Bob Dylan is a
singer-songwriter, musician, and artist. Bob Dylan was awarded the
honor of his inclusion in Jewish Entertainers by Jew Watch News
during the Winter of 2003. Bob Dylan has been an influential figure
in popular music and culture for over five decades. Much of
his most celebrated work dates from the 1960s when Bob Dylan was an
informal chronicler and a seemingly reluctant figurehead of social
unrest. A number of 's early songs, such as "Blowin' in the
Wind" and "The Times They Are a-Changin'", became anthems for the US
civil rights and anti-war movements. Leaving his initial base
in the culture of folk music behind, Bob Dylan's six-minute single
"Like a Rolling Stone" has been described as radically altering the
parameters of popular music in 1965. His recordings employing
electric instruments attracted denunciation and criticism from
others in the folk movement.
Bob Dylan's lyrics incorporated a variety of political, social,
philosophical, and literary influences. They defied existing pop
music conventions and appealed hugely to the then burgeoning
counterculture. Initially inspired by the songs of Woody Guthrie,
Robert Johnson, and Hank Williams, and the music and performance
styles of Buddy Holly, Little Richard and Elvis Presley, Bob
Dylan has both amplified and personalized musical genres. His
recording career, spanning fifty years, has explored numerous
distinct traditions in American song—from folk, blues and country to
gospel, rock and roll, and rockabilly to English, Scottish, and
Irish folk music, embracing even jazz and swing.
Bob Dylan performs with guitar, keyboards, and harmonica. Backed by
a changing line-up of musicians, Bob Dylan has toured steadily since
the late 1980s on what has been dubbed the Never Ending Tour. His
accomplishments as a recording artist and performer have been
central to his career, but his greatest contribution is generally
considered to be his songwriting.
Since 1994, Bob Dylan has published three books of drawings and
paintings, and his work has been exhibited in major art
galleries. As a songwriter and musician, Bob Dylan has
received numerous awards over the years including Grammy, Golden
Globe, and Academy Awards; Bob Dylan has been inducted into the Rock
and Roll Hall of Fame, Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame, and
Songwriters Hall of Fame. The Pulitzer Prize jury in 2008 awarded
him a special citation for "his profound impact on popular music and
American culture, marked by lyrical compositions of extraordinary
poetic power." In May 2012, Bob Dylan received the Presidential
Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama.
Life and career
Origins and musical
Bob Dylan was born "Robert Allen Zimmerman" (Hebrew name: Shabtai
Zisel ben Avraham)  in St. Mary's Hospital on May 24, 1941,
in Duluth, Minnesota, and raised in Hibbing, Minnesota, on
the Mesabi Iron Range west of Lake Superior. His paternal
grandparents, Zigman and Anna Zimmerman, emigrated from Odessa in
the Russian Empire (now Ukraine) to the United States following the
anti-Semitic pogroms of 1905. His maternal grandparents,
Benjamin and Lybba Edelstein, were Lithuanian Jews who arrived in
the United States in 1902. In his autobiography Chronicles:
Volume One, Bob Dylan writes that his paternal grandmother's maiden
name was Kyrgyz and her family originated from Kars Province in
Bob Dylan's parents, Abram Zimmerman and Beatrice "Beatty" Stone,
were part of the area's small but close-knit Jewish community.
Robert Zimmerman lived in Duluth until age six, when his father was
stricken with polio and the family returned to his mother's home
town, Hibbing, where Zimmerman spent the rest of his childhood.
Robert Zimmerman spent much of his youth listening to the
radio—first to blues and country stations broadcasting from
Shreveport, Louisiana and, later, to early rock and roll. Bob
Dylan formed several bands while Bob Dylan attended Hibbing High
School. The Shadow Blasters was short-lived, but his next, The
Golden Chords, lasted longer and played covers of Little Richard
rock and roll and other popular songs. Their performance of
Danny and the Juniors' "Rock and Roll Is Here to Stay" at their high
school talent show was so loud that the principal cut the microphone
off. In 1959, his high school yearbook carried, beneath his
photo, the caption: "Robert Zimmerman: to join 'Little
Richard'." The same year, using the name Elston Gunnn [sic],
Bob Dylan performed two dates with Bobby Vee, playing piano and
Zimmerman moved to Minneapolis in September 1959 and enrolled at the
University of Minnesota, where his early focus on rock and roll gave
way to an interest in American folk music. In 1985, Bob Dylan
explained the attraction that folk music had exerted on him:
The thing about rock'n'roll is that for me anyway it wasn't enough
... There were great catch-phrases and driving pulse rhythms ... but
the songs weren't serious or didn't reflect life in a realistic way.
I knew that when I got into folk music, it was more of a serious
type of thing. The songs are filled with more despair, more sadness,
more triumph, more faith in the supernatural, much deeper
Bob Dylan soon began to perform at the Ten O'Clock Scholar, a
coffeehouse a few blocks from campus, and became actively involved
in the local Dinkytown folk music circuit.
During his Dinkytown days, Zimmerman began introducing himself as
"Bob Dylan". In his autobiography, Bob Dylan acknowledged that
Bob Dylan had been influenced by the poetry of Bob Dylan
Thomas.[a 1] Explaining his change of name in a 2004 interview,
Bob Dylan remarked: "You're born, you know, the wrong names, wrong
parents. I mean, that happens. You call yourself what you want to
call yourself. This is the land of the free."
Bob Dylan dropped out of college at the end of his freshman year. In
January 1961, Bob Dylan traveled to New York City, hoping to perform
there and visit his musical idol Woody Guthrie, who was
seriously ill with Huntington's Disease in Greystone Park
Psychiatric Hospital. Guthrie had been a revelation to Bob Dylan
and was the biggest influence on his early performances. Describing
Guthrie's impact on him, Bob Dylan later wrote: "The songs
themselves had the infinite sweep of humanity in them ... [Bob
Dylan] was the true voice of the American spirit. I said to myself I
was going to be Guthrie's greatest disciple." As well as
visiting Guthrie in the hospital, Bob Dylan befriended Guthrie's
acolyte Ramblin' Jack Elliott. Much of Guthrie's repertoire was
actually channeled through Elliott, and Bob Dylan paid tribute to
Elliott in Chronicles (2004).
From February 1961, Bob Dylan played at various clubs around
Greenwich Village. Bob Dylan befriended and picked up material from
many folk singers in the Village scene, including Dave Van Ronk,
Fred Neil, Odetta, the New Lost City Ramblers, and Irish musicians
Tommy Makem and the Clancy Brothers. In September, Bob Dylan
gained some public recognition when Robert Shelton wrote a positive
review in The New York Times of a show at Gerde's Folk City. The
same month Bob Dylan played harmonica on folk singer Carolyn
Hester's eponymous third album, which brought his talents to the
attention of the album's producer, John Hammond. Hammond signed
Bob Dylan to Columbia Records in October. The performances on his
first Columbia album, Bob Dylan (1962), consisted of familiar folk,
blues and gospel material combined with two original compositions.
The album made little impact, selling only 5,000 copies in its first
year, just enough to break even. Within Columbia Records, some
referred to the singer as "Hammond's Folly" and suggested dropping
his contract. Hammond defended Bob Dylan vigorously. In March 1962,
Bob Dylan contributed harmonica and back-up vocals to the album
Three Kings and the Queen, accompanying Victoria Spivey and Big Joe
Williams on a recording for Spivey Records. While working for
Columbia, Bob Dylan also recorded several songs under the pseudonym
Blind Boy Grunt, for Broadside Magazine, a folk music magazine
and record label. Bob Dylan used the pseudonym Bob Landy to
record as a piano player on the 1964 anthology album, The Blues
Project, issued by Elektra Records. Under the pseudonym Tedham
Porterhouse, Bob Dylan contributed harmonica to Ramblin' Jack
Elliott's 1964 album Jack Elliott. Bob Dylan is seated, singing and playing guitar. Seated to his right
is a woman gazing upwards and singing with him.
With Joan Baez during the civil rights "March on Washington for Jobs
and Freedom", August 28, 1963 Bob Dylan with his guitar onstage, laughing and looking downwards. Bob Dylan in November 1963
"Blowin' in the Wind"
Blowin' in the Wind
was, according to critic Andy Gill, "the song with which Bob Dylan's
name is most inextricably linked, and safeguarded his reputation as
a civil libertarian through any number of changes in style and
Bob Dylan made two important career moves in August 1962. Bob Dylan
legally changed his name to Bob Dylan, and signed a management
contract with Albert Grossman. Grossman remained Bob Dylan's
manager until 1970, and was notable both for his sometimes
confrontational personality, and for the fiercely protective loyalty
Bob Dylan displayed towards his principal client. Bob Dylan
subsequently said of Grossman, "Bob Dylan was kind of like a Colonel
Tom Parker figure ... you could smell him coming." Tensions
between Grossman and John Hammond led to Hammond being replaced as
the producer of Bob Dylan's second album by the young African
American jazz producer Tom Wilson.
From December 1962 to January 1963, Bob Dylan made his first trip to
the United Kingdom. Bob Dylan had been invited by TV director
Philip Saville to appear in a drama, The Madhouse on Castle Street,
which Saville was directing for BBC Television. At the end of
the play, Bob Dylan performed "Blowin' in the Wind", one of the
first major public performances of the song. The film recording
of The Madhouse on Castle Street was destroyed by the BBC in
1968. While in London, Bob Dylan performed at several London
folk clubs, including Les Cousins, and Bunjies. Bob Dylan also
learned new songs from several UK performers, including Martin
By the time Bob Dylan's second album, The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan,
was released in May 1963, Bob Dylan had begun to make his name as
both a singer and a songwriter. Many of the songs on this album were
labeled protest songs, inspired partly by Guthrie and influenced by
Pete Seeger's passion for topical songs. "Oxford Town", for
example, was a sardonic account of James Meredith's ordeal as the
first black student to risk enrollment at the University of
His most famous song at this time, "Blowin' in the Wind", partially
derived its melody from the traditional slave song "No More Auction
Block", while its lyrics questioned the social and political status
quo. The song was widely recorded and became an international
hit for Peter, Paul and Mary, setting a precedent for many other
artists who had hits with Bob Dylan's songs. "A Hard Rain's a-Gonna
Fall" was based on the tune of the folk ballad "Lord Randall". With
its veiled references to nuclear apocalypse, it gained even more
resonance when the Cuban missile crisis developed only a few weeks
after Bob Dylan began performing it. Like "Blowin' in the Wind",
"A Hard Rain's a-Gonna Fall" marked an important new direction in
modern songwriting, blending a stream-of-consciousness, imagist
lyrical attack with a traditional folk form.
While Bob Dylan's topical songs solidified his early reputation,
Freewheelin' also included a mixture of love songs and jokey,
surreal talking blues. Humor was a large part of Bob Dylan's
persona, and the range of material on the album impressed many
listeners, including The Beatles. George Harrison said, "We just
played it, just wore it out. The content of the song lyrics and just
the attitude—it was incredibly original and wonderful."
