Bob Dylan - Biography
(born Robert Allen Zimmerman on
May 24, 1941) is an American singer-songwriter, author, musician
and poet. His career accomplishments have been recognized
with the Polar Music Prize, the Grammy Lifetime Achievement
Award, Kennedy Center Honors, and induction into the Rock
and Roll Hall of Fame, Nashville Songwriters and Songwriters
Hall of Fame. He was listed as one of TIME Magazine's 100
most influential people of the 20th century.
Dylan's best known work is from the 1960s when he became an
informal documentarian and reluctant figurehead of American
unrest. Some of his songs, such as "Blowin' in the Wind" and
"The Times They Are a-Changin'", became anthems of the
anti-war and civil rights movements. He remains an
influential and popular artist; his most recent album of new
songs, 2001's "Love and Theft", reached the top five
on the charts in the U.S. and the UK. His upcoming studio
album, Modern Times, is due for release in August
early lyrics incorporated politics, social commentary,
philosophy and literary influences, defying existing pop
music conventions and appealing widely to the counterculture
of the time. While expanding and personalizing musical
styles, he has shown steadfast devotion to traditions of
American song, from folk and country/blues to rock 'n' roll
and rockabilly, to Gaelic balladry, even jazz, swing and
performs with the guitar, keyboard and harmonica. Backed by
a changing line-up of musicians, he has toured steadily
since the late 1980s. He has also recently performed
alongside other major artists, such as Paul Simon, Joni
Mitchell, Tom Petty and Eric Clapton. Although his
contributions as performer and recording artist have been
central to his career, his song writing is generally held as
his highest accomplishment.
Musical career and personal life
was born in Duluth, Minnesota and was raised there and in
Hibbing, Minnesota, on the Mesabi Iron Range northwest of
Lake Superior. His grandparents were Jewish immigrants from
Russia, and Ukraine, and his parents, Abraham Zimmerman and
Beatrice Stone (Beatty), were part of the area's small but
close-knit Jewish community. He lived in Duluth until age
seven, when his father was stricken with polio. The family
returned to nearby Hibbing, Beatty's hometown, where Robert
Zimmerman spent the rest of his childhood.
spent much of his youth listening to the radio—first to the
powerful blues and country stations broadcasting from
and later, to early rock and roll. He formed several bands
while at high school: the first, The Shadow Blasters, was
short-lived; the second, The Golden Chords, lasted longer
and played covers including "Rock and Roll Is Here to Stay"
at their high school talent show. In his 1959 school year
book, Robert Zimmerman listed his ambition as "To join
Little Richard." The same year, he performed two dates under
the name of Elston Gunn with Bobby Vee, playing piano and
Zimmerman enrolled at the
in September 1959 and moved to Minneapolis. His musical
focus on rock and roll gave way to an interest in subtler,
Gaelic-inflected American folk music, typically performed
with an acoustic guitar. He soon became actively involved in
the local Dinkytown folk music circuit, fraternizing with
local folk enthusiasts and occasionally "borrowing" many of
their albums. During his Dinkytown days, Zimmerman began
introducing himself as "Bob Dylan". In his autobiography,
Chronicles (2005), Dylan wrote: "What I was going to do
as soon as I left home was just call myself Robert Allen....
It sounded like a Scottish king and I liked it." However, by
reading Downbeat magazine, he discovered that there
was already a saxophonist called David Allyn. A little later
he became acquainted with the work of writer Dylan Thomas
and made a choice between Robert Allyn and Robert Dylan: "I
couldn't decide—the letter D came on stronger" he explained.
He decided on "Bob" because there were several Bobbies in
popular music at the time.
college at the end of his freshman year, but stayed in
Minneapolis, working the folk circuit there with temporary
and Chicago, Illinois. In January 1961, he headed for New
York City to perform and to visit his ailing musical idol
Woody Guthrie in a New Jersey hospital. Initially playing
mostly in small "basket" clubs for little pay, he gained
some public recognition after a positive review in The
New York Times by critic Robert Shelton.
