Dylan's influence on popular music is incalculable. As a songwriter,
he pioneered several different schools of pop songwriting, from confessional
winding, hallucinatory, stream-of-conscious narratives. As a vocalist,
he broke down the notions that in order to perform, a singer had to
have a conventionally good voice, thereby redefining the role of vocalist
in popular music. As a musician, he sparked several genres of pop music,
including electrified folk-rock and country-rock. And that just touches
on the tip of his achievements. Dylan's force was evident during his
height of popularity in the '60s -- the Beatles' shift toward introspective
songwriting in the mid-'60s never would have happened without him --
but his influence echoed throughout several subsequent generations.
Many of his songs became popular standards, and his best albums were
undisputed classics of the rock & roll canon. Dylan's influence
throughout folk music was equally powerful, and he marks a pivotal turning
point in its 20th century evolution, signifying when the genre moved
away from traditional songs and toward personal songwriting. Even when
his sales declined in the '80s and '90s, Dylan's presence was calculable.
For a figure of
such substantial influence, Dylan came from humble beginnings. Born
in Duluth, MN, Bob Dylan (b. Robert Allen Zimmerman, May 24, 1941) was
raised in Hibbing, MN, from the age of six. As a child he learned how
to play guitar and harmonica, forming a rock & roll band called
the Golden Chords when he was in high school. Following his graduation
in 1959, he began studying art at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis.
While at college, he began performing folk songs at coffeehouses under
the name Bob Dylan, taking his last name from the poet Dylan Thomas.
Already inspired by Hank Williams and Woody Guthrie, Dylan began listening
to blues while at college, and the genre weaved its way into his music.
Dylan spent the summer of 1960 in Denver, where he met bluesman Jesse
Fuller, the inspiration behind the songwriter's signature harmonica
rack and guitar. By the time he returned to Minneapolis in the fall,
he had grown substantially as a performer and was determined to become
a professional musician.
Dylan made his
way to New York City in January of 1961, immediately making a substantial
impression on the folk community of Greenwich Village. He began visiting
his idol Guthrie in the hospital, where he was slowly dying from Huntington's
chorea. Dylan also began performing in coffeehouses, and his rough charisma
won him a significant following. In April, he opened for John Lee Hooker
at Gerde's Folk City. Five months later, Dylan performed another concert
at the venue, which was reviewed positively by Robert Shelton in the
New York Times. Columbia A&R man John Hammond sought out Dylan on
the strength of the review, and signed the songwriter in the fall of
1961. Hammond produced Dylan's eponymous debut album (released in March
1962), a collection of folk and blues standards that boasted only two
original songs. Over the course of 1962, Dylan began to write a large
batch of original songs, many of which were political protest songs
in the vein of his Greenwich contemporaries. These songs were showcased
on his second album, The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan. Before its release,
Freewheelin' went through several incarnations. Dylan had recorded a
rock & roll single, "Mixed Up Confusion," at the end of
1962, but his manager, Albert Grossman, made sure the record was deleted
because he wanted to present Dylan as an acoustic folky. Similarly,
several tracks with a full backing band that were recorded for Freewheelin'
were scrapped before the album's release. Furthermore, several tracks
recorded for the album -- including "Talking John Birch Society
Blues" -- were eliminated from the album before its release.
of original songs, The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan made a huge impact in
the U.S. 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, and was performing
hundreds of concerts a year.
By the time The
Times They Are A-Changin' was released in early 1964, Dylan's songwriting
had developed far beyond that of his New York peers. Heavily inspired
by poets like Arthur Rimbaud and John Keats, his writing took on a more
literate and evocative quality. Around the same time, he began to expand
his musical boundaries, adding more blues and R&B influences to
his songs. Released in the summer of 1964, Another Side of Bob Dylan
made these changes evident. However, Dylan was moving faster than his
records could indicate. By the end of 1964, he had ended his romantic
relationship with Baez and had begun dating a former model named Sara
Lowndes, whom he subsequently married. Simultaneously, he gave the Byrds
"Mr. Tambourine Man" to record for their debut album. The
Byrds gave the song a ringing, electric arrangement, but by the time
the single became a hit, Dylan was already exploring his own brand of
folk-rock. Inspired by the British Invasion, particularly the Animals'
version of "House of the Rising Sun," Dylan recorded a set
of original songs backed by a loud rock & roll band for his next
album. While Bringing It All Back Home (March 1965) still had a side
of acoustic material, it made clear that Dylan had turned his back on
folk music. For the folk audience, the true breaking point arrived a
few months after the album's release, when he played the Newport Folk
Festival supported by the Paul Butterfield Blues Band. The audience
greeted him with vicious derision, but he had already been accepted
by the growing rock & roll community. Dylan's spring tour of Britain
was the basis for D.A. Pennebaker's documentary Don't Look Back, a film
that captures the songwriter's edgy charisma and charm.
Dylan made his
breakthrough to the pop audience in the summer of 1965, when "Like
a Rolling Stone" became a number two hit. Driven by a circular
organ riff and a steady beat, the six-minute single broke the barrier
of the three-minute pop single. Dylan became the subject of innumerable
articles, and his lyrics became the subject of literary analyses across
the U.S. and U.K. Well over 100 artists covered his songs between 1964
and 1966; the Byrds and the Turtles, in particular, had big hits with
his compositions. Highway 61 Revisited, his first full-fledged rock
& roll album, became a Top Ten hit shortly after its summer 1965
release. "Positively 4th Street" and "Rainy Day Women
#12 & 35" became Top Ten hits in the fall of 1965 and spring
of 1966, respectively. Following the May 1966 release of the double-album
Blonde on Blonde, he had sold over ten million records around the world.
