Chorus Press, 2007.
Perry, Steve. Songs that Fall from the Sky. New York: Oxford, 2006.
Whitehead, Colson. John Henry Days. New York: Knopf Doubleday, 2009.
1 Bob Dylan, Chronicles (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2004). 143.
2 Luc Sante, “I Is Somebody Else.” In Kill all your Darling, ed. Luc Sante (Portland: Verse Chorus Press, 2007). 24.
3 Bob Dylan, Chronicles (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2004). 144.
4 Luc Sante, “I Is Somebody Else.” In Kill all your Darling, ed. Luc Sante (Portland: Verse Chorus Press, 2007). 7.
5 Robert Clantwell, When We Were Good (London: Harvard University Press, 2006). 45.
6Luc Sante, “I Is Somebody Else.” In Kill all your Darling, ed. Luc Sante (Portland: Verse Chorus Press, 2007). 162.
7 Steve Perry, Songs that Fall from the Sky (New York: Oxford, 2006) 24.
8 Colson Whitehead, John Henry Days (New York: Knopf Doubleday, 2009). 389.
9 Bob Dylan, Chronicles (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2004). 142.
10 Colson Whitehead, John Henry Days (New York: Knopf Doubleday, 2009). 389.
11 Cecil Brown. Frankie and Albert (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007). 3.