The rough edge of Bob Dylan's singing was unsettling to some early
listeners but an attraction to others. Describing the impact that
Bob Dylan had on her and her husband, Joyce Carol Oates wrote: "When
we first heard this raw, very young, and seemingly untrained voice,
frankly nasal, as if sandpaper could sing, the effect was dramatic
and electrifying." Many of his most famous early songs first
reached the public through more immediately palatable versions by
other performers, such as Joan Baez, who became Bob Dylan's
advocate, as well as his lover. Baez was influential in bringing
Bob Dylan to national and international prominence by recording
several of his early songs and inviting him onstage during her own
Others who recorded and had hits with Bob Dylan's songs in the early
and mid-1960s included The Byrds; Sonny and Cher; The Hollies;
Peter, Paul and Mary; The Association; Manfred Mann; and The
Turtles. Most attempted to impart a pop feel and rhythm to the
songs, while Bob Dylan and Baez performed them mostly as sparse folk
pieces. The cover versions became so ubiquitous that CBS started to
promote him with the tag "Nobody Sings Bob Dylan Like Bob
"Mixed Up Confusion", recorded during the Freewheelin' sessions with
a backing band, was released as a single and then quickly withdrawn.
In contrast to the mostly solo acoustic performances on the album,
the single showed a willingness to experiment with a rockabilly
sound. Cameron Crowe described it as "a fascinating look at a folk
artist with his mind wandering towards Elvis Presley and Sun
Protest and Another
In May 1963, Bob Dylan's political profile was raised when Bob Dylan
walked out of The Ed Sullivan Show. During rehearsals, Bob Dylan had
been informed by CBS Television's "head of program practices" that
the song Bob Dylan was planning to perform, "Talkin' John Birch
Paranoid Blues", was potentially libelous to the John Birch Society.
Rather than comply with the censorship, Bob Dylan refused to appear
on the program.
"The Times They Are a-Changin'" Bob Dylan said of "The Times They Are a-Changin'": "This was
definitely a song with a purpose. I wanted to write a big song, some
kind of theme song, with short concise verses that piled up on each
other in a hypnotic way. The civil rights movement and the folk
music movement were pretty close and allied together at that
By this time, Bob Dylan and Baez were both prominent in the civil
rights movement, singing together at the March on Washington on
August 28, 1963. Bob Dylan's third album, The Times They Are a-Changin',
reflected a more politicized and cynical Bob Dylan. The songs
often took as their subject matter contemporary, real life stories,
with "Only A Pawn In Their Game" addressing the murder of civil
rights worker Medgar Evers; and the Brechtian "The Lonesome Death of
Hattie Carroll" the death of black hotel barmaid Hattie Carroll, at
the hands of young white socialite William Zantzinger. On a more
general theme, "Ballad of Hollis Brown" and "North Country Blues"
address the despair engendered by the breakdown of farming and
mining communities. This political material was accompanied by two
personal love songs, "Boots of Spanish Leather" and "One Too Many
By the end of 1963, Bob Dylan felt both manipulated and constrained
by the folk and protest movements. These tensions were publicly
displayed when, accepting the "Tom Paine Award" from the National
Emergency Civil Liberties Committee shortly after the assassination
of John F. Kennedy, an intoxicated Bob Dylan brashly questioned the
role of the committee, characterized the members as old and balding,
and claimed to see something of himself (and of every man) in
Kennedy's alleged assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald.
A spotlight shines on Bob Dylan as Bob Dylan performs onstage.
Bobby Bob Dylan, as the college yearbook lists him: St. Lawrence
University, upstate New York, November 1963
Another Side of Bob Dylan, recorded on a single June evening in
1964, had a lighter mood than its predecessor. The surreal,
humorous Bob Dylan reemerged on "I Shall Be Free No. 10" and "Motorpsycho
Nightmare". "Spanish Harlem Incident" and "To Ramona" are romantic
and passionate love songs, while "Black Crow Blues" and "I Don't
Believe You (She Acts Like We Never Have Met)" suggest the rock and
roll soon to dominate Bob Dylan's music. "It Ain't Me Babe", on the
surface a song about spurned love, has been described as a rejection
of the role his reputation had thrust at him. His newest
direction was signaled by two lengthy songs: the impressionistic
"Chimes of Freedom", which sets elements of social commentary
against a denser metaphorical landscape in a style later
characterized by Allen Ginsberg as "chains of flashing images,"
and "My Back Pages", which attacks the simplistic and arch
seriousness of his own earlier topical songs and seems to predict
the backlash Bob Dylan was about to encounter from his former
champions as Bob Dylan took a new direction.
In the latter half of 1964 and 1965, Bob Dylan's appearance and
musical style changed rapidly, as Bob Dylan made his move from
leading contemporary songwriter of the folk scene to folk-rock
pop-music star. His scruffy jeans and work shirts were replaced by a
Carnaby Street wardrobe, sunglasses day or night, and pointy "Beatle
boots". A London reporter wrote: "Hair that would set the teeth of a
comb on edge. A loud shirt that would dim the neon lights of
Leicester Square. Bob Dylan looks like an undernourished
cockatoo." Bob Dylan also began to spar in increasingly surreal
ways with his interviewers. Appearing on the Les Crane TV show and
asked about a movie Bob Dylan was planning to make, Bob Dylan told
Crane it would be a cowboy horror movie. Asked if Bob Dylan played
the cowboy, Bob Dylan replied, "No, I play my mother."
Main article: Electric Bob Dylan controversy
Bob Dylan's April 1965 album Bringing It All Back Home was yet
another stylistic leap, featuring his first recordings made with
electric instruments. The first single, "Subterranean Homesick
Blues", owed much to Chuck Berry's "Too Much Monkey Business";
its free association lyrics have been described as both harkening
back to the manic energy of Beat poetry and as a forerunner of rap
and hip-hop. The song was provided with an early music video
which opened D. A. Pennebaker's cinéma vérité presentation of Bob
Dylan's 1965 tour of England, Dont Look Back. Instead of miming
to the recording, Bob Dylan illustrated the lyrics by throwing cue
cards containing key words from the song on the ground. Pennebaker
has said the sequence was Bob Dylan's idea, and it has been widely
imitated in both music videos and advertisements.
The second side of Bringing It All Back Home consisted of four long
songs on which Bob Dylan accompanied himself on acoustic guitar and
harmonica. "Mr. Tambourine Man" quickly became one of Bob
Dylan's best known songs when The Byrds recorded an electric version
that reached number one in both the U.S. and the U.K.
charts. "It's All Over Now Baby Blue" and "It's Alright Ma
(I'm Only Bleeding)" were acclaimed as two of Bob Dylan's most
In the summer of 1965, as the headliner at the Newport Folk
Festival, Bob Dylan performed his first electric set since his high
school days with a pickup group drawn mostly from the Paul
Butterfield Blues Band, featuring Mike Bloomfield (guitar), Sam Lay
(drums) and Jerome Arnold (bass), plus Al Kooper (organ) and Barry
Goldberg (piano). Bob Dylan had appeared at Newport in 1963 and
1964, but in 1965 Bob Dylan, met with a mix of cheering and booing,
left the stage after only three songs. One version of the legend has
it that the boos were from the outraged folk fans whom Bob Dylan had
alienated by appearing, unexpectedly, with an electric guitar.
Murray Lerner, who filmed the performance, said: "I absolutely think
that they were booing Bob Dylan going electric." An alternative
account claims audience members were merely upset by poor sound
quality and a surprisingly short set. This account is supported by
Kooper and one of the directors of the festival, who reports his
audio recording of the concert proves that the only boos were in
reaction to the emcee's announcement that there was only enough time
for a short set.
Nevertheless, Bob Dylan's 1965 Newport performance provoked a
hostile response from the folk music establishment. In the
September issue of Sing Out!, singer Ewan MacColl wrote: "Our
traditional songs and ballads are the creations of extraordinarily
talented artists working inside disciplines formulated over time...
'But what of Bobby Bob Dylan?' scream the outraged teenagers... Only
a completely non-critical audience, nourished on the watery pap of
pop music, could have fallen for such tenth-rate drivel." On
July 29, just four days after his controversial performance at
Newport, Bob Dylan was back in the studio in New York, recording
"Positively 4th Street". The lyrics teemed with images of vengeance
and paranoia, and it was widely interpreted as Bob Dylan's
put-down of former friends from the folk community—friends Bob Dylan
had known in the clubs along West 4th Street.
Highway 61 Revisited and Blonde on Blonde
"Like a Rolling Stone" Bob Dylan's 1965 hit single, which appeared on the album Highway 61
Revisited. In 2004, it was chosen as the greatest song of all time
by Rolling Stone Magazine.
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In July 1965, Bob Dylan released the single "Like a Rolling Stone",
which peaked at No.2 in the U.S. and at No.4 in the UK charts. At
over six minutes, the song has been widely credited with altering
attitudes about what a pop single could convey. Bruce Springsteen,
in his speech during Bob Dylan's inauguration into the Rock and Roll
Hall of Fame said that on first hearing the single, "that snare shot
sounded like somebody'd kicked open the door to your mind". In
2004, and again in 2011, Rolling Stone magazine listed it as number
one on its list of "The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time". The
song also opened Bob Dylan's next album, Highway 61 Revisited,
titled after the road that led from Bob Dylan's Minnesota to the
musical hotbed of New Orleans. The songs were in the same vein
as the hit single, flavored by Mike Bloomfield's blues guitar and Al
Kooper's organ riffs. "Desolation Row", backed by acoustic guitar
and understated bass, offers the sole exception, with Bob Dylan
making surreal allusions to a variety of figures in Western culture
during this epic song, described by Andy Gill as "an 11-minute epic
of entropy, which takes the form of a Fellini-esque parade of
grotesques and oddities featuring a huge cast of celebrated
characters, some historical (Einstein, Nero), some biblical (Noah,
Cain and Abel), some fictional (Ophelia, Romeo, Cinderella), some
literary (T.S. Eliot and Ezra Pound), and some who fit into none of
the above categories, notably Dr. Filth and his dubious nurse."
In support of the record, Bob Dylan was booked for two U.S. concerts
and set about assembling a band. Mike Bloomfield was unwilling to
leave the Butterfield Band, so Bob Dylan mixed Al Kooper and Harvey
Brooks from his studio crew with Robbie Robertson and Levon Helm,
best known at the time for being part of Ronnie Hawkins's backing
band The Hawks (later to become The Band). On August 28 at
Forest Hills Tennis Stadium, the group was heckled by an audience
still annoyed by Bob Dylan's electric sound. The band's reception on
September 3 at the Hollywood Bowl was more favorable.
While Bob Dylan and the Hawks met increasingly receptive audiences
on tour, their studio efforts floundered. Producer Bob Johnston
persuaded Bob Dylan to record in Nashville in February 1966, and
surrounded him with a cadre of top-notch session men. At Bob Dylan's
insistence, Robertson and Kooper came down from New York City to
play on the sessions. The Nashville sessions produced the
double-album Blonde on Blonde (1966), featuring what Bob Dylan later
called "that thin wild mercury sound". Al Kooper described the
album as "taking two cultures and smashing them together with a huge
explosion": the musical world of Nashville and the world of the
"quintessential New York hipster" Bob Dylan.
On November 22, 1965, Bob Dylan secretly married 25-year-old former
model Sara Lownds. Some of Bob Dylan's friends (including
Ramblin' Jack Elliott) claim that, in conversation immediately after
the event, Bob Dylan denied that Bob Dylan was married.