During the fall
of 1965, Dylan hired the Hawks, formerly Ronnie Hawkins' backing group,
as his touring band. The Hawks, who changed their name to the Band in
1968, would become Dylan's most famous backing band, primarily because
of their intuitive chemistry and "wild, thin mercury sound,"
but also because of their British tour in the spring of 1966. The tour
was the first time Britain had heard the electric Dylan, and their reaction
was disagreeable and violent. At the tour's Royal Albert Hall concert,
generally acknowledged to have occurred in Manchester, an audience member
called Dylan "Judas," inspiring a positively vicious version
of "Like a Rolling Stone" from the Band. The performance was
immortalized on countless bootleg albums (an official release finally
surfaced in 1998), and it indicates the intensity of Dylan in the middle
of 1966. He had assumed control of Pennebaker's second Dylan documentary,
Eat the Document, and was under deadline to complete his book Tarantula,
as well as record a new record. Following the British tour, he returned
On July 29, 1966,
he was injured in a motorcycle accident outside of his home in Woodstock,
NY, suffering injuries to his neck vertebrae and a concussion. Details
of the accident remain elusive -- he was reportedly in critical condition
for a week and had amnesia -- and some biographers have questioned its
severity, but the event was a pivotal turning point in his career. After
the accident, Dylan became a recluse, disappearing into his home in
Woodstock and raising his family with his wife, Sara. After a few months,
he retreated with the Band to a rented house, subsequently dubbed Big
Pink, in West Saugerties to record a number of demos. For several months,
Dylan and the Band recorded an enormous amount of material, ranging
from old folk, country, and blues songs to newly written originals.
The songs indicated that Dylan's songwriting had undergone a metamorphosis,
becoming streamlined and more direct. Similarly, his music had changed,
owing less to traditional rock & roll, and demonstrating heavy country,
blues, and traditional folk influences. None of the Big Pink recordings
were intended to be released, but tapes from the sessions were circulated
by Dylan's music publisher with the intent of generating cover versions.
Copies of these tapes, as well as other songs, were available on illegal
bootleg albums by the end of the '60s; it was the first time that bootleg
copies of unreleased recordings became widely circulated. Portions of
the tapes were officially released in 1975 as the double-album The Basement
While Dylan was
in seclusion, rock & roll had become heavier and artier in the wake
of the psychedelic revolution. When Dylan returned with John Wesley
Harding in December of 1967, its quiet, country ambience was a surprise
to the general public, but it was a significant hit, peaking at number
two in the U.S. and number one in the U.K. Furthermore, the record arguably
became the first significant country-rock record to be released, setting
the stage for efforts by the Byrds and the Flying Burrito Brothers later
in 1969. Dylan followed his country inclinations on his next album,
1969's Nashville Skyline, which was recorded in Nashville with several
of the country industry's top session men. While the album was a hit,
spawning the Top Ten single "Lay Lady Lay," it was criticized
in some quarters for uneven material. The mixed reception was the beginning
of a full-blown backlash that arrived with the double-album Self Portrait.
Released early in June of 1970, the album was a hodgepodge of covers,
live tracks, re-interpretations, and new songs greeted with negative
reviews from all quarters of the press. Dylan followed the album quickly
with New Morning, which was hailed as a comeback.
Following the release
of New Morning, Dylan began to wander restlessly. In 1969 or 1970, he
moved back to Greenwich Village, published Tarantula for the first time
in November of 1970, and performed at the Concert for Bangladesh. During
1972, he began his acting career by playing Alias in Sam Peckinpah's
Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid, which was released in 1973. He also wrote
the soundtrack for the film, which featured "Knockin' on Heaven's
Door," his biggest hit since "Lay Lady Lay." The Pat
Garrett soundtrack was the final record released under his Columbia
contract before he moved to David Geffen's fledgling Asylum Records.
As retaliation, Columbia assembled Dylan, a collection of Self Portrait
outtakes, for release at the end of 1973. Dylan only recorded two albums
-- including 1974's Planet Waves, coincidentally his first number one
album -- before he moved back to Columbia. The Band supported Dylan
on Planet Waves and its accompanying tour, which became the most successful
tour in rock & roll history; it was captured on 1974's double-live
album Before the Flood.
Dylan's 1974 tour
was the beginning of a comeback culminated by 1975's Blood on the Tracks.
Largely inspired by the disintegration of his marriage, Blood on the
Tracks was hailed as a return to form by critics and it became his second
number one album. After jamming with folkies in Greenwich Village, Dylan
decided to launch a gigantic tour, loosely based on traveling medicine
shows. Lining up an extensive list of supporting musicians -- including
Joan Baez, Joni Mitchell, Rambling Jack Elliott, Arlo Guthrie, Mick
Ronson, Roger McGuinn, and poet Allen Ginsberg -- Dylan dubbed the tour
the Rolling Thunder Revue and set out on the road in the fall of 1975.
For the next year, the Rolling Thunder Revue toured on and off, with
Dylan filming many of the concerts for a future film. During the tour,
Desire was released to considerable acclaim and success, spending five
weeks on the top of the charts. Throughout the Rolling Thunder Revue,
Dylan showcased "Hurricane," a protest song he had written
about boxer Rubin Carter, who had been unjustly imprisoned for murder.
The live album Hard Rain was released at the end of the tour. Dylan
released Renaldo and Clara, a four-hour film based on the Rolling Thunder
tour, to poor reviews in early 1978.
Early in 1978,
Dylan set out on another extensive tour, this time backed by a band
that resembled a Las Vegas lounge band. The group was featured on the
1978 album Street Legal and the 1979 live album At Budokan. At the conclusion
of the tour in late 1978, Dylan announced that he was a born-again Christian,
and he launched a series of Christian albums that following summer with
Slow Train Coming. Though the reviews were mixed, the album was a success,
peaking at number three and going platinum. His supporting tour for
Slow Train Coming featured only his new religious material, much to
the bafflement of his long-term fans. Two other religious albums --
Saved (1980) and Shot of Love (1981) -- followed, both to poor reviews.
