Bob Dylan (born Robert Allen Zimmerman May 24, 1941) is a highly influential
American songwriter, musician, and poet.
Much of Dylan's best known work is from the 1960s, when he became a
documentarian and reluctant figurehead of American unrest. Many involved
in the civil rights movement found an anthem in his song "Blowin'
In The Wind". Millions of young people embraced "The Times
They Are A-Changin'" as an icon of the decade.
Dylan expanded the vocabulary of popular music by incorporating politics/social
commentary, philosophy, and literature. In doing so he created a style
which combines lyrical stream of consciousness with often absurdist social
and political moralizing, defying folk music convention and appealing
widely to the counterculture of the time. While expanding and personalizing
musical styles, Dylan has nonetheless shown devotion to 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 quit college at the end of his freshman year but stayed in Minneapolis,
working the folk circuit there with temporary sojourns in Denver, Colorado,
and Chicago, Illinois. In January 1961, en route 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
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.
While undeniably 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 side
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.
As a sign of the political influence of Dylan's lyrics, the radical
insurgent group the Weathermen even named themselves after a lyric in
his "Subterranean Homesick Blues" ("You don't need a weatherman
to know which way the wind blows").
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.
Perhaps 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" 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
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", recorded
that night but fortunately left off the album.
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 some who knew him have claimed), Dylan’s
point of view as a writer became at once more thoroughly contemporary
and more surrealistic, and probably more honest.
Throughout 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 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
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 version of
the legend has it, the boos were from the outraged folk fans Dylan alienated
with his electric guitar. The alternative account has it that the 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 far better-received solo acoustic numbers. Nevertheless, 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 indeed "a changin" and
electricity was needed to express those changes.
Creative height, motorcycle crash
The single "Like a Rolling Stone" was a U.S. 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 Mike 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
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 music.In support of the record, Dylan
was booked for two U.S. 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 known 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.
Neither Kooper 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 undertook an ambitious "world tour" of Australia and
Europe in the spring of 1966. The first half of these concerts were solo
acoustic. The second half, backed by the Hawks, provoked much jeering
and slow handclapping. The tour culminated in a famously raucous confrontation
with his audience at the Manchester Free Trade Hall in England. Immortalized
mistakenly as the "Royal Albert Hall" concert, the recording
was officially released in 1998. At the climax of the concert, a folk
fan angry that Dylan had adopted an electric sound, shouted "Judas!" from
the 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!" as they launched into the last song of the night—"Like
a Rolling Stone".
After his European tour, Dylan returned to New York, 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. 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
Unsurprisingly, Dylan's official output appeared strongly influenced
by his changed lifestyle. In December 1967 he released his first official
album since the accident, John Wesley Harding, a contemplative record
set in a landscape which drew on both the American West and the Old Testament.
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 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
Dylan's 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". Dylan appeared on Cash's new television
show and then gave a high-profile performance at the Isle of Wight rock
festival (after rejecting overtures to appear at the Woodstock event
far closer to his home).
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. In general, Self
Portrait, a double LP including few original songs, was poorly received.
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, a television
special, and a return to touring came to nothing.
In 1972, Dylan signed onto Sam Peckinpah's film Pat Garrett and Billy
the Kid, providing the songs and taking a minor 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
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 be made.
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;
he was 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.
Running 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 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
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 generally well reviewed. Lyrically
one of his more complex and absorbing, 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.
Dylan's 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 most accomplished. When touring from the fall of 1979 through the
spring of 1980, Dylan refused to play secular music, delivered increasingly
long sermonettes on stage, and often discussed the apocalyptic predictions
of Hal Lindsey.
Hard-working elder statesman
In the fall of 1980, Dylan briefly resumed touring, restoring songs from
prior to his Christian trilogy 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.
After composing and recording proselytical Christian songs over the
course of his prior three albums, on 1983's well-received Infidels Dylan
returned to writing predominantly secular songs, with a few songs that
obliquely suggest Christian themes, but without a proselytical tone.
However, doldrums set in through much of the 1980s, with his work varying
from the well-regarded Infidels to the poorly received 1988 Down in the
Groove. The Infidels recording session included "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 Infidels,
prepared by producer/guitarist Mark Knopfler, to be superior to the final
version both in performance and in song selection.
Although less consistent, 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. Despite Orbison's
death, the other four Wilburys issued a sequel in 1990.
Dylan finished the decade on a critical high note with the 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
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. 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 also
included "John Brown," an unreleased 1963 song detailing the
ravages of both war and jingoism.
