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Posted on Sun, Nov 7, 2010 : 6:47 a.m.

Calling Bob Dylan "the greatest songwriter" borders on cultural blasphemy

By Letters to the Editor

Probably the most culturally ignorant statement ever to come off of the pages of the “Entertainment” section of, and, for that matter, the Ann Arbor News, before it, (which is saying quite a bit), is the statement, by writer Kevin Ransom in the Sunday, Oct. 24, “Entertainment” section of, in which Ransom says that Bob Dylan is “the greatest songwriter and most important popular music artist, of the past 60 to 70 years.”

That makes Dylan greater than Richard Rodgers, Jerome Kern, Cole Porter, Irving Berlin, George Gershwin, Duke Ellington, John Lewis (the Modern Jazz Quartet), Dave Brubeck, and countless others. This hits a new low (or, rather, high) in cultural and historical ignorance. In fact, it borders on cultural blasphemy.

Dan R. Eller Head, First Pentecostal School of Music of Jesus Christ, Ypsilanti



Wed, Nov 10, 2010 : 10:51 a.m.

Yep, that Take Five is a great song; greater than all of Bob Dylan's songs put together...


Tue, Nov 9, 2010 : 9:14 p.m.

I believe you're referring to Dylan's 2008 honorary Pulitzer Prize (cited for his "profound impact on popular music and American culture, marked by lyrical compositions of extraordinary poetic power.") It was the first time Pulitzer judges, who have long favored classical music, and, more recently, jazz, awarded an art form once dismissed as barbaric, even subversive.


Tue, Nov 9, 2010 : 4:54 p.m.

Great music is wonderful and special, and there are many outstanding songwriters of the last several decades. Mr. Eller makes an arrogant charge about Kevin Ransom, and chooses his own preferred list of popular musicians. I wonder if Mr. Eller can even name more than four or five Bob Dylan songs. I wonder if he has bothered to read Bob Dylan's lyrics. Blasphemy? Really Mr. Eller. Your ignorance about Bob Dylan's body of work is glaring. Bob Dylan is "the greatest songwriter and most popular music artist of the past 60 or 70 years." The Nobel Prize commitee awarded Bob Dylan a special Nobel. Argue with them if you wish. Please don't be obnoxious. I don't know anyone who appreciates stupid.

Chip Reed

Tue, Nov 9, 2010 : 7:47 a.m.

@Basic Bob. Actually, all the people listed except Lewis and Brubeck (who are composers) were songwriters. Dylan is certainly a clever poet, but he's kinda light on melody and harmony, if you get my drift...


Tue, Nov 9, 2010 : 12:04 a.m.

every man and woman alive impales themselves upon the sword of their own choosing, based upon the premise that there is not any one of us who can really know anything.


Mon, Nov 8, 2010 : 8:38 p.m.

In fact, may I ask what is "culturally blasphemous" about Dylan's songwriting as compared to the other songwriters you mention? I mean if it's culturally blasphemous to call him the greatest, there must be something culturally blasphemous about his songs. Please enlighten us. Some say Dylan went to the Crossroads and made a deal there with the Devil. "That's when I went to the Crossroads (in 1963) and made a big deal," Dylan says in No Direction Home. "You know, like phoooo, you know. And then I went back to Minneapolis (and played), and it was 'Hey, where's this guy been? He went to the Crossroads." Dylan never lets on he's kidding, and moves on. Do you really think he...?


Mon, Nov 8, 2010 : 1:43 p.m.

Sir I know nothing about your position as Head, First Pentecostal School of Music of Jesus Christ--but when you've got the current Head of Vatican World saying he tried to block Dylan's appearance at a Vatican-sponsored event--"There was reason to be skeptical," he said, "over whether it was really right to allow this type of 'prophet' to appear"--one must wonder how carefully you chose the word 'blasphemy' to fall in line with the preposterous, insulting notion that dylan is representing himself as a prophet in competition with yours.


Mon, Nov 8, 2010 : 11:34 a.m.