In 1982, Dylan traveled to Israel, sparking rumors that his conversion
to Christianity was short-lived. He returned to secular recording with
1983's Infidels, which was greeted with favorable reviews.
to performing in 1984, releasing the live album Real Live at the end
of the year. Empire Burlesque followed in 1985, but its odd mix of dance
tracks and rock & roll won few fans. However, the five-album/triple-disc
retrospective box set Biograph appeared that same year to great acclaim.
In 1986, Dylan hit the road with Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers for
a successful and acclaimed tour, but his album that year, Knocked Out
Loaded, was received poorly. The following year, he toured with the
Grateful Dead as his backing band; two years later, the souvenir album
Dylan & the Dead appeared.
In 1988, Dylan
embarked on what became known as "The Never-Ending Tour" --
a constant stream of shows that ran on and off into the late '90s. That
same year, he released Down in the Groove, an album largely comprised
of covers. The Never-Ending Tour received far stronger reviews than
Down in the Groove, but 1989's Oh Mercy was his most acclaimed album
since 1974's Blood on the Tracks. However, his 1990 follow-up, Under
the Red Sky, was received poorly, especially when compared to the enthusiastic
reception for the 1991 box set The Bootleg Series, Vols. 1-3 (Rare &
Unreleased), a collection of previously unreleased outtakes and rarities.
For the remainder
of the '90s, Dylan divided his time between live concerts and painting.
In 1992, he returned to recording with Good As I Been to You, an acoustic
collection of traditional folk songs. It was followed in 1993 by another
folk album, World Gone Wrong, which won the Grammy for Best Traditional
Folk Album. After the release of World Gone Wrong, Dylan released a
greatest-hits album and a live record.
Dylan released Time
Out of Mind, his first album of original material in seven years, in
the fall of 1997. Time Out of Mind received his strongest reviews in
years and unexpectedly debuted in the Top Ten. Its success sparked a
revival of interest in Dylan -- he appeared on the cover of Newsweek
and his concerts became sell-outs. Early in 1998, Time Out of Mind received
three Grammy Awards -- Album of the Year, Best Contemporary Folk Album
and Best Male Rock Vocal. Another album of original material, Love and
Theft, followed in 2001. Soon after its release, Dylan announced that
he was making his own film, to star Jeff Bridges, Penelope Cruz, John
Goodman, Val Kilmer, and many more. The accompanying soundtrack, Masked
and Anonymous, was released in July 2003. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine,
All Music Guide
Where would Rock
'n Roll be without Bob Dylan? Well lyrically speaking, lost.
Dylan was born Robert Allen Zimmerman, on May 24, 1941 in Duluth, Minnesota.
He grew up in the town of Hibbing, MN, where as a child he wrote poems.
He taught himself how to play piano and guitar in his early teens and
formed a couple of bands, Golden Chords and Elston Gunn and His Rock
Boppers. He loved the early rock of Elvis Presley, Little Richard as
well as the country and folk singers Hank Williams and Woody Guthrie.
While attending the University of Minnesota in 1959, he would play local
clubs and talk about taking a road trip across America to experience
what Guthrie had done. Around this time he changed his name to Bob Dylan,
because he felt it sounded cool. Some who knew him them claimed he did
it in honor of poet Dylan Thomas, even though Dylan denies it.
Dylan spent the
summer of 1960 in Denver, CO, where he met bluesman Jesse Fuller. It
seemed to have an effect on him, as he would change his style a bit,
at least as far as playing live went. He now played with a harmonica
rack, like Fuller did. He also decided at that time that he wanted to
become a professional musician. In January 1961 he dropped out of school
and headed for New York City to do just that, plus he also wanted to
meet his idol Woody Guthrie. He started to play in small clubs and coffeehouses
in Greenwich Village, where he would soon make a name for himself. He
started to visit Guthrie in a New York hospital where Woody was dying
from Huntington's chorea. Dylan would play to Woody some of his own
songs. He wrote a song for Guthrie which would later show up on his
first album called " Song To Woody".
It was at one of
his first shows at Gerde's Folk City in the Village, where a story that
would appear in the NY Times was written about his performance. In turn,
the shinning review was read by Columbia A&R man John Hammond who
would soon sign him. Hammond would produce Dylan's debut which was released
in March of 1962. The self titled album, a collection of folk and blues
standards contained only two original songs. Dylan was only 21 years
old at this point, but all ready had his nasal voice which made him
sound a bit older and different from other singers.
After his first
release he began to write songs in a frenzy. Many of these song were
political protest songs. His next album, The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan,
released in '63 was comprised entirely of original songs. The album
was something nobody really expected so soon, a masterpiece. Already
other performers started to cover songs from the album. Peter, Paul
and Mary had a number 2 hit with the protest song "Blowin' In The
By the time his
third album hit, The Times They Are A-Chang in 1964, Dylan was now a
concert hit playing dates every night. But he was growing tried with
the label tagged on him as a "protest singer and writer".
The new album's title cut was of course another great protest song but
he hinted that he wanted to change. On his next release, also in '64,
Another Side of Bob Dylan, was just that. His least topical to date,
and its finale cut, "It Ain't Me Babe," was in a way a goodbye
to the folk movement he had helped reinvigorate.
1965 was one big
year for Dylan. On top of everything else that would take place that
year, his personal life would change too. He began a romantic relationship
with fellow folk singer Joan Baez who he played live with, early in
the year. He also wanted to get more into electric rock. He gave his
folk song "Mr. Tambourine Man", which he was recording for
his new album, to the Byrds to record as an electric arrangement and
the song was a huge hit for them. When Bringing It All Back Home was
released, it was a half-electric, half-acoustic album. Besides "Mr.
