Bob Dylan On ADHD

To regular readers of “From Insults To Respect,” and to first time visitors, I’m delighted you’ve dropped by.

Bob Dylan2From time to time, I like to enrich some ideas that I introduced in earlier posts with some relevant thoughts that Bob Dylan has shared on his Theme Time Radio Hour show. His entertaining mixture of insightful observations with songs, humor, and poetry leaves us with a deeper sense of the topic at hand.

In several earlier posts (see HERE, HERE, HERE, and HERE), I have discussed ADHD. I’ve mentioned in those posts that, on the one hand, there are many people who love this ADHD idea, and feel they have been helped by being classified as having this challenging condition. On the other hand, there are many who feel that this notion of ADHD pathologizes, in a very disrespectful manner, their style of functioning. Moreover, the treatment that they were subjected is something that they have come to detest.

child taking pillAre the drugs used to treat ADHD as safe and effective as the pharmaceutical industry claim? Are many of the students now classified as having ADHD really more aptly construed as having an “attention priority  difference?” Are many of those who are classified really just the youngest students in their class? Are there safer ways than drugs to deal with the challenges that are associated with the behavior patterns that lead to an ADHD classification? These are some of the questions that I addressed in my earlier posts. Let’s see what Bob has to say about this.

Bob’s Take On This Subject

Bob brings up ADHD on his show that focusses on the theme of “dreams.” He segues into the topic by playing us the old Lovin’ Spoonful song, “Daydream,” which begins,

Daydream350What a day for a daydream
What a day for a daydreamin’ boy
And I’m lost in a daydream
Dreamin’ ‘bout my bundle of joy.

Of course, most of us daydream from time to time, some of us quite a bit more than average. From this observation, Bob drifts into some thoughts on the matter:

bob dylan black and white“Back when I was going to school you would see kids daydreaming and sometimes not paying attention, running around or acting impulsively. I always thought that was being a kid. Nowadays, everybody’s got Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity disorder–ADHD. They say it’s hyperactivity, impulsivity, and all sorts of other things. I’m sure there are kids with real problems. But quite often people just didn’t want to pay attention. I see parents not wanting to spend time with their kids, and for them, not paying attention or being bored or acting impulsively is the kid’s problem. I don’t think so. Spend time with your kids. You might find that they don’t have ADHD, they have other needs, a need to see their parents. I’ll tell ya something, I didn’t pay a lot of attention, and I was known to daydream in class and things turned out pretty good for me. I’ll be the first to agree with you that sometime medication is necessary. But maybe we are too often in a hurry to treat things chemically and not look at what the real problem is. Sometimes there is not even a problem there, at least one that couldn’t be solved with a little bit of patience, attention, care, and love.

Could Bob Dylan Have Been Classifiable as Having ADHD?

When Bob was a student, there was no such label as ADHD. If there was, would he have been given that label?

Bob’s own statement on ADHD reveals that he didn’t pay a lot of attention in school and he also daydreamed in class. Add this to some descriptions of Bob, as a young adult of twenty-two years of age, by Daniel Kramer that appears in his book titled Bob Dylan.

bob-dylan-kramerMrKramer is a professional photographer, who got a sweet deal when he was hired to follow Bob around for a little over a year to take pictures of him at home, going around different places, and before and during performances. Here’s a little of what he observed.

“Dylan…impressed me as being a strong, quick, active person. He was always on the move; even when sitting he was not still–there would usually be movement: one foot beating time in the air, or jiggling nervously. This is characteristic of Dylan, especially when he is forced to sit for any length of time. If standing, he would often bend and straighten one leg to a steady pulsation, as if he needed an outlet for his energy. His restlessness keeps him on the move.” (p. 13)

Mr. Kramer’s other descriptions of Bob are, “preoccupied,” and,

Bob Dylan x“he would grab at moments that were available, often writing in a small black looseleaf notebook, in which he probably wrote new material or kept ideas. He would interrupt something in order to glimpse a TV screen to see another performer. I’ve seen him use ten minutes working out melodies on a backstage piano while someone was out locating the key to his dressing room.” (p. 36)

These descriptions of Bob reminds me of something psychologist and philosopher William James wrote about the type of person who today gets the ADHD label.

William James“No matter how scatter-brained the type of a man’s successive fields of consciousness may be, if he really cares for a subject, he will return to it incessantly from his incessant wanderings, and first and last do more with it, and get more results from it, than another person whose attention may be more continuous during a given interval, but whose passion for the subject is of a more languid and less permanent sort.