Journalist Nora Ephron first made the news public in the New York
Post in February 1966 with the headline "Hush! Bob Dylan is
Bob Dylan undertook a world tour of Australia and Europe in the
spring of 1966. Each show was split into two parts. Bob Dylan
performed solo during the first half, accompanying himself on
acoustic guitar and harmonica. In the second half, backed by the
Hawks, Bob Dylan played high voltage electric music. This contrast
provoked many fans, who jeered and slow handclapped. The tour
culminated in a famously raucous confrontation between Bob Dylan and
his audience at the Manchester Free Trade Hall in England on May 17,
1966. An official recording of this concert was finally
released in 1998: The Bootleg Series Vol. 4: Bob Dylan Live 1966. At
the climax of the evening, a member of the audience, angered by Bob
Dylan's electric backing, shouted: "Judas!" to which Bob Dylan
responded, "I don't believe you ... You're a liar!" Bob Dylan turned
to his band and said, "Play it fucking loud!" as they launched
into the final song of the night—"Like a Rolling Stone."
During his 1966 tour, Bob Dylan was frequently described as
exhausted and acting "as if on a death trip". D. A. Pennebaker,
the film maker accompanying the tour, described Bob Dylan as "taking
a lot of amphetamine and who-knows-what-else." In a 1969
interview with Jann Wenner, Bob Dylan said, "I was on the road for
almost five years. It wore me down. I was on drugs, a lot of
things... just to keep going, you know?" In 2011, BBC Radio 4
reported that, in an interview which Robert Shelton had taped in
1966, Bob Dylan claimed that Bob Dylan had kicked a heroin habit in
New York City: "I got very, very strung out for a while... I had
about a $25-a-day habit and I kicked it." Some journalists
questioned the validity of this confession, pointing out that Bob
Dylan had "been telling journalists wild lies about his past since
the earliest days of his career."
Motorcycle accident and reclusion
After his European tour, Bob Dylan returned to New York, but the
pressures on him increased. ABC Television had paid an advance for a
TV show they could screen. His publisher, Macmillan, was
demanding a finished manuscript of the poem/novel Tarantula. Manager
Albert Grossman had already scheduled an extensive concert tour for
that summer and fall.
On July 29, 1966, Bob Dylan crashed his 500cc Triumph Tiger 100
motorcycle on a road near his home in Woodstock, New York, throwing
him to the ground. Though the extent of his injuries were never
fully disclosed, Bob Dylan said that Bob Dylan broke several
vertebrae in his neck. Mystery still surrounds the
circumstances of the accident since no ambulance was called to the
scene and Bob Dylan was not hospitalized. Bob Dylan's
biographers have written that the crash offered Bob Dylan the
much-needed chance to escape from the pressures that had built up
around him. Bob Dylan confirmed this interpretation of the
crash when Bob Dylan stated in his autobiography, "I had been in a
motorcycle accident and I'd been hurt, but I recovered. Truth was
that I wanted to get out of the rat race." In the wake of his
accident, Bob Dylan withdrew from the public and, apart from a few
select appearances, did not tour again for almost eight years.
Once Bob Dylan was well enough to resume creative work, Bob Dylan
began editing film footage of his 1966 tour for Eat the Document, a
rarely exhibited follow-up to Dont Look Back. A rough-cut was shown
to ABC Television and was promptly rejected as incomprehensible to a
mainstream audience. In 1967 Bob Dylan began recording music
with the Hawks at his home and in the basement of the Hawks' nearby
house, called "Big Pink". These songs, initially compiled as
demos for other artists to record, provided hit singles for Julie
Driscoll ("This Wheel's on Fire"), The Byrds ("You Ain't Goin'
Nowhere", "Nothing Was Delivered"), and Manfred Mann ("Mighty
Quinn"). Columbia belatedly released selections from them in 1975 as
The Basement Tapes. Over the years, more and more of the songs
recorded by Bob Dylan and his band in 1967 appeared on various
bootleg recordings, culminating in a five-CD bootleg set titled The
Genuine Basement Tapes, containing 107 songs and alternate
takes. In the coming months, the Hawks recorded the album Music
from Big Pink using songs they first worked on in their basement in
Woodstock, and renamed themselves The Band, thus beginning a
long and successful recording and performing career of their own.
In October and November 1967, Bob Dylan returned to Nashville.
Back in the recording studio after a 19-month break, Bob Dylan was
accompanied only by Charlie McCoy on bass, Kenny Buttrey on
drums, and Pete Drake on steel guitar. The result was John
Wesley Harding, a quiet, contemplative record of shorter songs, set
in a landscape that drew on both the American West and the Bible.
The sparse structure and instrumentation, coupled with lyrics that
took the Judeo-Christian tradition seriously, marked a departure not
only from Bob Dylan's own work but from the escalating psychedelic
fervor of the 1960s musical culture. It included "All Along the
Watchtower", with lyrics derived from the Book of Isaiah (21:5–9).
The song was later recorded by Jimi Hendrix, whose version Bob Dylan
later acknowledged as definitive. Woody Guthrie died on October
3, 1967, and Bob Dylan made his first live appearance in twenty
months at a Guthrie memorial concert held at Carnegie Hall on
January 20, 1968, where Bob Dylan was backed by The Band.
"Lay Lady Lay"
"Lay Lady Lay", on the country album Nashville Skyline, has been one
of Bob Dylan's biggest hits, reaching No.7 in the U.S.A.
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Bob Dylan's next release, Nashville Skyline (1969), was virtually a
mainstream country record featuring instrumental backing by
Nashville musicians, a mellow-voiced Bob Dylan, a duet with Johnny
Cash, and the hit single "Lay Lady Lay." Variety magazine
wrote, "Bob Dylan is definitely doing something that can be called
singing. Somehow Bob Dylan has managed to add an octave to his
range." Bob Dylan and Cash also recorded a series of duets, but
only their recording of Bob Dylan's "Girl from the North Country"
was used on the album.
In May 1969, Bob Dylan appeared on the first episode of Johnny
Cash's new television show, duetting with Cash on "Girl from the
North Country", "I Threw It All Away" and "Living the Blues". Bob
Dylan next travelled to England to top the bill at the Isle of Wight
rock festival on August 31, 1969, after rejecting overtures to
appear at the Woodstock Festival far closer to his home.
In the early 1970s, critics charged that Bob Dylan's output was of
varied and unpredictable quality. Rolling Stone magazine writer
Greil Marcus notoriously asked "What is this shit?" on first
listening to Self Portrait, released in June 1970. In
general, Self Portrait, a double LP including few original songs,
was poorly received. In October 1970, Bob Dylan released New
Morning, which some considered a return to form. In November
1968, Bob Dylan had co-written "I'd Have You Anytime" with George
Harrison; Harrison recorded both "I'd Have You Anytime" and Bob
Dylan's "If Not for You" for his 1970 solo triple album All Things
Must Pass. Bob Dylan's surprise appearance at Harrison's 1971
Concert for Bangladesh attracted much media coverage, reflecting
that Bob Dylan's live appearances had become rare.
Between March 16 and 19, 1971, Bob Dylan reserved three days at Blue
Rock Studios, a small studio in New York's Greenwich Village. These
sessions resulted in one single, "Watching the River Flow", and a
new recording of "When I Paint My Masterpiece". On November 4,
1971 Bob Dylan recorded "George Jackson", which Bob Dylan released a
week later. For many, the single was a surprising return to protest
material, mourning the killing of Black Panther George Jackson in
San Quentin Prison that summer. Bob Dylan contributed piano and
harmony vocals to Steve Goodman's album, Somebody Else's Troubles,
under the pseudonym Robert Milkwood Thomas in September 1972.
In 1972, Bob Dylan signed onto Sam Peckinpah's film Pat Garrett and
Billy the Kid, providing songs and backing music for the movie, and
playing the role of "Alias", a member of Billy's gang with some
historical basis. Despite the film's failure at the box office,
the song "Knockin' on Heaven's Door" has proven its durability as
one of Bob Dylan's most extensively covered songs.
Return to touring Bob Dylan together with three musicians from The Band onstage. Bob
Dylan is third from left, wearing a black jacket and pants. Bob
Dylan is singing and playing an electric guitar. Bob Dylan and The Band touring in Chicago, 1974
Bob Dylan began 1973 by signing with a new record label, David
Geffen's Asylum Records, when his contract with Columbia Records
expired. On his next album, Planet Waves, Bob Dylan used The Band as
backing group, while rehearsing for a major tour. The album included
two versions of "Forever Young", which became one of his most
popular songs. As one critic described it, the song projected
"something hymnal and heartfelt that spoke of the father in Bob
Dylan", and Bob Dylan himself commented: "I wrote it thinking
about one of my boys and not wanting to be too sentimental."
Biographer Howard Sounes noted that Jakob Bob Dylan believed the
song was about him.
Columbia Records simultaneously released Bob Dylan, a haphazard
collection of studio outtakes (almost exclusively cover songs),
which was widely interpreted as a churlish response to Bob Dylan's
signing with a rival record label. In January 1974, Bob Dylan
returned to live touring after a break of seven years; backed by The
Band, Bob Dylan embarked on a high-profile, coast-to-coast North
American tour, playing 40 concerts. A live double album of the tour,
Before the Flood, was released on Asylum Records. Soon, Columbia
Records sent word that they "will spare nothing to bring Bob Dylan
back into the fold". Bob Dylan had second thoughts about
Asylum, apparently miffed that while there had been millions of
unfulfilled ticket requests for the 1974 tour, Geffen had managed to
sell only 700,000 copies of Planet Waves. Bob Dylan returned to
Columbia Records, which subsequently reissued his two Asylum albums
on their imprint.
"Tangled Up in Blue" Bob Dylan said of the opening song from Blood on the Tracks: "I was
trying to deal with the concept of time, and the way the characters
change from the first person to the third person, and you're never
sure if the first person is talking or the third person. But as you
look at the whole thing it really doesn't matter."
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After the tour, Bob Dylan and his wife became publicly estranged.
Bob Dylan filled a small red notebook with songs about relationships
and ruptures, and quickly recorded a new album entitled Blood on the
Tracks in September 1974. Bob Dylan delayed the album's
release, however, and re-recorded half of the songs at Sound 80
Studios in Minneapolis with production assistance from his brother
Released in early 1975, Blood on the Tracks received mixed reviews.
In the NME, Nick Kent described "the accompaniments [as] often so
trashy they sound like mere practice takes." In Rolling Stone,
reviewer Jon Landau wrote that "the record has been made with
typical shoddiness." However, over the years critics have come
to see it as one of Bob Dylan's greatest achievements, perhaps the
only serious rival to his mid-1960s trilogy of albums. In Salon.com,
Bill Wyman wrote: "Blood on the Tracks is his only flawless album
and his best produced; the songs, each of them, are constructed in
disciplined fashion. It is his kindest album and most dismayed, and
seems in hindsight to have achieved a sublime balance between the
logorrhea-plagued excesses of his mid-1960s output and the
self-consciously simple compositions of his post-accident
years." Novelist Rick Moody called it "the truest, most honest
account of a love affair from tip to stern ever put down on magnetic
tape." Bob Dylan, wearing a hat and leather coat, plays guitar and sings,
seated. Crouched next to him is a bearded man, listening to him with
head bent. Bob Dylan photographed by Elsa Dorfman with Allen Ginsberg, on the
Rolling Thunder Revue in 1975
That summer Bob Dylan wrote a lengthy ballad championing the cause
of boxer Rubin "Hurricane" Carter, who had been imprisoned for a
triple murder committed in Paterson, New Jersey, in 1966. After
visiting Carter in jail, Bob Dylan wrote "Hurricane", presenting the
case for Carter's innocence. Despite its 8:32 minute length, the
song was released as a single, peaking at No.33 on the U.S.