Tambourine Man" it also had on it classics like "It's All
Over Now, Baby Blue" and "Subterranean Homesick Blues"
which featuring the famous line, "You don't need a weatherman to
know which way the wind blows". Then at the '65 Newport Folk Festival
with the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, he was booed off the stage when
he started to play electric. Dylan being Dylan, could care less and
told the crowd "that was the way we used to play and this is how
we play now". Around mid 1965 he recorded yet another album, Highway
61 Revisited. It was his first full-fledged rock & roll album and
included the hit single "Like A Rolling Stone", which clocked
in at six minutes, the first single ever of such length to be put out
by any artist. Around this time he also broke off with Baez and started
dating a model named Sara Lowndes. They would marry by the year's end.
Also in late '65 he would hire The Hawks as his touring band. They had
played for Ronnie Hawkins, where they got the name, but would change
names to the Band two years later.
In 1966 he released
the double album Blonde on Blonde, with songs like "Rainy Day Women
#12 & 35", "Stuck Inside of Mobile With the Memphis Blues
Again" and "Just Like A Woman". The album sold over 10
million copies. But everything would come to a halt on July 29, 1966.
Dylan was in a near-fatal motorcycle accident that broke his neck. He
retreated to his home in Woodstock, NY to mend and spend time with his
now growing family. A few months later, the Hawks joined him at a rented
home in Woodstock called 'the Big Pink' and they began recording country-flavored
tracks that were not meant to ever be released. The tapes made there
would be bootlegged (and finally released eight years later) as The
Dylan return in
December of 1967 with the country rock album John Wesley Harding, recorded
in Nashville with a three-piece backing band, it would go to number
2 on the Billboard charts. The next album released in '68, Nashville
Skyline was even more country, but some fans were growing tired with
his new sound. Still it contained the hit single "Lay Lady Lay".
In 1970 the double
LP Self Portrait was put out to hostile reviews. Rolling Stone magazine
led the way, actually asking the question "What is this shit?"
in their review of the album. But just four months later he released
New Morning and the album was hailed as a comeback.
In '71 his book
Tarantula was released and he made his first American concert appearance
since his motorcycle accident five years earlier at the George Harrison
organized Concert for Bangladesh. It would be his only live performance
in the first half of the decade. In '72 he appeared in his first acting
role Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid as Alias, Billy's sidekick. Dylan
also composed the score for the movie and the soundtrack album was a
success. The single "Knockin' on Heaven's Door" broke the
Top 20. The movie came out in '73 and later that year Dylan was recording
a new album and finally planning to tour again.
In January of '74
Planet Waves was released and would be his first number 1 album. He
and the Band went on a sold out 40 show tour which in turn produced
the two record live set, Before the Flood. Just before the tour Dylan
and his wife Sara split. That breakup would toll heavy on his mind and
his next album, Blood on the Tracks, released in '75 reflected what
he was going through. This album also went to number 1 on the charts.
Soon after Dylan was back on tour with the Rolling Thunder Revue, which
featured old friends like Joan Baez, Arlo Guthrie, Mick Ronson, Jonie
Mitchell, Roger McGuinn and poet Allen Ginsberg. The tour went on into
1976. During this time, Desire was released , it was his third straight
number 1 hit album. Throughout the tour, Dylan showcased "Hurricane,"
a protest song from the new album that he had written about boxer Rubin
Carter, who had been unjustly imprisoned for murder.
In 1978 he released
a new studio album Street Legal and in 1979 the live album, At Budokan.
Still in '79 he announced that he was a born-again Christain, and released
a series of Christian albums, mostly to poor reviews. He returned to
secular recording with 1983's Infidels, which was greeted with good
reviews and once again made his fans happy.
his self-produced follow-up to Infidels, was released in '85. In 1986,
Dylan hit the road with Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers for a successful
tour, but his album that year, Knocked Out Loaded, was received poorly.
The following year, he toured with the Grateful Dead as his backing
band. Then in 1988, Dylan embarked on what became known as "The
Never-Ending Tour" a constant stream of shows that ran on and off
into the late '90s
In 1988 he formed
the group the Traveling Wilburys with former Beatle George Harrison,
former Electric Light Orchestra leader Jeff Lynne, Tom Petty and Roy
Orbison. The group represented three generations of rock stars and put
out two great albums, but they never toured.
Dylan would put
out five more albums in the 90s: Under the Red Sky (1990) which was
a album of covers, 1992's Good As I Been to You, World Gone Wrong in
'93, MTV Unplugged in '95 and finally 1997's Time Out Of My Mind. In
December '97, Dylan was honored in the U.S. for artistic excellence
with the Kennedy Center Honors. Finally in 2001, he won the Academy
Award for Best Song, "Things Have Changed". Even more of an
honor is the fact that since 1963, hundreds of other performers have
record many of his songs. No one else has written lyrics like Bob Dylan
and I don't believe anyone else ever will. The man is a true living
singer. Born Robert Allen Zimmerman, on May 24, 1941, in Duluth, Minnesota.
Driven by the influences of early rock stars like Elvis Presley, Jerry
Lee Lewis, and Little Richard (whom he used to imitate on the piano
at high school dances), the young Dylan formed his own bands, including
the Golden Chords and Elston Gunn and His Rock Boppers. While attending
the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, he began performing folk
and country songs at local cafés, taking the name “Bob
Dylan,” after the late 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; he also became a regular in the folk clubs and coffeehouses of
Greenwich Village, met a host of other musicians, and began writing
songs at an astonishing pace, including “Song to Woody,”
a tribute to his ailing hero. In the fall of 1961, after one of his
performances received a rave review in The New York Times, Dylan signed
a recording contract with Columbia Records. Released early in 1962,
Bob Dylan contained only two original songs, but showcased Dylan’s
gravelly-voiced singing style in a number of traditional folk songs
and covers of blues songs.
