One of the things I noticed when I started doing a little boxing training is that Muhammad Ali did everything “wrong.” He held his hands way down at his waist, no guard whatsoever, breaking the cardinal rule of pugilism. He leaned back in a way that would put anyone else dangerously off-balance. He took unnecessary risks, constantly.

And he pulled it off to spectacular effect, particularly before his enforced lay-off, which cost him his “legs,” as they say in boxing. He was that rare person who is possessed of such a superhuman amount of skill that, literally, the rules do not apply to them. But you really can’t learn from him, as a fighter. His methods would get anyone else killed.

There are artists like that in every field (and boxing is an art as well as a science). I wouldn’t suggest that most songwriters attempt an eleven-minute, three-chord song without a bridge or a chorus, but Dylan’s “Desolation Row” is a riveting, immortal masterpiece.

The rules are for most of us, who need them – and they shouldn’t be thrown out. But we have the pleasure of standing in awe of those to whom they simply do not apply.

Rest in Power, Champ.


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