Billboard Chart, and performed at every 1975 date of Bob Dylan's
next tour, the Rolling Thunder Revue, named after the Shoshone
medicine man, shaman, teacher, and activist Rolling
Thunder. The tour was a varied evening of entertainment
featuring about one hundred performers and supporters drawn from the
resurgent Greenwich Village folk scene, including T-Bone Burnett,
Ramblin' Jack Elliott, Joni Mitchell, David Mansfield,
Roger McGuinn, Mick Ronson, Joan Baez, and violinist Scarlet Rivera,
whom Bob Dylan discovered while she was walking down the street, her
violin case hanging on her back. Allen Ginsberg accompanied the
troupe, staging scenes for the film Bob Dylan was simultaneously
shooting. Sam Shepard was initially hired to write the film's
screenplay, but ended up accompanying the tour as informal
Running through late 1975 and again through early 1976, the tour
encompassed the release of the album Desire, with many of Bob
Dylan's new songs featuring an almost travelogue-like narrative
style, showing the influence of his new collaborator, playwright
Jacques Levy. The spring 1976 half of the tour was
documented by a TV concert special, Hard Rain, and the LP Hard Rain;
no concert album from the better-received and better-known opening
half of the tour was released until 2002's Live 1975. Bob Dylan performing in Rotterdam, June 23, 1978
The fall 1975 tour with the Revue also provided the backdrop to Bob
Dylan's nearly four-hour film Renaldo and Clara, a sprawling and
improvised narrative, mixed with concert footage and reminiscences.
Released in 1978, the movie received generally poor, sometimes
scathing, reviews and had a very brief theatrical run.
Later in that year, Bob Dylan allowed a two-hour edit, dominated by
the concert performances, to be more widely released.
In November 1976, Bob Dylan appeared at The Band's "farewell"
concert, along with other guests including Joni Mitchell, Muddy
Waters, Van Morrison and Neil Young. Martin Scorsese's acclaimed
cinematic chronicle of this show, The Last Waltz, was released in
1978 and included about half of Bob Dylan's set. In 1976, Bob
Dylan also wrote and duetted on the song "Sign Language" for Eric
Clapton's No Reason To Cry.
In 1978, Bob Dylan embarked on a year-long world tour, performing
114 shows in Japan, the Far East, Europe and the US, to a total
audience of two million people. For the tour, Bob Dylan assembled an
eight piece band, and was also accompanied by three backing singers.
Concerts in Tokyo in February and March were recorded and released
as the live double album, Bob Dylan At Budokan. Reviews were
mixed. Robert Christgau awarded the album a C+ rating, giving the
album a derisory review, while Janet Maslin defended it in
Rolling Stone, writing: "These latest live versions of his old songs
have the effect of liberating Bob Dylan from the originals."
When Bob Dylan brought the tour to the US in September 1978, Bob
Dylan was dismayed the press described the look and sound of the
show as a 'Las Vegas Tour'. The 1978 tour grossed more than $20
million, and Bob Dylan acknowledged to the Los Angeles Times that
Bob Dylan had some debts to pay off because "I had a couple of bad
years. I put a lot of money into the movie, built a big house ...
and it costs a lot to get divorced in California."
In April and May 1978, Bob Dylan took the same large band and
backing vocalists into Rundown Studios, a rehearsal space Bob Dylan
had rented in Santa Monica, California, to record an album of new
material: Street-Legal. It was described by Michael Gray as,
"after Blood On The Tracks, arguably Bob Dylan's best record of the
1970s: a crucial album documenting a crucial period in Bob Dylan's
own life". However, it suffered from poor sound recording and
mixing (attributed to Bob Dylan's studio practices), muddying the
instrumental detail until a remastered CD release in 1999 restored
some of the songs' strengths.
Further information: Slow Train Coming
"Gotta Serve Somebody" Bob Dylan took five months off at the beginning of 1979 to attend
Bible school. His subsequent album Slow Train Coming reached
No.3 on the U.S. Billboard 200 chart and included this
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In the late 1970s, Bob Dylan became a born-again
Christian and released two albums of Christian gospel
music. Slow Train Coming (1979) featured the guitar accompaniment of
Mark Knopfler (of Dire Straits) and was produced by veteran R&B
producer, Jerry Wexler. Wexler recalled that when Bob Dylan had
tried to evangelize him during the recording, Bob Dylan replied:
"Bob, you're dealing with a sixty-two-year old Jewish atheist. Let's
just make an album." The album won Bob Dylan a Grammy Award as
"Best Male Vocalist" for the song "Gotta Serve Somebody". The second
evangelical album, Saved (1980), received mixed reviews, and was
described by Bob Dylan critic Michael Gray as "the nearest thing to
a follow-up album Bob Dylan has ever made, Slow Train Coming II and
inferior." When touring from the fall of 1979 through the
spring of 1980, Bob Dylan would not play any of his older, secular
works, and Bob Dylan delivered declarations of his faith from the
stage, such as:
Years ago they ... said I was a prophet. I used to say, "No I'm not
a prophet" they say "Yes you are, you're a prophet." I said, "No
it's not me." They used to say "You sure are a prophet." They used
to convince me I was a prophet. Now I come out and say Jesus Christ
is the answer. They say, "Bob Dylan's no prophet." They just can't
Bob Dylan's embrace of born-again Christianity was unpopular with
some of his fans and fellow musicians. Shortly before his
murder, John Lennon recorded "Serve Yourself" in response to Bob
Dylan's "Gotta Serve Somebody". By 1981, Stephen Holden wrote
in the New York Times that "neither age (he's now 40) nor his
much-publicized conversion to born-again Christianity has altered
his essentially iconoclastic temperament."
In the fall of 1980 Bob Dylan briefly resumed touring for a series
of concerts billed as "A Musical Retrospective", where Bob Dylan
restored several of his popular 1960s songs to the repertoire. Shot
of Love, recorded the next spring, featured Bob Dylan's first
secular compositions in more than two years, mixed with explicitly
Christian songs; the song "Every Grain of Sand" reminded some
critics of William Blake's verses.
In the 1980s the reception of Bob Dylan's recorded work varied, from
the well-regarded Infidels in 1983 to the panned Down in the Groove
in 1988. Critics such as Michael Gray condemned Bob Dylan's 1980s
albums both for showing an extraordinary carelessness in the studio
and for failing to release his best songs. For example, the
Infidels recording sessions, which again employed Mark Knopfler on
lead guitar and also as the album's producer, resulted in several
notable songs which Bob Dylan left off the album. Most well regarded
of these were "Blind Willie McTell", a tribute to the dead blues
musician and an evocation of African American history, "Foot of
Pride" and "Lord Protect My Child". These three songs were later
released on The Bootleg Series Volumes 1–3 (Rare & Unreleased)
Between July 1984 and March 1985, Bob Dylan recorded his next studio
album, Empire Burlesque. Arthur Baker, who had remixed hits for
Bruce Springsteen and Cyndi Lauper, was asked to engineer and mix
the album. Baker has said Bob Dylan felt Bob Dylan was hired to make
Bob Dylan's album sound "a little bit more contemporary".
Bob Dylan sang on USA for Africa's famine relief fundraising single
"We Are the World". On July 13, 1985, Bob Dylan appeared at the
climax at the Live Aid concert at JFK Stadium, Philadelphia. Backed
by Keith Richards and Ronnie Wood, Bob Dylan performed a ragged
version of "Hollis Brown", his ballad of rural poverty, and then
said to the worldwide audience exceeding one billion people: "I hope
that some of the money ... maybe they can just take a little bit of
it, maybe ... one or two million, maybe ... and use it to pay the
mortgages on some of the farms and, the farmers here, owe to the
banks." His remarks were widely criticized as inappropriate,
but they did inspire Willie Nelson to organize a series of events,
Farm Aid, to benefit debt-ridden American farmers.
In April 1986, Bob Dylan made a brief foray into the world of rap
music when Bob Dylan added vocals to the opening verse of "Street
Rock", a song featured on Kurtis Blow's album Kingdom Blow. Bob
Dylan's next studio album, Knocked Out Loaded, was released in July
1986 and contained three cover songs (by Little Junior Parker, Kris
Kristofferson and the traditional gospel hymn "Precious Memories"),
plus three collaborations with other writers (Tom Petty, Sam Shepard
and Carole Bayer Sager), and two solo compositions by Bob Dylan. One
reviewer commented that "the record follows too many detours to be
consistently compelling, and some of those detours wind down roads
that are indisputably dead ends. By 1986, such uneven records
weren't entirely unexpected by Bob Dylan, but that didn't make them
any less frustrating." It was the first Bob Dylan album since
Freewheelin' (1963) to fail to make the Top 50. Since then,
some critics have called the 11-minute epic that Bob Dylan co-wrote
with Sam Shepard, 'Brownsville Girl', a work of genius.
In 1986 and 1987, Bob Dylan toured extensively with Tom Petty and
the Heartbreakers, sharing vocals with Petty on several songs each
night. Bob Dylan also toured with The Grateful Dead in 1987,
resulting in a live album Bob Dylan & The Dead. This album received
some very negative reviews: Allmusic said, "Quite possibly the worst
album by either Bob Dylan or the Grateful Dead." After
performing with these musical permutations, Bob Dylan initiated what
came to be called The Never Ending Tour on June 7, 1988, performing
with a tight back-up band featuring guitarist G. E. Smith. Bob Dylan
would continue to tour with a small, constantly evolving band for
the next 20 years.
In 1987, Bob Dylan starred in Richard Marquand's movie Hearts of
Fire, in which Bob Dylan played Billy Parker, a
washed-up-rock-star-turned-chicken farmer whose teenage lover
(Fiona) leaves him for a jaded English synth-pop sensation (played
by Rupert Everett). Bob Dylan also contributed two original
songs to the soundtrack—"Night After Night", and "I Had a Dream
About You, Baby", as well as a cover of John Hiatt's "The Usual".
The film was a critical and commercial flop. Bob Dylan was
inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in January 1988, with
Bruce Springsteen's introductory speech declaring, "Bob freed your
mind the way Elvis freed your body. Bob Dylan showed us that just
because music was innately physical did not mean that it was
When Bob Dylan released the album Down in the Groove in May 1988, it
was even more unsuccessful in its sales than his previous studio
album. Michael Gray wrote: "The very title undercuts any idea
that inspired work may lie within. Here was a further devaluing of
the notion of a new Bob Dylan album as something significant."
The critical and commercial disappointment of that album was swiftly
followed by the success of the Traveling Wilburys. Bob Dylan
co-founded the band with George Harrison, Jeff Lynne, Roy Orbison,
and Tom Petty, and in the fall of 1988 their multi-platinum
Traveling Wilburys Vol. 1 reached number three on the US album
chart, featuring songs that were described as Bob Dylan's most
accessible compositions in years. Despite Orbison's death in
December 1988, the remaining four recorded a second album in May
1990, which they released with the unexpected title Traveling
Wilburys Vol. 3.
Bob Dylan finished the decade on a critical high note with Oh Mercy
produced by Daniel Lanois. Bob Dylan critic Michael Gray wrote that
the album was: "Attentively written, vocally distinctive, musically
warm, and uncompromisingly professional, this cohesive whole is the
nearest thing to a great Bob Dylan album in the 1980s."