The 1963 release
of The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan marked Dylan’s emergence as
one of the most original and poetic voices in the history of American
popular music. The album included two of the most memorable 1960s folk
songs, “Blowin’ in the Wind” (which later became a
huge hit for the folk trio Peter, Paul, and Mary) and “A Hard
Rain’s A-Gonna Fall.” His next album, The Times They Are
A-Changin’, firmly established Dylan as the definitive songwriter
of the ‘60s protest movement, a reputation that only increased
after he became involved with one of the movement’s established
icons, Joan Baez, in 1963. 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.
In 1965, Dylan scandalized
many of his folkie fans by recording the half-acoustic, half-electric
album Bringing It All Back Home, backed by a nine-piece band. On July
25, 1965, he was famously booed at the Newport Folk Festival when he
performed electrically for the first time. The albums that followed,
Highway 61 Revisited (1965)—including the seminal rock song “Like
a Rolling Stone”—and the two-record set Blonde on Blonde
(1966) represented Dylan at his most innovative. With his unmistakable
voice and unforgettable lyrics, Dylan brought the worlds of music and
literature together as no one else had.
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
(1968)—including “All Along the Watchtower,” later
recorded by guitar great Jimi Hendrix—and the unabashedly countryish
Nashville Skyline (1969) were far more mellow than his earlier works.
Critics blasted the two-record set Self-Portrait (1970), and Tarantula,
a long-awaited collection of writings Dylan published in 1971, also
met with a poor reception. In 1973, Dylan appeared in Pat Garrett and
Billy the Kid, a feature film directed by Sam Peckinpah. He also wrote
the film’s soundtrack, which became a hit and included the now-classic
song, “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door.”
In 1974, Dylan began
his first full-scale tour since his accident, embarking on a sold-out
nationwide tour with his longtime backup band, the Band. An album he
recorded with the Band, Planet Waves, became his first No. 1 album ever.
He followed these successes with the celebrated 1975 album Blood on
the Tracks and Desire (1976), each of which hit No. 1 as well. Desire
included the song “Hurricane,” written by Dylan about the
boxer Rubin “Hurricane” Carter, then serving life in prison
after being wrongly convicted of a triple murder in 1967. Dylan was
one of many prominent public figures who helped popularize Carter’s
cause, leading to a retrial in 1976, when he was again convicted.
After a painful
split with his wife, Sara Lowndes—the song “Sara”
on Desire was Dylan’s plaintive but unsuccessful attempt to win
Lowndes back—Dylan again reinvented himself, 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. His concerts
were sometimes rambling and sloppy, and many fans began to suspect he
was burning out in his middle-aged years. Notable albums during this
period included Infidels (1983); the five-disc retrospective Biograph
(1985); Knocked Out Loaded (1986); and Oh Mercy (1989), which became
his best-received album in years. He recorded two albums with the all-star
band the Traveling Wilburys, also featuring George Harrison, the late
Roy Orbison, Tom Petty and Jeff Lynne. In 1994, Dylan returned to his
folk roots, winning the Grammy Award for Best Traditional Folk Album
for World Gone Wrong.
In 1989, when Dylan
was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, 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.
album, Time Out of Mind reestablished this one-time folk icon as one
of the preeminent of rock’s wise men, winning three Grammy Awards
including Album of the Year. He continues his vigorous touring schedule,
including a memorable performance in 1997 for Pope John Paul II in which
he played “Knockin' on Heaven's Door”, and a 1999 tour with
Paul Simon. In 2000, he recorded the single "Things Have Changed"
for the soundtrack of the film Wonder Boys, starring Michael Douglas.
The song won Dylan a Golden Globe and an Academy Award for Best Original
Song. A documentary about the legendary singer is in the works and will
be directed by Martin Scorsese. Dylan will be giving his first full
interview in 20 years for the project. The singer also released Chronicles:
Volume One, the first in a three-book memoir series, in fall 2004.
Dylan and Lowndes,
who married in 1965 and divorced in 1977, had four children together:
Jesse, Anna, Samuel, and Jakob. (Dylan also adopted Lowndes’s
daughter, Maria, from a previous marriage.) Jakob Dylan is now the lead
singer of a popular rock band, the Wallflowers, who scored a hit in
1996 with their second album, Bringing Down the Horse.
Bob Dylan (born
Robert Allen Zimmerman May 24, 1941) is widely regarded as one of America's
greatest popular songwriters. Much of his best-known work is from the
1960s, when his musical shadow was so large that he became a documentarian
and reluctant figurehead of American unrest. The civil rights movement
had no more moving anthem than his song "Blowin' In The Wind".
Millions of young people embraced "The Times They Are A-Changin'"
during that era of extreme change. The radical insurgent group The Weathermen
named themselves after a lyric in his "Subterranean Homesick Blues"
("You don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows").
More broadly, Dylan
is credited with expanding the vocabulary of popular music, moving it
beyond traditional boy-and-girl themes into the heady realms of politics/social
commentary, philosophy, and a kind of stream of consciousness absurdist
humor that defies easy description. This lyrical innovation has occurred
within the context of Dylan's steadfast devotion to the richest traditions
of American song, from folk and country/blues to rock 'n' roll and rockabilly,
to Gaelic balladry, even jazz, swing, and Broadway.
Dylan was born
and spent his earliest years in Duluth, Minnesota; After his father
Abraham was stricken with polio, the family returned to nearby Hibbing,
his mother Beatty's home town, as Robert neared his sixth birthday.
