Martin Creed: Why I love Bob Dylan

'One song, Highlands, sounds like he's making it up as he goes along. It's brilliant'

I'm sure I heard Bob Dylan when I was growing up: Blowin' in the Wind and things like that. But it really started in my first year at university, in 1986, when I was 17, with the first guy I met in freshers week, Jeff. He played Dylan all the time. We got a flat together and my bedroom was next to his. I thought I didn't like Bob Dylan, maybe because of his caustic voice. Perhaps I was scared of it, like a very sharp knife. But I heard songs again and again through the wall. Jeff would play albums I'd never heard of, like Street Legal and Empire Burlesque – at the time, I think that was Dylan's latest album.

Jeff also gave me tapes, including a bootleg of the Bootleg Tapes that I still play. I have a lot of cassettes from that time and a car that plays tapes, so I still listen to Jeff's bootleg when I'm driving. I love the Bootleg Series: those funny versions of songs often seem better than the official versions. They haven't been cleaned up.

I got into Bob Dylan, again, because of the 1997 album Time Out of Mind, which seemed like the start of a whole new thing. It's the most beautiful, peaceful music, but also the funniest, most thoughtful and stupid music I could possibly imagine. It feels like it's got everything in it, but without necessarily making sense. Things fly in from left, right and centre. There are different ideas, turns of phrase, beautiful pieces of music, catchy bits, but it's mysterious and I can't understand it. It doesn't add up. One song, Highlands, is 15 minutes long and sounds as though he's just making the story up as he goes along. It's brilliant. It reminds me of something I'm told the painter Gerhard Richter once said: "I want my work to be stupid, like nature."

Another favourite is the 1973 covers album Dylan. It's got Mr Bojangles, the Elvis song Can't Help Falling in Love, and a song called Spanish is the Loving Tongue which is amazing. When people do other people's songs, it feels like they're free – exactly because it's not their own work. They're free of themselves, of their own whatever it's called. Maybe that freedom is what makes certain cover versions so good.

I don't know what an artist is, but I'd say if anyone is one, Bob Dylan is. He is similar to Picasso, in having had many different phases, trying lots of different things and not stopping. Anyone who is satisfied and thinks they have it all worked out – I think that's bollocks. It's not nice.

What I find inspiring about him is that it feels like he really does try to live his life as himself, or as the person he finds himself living in. If he decides to make a funny album or an album of Christmas songs, that is what he does. His work doesn't add up. He follows his nose, long and winding as it is.

In brief

Born: Robert Allen Zimmerman, 24 May 1941, in Duluth, Minnesota.
Way in: The Bootleg Series Vols 1-3 (Rare and Unreleased), 1961-1991.
Key work: Time Out of Mind (1997).
In three words: Freewheelin'. Blowin'. Knockin'.

Martin Creed

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
All aboard the Bob Dylan express! How Rolling Thunder revved round America
When Dylan chanced upon a huge Roma gathering in France, he was transfixed – and formed his own travelling supergroup. As Martin Scorsese brings its ragtag magic to screens, we hitch a ride back to 75

Richard Williams

11, Jun, 2019 @2:26 PM

Article image
Martin Creed: 'I keep hair. And I'm afraid of cheese'
In an exclusive preview of his new show, Turner winner Martin Creed gives us a guided tour round old cars, smashed chairs and plastic bags from under his fridge

Adrian Searle

18, May, 2016 @1:00 PM

Article image
My favourite Dylan song – by Mick Jagger, Marianne Faithfull, Tom Jones, Judy Collins and more
Bob Dylan is 80 today. But what’s his greatest song? Stars pick their favourite – and recall their own encounters, from Marianne Faithfull turning him down to Judy Collins whacking a policeman to get backstage

Interviews by Dave Simpson

24, May, 2021 @5:00 AM

Article image
Paul Morley Showing Off ... Martin Creed

Paul Morley meets installation artist and musician, Martin Creed

Paul Morley

30, Jan, 2011 @12:03 AM

Article image
Portrait of the artist: Martin Creed, artist
'When I was up for the Turner, people talked about me in terms of the emperor's new clothes. I could see their point'

Interview by Laura Barnett

22, Feb, 2010 @10:30 PM

Article image
From Ai Weiwei to Anish Kapoor: the art world's love affair with pop

Top British artists are going Gangnam Style in support of Ai Weiwei. Alex Needham on what happens when artists dabble in pop music

Alex Needham

14, Nov, 2012 @6:23 PM

Article image
Prickly customers: Martin Creed and Richard Wright in Edinburgh

Cacti on parade, steps to nowhere, and a vast psychotropic dome . . . Jonathan Jones on the two Turner prize-winning artists who are lighting up this year's Edinburgh art festival

Jonathan Jones

04, Aug, 2010 @8:31 PM

Article image
Martin Creed: 'I don't know what art is'

Martin Creed wants everyone in the country to ring a bell for the Olympics – and he'll start with his own front door. The former Turner prize winner talks to Charlotte Higgins

Charlotte Higgins

30, May, 2012 @5:32 PM

Article image
Gavin Esler: Why I love prog rock
The writer and BBC journalist talks about his love for rock’s most varied – and derided – genre, and how it’s about much more than silly capes and 10-minute drum solos

Interview by Andrew Dickson

20, Aug, 2014 @7:00 AM

Article image
Kwes: why I love Paul Klee
‘I have synaesthesia, so I hear music as colour. And it’s as if Klee senses what colour feels like’

Interview by Andrew Dickson

11, Mar, 2015 @6:59 AM