The track "Most of the Time", a lost love composition, was later
prominently featured in the film High Fidelity, while "What Was It
You Wanted?" has been interpreted both as a catechism and a wry
comment on the expectations of critics and fans. The religious
imagery of "Ring Them Bells" struck some critics as a re-affirmation
Bob Dylan's 1990s began with Under the Red Sky (1990), an about-face
from the serious Oh Mercy. The album contained several apparently
simple songs, including "Under the Red Sky" and "Wiggle Wiggle". The
album was dedicated to "Gabby Goo Goo"; this was later explained as
a nickname for the daughter of Bob Dylan and Carolyn Dennis, Desiree
Gabrielle Dennis-Bob Dylan, who was four at that time. Sidemen
on the album included George Harrison, Slash from Guns N' Roses,
David Crosby, Bruce Hornsby, Stevie Ray Vaughan, and Elton John.
Despite the stellar line-up, the record received bad reviews and
In 1991, Bob Dylan was honored by the recording industry with a
Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award from American actor Jack
Nicholson. The event coincided with the start of the Gulf War
against Saddam Hussein, and Bob Dylan performed his song "Masters of
War". Bob Dylan then made a short speech that startled some of
The next few years saw Bob Dylan returning to his roots with two
albums covering old folk and blues numbers: Good as I Been to You
(1992) and World Gone Wrong (1993), featuring interpretations and
acoustic guitar work. Many critics and fans commented on the quiet
beauty of the song "Lone Pilgrim", penned by a 19th century
teacher and sung by Bob Dylan with a haunting reverence. In November
1994 Bob Dylan recorded two live shows for MTV Unplugged. Bob Dylan
claimed his wish to perform a set of traditional songs for the show
was overruled by Sony executives who insisted on a greatest hits
package. The album produced from it, MTV Unplugged, included
"John Brown", an unreleased 1963 song detailing the ravages of both
war and jingoism. Bob Dylan and members of his band perform onstage. Bob Dylan,
wearing a red shirt and black pants, plays an electric guitar and
sings. Bob Dylan performs at a 1996 concert in Stockholm
With a collection of songs reportedly written while snowed-in on his
Minnesota ranch, Bob Dylan booked recording time with Daniel
Lanois at Miami's Criteria Studios in January 1997. The subsequent
recording sessions were, by some accounts, fraught with musical
tension. Late that spring, before the album's release, Bob
Dylan was hospitalized with a life-threatening heart infection,
pericarditis, brought on by histoplasmosis. His scheduled European
tour was cancelled, but Bob Dylan made a speedy recovery and left
the hospital saying, "I really thought I'd be seeing Elvis
soon." Bob Dylan was back on the road by midsummer, and in
early fall performed before Pope John Paul II at the World
Eucharistic Conference in Bologna, Italy. The Pope treated the
audience of 200,000 people to a homily based on Bob Dylan's lyric "Blowin'
in the Wind".
September saw the release of the new Lanois-produced album, Time Out
of Mind. With its bitter assessment of love and morbid ruminations,
Bob Dylan's first collection of original songs in seven years was
highly acclaimed. One critic wrote: "the songs themselves are
uniformly powerful, adding up to Bob Dylan's best overall collection
in years." This collection of complex songs won him his first
solo "Album of the Year" Grammy Award.
In December 1997, U.S. President Bill Clinton presented Bob Dylan
with a Kennedy Center Honor in the East Room of the White House,
paying this tribute: "Bob Dylan probably had more impact on people
of my generation than any other creative artist. His voice and
lyrics haven't always been easy on the ear, but throughout his
career Bob Dylan has never aimed to please. He's disturbed the peace
and discomforted the powerful."
"Things Have Changed" Bob Dylan's Oscar winning song was featured in the movie Wonder
Boys. The line "sapphire-tinted skies" echoes the verse of
Shelley while "forty miles of bad road" echoes Duane Eddy's hit
Bob Dylan commenced the new millennium by winning his first Oscar;
his song "Things Have Changed", penned for the film Wonder Boys, won
an Academy Award in March 2001. The Oscar (by some reports a
facsimile) tours with him, presiding over shows perched atop an
"Love and Theft" was released on September 11, 2001. Recorded with
his touring band, Bob Dylan produced the album himself under the
pseudonym Jack Frost. The album was critically well received
and earned nominations for several Grammy awards. Critics noted
that Bob Dylan was widening his musical palette to include
rockabilly, Western swing, jazz, and even lounge ballads. "Love
and Theft" generated controversy when The Wall Street Journal
pointed out similarities between the album's lyrics and Japanese
author Junichi Saga's book Confessions of a Yakuza.
In 2003, Bob Dylan revisited the evangelical songs from his "born
again" period and participated in the CD project Gotta Serve
Somebody: The Gospel Songs of Bob Dylan. That year also saw the
release of the film Masked & Anonymous, which Bob Dylan co-wrote
with director Larry Charles under the alias Sergei Petrov. Bob
Dylan played the central character in the film, Jack Fate, alongside
a cast which included Jeff Bridges, Penelope Cruz and John Goodman.
The film polarised critics: many dismissed it as an "incoherent
mess"; a few treated it as a serious work of
In October 2004, Bob Dylan published the first part of his
autobiography, Chronicles: Volume One. The book confounded
expectations. Bob Dylan devoted three chapters to his first
year in New York City in 1961–1962, virtually ignoring the mid-1960s
when his fame was at its height. Bob Dylan also devoted chapters to
the albums New Morning (1970) and Oh Mercy (1989). The book reached
number two on The New York Times' Hardcover Non-Fiction best seller
list in December 2004 and was nominated for a National Book
No Direction Home, Martin Scorsese's acclaimed film biography of Bob
Dylan, was first broadcast on September 26–27, 2005, on BBC Two
in the UK and PBS in the US. The documentary focuses on the
period from Bob Dylan's arrival in New York in 1961 to his
motorcycle crash in 1966, featuring interviews with Suze Rotolo,
Liam Clancy, Joan Baez, Allen Ginsberg, Pete Seeger, Mavis Staples,
and Bob Dylan himself. The film received a Peabody Award in April
2006 and a Columbia-duPont Award in January 2007. The
accompanying soundtrack featured unreleased songs from Bob Dylan's
Bob Dylan earned yet another distinction in a 2007 study of US legal
opinions and briefs that found his lyrics were quoted by judges and
lawyers more than those of any other songwriter, 186 times versus 74
by The Beatles, who were second. Among those quoting Bob Dylan were
US Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Antonin
Scalia, both conservatives. The most widely cited lines included
"you don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows" from
"Subterranean Homesick Blues" and "when you ain't got nothing, you
got nothing to lose" from "Like a Rolling Stone".
Modern Times (2006–08)
May 3, 2006, was the premiere of Bob Dylan's radio presenting
career, hosting a weekly radio program, Theme Time Radio Hour, for
XM Satellite Radio, with song selections revolving around a chosen
theme. Bob Dylan played classic and obscure records from
the 1930s to the present day, including contemporary artists as
diverse as Blur, Prince, L.L. Cool J and The Streets. The show was
praised by fans and critics as "great radio," as Bob Dylan told
stories and made eclectic references with his sardonic humor, while
achieving a thematic beauty with his musical choices. In
April 2009, Bob Dylan broadcast the 100th show in his radio series;
the theme was "Goodbye" and the final record played was Woody
Guthrie's "So Long, It's Been Good To Know Yuh". This has led to
speculation that Bob Dylan's radio series may have ended. Bob Dylan together with five members of his band onstage. Bob Dylan,
dressed in a white shirt and black pants, is second from right. Bob Dylan, the Spectrum, 2007
On August 29, 2006, Bob Dylan released his Modern Times album.
Despite some coarsening of Bob Dylan's voice (a critic for The
Guardian characterised his singing on the album as "a catarrhal
death rattle") most reviewers praised the album, and many
described it as the final installment of a successful trilogy,
embracing Time Out of Mind and "Love and Theft". Modern Times
entered the U.S. charts at number one, making it Bob Dylan's first
album to reach that position since 1976's Desire. The New York
Times published an article exploring similarities between some of
Bob Dylan's lyrics in Modern Times and the work of the Civil War
poet Henry Timrod.
Nominated for three Grammy Awards, Modern Times won Best
Contemporary Folk/Americana Album and Bob Dylan also won Best Solo
Rock Vocal Performance for "Someday Baby". Modern Times was named
Album of the Year, 2006, by Rolling Stone magazine, and by
Uncut in the UK. On the same day that Modern Times was released
the iTunes Music Store released Bob Dylan: The Collection, a digital
box set containing all of his albums (773 tracks in total), along
with 42 rare and unreleased tracks.
In August 2007, the award-winning film biography of Bob Dylan I'm
Not There, written and directed by Todd Haynes, was released—bearing
the tagline "inspired by the music and many lives of Bob
Dylan". The movie uses six distinct characters to
represent different aspects of Bob Dylan's life, played by Christian
Bale, Cate Blanchett, Marcus Carl Franklin, Richard Gere, Heath
Ledger and Ben Whishaw. Bob Dylan's previously unreleased
1967 recording from which the film takes its name was released
for the first time on the film's original soundtrack; all other
tracks are covers of Bob Dylan songs, specially recorded for the
movie by a diverse range of artists, including Eddie Vedder, Mason
Jennings, Stephen Malkmus, Jeff Tweedy, Karen O, Willie Nelson, Cat
Power, Richie Havens, and Tom Verlaine. Bob Dylan, dressed in a black western outfit with red highlights,
stands onstage and plays the keyboards. Bob Dylan gazes to the left
of the photo. Behind him is a guitar player, dressed in black. Bob Dylan performs at Air Canada Centre, Toronto, November 7, 2006
On October 1, 2007, Columbia Records released the triple CD
retrospective album Bob Dylan, anthologising his entire career under
the Bob Dylan 07 logo. As part of this campaign, Mark Ronson
produced a re-mix of Bob Dylan's 1966 tune "Most Likely You Go Your
Way (And I'll Go Mine)", which was released as a maxi-single. This
was the first time Bob Dylan had sanctioned a re-mix of one of his
The sophistication of the Bob Dylan 07 marketing campaign was a
reminder that Bob Dylan's commercial profile had risen considerably
since the 1990s. This first became evidenced in 2004, when Bob Dylan
appeared in a TV advertisement for Victoria's Secret lingerie.
Three years later, in October 2007, Bob Dylan participated in a
multi-media campaign for the 2008 Cadillac Escalade. Then,
in 2009, Bob Dylan gave the highest profile endorsement of his
career, appearing with rapper Will.i.am in a Pepsi ad that debuted
during the telecast of Super Bowl XLIII. The ad, broadcast to a
record audience of 98 million viewers, opened with Bob Dylan singing
the first verse of "Forever Young" followed by Will.i.am doing a hip
hop version of the song's third and final verse.
In October 2008, Columbia released Volume 8 of Bob Dylan's Bootleg
Series, Tell Tale Signs: Rare And Unreleased 1989–2006 as both a
two-CD set and a three-CD version with a 150-page hardcover book.
The set contains live performances and outtakes from selected studio
albums from Oh Mercy to Modern Times, as well as soundtrack
contributions and collaborations with David Bromberg and Ralph
Stanley. The pricing of the album—the two-CD set went on sale
for $18.99 and the three-CD version for $129.99—led to complaints
about "rip-off packaging" from some fans and commentators.
The release was widely acclaimed by critics. The abundance of
alternative takes and unreleased material suggested to Uncut's
reviewer: "Tell Tale Signs is awash with evidence of (Bob Dylan's)
staggering mercuriality, his evident determination even in the
studio to repeat himself as little as possible."