His grandparents were Lithuanian, Russian and Ukranian Jewish emigrants,
and his parents were part of the area's small but close-knit Jewish
community. Dylan spent much of his youth listening to the radio, at
first the powerful blues and country music stations beamed all the way
from New Orleans and, later, early rock and roll. He made his earliest
known recordings (with two friends) on Christmas Eve 1956, in a department
store booth, singing verses of songs by Carl Perkins, Little Richard,
Lloyd Price, The Penguins, and others. Dylan formed several bands while
in high school; the first, The Shadow Blasters, was short-lived, but
the second, the Golden Chords, proved more durable and more successful.
In 1959 he toured briefly, under the name of Elston Gunnn with Bobby
Vee, playing piano and supplying handclaps.
An able but not
outstanding student, he started university studies in 1959 in Minneapolis,
where he was actively involved in the local Dinkytown folk music circuit.
During his Dinkytown days Zimmerman began introducing himself as Bob
Dylan (or Dillon). Dylan has never explained the exact source for the
pseudonym, sometimes alluding to an apparently mythical uncle, sometimes
to the hero of Gunsmoke, to its similarity to his middle name, and occasionally
acknowledging some reference to the Welsh poet Dylan Thomas.
Dylan quit college
at the end of his freshman year, but stayed in Minneapolis, working
the folk circuit there, with temporary sojourns in Denver and Chicago.
In January 1961, enroute to Minneapolis from Chicago, he changed course,
and headed to New York City to perform and to visit his ailing idol
Woody Guthrie. Initially playing mostly in small "basket"
clubs for little pay, he soon gained some public recognition after a
review in the New York Times (September 29, 1961) by critic Robert Shelton,
while John Hammond, a legendary music business figure, signed him to
At the time his
voice, musicianship and songwriting were still raw. His performances,
like his first Columbia album (1962's Bob Dylan), consisted of familiar
folk, blues and gospel material seasoned with a few of his own songs.
As he continued to record for Columbia, 1962 also saw Dylan recording
some of his lesser songs for Broadside (a folk music magazine and record
label), under the pseudonym Blind Boy Grunt. By the time his next record,
The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan, in which his girlfriend Suze Rotolo appeared
on the cover, was released in (1963), he had begun to make his name
as both a singer and composer, specializing in protest songs, initially
in the style of Guthrie and soon practically developing his own genre.
His most famous
songs of the time are typified by "Blowin' In The Wind", its
melody partially derived from the traditional slave song "No More
Auction Block", coupled with lyrics challenging the social and
political status quo. In hindsight, the lyrics to some of these songs
may appear unsophisticated ("How many times must the cannonballs
fly before they are forever banned"), but compared to the largely
anemic popular culture of the 1950s they were a breath of fresh air,
and the songs fueled the zeitgeist of the 1960s. "Blowin' In The
Wind" itself was widely recorded, an international hit for Peter,
Paul and Mary, setting an enduring precedent for other artists to cover
Dylan's songs. While Dylan's topical songs made his early reputation,
Freewheelin' also mixed in finely crafted bittersweet love songs ("Don't
Think Twice, It's Alright", "Girl From the North Country")
and jokey, frequently surreal talking blues ("Talking World War
III Blues", "I Shall Be Free"). The song "A Hard
Rain's A-Gonna Fall" occupies a plane perhaps above even "Blowin'
In The Wind", with its hard hitting imagery and almost God's-eye
perspective. It represents a nearly alchemical moment in modern songwriting
in which time-tested folk structures are reworked into a latter-day
idiom encompassing world events and deep personal reflection (the citizen's
life "flashing before his eyes" under the apprehension of
apocalypse). The song gained even more resonance as the Cuban missile
crisis developed only a few weeks after Dylan began performing it.
a fine interpreter of traditional songs, Dylan was hardly a "good"
singer under the narrow strictures of American popular-commercial music;
many of his songs first reached the public through versions by other
artists. Joan Baez, a friend and sometime lover, took it upon herself
to record and perform his early material regularly; others who covered
his songs included The Byrds, Sonny and Cher, The Hollies, Manfred Mann
and Herman's Hermits. So ubiquitous were these covers by the mid-1960s
that CBS started to promote him with the tag: "Nobody Sings Dylan
Like Dylan". Whoever sang his songs, they were immediately recognizable
as his and a good part of his fame rested not only on his lyrical excellence
but on the underlying attitude -- a sort of "po' boy adrift in
the wide world" posture that rapidly changed to hipster arbiter
of all things cool and uncool.
Protest and another
By 1963, 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. 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 formidable 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 the
year, 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 everyman) in assassin
Lee Harvey Oswald.
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 re-emerged on
"I Shall Be Free #10" and "Motorpsycho Nightmare"
employing a sense of humor which would persist throughout his career.
"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 songs: "Chimes of Freedom,"
long and impressionistic, sets elements of social commentary against
a denser metaphorical landscape, in a style later characterized by Allen
Ginsberg as "chains of flashing iimages"; "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", recorded that night, but fortunately left off
In the 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 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” (the result of psychedelic drug experiences,
or so have claimed some who knew him), Dylan’s point of view as
a writer became at once more thoroughly contemporary and more surrealistic,
and probably more honest.
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 Chuck Berry's "Too Much Monkey
Business" and was provided with an early music video courtesy of
D. A. Pennebaker's cinema verite presentation of Dylan's 1965 tour,
Don't Look Back.
Side 2 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 justifiably been fixtures in Dylan's live performances for most
of his career.
That summer, Bob
Dylan stoked the drama of his legacy by performing his first electric
set (since his high school days) with a pickup group drawn mostly from
the Paul Butterfield Blues Band 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 legend has it, the boos were from
the outraged folk fans Dylan alienated with his electric guitar. By
one apocryphal account, folk great Pete Seeger even grabbed an axe,
threatening to cut the power during the performance. The other story
says that the fans were upset by poor sound quality and a surprisingly
short set. Whatever sparked the crowd's disfavor, Dylan soon re-emerged
and sang two far better received solo acoustic numbers. But the import
of the appearance at Newport worked its way into the awareness of this
restless generation: thoughtful acoustic music was no longer enough
even for tradition-aware singers like Dylan; times were spinning out
of control and electricity was needed to express it.
