Duluth Minnesota, May 24th 1941 Robert Allen Zimmerman (Bob Dylan) was born. 69 Years and over 45 albums later Bob Dylan has completely altered the face of popular music since his debut as a fresh faced folk singer in 1962. His early career forged him into an informal chronicler and then he later developed into an apparently reluctant figurehead of social unrest [Gray, 2006] and became a voice for a generation.
His songs have been covered by many artists in a wide span of genres and he has remained a prominent and highly influential figure in the history of popular music over the past five decades. [Gates, David, 1997] In the early sixties, before Bob Dylan emerged, the concept of folk and rock fusing was ludicrous. Folk prided itself on its ‘purity’ and diversion from mainstream culture while rock was deemed vulgar and commercial, apathetic with the more topical matters in folks lyrics. [AMG, 2002].
Woody Guthrie’s reinvention of the folk ballad as a form of social commentary and protest in the 30’s and 40’s and Pete Seeger, from his success with the Weavers in the late 40’s, through to his government blacklisting in the 50’s to the 60’s when he became a cultural hero through his outspoken commitment to the antiwar and civil rights struggles. [various authors, 2001] both laid an extensive framework for emerging folk, rock and popular music artists to utilise music as a medium of self expression and protest.
Little Richard’s ‘Awopbopaloobopawopbamboom’ “distilled rock and roll into a ten syllable yawp” [Charles Bottomley, 2005] and established the rebellious spirit still imbued in rock and roll and the partying youth culture which has endeared in the genre till this day. [Various Authors, 2002]. Initially Bob Dylan had more of a social impact that a commercial impact. He proved to have longevity of career in a time when rock was deemed ephemeral and his incessant touring; such as ‘The Never Ending Tour’ of June 1988 established a new type of touring and a new vessel for mass communication of music. Various Authors, 2001
He changed from an initially young folk audience yearning for protest songs and justice to a more commercial rock audience. His socially conscious and politically motivating lyrics appealed to the folk crowd who consciously turned away from mainstream culture. He appeared at cause concerts and voter registrations and began to receive acclamation as the voice for a generation. [Bob Dylan Live 1966, 1998] and provided a clue into the workings of an increasingly disenfranchised youth culture. [Author Unknown, Bob Dylan Bio].
He also assisted in the creation of folk rock and even hip hop and rap in some of his music, such as his 1965 tour of England “Don’t Look Back” with its free association lyrics harking back to the manic energy of ‘beat poetry’ a forerunner to rap and hip hop. [Marquesee, 2005]. He helped fuse and subsequently create the genre of folk rock. Rock was often the more prominent genre however the folk lyrics dealing with topical concerns were grafted into rocks commercially successful guitar patterns and melodies. This helped to expand the sonic and lyrical vistas of rock [Various Authors, 2002].
His lyrics were the first in rock to be considered literature and “By personalizing folk songs Dylan reinvented the singer songwriter genre”. [Various Authors, 2001]. He rewrote the rulebook of pop music [Robert Dimery, 2005] introducing confessionals, stream of consciousness and hallucinatory imagistic song writing into the rock music lexicon and pioneered emotional expression and idiosyncratic lyrics into rock. [Various Authors, 2002] He made rock a medium for self expression and protest more potent and expressive than any other medium. Various Authors, 2001]
Bob Dylan completely rewrote the rulebook for pop music [Robert Dimery, 2005] and to this day his music has “Laid down the template for lyric, tune, seriousness, spirituality, depth of rock music” [Joe Strummer, 2001]. Dylan marked a pivotal turning point in the 20th century evolution of rock music, turning more traditional folk, protest songs, into a more introspective form of songwriting. “The Beatles shift towards more introspective songwriting in the 60’s would never have happened without him” [V.
Bogdanov, 2002]. Artists such as John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Neil Young, Bruce Springsteen, David Bowie, Patti Smith, Joni Mitchell and Tom Waits all acknowledge the profound impact Dylan had on the industry and themselves as artists. “Bob Dylan, I’ll never be Bob Dylan. He’s the master. If I’d like to be anyone, it’s him. And he’s a great writer, true to his music and done what he feels is the right thing to do for years and years and years. He’s great. He’s the one I look to”. [Neil Young, 2005].
Dylan encapsulated a generations hunger for change, challenged the social and political status quo but interestingly seemingly rejected this status after receiving the ‘Tom Paine Award’ from the National Emergency and Civil Liberties Committee he drunkenly questioned the role of the committee and claimed to see something of himself and everyone in JFK’s alleged assassin Lee Harvey Oswald [Andrew Loog Olham, 2005]. In 1965 The Byrds cover of his song Mr. Tambourine Man helped to propel not only The Byrds to super stardom but established the folk rock genre. [V. Bogdanov, 2002].
His verbal sophistication drew comparison to the romantic poets and much literary criticism artists still strive to attain today. His launch of Theme Time Radio Hour for XM Satellite Radio helped him to establish the “musical world without borders” [Peter Guralnick] and continue to communicate his voice of morality over radio as he did as a young folk artist. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1988 and a Grammy for lifetime achievement in 1991. He not only managed to help launch a genre but shift the paradigm that musicians had to have good vocals but established the importance of material over delivery. Rough Guide to Rock, 1996.
He was included in the Time 100: Most important people of the century where in summary of his achievements he was called: “A master poet, caustic social critic and intrepid, guiding spirit of the counterculture generation”. [Jonathon Duffy, 2005]. Dylan “forged a coherent and original artistic voice and vision” [Donald Macleod, 2004]. Over his 50 years in the industry he launched the genre of folk rock, rebelled against his original folk audience to follow his artistic desires into the commercialised rock industry and managed to maintain longevity of career when it was thought impossible.
He completely rewrote the rules for pop musicians and still remains a prominent influence in the lives of artists to this day. He was a voice for a generation, with supremely honest and direct music with no self pity, music “packed with bittersweet observations of an emotional hurricane” [Rough Guide to Rock, 1996] “Surreal yet perceptive, Dylan’s poetic observations suggest that the ‘voice of a generation’ tag is more deserved for charting an ages inner beliefs than protesting its political beliefs”. [Robert Dimery, 2005]
- The People,1996, The Rough Guide to Rock, Rough Guides Ltd, 1 Mercer St London (270-274)
- ” Time interview with Neil Young, September 28, 2005. Reproduced online :Tyrangiel, Josh (September 28, 2005). “Resurrection of Neil Young”. Time.
- Author Unknown, 2008, Bob Dylan and Social Consciousness: Critical Issues, viewed 16/3/10 [http://transcriptions. english. ucsb. edu/archive/topics/infoart/Dylan/issues. html]
- Author Unknown, No Date, Bob Dylan Biography, viewed 16/3/10 [http://www. andbiographies. com/bob_dylan/biography. htm]
- BBC News, “Bob Dylan: His Legacy to Music”. May 29, 2001. http://news. bbc. co. uk/1/hi/talking_point/1349116. stm. Retrieved October 5, 2008. (19/3/2010)
- Bob Dylan, 1998, Live 1966 The Bootleg Series Vol. 4, Sony Music Entertainment, Sydney Australia
- Bob Dylan, 2005, No Direction Home The Soundtrack Bootleg Series Vol. 7, Sony Music Entertainment, Sydney Australia [liner notes by Andrew Loog Olham]
- Bob Dylan, 2008, Tell Tale Signs Rare and Unreleased Bootleg Series Vol. , Sony BMG Music, Sydney Australia