Bob Dylan (born Robert Allen Zimmerman; May 24, 1941) is an American singer-songwriter, poet, and painter. He has been a major figure in music for five decades. Much of his most celebrated work dates from the 1960s when he was an informal chronicler, and an apparently reluctant figurehead, of social unrest. Though he is well-known for revolutionizing perceptions of the limits of popular music in 1965 with the six-minute single "Like a Rolling Stone," a number of his earlier 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.
His early lyrics incorporated a variety of political, social and philosophical, as well as 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, Hank Williams, and the performance styles of Buddy Holly and Little Richard, Dylan has both amplified and personalized musical genres, exploring 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.
Dylan performs with guitar, keyboards, and harmonica. Backed by a changing line-up of musicians, he 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, Dylan has published three books of drawings and paintings, and his work has been exhibited in major art galleries. As a songwriter and musician, Dylan has received numerous awards over the years including Grammy, Golden Globe, and Academy Awards; he has been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame, and Songwriters Hall of Fame. In 2008, a road called the Bob Dylan Pathway was opened in the singer's honor in his birthplace of Duluth, Minnesota. 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."
Ah, but I was so much older then, I'm younger than that now... Bob Dylan turned 70! Initially modeling his style on the songs of Woody Guthrie, he became one of the most sophisticated lyricists and most influential artists of the 20th century.
»Master poet, caustic social critic and intrepid, guiding spirit of the counterculture generation.«
(Time 100: The Most Important People of the Century)
»There is something faintly ridiculous about such a citybilly, yet Dylan is the newest hero of an art that has made a fetish out of authenticity.
At its very best, his voice sounds as if it were drifting over the walls of a tuberculosis sanitarium—but that's part of the charm. Sometimes he lapses into a scrawny Presleyan growl, and sometimes his voice simply sinks into silence beneath the pile-driver chords he plays on his guitar. But he has something unique to say, and he says it in songs of his own invention that are the best songs of their style since Woody Guthrie's.«
»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.«
(Joyce Carol Oates)
»His early songs were very rich ... with strong melodies. 'Blowin' in the Wind' has a really strong melody. He so enlarged himself through the folk background that he incorporated it for a while. He defined the genre for a while.«
»Songwriting is like fishing in a stream; you put in your line and hope you catch something. And I don't think anyone downstream from Bob Dylan ever caught anything.«
»Between late 1964 and the summer of 1966, 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, he forged a coherent and original artistic voice and vision.«
»From the moment he launched into 'Maggie's Farm,' now fleshed out with an incredible electric intensity, it was clarity and catharsis.
This was electricity married to content. We were hearing music with lyrics that had meaning, with a rock beat, drums and electric guitars. Absolutely stunning. All the parallel strains of music over the years coalesced for me in that moment. It was like a sunrise after a storm, when all is clean ... all is known.«
»He gave rock 'n' roll the thing I'd wished it had when I was a kid -- respectability, some authority. He took it out of the realm of ignorant guys banging away on electric instruments and put it somewhere else altogether.«
»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.«
Photo Credits: (1) Bob Dylan, (2) with Joan Baez, (3) Various Artists "A Nod to Bob 2" (unknown).