The single "Like a Rolling Stone" was a US 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. Its signature
sound, with a full, jangling band and a simple organ riff, would characterize
his next album, Highway 61 Revisited (titled after the road that led
from his native Minnesota to the musical hotbed of New Orleans; and
referencing any number of blues songs; e.g. Mississippi Fred McDowell's
"61 Highway."). The songs were in the same vein as the hit
single, surreal litanies of the grotesque flavored by Bloomfield's blues
guitar, a tight rhythm section and Dylan's obvious enjoyment of the
sessions. Electric amplification and the blues-rock backbeat ruled this
album and all thought of Dylan remaining exclusively in the "new
folk" category should have been abandoned. The closing song, "Desolation
Row", is a lengthy apocalyptic vision with references to many figures
of Western culture.
A successful mix
of Folk music, Rock and Roll and Dylan's own brand of surrealism, Blonde
on Blonde is often considered to be one of the finest recordings of
American popular musicIn support of the record, Dylan was booked for
two US concerts, and set about assembling a band. 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 know for backing Ronnie Hawkins. In August 1965 at Forest
Hills Auditorium, the group were heckled from an audience who, Newport
notwithstanding, still demanded the acoustic troubadour of previous
years; their reception on the 3rd of September at the Hollywood Bowl
was more uniformly favorable.
nor Brooks wanted to go on the road steadily 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.
Dylan secretly married Sara Lownds on November 22, 1965; their first
child, Jesse Byron Dylan, was born in January 1966.
While Dylan and
the Hawks met increasingly receptive audiences on tour (though not before
the audience reaction led Helm to leave the group late in 1965), their
studio efforts foundered. At John Hammond's suggestion, producer Bob
Johnston brought Dylan to Nashville to record, surrounding him with
a cadre of top-notch session men, with only Robertson and Kooper brought
down from New York to play more limited roles. The Nashville sessions
brought out what Dylan would later call "that thin wild mercury
sound" and a classic record often viewed as one of the greatest
in American popular music, Blonde on Blonde.
Dylan began an
ambitious "world tour" of Australia and Europe in the spring
of 1966, including a famously raucous confrontation with an audience
at the Manchester Free Trade Hall in England. Immortalized mistakenly
as the "Royal Albert Hall" concert, the recording was officially
released in 1998. Before the concert's last song, "Like a Rolling
Stone," a folk fan angry that Dylan had adopted an electric sound,
loudly shouted "Judas!" from the restless audience, and Dylan
responded, "I don't believe you! You're a liar!" before turning
to the band and exhorting them to "Play fuckin' loud!" on
the next song—the last of the set—"Like a Rolling Stone".
to New York after his European tour finished, 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. The pace of his private
and professional life seemed unsustainable. On July 29, 1966, near his
home in Woodstock, New York, the brakes of his Triumph 500 motorcycle
locked, throwing him to the ground. The extent of his injuries was never
fully disclosed and, whether through necessity or opportunism, Dylan
used an extended convalescence to escape the pressures of stardom.
Once Dylan 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. 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.
Dylan's official output appeared strongly influenced by his newly relaxed
lifestyle. His first release of songs recorded after the accident, John
Wesley Harding (1967), was a contemplative record, heavily influenced
by the Bible, which included "All Along The Watchtower", later
immortalized by Jimi Hendrix in a version that Dylan himself has acknowledged
as definitive. 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.
Woody Guthrie died
in October 1967, and Dylan made his first public appearances in 18 months
at a pair of Guthrie memorial concerts in January 1968.
Dylan's next release,
Nashville Skyline (1969), was virtually a mainstream country record
featuring a mellow-voiced, contented Dylan, a duet with Johnny Cash,
and a hit single "Lay Lady Lay". Dylan appeared on Cash's
new television show, then gave a high-profile performance at the Isle
of Wight rock festival (shunning the more famous Woodstock event).
In the early 1970s
Dylan's output was of varied and unpredictable quality. "What is
this shit?" notoriously asked Greil Marcus, Rolling Stone magazine
writer and Dylan loyalist, about 1970's Self Portrait, a poorly received
double LP including few original songs that forced critics to re-evaluate
Dylan's career and reputation. Later that year, Dylan released New Morning,
something of a return to form. His unannounced appearance at George
Harrison's 1971 Concert For Bangladesh was widely praised, but reports
of a new album and a return to touring came to nothing.
In 1973, after
his contract with Columbia ran out, Dylan signed with David Geffen's
new Asylum label. He recorded Planet Waves with The Band; like New Morning,
Planet Waves was initially viewed as a return to peak form, but in retrospect
appears less substantial (although "Forever Young" has proved
to be one of Dylan's most lasting songs). Columbia almost simultaneously
released Dylan, a haphazard collection of studio outtakes often termed
a "revenge" release.
In early 1974,
Dylan and the Band staged a high-profile, coast-to-coast tour of North
American; promoter Bill Graham claimed he received more ticket purchase
requests than any prior tour by any artist. The tour is documented on
the Before the Flood album, but Dylan refused to allow a tour film to
After the tour,
Dylan and his wife became publicly estranged. He filled a small red
notebook with songs springing from the breakup, and in September, with
the help of John Hammond, quickly recorded the album Blood on the Tracks
in the New York City studio where his recording career began. Word of
Dylan's efforts soon leaked out, and expectations were high, but Dylan
delayed the album's release, then rerecorded half the songs in Minneapolis
at year's end. Released early in 1975, BOTT was critically acclaimed
and commercially successful, although Dylan's fans still debate the
relative merits of the ultimate release and the original recordings.
