In researching my book I have been reading the work of an economist named David Galenson, who is trying to understand the life cycles of artisitic creativity. In his book, called Old Masters and Young Geniuses: The Two Life Cycles of Artistic Creativity, he notes two artistic prototypes–Experimental innovators, who work by trial and error and arrive at their major contributions gradually, late in life. Cezanne represents this archetype. In contrast the Conceptual innovators make sudden breakthroughs by formulating new ideas, usually at an early age. Picasso represents this archetype.
As I was trying to apply this schema to music I put Bob Dylan in the Conceptual innovator camp and Louis Armstrong in the Experimental innovator group. And then in the midst of my sadness over the sudden death of a friend, I found myself listening over and over to a piece of Dylan’s late work called Workingman’s Blues #2. It showed me that an artist can burn bright and hot in his early years (for Bob almost too hot) and still have the great later work of a Cezanne. Here’s the last verse of the song.
Now I’m down on my luck and I’m black and blue
Gonna give you another chance
I’m all alone and I’m expecting you
To lead me off in a cheerful dance
Got a brand new suit and a brand new wife
I can live on rice and beans
Some people never worked a day in their life
Don’t know what work even means
Meet me at the bottom, don’t lag behind
Bring me my boots and shoes
You can hang back or fight your best on the front line
Sing a little bit of these workingman’s blues