Dylan stands apart from the aforementioned artists in one category. Personal myth. His works pursues the question of personal identity and cultural reality in such intricate and unexpected ways. The songs never seem dated or worn. Evidence his live shows and the unveiling of endless new interpretations. He does't write to please an audience. He is not just arranging brilliant decorative motifs to inhabit our sense of taste or please our insatiable appetite for more. Plenty of great artists do all of this. Master craftsmen and women no doubt. The testimony of the "greatest songwriter of our time" stands in my mind as it describes not just a master of his trade but a visionary in his time whose work transcends the world around us and lifts our lives and our imaginations into a land far richer and more meaningful than we could possible see ourselves. It is the highest call of art.


Mon, Nov 8, 2010 : 8:24 a.m.

I am a huge fan of all the guys he mentions but in terms of popular culture its hard to underestimate his influence. His whole approach to openly questioning the status quo was a huge shift from the norm - and to back it up with such clear statement in music was something I've never seen before. I love duke Ellington and appreciate that he is one of the greatest - if not the greatest composer in American history - but he didn't change the way people view themselves and their relationship with the world. Dylan did that. So I will Defend Mr. Dylan on that principle. And ask Mr Eller to keep his notion of Blasphemy where it belongs.

George Spanos

Mon, Nov 8, 2010 : 6:37 a.m.

If the writer had said "the most INFLUENTIAL SINGER-songwriter of the past 60-70 years" he would have had a case. None of the Broadway, Tin Pan Alley, or jazz songwriters would qualify, and the pop guys like Morrison and McCartney would probably agree. Now, as far as Hank Williams, Woody Guthrie, and Jimmie Rodgers go, Dylan would no doubt disagree since they influenced him..


Sun, Nov 7, 2010 : 8:41 p.m.

What criteria do you use to decide greatest? Number of songs written? Lyrics? Score? Combination? Number of billboard hits? Records sold? Number of different artist that record your songs? Paul Simon? Hank Williams? Paul McCartney? Kris Kristofferson? John Lennon? Carol King? Van Morrison?

tammi mustaki

Sun, Nov 7, 2010 : 6:44 p.m.

pretty sure that Dylan is the greatest of the last 60 or 70yrs. if he would have said 76 or 87yrs, there might be some room for contention, but i think this case is closed.

Tex Treeder

Sun, Nov 7, 2010 : 5:34 p.m.

I don't see this as cultural blasphemy, but a marker of a another cultural trait: hyperbole. It's the same trait that has audiences giving standing ovations for virtually any live performance. And by the way, Coke is better than Pepsi.


Sun, Nov 7, 2010 : 9:45 a.m.

"Aaron Copeland wrote an essay once about how some music is better than other music and to just ascribe all music as being equal and just a matter of opinion was intellectual dishonesty and laziness. I tend to agree with that." I don't ascribe to all music being equal. But I do ascribe to it is a matter of opinion. Its like saying the color red is better than the color blue. Or like saying Coke is better than Pepsi.

shadow wilson

Sun, Nov 7, 2010 : 9:10 a.m.

Someone once called Smoky Robinson the greatest American poet......that was Bob Dylan. Aaron Copeland wrote an essay once about how some music is better than other music and to just ascribe all music as being equal and just a matter of opinion was intellectual dishonesty and laziness. I tend to agree with that. Bob Dylan is certainly iconic and has written some great and lasting songs.But to say he is greater than the above mentioned is wrong; there is no nicer way to put it.

Basic Bob

Sun, Nov 7, 2010 : 8:55 a.m.

Apples and oranges. None of these guys were songwriters, and some were not even active (or alive) in the last 70 years. I'm not a big Dylan fan, but we sang his songs in our fifth grade festival. I will never forget seeing him in 1986 with the Grateful Dead and Tom Petty. He wasn't even top billed, but the Dead covered 3 or his songs in their set, which was typical, and he joined them for a few songs. Personally, my favorite songwriters are David Byrne, Joe Strummer, and Sting, but they are certainly not as iconic as Dylan.


Sun, Nov 7, 2010 : 8:25 a.m.

Jody I agree with you. Everyone has their own greatest whoever or whatever. And that's fine. We just need to understand that it is only an opinion.

Jody Durkacs

Sun, Nov 7, 2010 : 8:22 a.m.

Cultural blasphemy? Really? Wow. Get off your high horse. It was just an opinion. The author has a right to state his just like you do.


Sun, Nov 7, 2010 : 8:14 a.m.

For anyone to call anyone the greatest whatever is ignorant!