“Some of the most efficient workers I know are of  the ultra-scatterbrained type…. I seriously think that no one of us need be too much distressed at his own shortcomings in this regard. Our minds may enjoy but little comfort, may be restless and feel confused; but it may be extremely efficient all the same.” (quote from William James’s Talks To Teachers, p. 114)

Certainly Bob’s passion for his art has led him to produce far more of value within that field than many who are excellent at maintaining their attention on a subject during a given interval.

Comparing Bob’s View of ADHD and My Own

ClassroomIn typical American classrooms, a subject is brought up by teachers at a given time and for a specific period of time. Those in the class who have the ability to switch their attention to what the teacher brings up at a given time and then stay focussed throughout the scheduled time, are often more highly valued by teachers then those students who are less skilled at this. Teachers often refer to the Special Education Department those children who are not following along in lockstep with their schedule and they urge parents to take these children to doctors to get prescriptions for drugs. Like Bob, I’m not comfortable with this.

Of equal concern is that even before kids start school, many are already being prescribed ADHD drugs. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently pointed out in a report that “About 2 million of the more than 6 million children with ADHD were diagnosed as young children aged 2-5 years.” It cautioned that the drugs used as treatment of ADHD should not be the first step in dealing with this condition because

boy-with-stomach-painADHD medicine can cause side effects, such as poor appetite, stomach aches, irritability, sleep problems, and slowed growth. The long-term effects of ADHD medicine on young children are not known.”

Although the CDC attempts to avoid blaming parents for their child’s behavior pattern, they do recommend that “healthcare providers first refer parents of young children with ADHD for training in behavior therapy before trying medicine.”

What does “behavior therapy” mean? In a very general sort of way, it means working with parents in a manner that encourages them to utilize positive ways to deal with kids when they are not acting the way parents want them to act. A large part of this involves recognizing, as Bob says, that sometimes there is not even a problem there, at least one that couldn’t be solved with a little bit of patience, attention, care, and love.

I recognize that for today’s parents, oftentimes pressures at work can leave them exhausted. For single parents this becomes ever more difficult. kids playing computer gamesTrying to get the kids off your hands by sticking them in front of a TV or computer game terminal may be a pretty enticing thing to do. If that doesn’t work, it is oh, so easy to just give them some pills.

I’m not blaming parents who just run out of steam. I recognize the many serious societal conditions that parents have to face which tremendously complicate the challenges of being a parent. But ultimately, it is the parent who must take the responsibility to seek to improve conditions for their children as best that they can.

responsibility 1When I say, “take the responsibility” I don’t mean to imply that parents should blame themselves. Blame suggests that parents should seek to punish themselves whenever their approach at discipline doesn’t work well. Punishing themselves in such situations only makes a challenging situation worse.
responsibility 2What I mean by taking responsibility is that we recognize within ourselves that we are dissatisfied with where things are at. We observe in a nonjudgmental manner how this goes along with some physical sensations in our body–perhaps a tightening in our chest, and tension around the forehead. Perhaps we might observe ourselves making some nasty comments about ourselves because of old habits. Although we observe these nasty comments, we don’t accept them as correct, just habitual statements learned oh, so many years ago. But as we observe all of this, from time to time we consider the attitude that these sensations that we are experiencing have the potential of spurring us to make some improvement in our own actions.

Well, that’s my “From Insults to Respect” post for today. I hope you find that it provides some food for thought. Please stop by again soon.  

Some people will enjoy reading this blog by beginning with the first post and then moving forward to the next more recent one; then to the next one; and so on. This permits readers to catch up on some ideas that were presented earlier and to move through all of the ideas in a systematic fashion to develop their emotional intelligence. To begin at the very first post you can click HERE.


Research Update On ADHD Drug Treatments
Bob Dylan on Addiction

About the Author

Jeffrey Rubin grew up in Brooklyn, received his PhD from the University of Minnesota and has taught conflict resolution there as well as at a psychiatric clinic, a correctional facility and a number of public schools. He has published articles on anger and conflict resolution and has authored three novels.


  1. When I was a child you got the belt if you had a problem with paying attention .seems pretty harsh
    But today it’s pills. Which of the two are the worst ? I believe it’s the pills. I am 71 yrs old I guess I had this ADHD all my life,but I am still around.,Never paid attention in my life to my detriment .But I love life always have love Bob Dylan . So I must be alright don’t you think.

    • Hi Barbara McDonald. I’m not sure which is worse, the belt or the pills. Two things we clearly agree on is loving life and Bob Dylan.

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