Bob Dylan released his album Together Through Life on April 28,
2009. In a conversation with music journalist Bill Flanagan,
published on Bob Dylan's website, Bob Dylan explained that the
genesis of the record was when French film director Olivier Dahan
asked him to supply a song for his new road movie, My Own Love Song;
initially only intending to record a single track, "Life Is Hard,"
"the record sort of took its own direction". Nine of the ten
songs on the album are credited as co-written by Bob Dylan and
The album received largely favorable reviews, although several
critics described it as a minor addition to Bob Dylan's canon of
work. Andy Gill wrote in The Independent that the record "features
Bob Dylan in fairly relaxed, spontaneous mood, content to grab such
grooves and sentiments as flit momentarily across his radar. So
while it may not contain too many landmark tracks, it's one of the
most naturally enjoyable albums you'll hear all year." Bob Dylan, wearing a white shirt and pants, sunglasses and a cowboy
hat, plays the keyboards onstage.
On keyboards at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, April
In its first week of release, the album reached number one in the
Billboard 200 chart in the U.S., making Bob Dylan (67 years of
age) the oldest artist to ever debut at number one on that
chart. It also reached number one on the UK album chart, 39
years after Bob Dylan's previous UK album chart topper New Morning.
This meant that Bob Dylan currently holds the record for the longest
gap between solo number one albums in the UK chart.
On October 13, 2009, Bob Dylan released a Christmas album, Christmas
in the Heart, comprising such Christmas standards as "Little Drummer
Boy", "Winter Wonderland" and "Here Comes Santa Claus". Bob
Dylan's royalties from the sale of this album will benefit the
charities Feeding America in the USA, Crisis in the UK, and the
World Food Programme.
The album received generally favorable reviews. The New Yorker
commented that Bob Dylan had welded a pre-rock musical sound to
"some of his croakiest vocals in a while", and speculated that Bob
Dylan's intentions might be ironic: "Bob Dylan has a long and highly
publicized history with Christianity; to claim there's not a wink in
the childish optimism of 'Here Comes Santa Claus' or 'Winter
Wonderland' is to ignore a half-century of biting satire." In
USA Today, Edna Gundersen pointed out that Bob Dylan was "revisiting
yuletide styles popularized by Nat King Cole, Mel Tormé, and the Ray
Conniff Singers." Gundersen concluded that Bob Dylan "couldn't sound
more sentimental or sincere".
In an interview published in The Big Issue, journalist Bill Flanagan
asked Bob Dylan why Bob Dylan had performed the songs in a
straightforward style, and Bob Dylan responded: "There wasn't any
other way to play it. These songs are part of my life, just like
folk songs. You have to play them straight too."
On October 18, 2010, Bob Dylan released Volume 9 of his Bootleg
Series, The Witmark Demos. This comprised 47 demo recordings of
songs taped between 1962 and 1964 for Bob Dylan's earliest music
publishers: Leeds Music in 1962, and Witmark Music from 1962 to
1964. One reviewer described the set as "a kind of alternate early
history of Bob Dylan's songwriting process, 'writing five new songs
before breakfast,' as Bob Dylan once famously quipped". The
critical aggregator website Metacritic awarded the album a Metascore
of 86, indicating "universal acclaim". In the same week, Sony
Legacy released Bob Dylan: The Original Mono Recordings, a box set
which for the first time presented Bob Dylan's eight earliest
albums, from Bob Dylan (1962) to John Wesley Harding (1967), in
their original mono mix in the CD format, accompanied by new liner
notes by Bob Dylan critic Greil Marcus.
On April 12, 2011, Legacy Recordings released Bob Dylan in Concert –
Brandeis University 1963 . The recording was taped at Brandeis
University on May 10, 1963, two weeks prior to the release of The
Freewheelin' Bob Dylan. The tape had been discovered in the archive
of music writer Ralph J. Gleason, and had previously been available
as a limited edition supplement to The Bootleg Series Vol. 9. The
recording carries liner notes by Bob Dylan scholar Michael Gray, who
writes: "(The) Bob Dylan performance it captured, from way back when
Kennedy was President and the Beatles hadn't yet reached America,
wasn't even on fans' radar.... It reveals him not at any Big Moment
but giving a performance like his folk club sets of the period...
This is the last live performance we have of Bob Dylan before Bob
Dylan becomes a star."
The extent to which his work was studied at an academic level was
demonstrated on Bob Dylan's 70th birthday on May 24, 2011, when
three universities organized symposia on his work. The University of
Mainz, the University of Vienna, and the University of
Bristol invited literary critics and cultural historians from
Europe and the US to give papers on aspects of Bob Dylan's work.
Other events, including tribute bands, intellectual debates and
simple singalongs, took place around the world, as reported in The
Guardian: "From Moscow to Madrid, Norway to Northampton and Malaysia
to his home state of Minnesota, self-confessed 'Bobcats' will gather
today to celebrate the 70th birthday of a giant of popular
On October 4, 2011, Bob Dylan's label, Egyptian Records, released an
album of previously unheard Hank Williams songs, The Lost Notebooks
of Hank Williams. Bob Dylan had helped to curate this project, in
which songs unfinished when Williams died in 1953 were completed and
recorded by a variety of artists, including Bob Dylan himself, his
son Jakob Bob Dylan, Levon Helm, Norah Jones, Jack White, and
On December 10, 2011, to mark International Human Rights Day,
Amnesty International announced they would release a 4-CD set,
Chimes of Freedom: Songs of Bob Dylan Honoring 50 Years of Amnesty
International, to mark the 50th anniversary of the international
human rights organization in January 2012. The album contains
76 newly recorded cover versions of songs by Bob Dylan, contributed
by more than 80 artists. Included on the album are "Don't Think
Twice, It's All Right" performed by both Kesha and the Kronos
Quartet, Pete Townshend performing "Corrina Corrina", Sinéad
O'Connor performing "Property of Jesus", and Lucinda Williams
performing "Tryin' to Get to Heaven". The 4-CD set of Chimes of
Freedom entered the Nielsen SoundScan chart at No. 11, and at No.
39, as it was also released in a 2-CD version by Starbucks.
On May 29, 2012, President Obama awarded Bob Dylan a Presidential
Medal of Freedom in the White House. At the ceremony, Obama praised
Bob Dylan's voice for its "unique gravelly power that redefined not
just what music sounded like but the message it carried and how it
made people feel".
On July 16, 2012 it was announced that Bob Dylan's 35th studio
album, Tempest, will be released on September 11, 2012. The
album will feature a tribute to John Lennon, "Roll On John", and the
title track is a 14 minute song about the sinking of the
Titanic. In a preview of the album, Neil McCormick reported in
The Daily Telegraph that "popular music's greatest troubadour is
still as brilliant and bewildering as ever". McCormick added Bob
Dylan "was blown away with the mad energy of the album. At
71-years-old Bob Dylan is still striking out into strange new places
rather than revisiting his past."
Never Ending Tour
Main article: Never Ending Tour Bob Dylan, standing and playing the keyboards, onstage with members
of his band. Bob Dylan (right on keyboards) at the Roskilde Festival, 2006
The Never Ending Tour commenced on June 7, 1988, and Bob Dylan
has played roughly 100 dates a year for the entirety of the 1990s
and the 2000s (decade)—a heavier schedule than most performers who
started out in the 1960s. By the end of 2010, Bob Dylan and his
band had played more than 2300 shows, anchored by long-time
bassist Tony Garnier, multi-instrumentalist Donnie Herron and
guitarist Charlie Sexton. To the dismay of some of his
audience, Bob Dylan's performances remain unpredictable as Bob
Dylan alters his arrangements and changes his vocal approach night
after night. Critical opinion about Bob Dylan's shows remains
divided. Critics such as Richard Williams and Andy Gill have argued
that Bob Dylan has found a successful way to present his rich legacy
of material. Others have criticised his onstage vocal
style for mangling and spitting out "the greatest lyrics ever
written so that they are effectively unrecognisable", and a
perceived indifference towards his audience.
Bob Dylan's performances in China in April 2011 generated
controversy. Some criticised him for not making any explicit comment
on the political situation in China, and for, allegedly, allowing
the Chinese authorities to censor his set-list. Others
defended Bob Dylan's performances, arguing that such criticism
represented a misunderstanding of Bob Dylan's art, and that no
evidence for the censorship of Bob Dylan's set-list
existed. Bob Dylan responded to these allegations of
censorship by posting a statement on his website: "As far as
censorship goes, the Chinese government had asked for the names of
the songs that I would be playing. There's no logical answer to
that, so we sent them the set lists from the previous 3 months. If
there were any songs, verses or lines censored, nobody ever told me
about it and we played all the songs that we intended to play."
Bob Dylan's 2012 tour commenced in Rio de Janeiro on April 15, and
included performances in Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Costa Rica, and
Mexico. In the summer, Bob Dylan visited Europe, returning
to Kent, England, on June 30, to perform at the Hop Farm
Festival. Bob Dylan appeared as a headliner at the 46th
Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland on July 8, 2012.
Bob Dylan began his Fall 2012 tour of North America in Lloydminster,
Alberta, on August 10, accompanied by special guest Mark Knopfler.
The tour will end in Brooklyn, New York on November 21.
Over a decade after Random House had published Drawn Blank (1994), a
book of Bob Dylan's drawings, an exhibit of his art, The Drawn Blank
Series, opened in October 2007 at the Kunstsammlungen in Chemnitz,
Germany. This first public exhibition of Bob Dylan's paintings
showcased more than 200 watercolors and gouaches made earlier in
2007 from the original drawings. The exhibition coincided with the
publication of the book Bob Dylan: The Drawn Blank Series, which
includes 170 reproductions from the series. From September
2010 until April 2011, the National Gallery of Denmark exhibited 40
large-scale acrylic paintings by Bob Dylan, The Brazil
In July 2011, a leading contemporary art gallery, Gagosian Gallery,
announced their representation of Bob Dylan's paintings. An
exhibition of Bob Dylan's art, The Asia Series, opened at the
Gagosian Madison Avenue Gallery on September 20, displaying Bob
Dylan's paintings of scenes in China and the Far East. The New
York Times reported that "some fans and Bob Dylanologists have
raised questions about whether some of these paintings are based on
the singer's own experiences and observations, or on photographs
that are widely available and were not taken by Mr. Bob Dylan."
The Times pointed to close resemblances between Bob Dylan's
paintings and six historic photos of Japan and China which had been
posted on the Flickr website. Bob Dylan's paintings also
appeared to be based on photographs taken by Dmitri Kessel, Henri
Cartier-Bresson, and Jacob Aue Sobol. The Magnum photo agency
confirmed that Bob Dylan had licensed the reproduction rights of
The discography lists 35 studio albums, 58 singles, 13 live albums,
9 albums comprising The Bootleg Series, and 14 compilation albums.
It also includes three home videos, a bibliography, and a
Main article: List of awards received by Bob Dylan
President Barack Obama presents Bob Dylan with a Medal of Freedom
(May 29, 2012).