Shelton's review and word-of-mouth around
Village led to legendary music business figure John
Hammond's signing Dylan to Columbia Records that October.
performances, like his first
Columbia album Bob Dylan (1962), consisted of familiar folk,
blues and gospel material combined with some of his own
songs. As he continued to record for Columbia, he recorded
more than a dozen songs for Broadside Magazine a folk
music magazine and record label, under the pseudonym Blind
Boy Grunt. In August 1962, Robert Allen Zimmerman went to
the Supreme Court building in
and changed his name to Robert Dylan. By the time his next
record, The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan, was released in
1963, he had begun to make his name as both singer and
songwriter, specializing in protest songs, inspired partly
by Joe Hill and initially in the style of Guthrie, but soon
developing his own, distinctive genre.
famous songs of the time included "Blowin' in the Wind", its
melody partially derived from the traditional slave song "No
More Auction Block", coupled with Dylan's original lyrics
challenging the social and political status quo. "Blowin' in
the Wind" itself was widely recorded and was an
international hit for Peter, Paul and Mary, setting an
enduring precedent for other artists. While Dylan's topical
songs solidified his early reputation, Freewheelin'
also included a mixture of love songs and jokey, frequently
surreal talking blues. Humor was a large part of Dylan's
Freewheelin' song "A Hard Rain's a-Gonna Fall", built
melodically from a loose adaptation of the stanza tune of
the folk ballad Lord Randall, with its veiled references to
nuclear apocalypse, gained even more resonance as the Cuban
missile crisis developed only a few weeks after 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 traditional folk progressions to create
a sound and sense that struck listeners as somehow new and
ancient simultaneously. Soon after the release of
Freewheelin, Dylan emerged as a dominant figure of the
so-called "new folk movement" headquartered in Lower
Manhattan's Greenwich Village.
interpreter of traditional songs, Dylan's singing voice was
unusual and untrained and his phrasing as a vocalist was
eccentric. He sang his songs in a style that hearkened back
to the folk-singers of the 1920s and 30s, which was almost
unheard-of in the music industry of the time. Many of his
most famous early songs first reached the public through
versions by other performing musicians who were more
immediately palatable. Joan Baez, celebrated as the queen of
the folk movement, became Dylan's advocate as well as his
lover. In addition to jumpstarting Dylan's performance
career by inviting him onstage during her concerts, she
recorded several of his early songs and was influential in
bringing Dylan to national and international prominence.
recorded and released his songs around this time included
The Byrds, Sonny and Cher, The Hollies, Manfred Mann, The
Brothers Four, Judy Collins and Herman's Hermits, most
attempting to impart more of a pop feel and rhythm to the
songs where Dylan and Baez performed them mostly as sparse
folk pieces keying rhythmically off the vocals. These covers
were so ubiquitous by the mid-1960s that CBS started to
promote him with the tag "Nobody Sings Dylan Like Dylan".
Many new artists sprang up at this time with singing styles
suspiciously similar to Dylan's, typically using his
inflections and tone while dispensing with the 'mumbly' and
Protest and another side
Dylan was becoming increasingly prominent in the civil
rights movement, singing at rallies including the March on
Washington where Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his "I have a
dream" speech. In January, he appeared on British television
in the BBC play Madhouse on Castle Street, playing
the part of a "hobo guitar-player". Dylan's next album,
The Times They Are a-Changin', reflected a more
sophisticated, politicized and cynical Dylan. This bleak
material, concerned with such subjects as the murder of
civil rights worker Medgar Evers and the despair engendered
by the breakdown of farming and mining communities ("Ballad
of Hollis Brown", "North Country Blues"), was tempered by
two enduring love songs, "Boots of Spanish Leather" and "One
Too Many Mornings", and the epic renunciation of "Restless
Farewell". The Brechtian-influenced "The Lonesome Death of
Hattie Carroll", a highlight of the album, describes a young
socialite's killing of a hotel maid. Never explicitly
mentioning race, the song leaves no doubt that the killer is
white, the victim black.
By the end
of 1963, however, Dylan felt both manipulated and
constrained by the folk-protest movement. Accepting the "Tom
Paine Award" from the National
Emergency Civil Liberties Committee at a ceremony
shortly after the assassination of John F. Kennedy, a
drunken, rambling Dylan questioned the role of the
committee, insulted its members as old and balding, and
claimed to see something of himself (and of every man) in
assassin Lee Harvey Oswald.
inevitably then, his next album, the accurately but
prosaically titled Another Side of Bob Dylan,
recorded on a single June evening in 1964, had a lighter
mood than its predecessor. The surreal Dylan reemerged on "I
Shall Be Free #10" and "Motorpsycho Nightmare", accompanied
by a playful sense of humor that has often reappeared over
the years. "Spanish Harlem Incident" and "To Ramona" were
touching love songs, "I Don't Believe You" a prototypical
rock and roll song played on acoustic guitar, and "It Ain't
Me Babe" a romping rejection of the role his reputation
thrust at him. His newest direction was signaled by three
lengthy songs: "Chimes of Freedom", proud yet
impressionistic, sets elements of social commentary against
a denser metaphorical landscape in a style later
characterized by Allen Ginsberg as "chains of flashing
images"; "My Back Pages" even more personally attacks the
simplistic and arch seriousness of his own earlier topical
songs; and a musically undeveloped "Mr. Tambourine Man",
written before many songs included on Another Side
but held back for Dylan's next release.
early 1960s Dylan had adopted a sort of Huckleberry Finn
persona and told picaresque tales of knocking around,
hopping freights, and working at folksy jobs. In that
bohemian phase, lasting a few years, he sang and wrote
somewhat like the Woody Guthrie of 25 or 30 years earlier.
