Rock Through the Ages: Bob Dylan 1941-


"I don't think the human mind can comprehend the past and the future. They are both just illusions that can manipulate you into thinking there's some kind of change"- Bob Dylan

Bob Dylan, singer and songerwriter and featured in Rock Through the PagesFor over 40 years, Bob Dylan has remained, along with James Brown, the most influential American musician rock and roll has ever produced and the most important of the '60s. Inscrutable and unpredictable, Dylan has been both deified and denounced for every shift of interest, while whole schools of musicians took up his ideas. His lyrics — the first in rock to be seriously regarded as literature — became so well known that politicians from Jimmy Carter to Vaclav Havel have cited them as an influence.

By personalizing folk songs, bob Dylan reinvented the singer-songwriter genre; by performing his allusive, poetic songs in his nasal, spontaneous vocal style with an electric band, he enlarged pop's range and vocabulary while creating a widely imitated sound.

Robert Allen Zimmerman was born in St. Mary's Hospital on May 24, 1941, in Duluth, Minnesota, and raised there and in Hibbing, Minnesota, on the Mesabi Iron Range west of Lake Superior. 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. After taking up guitar and harmonica, he formed the Golden Chords while a high school freshman.

Bob Dylan enrolled at the arts college of the University of Minnesota in 1959 and during his three semesters there, he began performing solo at coffeehouses as Bob Dylan. He legally changed his name to Bob Dylan in August of 1962, taking the name from the welsh poet Dylan Thomas.

In 1960, Dylan dropped out of college and moved to New York, where his idol, the legendary folk singer Woody Guthrie, was hospitalized with a rare hereditary disease of the nervous system. Dylan visited with Guthrie regularly in his hospital room. Bob Dylan became a regular in the folk clubs and coffeehouses of Greenwich Village, where he met a host of other musicians, and began writing songs at an astonishing pace, including "Song to Woody," a tribute to his ailing hero. Dylan's force was evident during his height of popularity in the '60s. The Beatles' shift toward introspective songwriting in the mid-'60s may have never happened without Bob Dylan. At the time Bob Dylan's voice, musicianship and songwriting were still raw. His performances, like his first Columbia album (1962s Bob Dylan), consisted of traditional folk, blues and gospel material interspersed with a few of his own songs.

singer songwriter Bob DylanComprised entirely of original songs, Dylan's next album The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan  made a huge impact in the folk community, and many performers began covering songs from the album. Of these, the most significant were Peter, Paul & Mary, who made "Blowin' in the Wind" into a huge pop hit in the summer of 1963 and thereby made Bob Dylan into a recognizable household name.

On the strength of Peter, Paul & Mary's cover and his opening gigs for popular folky Joan Baez, Freewheelin' became a hit in the fall of 1963, climbing to number 23 on the charts. By that point, Baez and Dylan had become romantically involved, and she was beginning to record his songs frequently. Dylan was writing just as fast. While his romantic relationship with Baez lasted only two years, it benefited both immensely in terms of their music careers, as Dylan wrote some of Baez's best-known material and Baez introduced him to thousands of fans in her concerts.

By 1964, Dylan was playing 200 concerts annually, but had become tired of his role as "the" folk singer-songwriter of the protest movement. Another Side of Bob Dylan, recorded in 1964, was a much more personal, introspective collection of songs, far less politically charged than Dylan's previous efforts.


The music Dylan made in 1965 and 1966 revolutionized rock. The intensity of his performances and his live-in-the-studio albums,  Highway 61 Revisited,  and Blonde on Blonde  were a revelation. In the studio, the musicians, who would slowly metamorphose into The Band, perfected their sound, ("that thin wild mercury sound" Dylan called it, and it defies any other description).  His lyrics were analyzed, debated, and quoted like no pop artist before. With rage and slangy playfulness, Dylan chewed up and spat out literary and folk traditions in a wild, inspired doggerel. Bob Dylan didn't explain; he gave off-the-wall interviews and press conferences in which he'd spin contradictory fables about his background and intentions. In April 1966, Dylan's worldwide record sales topped 10 million, and more than 150 other groups or artists across a wide range of genres had recorded at least one of his songs.

Over the course of the next three decades, Dylan continued to reinvent himself. Following a near-fatal motorcycle accident in July 1966, Dylan spent almost a year recovering in seclusion. His next two albums, John Wesley Harding, and the unabashedly countryish Nashville Skyline were far more mellow than his earlier works. Declaring in 1979 that he was now a born-again Christian, the evangelical Slow Train Coming  was a commercial hit and won Dylan his first Grammy Award, for Best Rock Vocal Performance, Male. The tour and albums that followed were less successful, however, and Dylan's religious leanings soon became less overt in his music. Beginning in the 1980s, Dylan began touring full time, sometimes with fellow legends Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers and the Grateful Dead. Later in the 80s he took part in the Traveling Wilburys album project, working with good friend George Harrison.

When Dylan was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1989, Bruce Springsteen spoke at the ceremony, declaring that "Bob freed the mind the way Elvis freed the body. ... He invented a new way a pop singer could sound, broke through the limitations of what a recording artist could achieve, and changed the face of rock and roll forever."  In 1997, Dylan became the first rock star ever to receive Kennedy Center Honors, considered the nation's highest award for artistic excellence. In 2000, Dylan received the prestigious Polar Prize and performed a new song, "Things Have Changed,"  for the soundtrack of the movie Wonder Boys The song went on to receive a Grammy Award and Dylan's first-ever Oscar. 

In 2004, Bob Dylan was ranked number two in Rolling Stone magazine's list of "Greatest Artists of All Time". Bob Dylan has been described as one of the most influential figures of the 20th century, musically and culturally. Dylan was included in the Time 100: The Most Important People of the Century where he was called "master poet, caustic social critic and intrepid, guiding spirit of the counterculture generation".
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Bob Dylan
Musician
"Highway 61 revisited"  "Blonde on Blonde "