Dylan: A Riddle Wrapped in a Musician

"The thing that is great about him is his continuous experimentation and his willingness to go into different genres," said Clifford. "Aside from his pure ability to tell a story, he has the ability to reinvent himself."

And, according to Clifford, Dylan gets respect because "he never gets caught up in his own image."

But not all critics are as kind to Dylan. Novelist Norman Mailer, who won the Pulitzer Prize for his anti-war novel "Armies of the Night," and just recently died, once said, "If Dylan's a poet, I'm a basketball player."

Jim Bessman, music writer for Billboard magazine, loved Dylan as a teen, but today finds his abstract lyrics "gibberish."

Still Relevant?

"Listening to Dylan reminds me that I am old," said Bessman, now 55, who wrote the essay that accompanied the induction of 1960s vocalist Dusty Springfield into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

"When I was a kid they struck a chord with me and touched me," he said of Dylan's unrhymed songs. "But as I grew older, they didn't have much meaning to me."

Still, Bessman acknowledged that Dylan has "inspired and galvanized" artists for decades. And, unlike many other musicians of the time, whose images were driven by their record companies, Dylan "had his own artistic vision and sense of who he was," he said.

"He is always going to be relevant to a new generation of music lovers because of his stature as an artist," said Bessman. "He is a hero figure in rock 'n' roll history."

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