However, as he “brought it all back home” Dylan’s point of
view as a writer became at once more thoroughly contemporary
and more surrealistic.
this time Dylan's artistic development moved so fast that he
frequently left both critics and fans behind. His March 1965
album Bringing It All Back Home was a further
stylistic leap. Influenced by The Beatles (whose artistic
development had already been enhanced by Dylan's influence)
and the rock and roll of his youth, the first side contained
his first significant original up-tempo rock songs.
Lyrically, however, the songs were pure Dylan, exhibiting
his dry wit and inhabited by a sequence of grotesque,
metaphorical characters. The raucous first single,
"Subterranean Homesick Blues", owed much to
"Too Much Monkey Business" and was provided with an early
music video courtesy of D. A. Pennebaker's cinéma vérité
presentation of Dylan's 1965 tour, Dont Look Back.
Its lyrics drew references in large from the beat poetry of
the time, its name possibly referring to The Subterraneans.
In 1969, the militant Weatherman group took their name from
a line in "Subterranean Homesick Blues" ("You don't need a
weatherman to know which way the wind blows").
side of the album was a different matter, including four
lengthy acoustic songs whose undogmatic political, social
and personal concerns are illuminated with the rich poetic
imagery that would become another trademark. One of these
songs, "Mr. Tambourine Man" had already been a hit for The
Byrds, albeit in a truncated form, and would remain one of
Dylan's most enduring compositions, while "Gates of Eden",
"It's All over Now Baby Blue", and "It's Alright Ma (I'm
Only Bleeding)" have been fixtures in Dylan's live
performances for most of his career.
summer Bob Dylan made history by performing his first
electric set (since his high school days) with a pickup
group drawn mostly from the Paul Butterfield Blues Band,
i.e. Mike Bloomfield, guitar, Sam Lay, drums, Jerome Arnold,
bass, plus Al Kooper, organ and Barry Goldberg, piano, at
the Newport Folk Festival. Dylan had appeared at Newport
twice before in 1963 and 1964. Two wildly divergent accounts
of the crowd's response in 1965 survive to this day. The
settled fact is that Dylan, met with a mix of cheering and
booing, left the stage after only three songs. As one
version of the legend has it, the boos were from the
outraged folk fans Dylan alienated with his electric guitar.
An alternative account has it that audience members were
upset by poor sound quality and a surprisingly short set.
Whatever sparked the crowd's disfavor, Dylan soon reemerged
and sang two much better received solo acoustic numbers,
"It's All over Now, Baby Blue" and "Mr. Tambourine Man".
significance of Dylan’s 1965
performance was that he outraged the folk music
establishment. Ewan MacColl wrote in Sing Out!: “Our
traditional songs and ballads are the creations of
extraordinarily talented artists working inside traditions
formulated over time… But what of Bobby Dylan?... Only a
non-critical audience, nourished on the watery pap of pop
music could have fallen for such tenth-rate drivel.” Dylan’s
own outlook may be inferred from the sleeve notes he wrote
for Bringing It All Back Home: “i accept chaos. I am not
sure whether it accepts me.”
Creative height, motorcycle crash
"Like a Rolling Stone" was a U.S. and UK hit, cementing his
reputation as a lyricist; at over six minutes, devoid of a
bridge, the song also helped to expand the limits of hit
radio. In 2004, Rolling Stone listed it at #1 on its
list of the 500 greatest songs of all time. Its signature
sound, with a full, jangling band and a simple, slithering
organ riff, would characterize his next album, Highway 61
Revisited (titled after the road that led from his
to the musical hotbed of New Orleans, passing through the
birthplace of blues, the Mississippi Delta, and referencing
any number of blues songs. For example, Mississippi Fred
McDowell's "61 Highway"). The songs were in the same vein as
the hit single, surreal litanies of the grotesque flavored
by Mike Bloomfield's blues guitar, a tight rhythm section
and Dylan's obvious enjoyment of the sessions. The closing
song, "Desolation Row", is a lengthy apocalyptic vision with
references to many figures of Western culture.