Bob Dylan has won many awards throughout his career including 11
Grammy Awards, one Academy Award and one Golden Globe Award; Bob
Dylan has been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame,
Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame, and Songwriters Hall of Fame. In
May 2012, Bob Dylan was one out of thirteen honorees to receive the
Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Bob Dylan married Sara Lownds on November 22, 1965. Their first
child, Jesse Byron Bob Dylan, was born on January 6, 1966, and they
had three more children: Anna Lea (born July 11, 1967), Samuel Isaac
Abraham (born July 30, 1968), and Jakob Luke (born December 9,
1969). Bob Dylan also adopted Sara's daughter from a prior marriage,
Maria Lownds (later Bob Dylan, born October 21, 1961). Maria married
musician Peter Himmelman in 1988. In the 1990s, Bob Dylan's son
Jakob became well known as the lead singer of the band The
Wallflowers. Jesse Bob Dylan is a film director and a successful
businessman. Bob and Sara Bob Dylan were divorced on June 29,
In June 1986, Bob Dylan married his longtime backup singer Carolyn
Dennis (often professionally known as Carol Dennis). Their
daughter, Desiree Gabrielle Dennis-Bob Dylan, was born on January
31, 1986. The couple divorced in October 1992. Their marriage and
child remained a closely guarded secret until the publication of
Howard Sounes' Bob Dylan biography, Down the Highway: The Life Of
Bob Dylan in 2001. Bob Dylan now lives in Malibu, California,
when not on the road. In total, Bob Dylan has six children
(five biological and one adopted) and eleven grandchildren as of
Growing up in Hibbing, Minnesota, Bob Dylan and his family were part
of the area's small but close-knit Jewish community, and in May 1954
Bob Dylan had his Bar Mitzvah. Around the time of his 30th
birthday, in 1971, Bob Dylan visited Israel, and also met Rabbi Meir
Kahane, founder of the New York-based Jewish Defense League.
Time magazine quoted Bob Dylan saying about Kahane, "He's a really
sincere guy. He's really put it all together." Subsequently,
Bob Dylan downplayed the extent of his contact with Kahane.
For a period during the late 1970s and early 1980s, Bob Dylan was a
public convert to Christianity. From January to April 1979, Bob
Dylan participated in Bible study classes at the Vineyard School of
Discipleship in Reseda, California. Pastor Kenn Gulliksen has
recalled: "Larry Myers and Paul Emond went over to Bob's house and
ministered to him. Bob Dylan responded by saying, 'Yes Bob Dylan did
in fact want Christ in his life.' And Bob Dylan prayed that day and
received the Lord."
By 1984, Bob Dylan was distancing himself from the "born-again"
label. Bob Dylan told Kurt Loder of Rolling Stone magazine: "I've
never said I'm born again. That's just a media term. I don't think
I've been an agnostic. I've always thought there's a superior power,
that this is not the real world and that there's a world to come."
In response to Loder's asking whether Bob Dylan belonged to any
Church or synagogue, Bob Dylan laughingly replied, "Not really. Uh,
the Church of the Poison Mind." In 1997 Bob Dylan told David
Gates of Newsweek:
“ Here's the thing with me and the religious thing. This is the
flat-out truth: I find the religiosity and philosophy in the music.
I don't find it anywhere else. Songs like "Let Me Rest on a Peaceful
Mountain" or "I Saw the Light"—that's my religion. I don't adhere to
rabbis, preachers, evangelists, all of that. I've learned more from
the songs than I've learned from any of this kind of entity. The
songs are my lexicon. I believe the songs. ”
In an interview published in The New York Times on September 28,
1997, journalist Jon Pareles reported that "Bob Dylan says Bob Dylan
now subscribes to no organized religion."
Bob Dylan has been a supporter of the Chabad Lubavitch movement in
the last 20 years, and has privately participated in Jewish
religious events, including the bar mitzvahs of his sons and
attending Hadar Hatorah, a Chabad Lubavitch yeshiva. In September
1989 and September 1991, Bob Dylan appeared on the Chabad
telethon. Bob Dylan reportedly visits Chabad synagogues; on
September 22, 2007 (Yom Kippur), Bob Dylan attended Congregation
Beth Tefillah, in Atlanta, Georgia, where Bob Dylan was called to
the Torah for the sixth aliyah.
Bob Dylan has continued to perform songs from his gospel albums in
concert, occasionally covering traditional religious songs. Bob
Dylan has also made passing references to his religious faith—such
as in a 2004 interview with 60 Minutes, when Bob Dylan told Ed
Bradley that "the only person you have to think twice about lying to
is either yourself or to God." Bob Dylan also explained his constant
touring schedule as part of a bargain Bob Dylan made a long time ago
with the "chief commander—in this earth and in the world we can't
In a 2009 interview with Bill Flanagan promoting his Christmas LP,
Christmas in the Heart, Flanagan commented on the "heroic
performance" Bob Dylan gave of "O Little Town of Bethlehem" and that
Bob Dylan "delivered the song like a true believer". Bob Dylan
replied: "Well, I am a true believer."
Bob Dylan is one of the most influential figures of the 20th
century, musically and culturally. Bob Dylan was included in the
Time 100: The Most Important People of the Century where Bob Dylan
was called "master poet, caustic social critic and intrepid, guiding
spirit of the counterculture generation". President Barack Obama
said of Bob Dylan in 2012, "There is not a bigger giant in the
history of American music." Biographer Howard Sounes placed him
among the most exalted company when Bob Dylan said, "There are giant
figures in art who are sublimely good—Mozart, Picasso, Frank Lloyd
Wright, Shakespeare, Dickens. Bob Dylan ranks alongside these
artists." Rolling Stone magazine ranked Bob Dylan at Number Two
in their 2011 list of "100 Greatest Artists" of all time.
Initially modeling his writing style on the songs of Woody
Guthrie, and lessons learned from the blues of Robert Johnson,
Bob Dylan added increasingly sophisticated lyrical techniques to the
folk music of the early 1960s, infusing it "with the intellectualism
of classic literature and poetry". Paul Simon suggested that
Bob Dylan's early compositions virtually took over the folk genre:
"[Bob Dylan's] early songs were very rich ... with strong melodies.
'Blowin' in the Wind' has a really strong melody. Bob Dylan so
enlarged himself through the folk background that Bob Dylan
incorporated it for a while. Bob Dylan defined the genre for a
When Bob Dylan made his move from acoustic music to a rock backing,
the mix became more complex. For many critics, Bob Dylan's greatest
achievement was the cultural synthesis exemplified by his mid-1960s
trilogy of albums—Bringing It All Back Home, Highway 61 Revisited
and Blonde on Blonde. In Mike Marqusee's words: "Between late 1964
and the summer of 1966, Bob Dylan created a body of work that
remains unique. Drawing on folk, blues, country, R&B, rock'n'roll,
gospel, British beat, symbolist, modernist and Beat poetry,
surrealism and Dada, advertising jargon and social commentary,
Fellini and Mad magazine, Bob Dylan forged a coherent and original
artistic voice and vision. The beauty of these albums retains the
power to shock and console."
One legacy of Bob Dylan's verbal sophistication was the increasing
attention paid by literary critics to his lyrics. Professor
Christopher Ricks published a 500-page analysis of Bob Dylan's work,
placing him in the context of Eliot, Keats and Tennyson, and
claiming that Bob Dylan was a poet worthy of the same close
analysis. Former British poet laureate, Sir Andrew Motion,
argued that Bob Dylan's lyrics should be studied in schools.
Since 1996, academics have lobbied the Swedish Academy to award Bob
Dylan the Nobel Prize in Literature.
Bob Dylan's voice was, in some ways, as startling as his lyrics. New
York Times critic Robert Shelton described Bob Dylan's early vocal
style as "a rusty voice suggesting Guthrie's old performances,
etched in gravel like Dave Van Ronk's." David Bowie, in his
tribute, "Song for Bob Dylan", described Bob Dylan's singing as "a
voice like sand and glue". Bob Dylan's voice continued to develop as
Bob Dylan began to work with rock'n'roll backing bands; critic
Michael Gray described the sound of Bob Dylan's vocal on his hit
single, "Like a Rolling Stone", as "at once young and jeeringly
cynical". As Bob Dylan's voice aged during the 1980s, for some
critics, it became more expressive. Christophe Lebold writes in the
journal Oral Tradition, "Bob Dylan's more recent broken voice
enables him to present a world view at the sonic surface of the
songs—this voice carries us across the landscape of a broken, fallen
world. The anatomy of a broken world in "Everything is Broken" (on
the album Oh Mercy) is but an example of how the thematic concern
with all things broken is grounded in a concrete sonic
Bob Dylan's influence has been felt in several musical genres. As
Edna Gundersen stated in USA Today: "Bob Dylan's musical DNA has
informed nearly every simple twist of pop since 1962." Many
musicians have testified to Bob Dylan's influence, such as Joe
Strummer, who praised Bob Dylan as having "laid down the template
for lyric, tune, seriousness, spirituality, depth of rock
music." Other major musicians to have acknowledged Bob Dylan's
importance include John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Pete
Townshend, Neil Young, Bruce Springsteen, David
Bowie, Bryan Ferry, Nick Cave, Patti Smith,
Syd Barrett, Cat Stevens,Joni Mitchell, and Tom
Waits. More directly, both The Byrds and The Band, two 1960s
contemporary groups with some measure of influence on popular music
themselves, largely owed their initial success to Bob Dylan: the
Byrds with their hit of "Mr. Tambourine Man" and subsequent album;
and The Band for their association with him on tour in 1966, on
retreat in Woodstock, and on their debut album featuring three
previously unreleased Bob Dylan songs.
Some critics have dissented from the view of Bob Dylan as a
visionary figure in popular music. In his book Awopbopaloobop
Alopbamboom, Nik Cohn objected: "I can't take the vision of Bob
Dylan as seer, as teenage messiah, as everything else he's been
worshipped as. The way I see him, he's a minor talent with a major
gift for self-hype." Similarly, Australian critic Jack Marx
credited Bob Dylan with changing the persona of the rock star: "What
cannot be disputed is that Bob Dylan invented the arrogant,
faux-cerebral posturing that has been the dominant style in rock
since, with everyone from Mick Jagger to Eminem educating themselves
from the Bob Dylan handbook." Joni Mitchell described Bob Dylan
as a "plagiarist" and his voice as "fake" in a 2010 interview in the
Los Angeles Times, in response to a suggestion that she and Bob
Dylan were similar since they had both changed their birthnames.
Mitchell's comment led to discussions of Bob Dylan's use of other
people's material, both supporting and criticizing Bob Dylan.
If Bob Dylan's legacy in the 1960s was seen as bringing intellectual
ambition to popular music, now that Bob Dylan has passed the age of
70, Bob Dylan has been described as a figure who has greatly
expanded the folk culture from which Bob Dylan initially emerged. As
J. Hoberman wrote in The Village Voice, "Elvis might never have been
born, but someone else would surely have brought the world rock 'n'
roll. No such logic accounts for Bob Dylan. No iron law of history
demanded that a would-be Elvis from Hibbing, Minnesota, would swerve
through the Greenwich Village folk revival to become the world's
first and greatest rock 'n' roll beatnik bard and then—having
achieved fame and adoration beyond reckoning—vanish into a folk
tradition of his own making."
According to Bob Dylan biographer Robert Shelton, the singer first
confided his change of name to his high school girlfriend Echo
Helstrom in 1958, informing her Bob Dylan had found a "great name,
Bob Dillon". Shelton surmises the name Dillon had two sources:
Marshal Matt Dillon was the hero of the popular TV western Gunsmoke;
Dillon was also the name of one of Hibbing's principal families.
When writing his biography in the mid 1960s, Bob Dylan told Shelton:
"Straighten out in your book that I did not take my name from Bob
Dylan Thomas. Bob Dylan Thomas's poetry is for people that aren't
really satisfied in their bed, for people who dig masculine
romance." At the University of Minnesota, the singer told a few
friends that Dillon was his mother's maiden name, which was untrue.