That summer, Dylan
wrote his first successful "protest" song in 12 years (an
eponymous 1971 tribute to George Jackson sank almost unnoticed), championing
the cause of boxer Rubin "Hurricane" Carter who he believed
had been wrongfully imprisoned for a triple homicide in Paterson, New
Jersey. (Carter was retried and reconvicted in the mid-1970s, then released
in 1985 when that conviction was overturned). After visiting Carter
in jail Dylan wrote "Hurricane", a sympathetic presentation
of Carter's situation. Despite its length, the song was released as
a single 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; 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. 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.
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 an LP of the same title; 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 of Dylan's Bootleg Series.
The fall 1975 tour
with the Revue also provided the backdrop to Dylan's three hour and
fifty-five minute film Renaldo and Clara, its 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 released.
In 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 concert film The Last Waltz, including
about half of Dylan's set, was released in 1978.
Dylan's 1978 album
Street-Legal was well reviewed (with some disparaging exceptions). Lyrically
one of his more complex and absorbing, it suffered 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. Dylan's work
in the late 1970s and early 1980s was dominated by his becoming, in
1979, a born-again Christian (although he had showed hints of interest
in Christianity since 1967). He released two albums of exclusively religious
songs, and a third that seemed mostly so; of these, the first, Slow
Train Coming (1979) is generally regarded as the most accomplished.
When touring from the fall of 1979 through the spring of 1980, Dylan
refused to play secular music and delivered increasingly long sermonettes
on stage, often discussing the apocalyptic predictions of Hal Lindsey.
Doldrums set in
through much of the 1980s, with his work varying from the well-regarded
(1983's Infidels) to the dreadful (1988's Down in the Groove). Infidels
was more noteworthy for what it did not include than for what it did,
as Dylan left off the album what many consider to be one of his greatest
songs, "Blind Willie McTell", as well as "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. Many Dylan devotees
consider an early version of the LP, prepared by producer/guitarist
Mark Knopfler, to be superior to the final version both in performance
and in song selection. The decade's later albums each contain gems,
from 1985's Empire Burlesque ("When the Night Comes Falling from
the Sky" and "Dark Eyes") to Knocked Out Loaded (1986)
(with the long, clever "Brownsville Girl") to even Down in
the Groove (1988) (containing the catchy "Silvio", with lyrics
written by Grateful Dead collaborator Robert Hunter. Dylan made a number
of music videos during this period, but only "Political World,"
found any regular airtime on MTV.
In late 1985, Dylan
married his longtime backup singer Carolyn Dennis (often professionally
known as Carol Dennis). Their daughter, Desiree, was born early in 1986.
The couple divorced in the early 1990s.
In 1987 he starred
in Richard Marquand's movie Hearts of Fire in which he played a washed
up rock star turned chicken farmer whose teenage lover (Fiona) leaves
him for a jaded English synth-pop sensation (Rupert Everett). The film
was a critical and commercial dud. When asked in a press conference
if he had anything to do with writing this movie Dylan replied, attempting
to stifle his laughter, "I couldn't have possibly written anything
Dylan was inducted
into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1988. Later that spring, he took
part in the first Traveling Wilburys album project, working with Roy
Orbison, Jeff Lynne, Tom Petty, and his good friend George Harrison
on lighthearted, well-selling fare. Dylan added both Lucky and Boo Wilbury
to his growing list of pseudonyms. Despite Orbison's death, the other
four Wilburys issued a sequel in 1990.
the decade with Daniel Lanois-produced Oh Mercy (1989). Lanois's influence
is audible throughout Oh Mercy, especially in the ambience provided
by reverb-heavy guitar tracks. "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 love song that doubled as a dry comment
on the expectations of fans.
1990s and beyond
Dylan's 1990s began with Under the Red Sky (1990), an odd about-face
from the serious Oh Mercy. This album, dedicated to Gabby Goo Goo, puzzlingly
included several apparently childish songs, including "Under the
Red Sky" and "Wiggle Wiggle", all recorded straight-on
without any of the studio wizardry of "Oh Mercy". The dedication
can be explained as a nickname for Dylan's four-year-old daughter, but
the story that the album's songs were written for her entertainment
is plainly apocryphal.
The next few years
saw Dylan returning to his folk 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, led by a powerful version of "Lone Pilgrim".
His 1995 concert on MTV Unplugged, and the album culled from it, marked
Dylan's only newly-recorded output during the mid-1990s. Essentially
a greatest hits collection, it was notable for its inclusion of "John
Brown," an unreleased 1963 song detailing the ravages of both war
With the quality
of his output taking a turn for the better, and a stack of songs reportedly
begun while snowed-in on his Minnesota ranch, Dylan returned to the
recording studio with Lanois in January of 1997. That spring, before
the album's release, Dylan was hospitalized with a life-threatening
heart infection, pericarditis, brought on by histoplasmosis. To his
doctors' surprise and his own he 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 the summer.
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", later covered by The White Stripes. 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 ballad "To 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. Black humor is present throughout Time Out
of Mind, but comes out most on the 16 minute blues "Highlands",
his longest track to date.
In 2001, his song
"Things Have Changed", penned for the movie Wonder Boys, won
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.
Love and Theft,
an album that explores divergent styles of American music and revisits
Dylan's own creative roots, emerged as an uplifting piece of art amidst
a great tragedy, having been released on September 11, 2001. Lyrically
adventurous and musically unprecedented in his long career, Love and
Theft, by many accounts, stands among the greatest of his work. Even
those quite familiar with his earlier work may have trouble imagining
Bob Dylan crooning, as he does on "Bye and Bye" and "Moonlight".
Many believe the album's lyrical strengths are as pronounced as in his
most famous earlier work. Though Dylan produced the record himself under
the pseudonym Jack Frost, the record's fresh sound is owed in part 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. Guitaris 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.