successful mix of folk music, rock and roll and Dylan's own
brand of surrealism, Blonde on Blonde (1966) is often
considered to be one of the finest recordings of American
of the record, Dylan was booked for two U.S. concerts and
set about assembling a band. Mike Bloomfield was unwilling
to leave the Butterfield Band, so Dylan mixed Al Kooper and
Harvey Brooks from his studio crew with bar-band stalwarts
Robbie Robertson and Levon Helm, best known for backing
Ronnie Hawkins. In August 1965 at Forest Hills Tennis
Stadium, the group was heckled by an audience who, Newport
notwithstanding, still demanded the acoustic troubadour of
previous years; their reception on September 3rd at the
Hollywood Bowl was more uniformly favorable.
Kooper nor Brooks wanted to tour with Dylan, and he was
unable to lure his preferred band, a crew of west coast
musicians best known for backing Johnny Rivers, featuring
guitarist James Burton and drummer Mickey Jones, away from
their regular commitments. Dylan then hired Robertson and
Helm's full band, The Hawks, for his tour group, and began a
string of studio sessions with them in an effort to record
the follow-up to Highway 61 Revisited.
secretly married Sara Lownds on November 22, 1965; their
first child, Jesse Byron Dylan, was born on January 6, 1966.
Dylan and Lownds had four children in total: Jesse, Anna,
Samuel, and Jakob (born December 9, 1969). Dylan also
adopted Sara Lownds' first daughter Maria Lownds (born
October 21st, 1961) from a prior marriage. In the 1990s, the
youngest of the pair's children, Jakob Dylan, became well
known as the lead singer of the band The Wallflowers. Jesse
Dylan is a film director and a successful businessman.
Dylan and the Hawks met increasingly receptive audiences on
tour, their studio efforts floundered. Producer Bob Johnston
had been trying to persuade Dylan to record in Nashville for
some time. In February 1966 Dylan agreed and
surrounded him with a cadre of top-notch session men. At
Dylan's insistence, Robertson and Kooper came down from New
York City to play on the sessions. The
sessions created what Dylan would later call "that thin wild
mercury sound" and a classic album - Blonde on Blonde
(1966). Al Kooper said the record was a masterpiece because
it was "taking two cultures and smashing them together with
a huge explosion": the musical world of Nashville, and the
world of the "quintessential
hipster" Bob Dylan.
undertook an ambitious "world tour" of Australia and Europe
in the spring of 1966. Each show was split into two parts:
in the first half Dylan performed solo, accompanying himself
on acoustic guitar and harmonica; in the second half, backed
by the Hawks, he played high voltage electric music. This
contrast provoked many fans, who jeered and slowly
handclapped. The tour culminated in a famously raucous
confrontation with his audience at the Manchester Free Trade
Hall in England (officially released on CD in 1998 as The "
Royal Albert Hall" Concert). At the climax of the concert,
one fan, angry with Dylan's electric sound, shouted:
"Judas!" and Dylan responded, "I don't believe you. You're a
liar!" before turning to the band and exhorting them to
"Play it fuckin' loud!" as they launched into the last song
of the night — "Like a Rolling Stone".
European tour, Dylan returned to
but the pressures on him continued to increase: his
publisher was demanding a finished manuscript of the
poem/novel Tarantula and manager Albert Grossman had
already scheduled a grueling summer/fall concert tour. On
July 29, 1966, while Dylan rode his Triumph 500 motorcycle
in Woodstock, New York, its brakes locked, throwing him to
the ground. Though the extent of his injuries were never
fully disclosed, it was confirmed that he indeed broke his
neck. Whether through necessity or opportunism, Dylan used
an extended convalescence to escape the pressures of
was well enough to resume creative work, he began editing
footage into Eat the Document, a rarely exhibited
follow-up to Don't Look Back. In 1967 he began
recording music with the Hawks at his home and, legendarily,
the basement of the Hawks' nearby "Big Pink". The relaxed
atmosphere yielded renditions of many of Dylan's favored old
and new songs and some newly written pieces. These
originals, at first compiled as demos for other artists to
record, began to circulate on their own merits. Columbia
belatedly released selections from them in 1975 as The
Basement Tapes. Later in 1967, the Hawks (soon to be
rechristened as The Band) independently recorded the album
Music from Big Pink, thus beginning a long and
successful recording and performing career of their own.
December 1967 Dylan released John Wesley Harding, his
first album since the motorcycle crash. It was a quiet,
contemplative record of shorter songs, set in a landscape
which drew on both the American West and the Old Testament.