The singer later told reporters that Bob Dylan had an uncle named
Dillon. Shelton adds that only when Bob Dylan reached New York in
1961 did the singer begin to spell his name 'Bob Dylan', by which
time Bob Dylan was acquainted with the life and work of Bob Dylan
Thomas. Shelton, No Direction Home, 2011, pp. 44–45.
a b c Gates, David (October 6, 1997). "Bob Dylan Revisited".
Newsweek. Retrieved June 8, 2010.
a b Cocks, Jay (June 14, 1999). "The Time 100: Bob Dylan".
shrout.co.uk/TIME. Retrieved October 5, 2008. Bob Dylan sang "Blowin' in the Wind" at the Washington D.C.
concert, January 20, 1986, which marked the inauguration of Martin
Luther King Day. Gray, 2006, The Bob Dylan Encyclopedia, pp. 63–64.
"Bob Dylan 'reveals origin of anthem'". BBC News. April 11, 2004.
Retrieved February 6, 2009.
Marcus 2005, pp. 6–8
a b Bob Dylan, Chronicles, Volume One, pp. 243–246.
a b Bob Dylan, Chronicles, Volume One, pp. 281–288.
a b Shelton, No Direction Home, pp. 38–40.
Browne, David (September 10, 2001). "Love and Theft review".
Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved September 7, 2008.
a b Pessl, Marsha (June 1, 2008). "When I Paint My Masterpiece".
The New York Times Book Review. Retrieved October 20, 2010.
a b c Gray, Michael. "Bob Dylan's Drawn Blank Paintings
Exhibition". BobBob DylanEncyclopediablogspot.com. Retrieved June
"The Pulitzer Prize Winners 2008: Special Citation". Pulitzer. May
7, 2008. Retrieved September 6, 2008.
a b c Itzkoff, Dave (May 29, 2012). "Bob Dylan Among Recipients of
Presidential Medal of Freedom". The New York Times. Retrieved May
Sounes, Down The Highway: The Life Of Bob Dylan, p. 14, gives his
Hebrew name as Shabtai Zisel ben Avraham
A Chabad news service gives the variant Zushe ben Avraham, which
may be a Yiddish variant "Singer/Songwriter Bob Dylan Joins Yom
Kippur Services in Atlanta". Chabad.org News. September 24, 2007.
Retrieved September 11, 2008.
Sounes, Down The Highway: The Life Of Bob Dylan, p. 14
"Robert Allen Zimmerman". Minnesota Birth Index, 1935–2002.
Ancestry.com. Retrieved September 6, 2011. "Name: Robert Allen
Zimmerman; Birth Date: 24 May 1941; Birth County: Saint Louis;
Father: Abram H. Zimmerman; Mother: Beatrice Stone"(subscription
a b Sounes, Down the Highway: The Life Of Bob Dylan, pp. 12–13. Bob Dylan, Chronicles, Volume One, pp. 92–93.
a b Gray, Michael (May 22, 2011). "One of a kind: Bob Dylan at 70".
The Japan Times. Retrieved December 30, 2011.
Heylin, 1996, Bob Dylan: A Life In Stolen Moments, pp. 4–5.
Sounes, Down The Highway: The Life Of Bob Dylan, pp. 29–37.
LIFE Books, Bob Dylan, Forever Young, 50 Years of Song, Time Home
Entertainment, 2012, Vol. 2. No 2, February 10, 2012, p. 15
An interview with Bobby Vee suggests the young Zimmerman may have
been eccentric in spelling his early pseudonym: "[Bob Dylan] was in
the Fargo/Moorhead area ... Bill [Velline] was in a record shop in
Fargo, Sam's Record Land, and this guy came up to him and introduced
himself as Elston Gunnn—with three n's, G-U-N-N-N." Bobby Vee
Interview, July 1999, Goldmine Reproduced online: "Early alias for
Robert Zimmerman". Expecting Rain. August 11, 1999. Retrieved
September 11, 2008.
Sounes, Down The Highway: The Life Of Bob Dylan, pp. 41–42.
Heylin, Bob Dylan: Behind the Shades Revisited, pp. 26–27.
a b c d e Biograph, 1985, Liner notes & text by Cameron Crowe.
Shelton, No Direction Home, pp. 65–82.
a b This is related in the documentary film No Direction Home,
Director: Martin Scorsese. Broadcast: September 26, 2005, PBS & BBC
Heylin, 1996, Bob Dylan: A Life In Stolen Moments, p. 7. Bob Dylan, Chronicles, Volume One, pp. 78–79.
a b Leung, Rebecca (June 12, 2005). " "Bob Dylan Looks Back". CBS
News. Retrieved February 25, 2009.
Sounes, Down The Highway: The Life Of Bob Dylan, p. 72 Bob Dylan, Chronicles, Volume One, p. 98. Bob Dylan, Chronicles, Volume One, pp. 244–246. Bob Dylan, Chronicles, Volume One, pp. 250–252.
Shelton, No Direction Home, 2011, pp. 74–78.
Robert Shelton, The New York Times, September 21, 1961, "Bob Dylan:
A Distinctive Stylist" reproduced online: Robert Shelton (September
21, 1961). "Bob Dylan: A Distinctive Stylist". Bob Dylan Roots.
Archived from the original on April 21, 2008. Retrieved September
Richie Unterberger (October 8, 2003). "Carolyn Hester Biography".
All Music. Retrieved September 11, 2008.
Scaduto, Bob Dylan, p. 110.
A photo of Bob Dylan with Victoria Spivey at this session was used
by Bob Dylan on the cover of his 1970 album, New Morning. See Gray,
The Bob Dylan Encyclopedia, pp. 630–631.
a b c Unterberger, Richie. "Blind Boy Grunt". allmusic.com.
Retrieved February 12, 2011.
Shelton, No Direction Home, pp. 157–158.
Gill, My Back Pages, 23
Sounes, 2001, Down The Highway: The Life Of Bob Dylan, p. 121
Sounes, 2001, Down The Highway: The Life Of Bob Dylan, p. 116
Gray, The Bob Dylan Encyclopedia, pp. 283–284.
Heylin, Bob Dylan: Behind the Shades Revisited, pp. 115–116.
a b Heylin, 1996, Bob Dylan: A Life In Stolen Moments, pp. 35–39.
a b c d Llewellyn-Smith, Caspar (September 18, 2005). "Flash-back".
The Observer. Retrieved June 17, 2012.
Shelton, No Direction Home, pp. 138–142.
Shelton, No Direction Home, p. 156.
The booklet by John Bauldie accompanying Bob Dylan's The Bootleg
Series Volumes 1–3 (Rare & Unreleased) 1961–1991 (1991) says: "Bob
Dylan acknowledged the debt in 1978 to journalist Marc Rowland:
Blowin' In The Wind' has always been a spiritual. I took it off a
song called 'No More Auction Block'—that's a spiritual and 'Blowin'
In The Wind follows the same feeling.'" pp. 6–8.
Heylin, Bob Dylan: Behind the Shades Revisited, pp. 101–103.
Ricks, Bob Dylan's Visions of Sin, pp. 329–344.
Scaduto, Bob Dylan, p. 35.
Mojo magazine, December 1993.
Hedin (ed.), 2004, Studio A: The Bob Dylan Reader, p. 259.
Sounes, 2001, Down The Highway: The Life Of Bob Dylan, pp. 136–138.
Joan Baez entry, Gray, The Bob Dylan Encyclopedia, pp. 28–31.
Meacham, Steve (August 15, 2007). "It ain't me babe but I like how
it sounds". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved September 24, 2008.
Biograph, 1985, Liner notes & text by Cameron Crowe. Musicians on
"Mixed Up Confusion": George Barnes & Bruce Langhorne (guitars);
Dick Wellstood (piano); Gene Ramey (bass); Herb Lovelle (drums) Bob Dylan had recorded "Talkin' John Birch Society Blues" for his
Freewheelin album, but the song was replaced by later compositions,
including "Masters of War". See Heylin, Bob Dylan: Behind the Shades
Revisited, pp. 114–115. Bob Dylan performed "Only a Pawn in Their Game" and "When the Ship
Comes In"; see Heylin, Bob Dylan: A Life In Stolen Moments, p. 49.
Gill, My Back Pages, pp. 37–41.
Ricks, Bob Dylan's Visions of Sin, pp. 221–233.
Williams, 1992, Bob Dylan: a man called alias, p. 56.
Shelton, No Direction Home, pp. 200–205.
Part of Bob Dylan's speech went: "There's no black and white, left
and right to me any more; there's only up and down and down is very
close to the ground. And I'm trying to go up without thinking of
anything trivial such as politics."; see, Shelton, No Direction
Home, pp. 200–205.
Heylin, 1996, Bob Dylan: A Life In Stolen Moments, p. 60.
Shelton, No Direction Home, p. 222.
In an interview with Seth Goddard for Life magazine (July 5, 2001)
Ginsberg claimed that Bob Dylan's technique had been inspired by
Jack Kerouac: "(Bob Dylan) pulled Mexico City Blues from my hand and
started reading it and I said, 'What do you know about that?' Bob
Dylan said, 'Somebody handed it to me in '59 in St. Paul and it blew
my mind.' So I said 'Why?' Bob Dylan said, 'It was the first poetry
that spoke to me in my own language.' So those chains of flashing
images you get in Bob Dylan, like 'the motorcycle black Madonna
two-wheeled gypsy queen and her silver studded phantom lover,'
they're influenced by Kerouac's chains of flashing images and
spontaneous writing, and that spreads out into the people."
Reproduced online: "Online Interviews With Allen Ginsberg".
University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign. October 8, 2004.
Retrieved September 11, 2008.
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Sing Out!, September 1965, quoted in Shelton, No Direction Home, p.
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"The closest I ever got to the sound I hear in my mind was on
individual bands in the Blonde on Blonde album. It's that thin, that
wild mercury sound. It's metallic and bright gold, with whatever
that conjures up." Bob Dylan Interview, Playboy, March 1978;
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Gill, My Back Pages, p. 95.
a b Sounes, Down The Highway: The Life Of Bob Dylan, p. 193.
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C. P. Lee wrote: "In Garrett's ghost-written memoir, The Authentic
Life of Billy The Kid, published within a year of Billy's death, Bob
Dylan wrote that 'Billy's partner doubtless had a name which was his
legal property, but Bob Dylan was so given to changing it that it is
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Scott Marshall wrote: "When Bob Dylan sings that 'The sun is going
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here is the biblical metaphor for all false gods. For Bob Dylan, the
world will eventually know that there is only one God." Marshall,
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Heylin quotes the speech: "My daddy once said to me, Bob Dylan said,
'Son, it is possible for you to become so defiled in this world that
your own mother and father will abandon you. If that happens, God
will believe in your ability to mend your own ways.' "
Gray, The Bob Dylan Encyclopedia, p. 423.
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Pointing with inconstant motion/ From the altar of dark ocean/ To
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8, 2003. Retrieved September 29, 2011. Bob Dylan co-wrote Masked & Anonymous under the pseudonym Seregei
Petrov, taken from an actor in the silent movie era; Larry Charles
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rest of the basement recordings, or anywhere else in Bob Dylan's
career. Very quickly the listener is drawn into the sickly embrace
of the music, its wash of half-heard, half-formed words and the
increasing bitterness and despair behind them. Words are floated
together in a dyslexia that is music itself – a dyslexia that seems
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