The sparse structure and instrumentation, coupled with
lyrics which took the Judeo-Christian tradition seriously,
marked a departure not only from 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
immortalized by Jimi Hendrix in a version that Dylan himself
acknowledged as definitive in the liner notes to Biograph.
Dylan live has performed Hendrix's arrangement since 1974.
Guthrie died in October 1967, and Dylan made his first
public appearances in 18 months at a pair of Guthrie
memorial concerts the following January.
next release, Nashville Skyline (1969), was virtually
a mainstream country record featuring instrumental backing
by Nashville musicians, a mellow-voiced, contented Dylan, a
duet with Johnny Cash, and the hit single "Lay Lady Lay". In
1969 Dylan appeared on the first episode of Cash's new
television show and then gave a high-profile performance at
Isle of Wight
rock festival (after rejecting overtures to appear at the
event far closer to his home).
early 1970s critics charged Dylan's output was of varied and
unpredictable quality. "What is this shit?" Rolling Stone
magazine writer and Dylan loyalist Greil Marcus notoriously
asked, upon first listening to 1970's Self Portrait.
In general, Self Portrait, a double LP including few
original songs, was poorly received. Later that year, Dylan
released New Morning, considered by some as a return
to form. His unannounced appearance at
1971 Concert for Bangladesh was widely praised, but
reports of a new album, a television special, and a return
to touring came to nothing.
Dylan signed onto Sam Peckinpah's film Pat Garrett and
Billy the Kid, providing the songs (see Pat Garrett and
Billy the Kid (album)) and taking a role as "Alias", a minor
member of Billy's gang. "Knockin' on Heaven's Door", among
Dylan's most covered songs, has proved much more durable
than the film itself.
signed with David Geffen's new Asylum label when his
contract with Columbia Records expired in 1973. He recorded
Planet Waves with The Band while rehearsing for an
upcoming tour. The album included two versions of "Forever
Young", which has proven to be one of Dylan's most lasting
songs. Columbia Records almost simultaneously released
Dylan, a haphazard collection of studio outtakes (almost
exclusively cover songs). Critics debate whether this was a
"revenge release" against Dylan for leaving the company or a
move to capitalize on the publicity generated by Planet
Waves. In early 1974 Dylan and The Band staged a
high-profile, coast-to-coast tour of North America; promoter
Bill Graham claimed he received more ticket purchase
requests than for any prior tour by any artist. The tour was
documented on the album Before the Flood, but Dylan
refused to allow a tour film to be produced.
tour, Dylan and his wife became publicly estranged. He
filled a small red notebook with songs about his marital
problems, and quickly recorded a new album entitled Blood
on the Tracks in September 1974.
Dylan's efforts soon leaked out, and expectations were high.
But Dylan delayed the album's release, and then re-recorded
half of the songs in Minneapolis by year's end. Released in
early 1975, Blood on the Tracks was critically
acclaimed and commercially successful, and is considered his
finest album by many fans. The songs are among his most
intimate and direct.
summer, Dylan wrote his first successful "protest" song in
twelve years, championing the cause of boxer Rubin
"Hurricane" Carter who he believed had been wrongfully
imprisoned for a triple homicide in Paterson, New Jersey (an
eponymous 1971 tribute to George Jackson, a Black Panther
who was killed in prison, sank almost unnoticed). After
visiting Carter in jail, Dylan wrote "Hurricane", presenting
the case for Carter's innocence. Despite its 8 1/2 minute
length, the song was released as a single, peaking at number
thirty-one on the Billboard Chart, and performed at every
1975 date of Dylan's next tour, the Rolling Thunder Revue.
The tour was something different: a varied evening of
entertainment featuring many performers drawn mostly from
the resurgent Greenwich Village folk scene, including T-Bone
Burnett; Allen Ginsberg; Steven Soles; David Mansfield;
former Byrds frontman Roger McGuinn; Scarlet Rivera, a
violin player Dylan discovered while she was walking down
the street to a rehearsal, her violin case hanging on her
back; and a reunion with Joan Baez (the tour marked Baez and
Dylan's first joint performance in more than a decade). Joni
Mitchell added herself to the Revue in November, and poet
Allen Ginsberg accompanied the troupe, staging scenes for
the film Dylan was simultaneously shooting. Sam Shepard was
initially hired as the writer for this film, but ended up
accompanying the tour as informal chronicler.
through the fall of 1975 and again through the spring of
1976, the tour also encompassed the release of the album
Desire (1976), with many of 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 would be released until 2002, when
Live 1975 appeared as the fifth volume in Dylan's
official Bootleg Series.
1975 tour with the Revue also provided the backdrop to
Dylan's nearly four-hour film Renaldo and Clara, a
sprawling, improvised, and frequently baffling narrative
mixed with striking 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, Dylan allowed a two-hour edit,
dominated by the concert performances, to be more widely
November 1976 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 Dylan's set.
Lownds were divorced on 29 June 1977, though they reportedly
remained in regular contact for many years and, by some
accounts, even to the present day.
1978 album Street Legal was lyrically one of his more
complex and cohesive; it suffered, however, from a poor
sound mix (attributed to his studio recording practices),
submerging much of its instrumentation in the sonic
equivalent of cotton wadding until its remastered CD release
nearly a quarter century later.
work in the late 1970s and early 1980s was dominated by his
becoming, in 1979, a born-again Christian. He released two
albums of exclusively religious material and a third that
seemed mostly so; of these, the first, Slow Train Coming
(1979), is generally regarded as the more accomplished,
winning him a Grammy for best male vocalist. The second
album, Saved (1980), was not so well-received. When
touring from the fall of 1979 through the spring of 1980
Dylan refused to play secular music and delivered
sermonettes on stage, such as:
they used ..., 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 handle it.
religious conversion was met with distrust by some fans and
fellow artists. Shortly before his December 1980 shooting,
John Lennon, for example, recorded "Serve Yourself", in
negative response to Dylan's "Gotta Serve Somebody".
Rolling Stone editor Jann Wenner, writing in his review for
Slow Train Coming, Dylan had not "sold out" totally
to born-again Christianity so much as he had simply shifted
focus. Dylan was still Dylan. The same intensity and passion
had been fully present in Dylan's protest songs of the
1960's. Wenner commented:
Train Coming is pure, true Dylan, probably the purest and
truest Dylan ever. The religious symbolism is a logical
progression of Dylan's Manichaean vision of life and his
pain-filled struggle with good and evil."
go to church or to a synagogue. I don't kneel beside my bed
at night. I don't think I will. I have yet to face the
terror I read about in all the great literature. But, since
politics, economics and war have failed to make us feel any
better—as individuals or as a nation—and we look back at
long years of disrepair, then maybe the time for religion
has come again, and rather too suddenly—'like a thief in the
Hard-working elder statesman
fall of 1980 Dylan briefly resumed touring, restoring
several of his most popular 1960s songs to his repertoire,
for a series of concerts billed as "A Musical
Retrospective." Shot of Love, recorded the next
spring, featured Dylan's first secular compositions in more
than two years, mixed with explicitly Christian songs and
material that resisted pigeonholing.
1980s the quality of Dylan's recorded work varied, from the
well-regarded Infidels in 1983 to the panned Down
in the Groove in 1988. In addition, beginning with
Infidels, Dylan's recordings would no longer be
dominated by openly Christian lyrics, as they had been on
his previous three albums. Of course, one need not look far
to find religious themes in his work, but these themes would
no longer be so explicit, and certainly not so evangelistic.
Naturally, there is much debate among Dylan fans over his
current personal beliefs. Such debates are fueled by Dylan's
own elusiveness on the subject over the past two decades.
Virtually all would agree that he no longer records songs
comparable in evangelistic fervor to those of his gospel
period, such as "I Believe in You", "Saving Grace", or
"Property of Jesus". However, most would also admit that
Christianity--or at least some form of monotheistic
religiosity--is still a major theme in Dylan's work; for
example, he has written and recorded songs such as "Death Is
Not the End", "Ring Them Bells", and "Trying to Get to
Heaven", the lyrics of which reveal religious concerns even
at a cursory glance. Complicating this picture somewhat are
reports in the mid-80s that Dylan had affiliated himself
informally with the Chabad or Lubavitch branch of Hasidic
Judaism. Although it is unclear to what extent he has been
involved with this movement, he has appeared on fundraising
telethons supporting the organization, and reports continue
to be published indicating that he sometimes attends
services at Chabad synagogues on major Jewish holidays.
Dylan's son, Jakob--at whose bar mitzvah in Jerusalem Dylan
was photographed wearing tefillin and a traditional Jewish
prayer shawl--has also stated that he was raised with both
Jewish and Christian traditions.
Infidels recording sessions produced several notable
outtakes, and some critics have questioned Dylan's judgment
in leaving these off the album. Most well-regarded of these
outtakes were "Blind Willie McTell", "Foot of Pride",
"Someone's Got a Hold of My Heart" and "Lord Protect My
Child", which were later released on the boxed set The
Bootleg Series Volumes 1-3 (Rare & Unreleased) 1961-1991.
An earlier version of Infidels, prepared by
producer/guitarist Mark Knopfler, contained different
arrangements and song selections than what appeared on the
1986 Dylan married his longtime backup singer Carolyn Dennis
(often professionally known as
Carol Dennis). Their daughter, Desiree Gabrielle
Dennis-Dylan, was born on January 31, 1986. The couple
divorced in October 1992.
Dylan starred in Richard Marquand's movie Hearts of Fire,
in which he played a washed-up-rock-star-turned-chicken
farmer called "Billy Parker", whose teenage lover (Fiona)
leaves him for a jaded English synth-pop sensation (Rupert
Everett). The film was a critical and commercial flop. In
fact, when asked in a press conference if he had anything to
do with writing the movie, Dylan chuckled "I couldn't have
possibly written anything like that."
inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1988. Later
that spring he took part in the first
album, working with Roy Orbison, Jeff Lynne, Tom Petty, and
his good friend George Harrison on lighthearted,
well-selling fare. Despite Orbison's death, the other four
Wilburys issued a sequel in 1990.
finished the decade on a critical high note with the Daniel
Lanois-produced Oh Mercy (1989). Lanois's influence
is audible throughout Oh Mercy. "Ring Them Bells"
seems to call for Christians to maintain a visible presence
in the world, perhaps adding fuel to the debate over Dylan's
religious orientation. The track "Most of the Time", a
ruminative lost love composition, was later prominently
featured in the film High Fidelity while "What Was It
You Wanted?" was a dry comment on the expectations of
critics and fans.
a number of music videos during this period, but only
"Political World" found any regular airtime on MTV.
1990s began with Under the Red Sky (1990), an odd
about-face from the serious Oh Mercy. The album was
dedicated to "Gabby Goo Goo", and contained several
apparently simple songs, including "Under the Red Sky" and
"Wiggle Wiggle". "Handy Dandy" is a catchy tune with clever
lyrics, and "TV Talkin' Song" is an earnest try for
"relevance", but neither created much of a stir. The "Gabby
Goo Goo" dedication was later explained as a nickname for
Dylan's four-year-old daughter. However, the story that the
album's songs were written for her entertainment is
questionable. Sidemen on the album included
Slash from Guns N' Roses,
David Crosby, Bruce Hornsby, Stevie Ray Vaughan, and Elton
John. Despite the stellar line-up, most fans and critics did
not receive the album well and it was generally thought of
as a missed opportunity to build on the promise of "Oh,
a result, the next few years saw 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 nuanced interpretations and ragged but
highly original 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 Dylan with a
haunting reverence. An exception to this rootsy mood came in
Dylan's 1991 songwriting collaboration with Michael Bolton;
the resulting song "Steel Bars", was released on Bolton's
album Time, Love & Tenderness. Dylan's 1995 concert
on MTV Unplugged, and the album culled from it,
marked his only newly recorded output during the mid-1990s.
Essentially a greatest hits collection, it also included
"John Brown", an unreleased 1963 song detailing the ravages
of both war and jingoism.
sheaf of songs reportedly written while snowed-in on his
Minnesota ranch, Dylan returned to the recording studio with
Lanois in January 1997. Late that spring, before the album's
release, Dylan was hospitalized with a life-threatening
heart infection, pericarditis, brought on by histoplasmosis.
His scheduled European tour was cancelled, but Dylan made a
speedy recovery and left the hospital saying, "I really
thought I'd be seeing Elvis soon." He 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
sermon based on Dylan's lyric Blowin' in the Wind.
September saw the release of the new Lanois-produced album,
Dylan's first collection of original songs in seven years.
Time Out of Mind, with its bitter assessment of love
and morbid ruminations, was highly acclaimed and achieved an
unforeseen popularity among young listeners, particularly
the song "Love Sick". This collection of complex songs won
him his first solo Album of the Year Grammy Award (he was
one of numerous performers on The Concert for Bangladesh,
the 1972 winner). The love song "Make You Feel My Love",
covered by both Garth Brooks and Billy Joel, generated more
royalties than any song he had written since the 1960s.
2000 and beyond
his song "Things Have Changed", penned for the film
Wonder Boys, won a Golden Globe Award for Best Original
Song and an Academy Award for Best Song. For reasons
unannounced, the Oscar (by some reports a facsimile) tours
with him, presiding over shows perched atop an amplifier.
an album that explores diverse styles of American music and
revisits Dylan's own creative roots, was released on
September 11, 2001. Dylan produced the album himself under
the pseudonym Jack Frost, and its distinctive sound owes
much to the accompanists. Tony Garnier, bassist and
bandleader, had played with Dylan for 12 years, longer than
any other musician. Larry Campbell, one of the most
accomplished American guitarists of the last two decades,
played on the road with Dylan from 1997 through 2004.
Guitarist Charlie Sexton and drummer
David Kemper had also toured
with Dylan for years. Keyboard player
Augie Meyers, the only
musician not part of Dylan's touring band, had also played
on Time out of Mind. The album was critically
well-received, nominated for several Grammy awards, and sold
was controversial due to some similarities between the
lyrics of the song "Floater" to Japanese writer Junichi
Saga's book Confessions of a Yakuza. It is unclear if
Dylan intentionally lifted any material. Dylan's publicist
had no comment.
the release of the film Masked & Anonymous, a
creative collaboration with television producer Larry
Charles, featured many well-known actors. Dylan and Charles
cowrote the film under the pseudonyms Rene Fontaine and
Sergei Petrov. As difficult to decipher as some of his
songs, Masked & Anonymous was panned by most major
critics and had a limited run in theatres.
preproduction began on a film entitled I'm Not There:
Suppositions on a Film Concerning Dylan. The movie makes
use of seven characters to represent the different aspects
of Dylan's life. The movie is to be directed by Todd Haynes,
and the cast currently includes Cate Blanchett, Heath
Ledger, Christian Bale and Richard Gere.
Scorsese's film biography No Direction Home was shown
on September 26 and September 27 2005 on BBC Two in the
and PBS in the United States. A DVD of this film was
released on September 20, with an accompanying soundtrack
released on August 20, 2005. The documentary received a
Peabody Award in April 2006.
himself returned to recording studio at some point in 2005.
He recorded at least one song, "Tell Ol' Bill", for the
The song is an original composition, not the similarly
titled traditional folk song.
February 2006, Dylan recorded tracks for a new album in New
York City; the confirmed title is Modern Times and it
is scheduled for release on August 29 2006. On 20 July 2006,
it was reported that tracks from the new album had been
leaked onto the internet via the official Sony Online music
store. Leaked as a series of 30 second teaser clips, they
were promptly removed but quickly became available on many
Dylan fan sites.
another leg of his "Never Ending Tour" in Reno in April,
with a European tour announced for the summer. May 3 was the
premiere of Dylan's DJ career, hosting a weekly radio
program, Theme Time Radio Hour, for XM Satellite Radio.
Recent live performances
played roughly 100 dates a year for the entirety of the
1990s and the 2000s, a heavier schedule than most performers
who started out in the 1960s. The "Never Ending Tour"
continues, anchored by longtime bassist Tony Garnier and
filled out with talented musicians better known to their
peers than to their audiences. To the dismay of some fans,
Dylan refuses to be a nostalgia act; his reworked
arrangements, evolving bands and experimental vocal
approaches keep the music unpredictable night after night.
once known as a guitar player, has not been playing guitar
in live performance since 2002 (with very rare exceptions).
Instead he chooses to play on the keyboard, with
increasingly frequent harmonica solos. Various rumours have
circulated as to why Dylan gave up his guitar, none terribly
reliable. According to David Gates, a Newsweek reporter who
interviewed Dylan in 2004, "...it has to do with his guitar
not giving him quite the fullness of sound he was wanting at
the bottom... He's thought of hiring a keyboard player so he
doesn't have to do it himself, but hasn't been able to
figure out who."
chooses songs from throughout his 40-year career, seldom
playing the same set twice.
Dylan's large and vocal fan base write books, essays, 'zines,
etc. at a furious rate. They also maintain a massive
Internet presence with daily Dylan news, a site which
rigorously documents every song he has ever played in
concert and one where visitors bet on what songs he will
play on upcoming tours. Within minutes of the end of
concerts, set lists and reviews are posted by his loyal
laureate of Britain, Andrew Motion, is a vocal supporter of
Dylan's work, as are musicians Lou Reed, Neil Young,
Springsteen, Tom Petty, David Bowie, Roger Waters, Joni
Mitchell, Chan Marshall, Ian Hunter, Tom Waits, Håkan
Hellström and Travis MacRae.
Dylan pool, which was
created in 2001 has been featured on CNN, CBC, BBC, and the
Associated Press. To the Associated Press, "The pool
reflects both the obsessive interest Dylan still draws 40
years into his career and the way this road warrior has
structured his career." It allows interaction between fans
while adding a level of competition through the unique
online Bob Dylan fantasy game.
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