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 1997. 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
the Pope at the World Eucharistic Conference in Bologna, Italy.
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. 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.
2003 saw the release of the film Masked & Anonymous, largely a joint
creative venture with television producer Larry Charles, featuring one
of the largest ever assemblages of top Hollywood stars in a single film.
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 theaters.
In 2005 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,
Adrien Brody and Richard Gere.
Recent live performances
Dylan jams with bandmate Larry Campbell at Irving Plaza, New York City,
1997Dylan has played over 100 dates a year for the entirety of the 1990s
and the 2000s, a far 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.
Dylan, once famous 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 the occasional harmonica solo. Various
rumors have circulated as to why Dylan gave up his guitar, none terribly
Dylan chooses songs from throughout his 40-year career, seldom playing
the same set twice. While his chief place in posterity will be as the
preeminent songwriter of latter 20th-century America, his roles as recording
artist and performer are cherished just as highly by his contemporaries.
Bob 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, another 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 following.
The poet laureate of Britain, Andrew Motion, is a vocal supporter of
Dylan's work, as are musicians Lou Reed, Tom Waits, Bruce Springsteen,
Tom Petty, David Bowie, Ian Hunter, Neil Young, and Mike Watt. His songs
have been covered by more artists than perhaps any other contemporary
Chronicles Vol. 1
After a lengthy delay, October 2004 saw the publishing of Bob Dylan's
autobiography, Chronicles, Vol. 1. He once again confounded expectations.
Dylan wrote three chapters about the year between his arrival in New
York in 1961 and recording his first album, focusing on the brief period
when he wasn't famous while virtually ignoring the mid-1960s when his
fame was at its height. He also devoted chapters to two lesser-known
albums, New Morning (1970) and Oh Mercy (1989), which contained insights
into his collaborations with the poet Archibald MacLeish and producer
Daniel Lanois, respectively. In the New Morning chapter, Dylan expresses
distaste for the label "spokesman of a generation" and he evinces
disgust with his more fanatical followers.
Another section features Dylan's account of a guitar-strumming style
in mathematical detail that he claimed was the key to his renaissance
in the 1990s. Despite the opacity of some passages, there is an overall
clarity in voice that is generally missing in Dylan's other prose writings,
and a noticeable generosity towards friends and lovers of his early years.
At the end of the book, Dylan describes with great passion the moment
when he listened to the Brecht/Weill song "Pirate Jenny", and
the moment when he first heard Robert Johnson’s recordings. In
these passages, Dylan suggested the process which ignited his own song-writing
Six weeks after its publication, Chronicles, Vol. 1 was number 5 on
the New York Times' Hardcover Non-Fiction best seller list and climbing.
Simultaneously, Amazon.com and Barnesandnoble.com reported it as their
number 2 best seller among all categories. Chronicles Vol. 1 is the first
of three planned volumes.
Bob Dylan has produced 49 original albums:
Bob Dylan (1962) #13 UK
The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan (1963) #22 US, #1 UK. Gold December 18, 1970.
Platinum May 5, 1999.
The Times They Are A-Changin (1964) #20 US, #4 UK. Gold November 19,
Another Side of Bob Dylan (1964) #43 US, #8 UK. Gold May 21, 1999.
Bringing It All Back Home (1965) #6 US, #1 UK. Gold, August 25, 1967.
Platinum December 20, 2001.
Highway 61 Revisited (1965) #3 US, #4 UK. Gold August 25, 1967. Platinum
August 19, 1997.
Blonde on Blonde (1966) #9 US, #3 UK. Gold August 25, 1967. Platinum
May 5, 1999. 2x Platinum September 22, 2003.
Bob Dylan's Greatest Hits (1967) #10 US, #6 UK. Gold January 5, 1968.
Platinum November 21, 1986.2x Platinum November 21, 1986. 3x Platinum
June 4, 1999. 5x Platinum October 13, 2001.
John Wesley Harding (1967) #2 US, #1 UK. Gold March 19, 1968. Platinum
August 16, 2001.
Nashville Skyline (1969) #3 US, #1 UK. Gold May 7, 1969. Platinum November
Self Portrait (1970) #4 US, #1 UK. Gold June 22, 1970.
New Morning (1970) #7 US, #1 UK. Gold December 11, 1970.
Bob Dylan's Greatest Hits Vol. II (1971) #14 US, #12 UK. Gold January
3, 1972. Platinum November 21, 1986. 2x Platinum November 14, 1994. 5x
Platinum September 8, 1997. 6x Platinum April 24, 2001.
Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid (1973) #16 US, #29 UK. Gold August 19,
Dylan (1973) #17 US. Gold December 21, 1973.
Planet Waves (1974) #1 US, #7 UK. Gold January 22, 1974.
Before the Flood (1974) #3 US, #8 UK. Gold July 8, 1974. Platinum September
Blood on the Tracks (1975) #1 US, #4 UK. Gold February 12, 1975. Platinum
August 9, 1989. 2x Platinum November 14, 1994.
The Basement Tapes (1975) #7 US, #8 UK. Gold February 3, 2000.
Desire (1976) #1 US, #3 UK. Gold January 14, 1976. Platinum March 4,
1976. 2x Platinum May 5, 1999.
Hard Rain (1976) #17 US, #3 UK. Gold September 22, 1976.
Street-Legal (1978) #11 US, #2 UK. Gold June 27, 1978.
Bob Dylan At Budokan (1979) #13 US, #4 UK. Gold April 20, 1999.
Slow Train Coming (1979) #3 US, #2 UK. Gold December 26, 1979. Platinum
May 9, 1980.
Saved (1980) #24 US, #3 UK
Shot of Love (1981) #33 US, #6 UK
Infidels (1983) #20 US, #9 UK. Gold January 23, 1984.
Real Live (1984) #115 US
Empire Burlesque (1985) #33 US, #11 UK
Biograph (1985) #33 US. Gold March 29, 1989. Platinum July 8, 1992.
Knocked Out Loaded (1986) #54 US, #35 UK
Dylan & The Dead (1988) #37 US, #38 UK. Gold August 3, 1989.
Down in the Groove (1988) #61 US, #32 UK
Oh Mercy (1989) #30 US, #6 UK
Under the Red Sky (1990) #38 US, #13 UK
The Bootleg Series Volumes 1-3 (Rare & Unreleased) 1961-1991 (1991)
#49 US, #32 UK. Gold August 19, 1997.
Good As I Been to You (1992) #51 US, #18 UK
The 30th Anniversary Concert Celebration (1993) #40 US. Gold January
World Gone Wrong (1993) #70 US, #35 UK
Bob Dylan's Greatest Hits Volume 3 (1994) #126 US. Gold October 3, 2000.
MTV Unplugged (1995) #23 US, #10 UK. Gold August 15, 2000.
Time Out of Mind (1997) #10 US, #10 UK. Gold October 27, 1997. Platinum
June 2, 1998.
The Bootleg Series Vol. 4: Bob Dylan Live 1966, The "Royal Albert
Hall" Concert (1998) #31 US, #19 UK
The Essential Bob Dylan (2000) #67 US, #9 UK. Gold December 19, 2000.
Platinum October 31, 2003.
Love and Theft (2001) #5 US, #3 UK. Gold October 17, 2001.
The Bootleg Series Vol. 5: Bob Dylan Live 1975, The Rolling Thunder Revue
(2002) #56 US. Gold March 12, 2003.
The Bootleg Series Vol. 6: Bob Dylan Live 1964, Concert at Philharmonic
Hall (2004) #28 US, #33 UK
The Bootleg Series Vol. 7: No Direction Home: The Soundtrack (2005)
Live at The Gaslight 1962 (2005)
U.S. / North American releases
12/1962 "Mixed Up Confusion" / "Corrina, Corrina"
A-side later included on the 1997 revised Biograph; B-side uncompiled
7/1963 "Blowin' In The Wind" / "Don't Think Twice"
from The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan
4/1965 "Subterranean Homesick Blues" / "She Belongs To
Me" #39 US, #9 UK
from Bringing It All Back Home
6/1965 "Like a Rolling Stone" / "Gates Of Eden" #2
US, #4 UK
A-side later included on Highway 61 Revisited; B-side from Bringing It
All Back Home
9/1965 "Positively 4th Street" / "From A Buick 6" #7
US, #8 UK
A-side later included on Bob Dylan's Greatest Hits; B-side from Highway
1/1966 "Can You Please Crawl Out of Your Window" / "Highway
61 Revisited" #17 UK
A-side later included on Biograph; B-side from Highway 61 Revisited
from The Times They Are A-Changin
1966 "One Too Many Mornings" #8 UK (EP Chart)
from Blonde on Blonde
1966 "One of Us Must Know (Sooner or Later)" #33 UK
1966 "Rainy Day Women #12 & 35" #2 US, #7 UK
1966 "I Want You" #20 US, #16 UK
1966 "Just Like a Woman" #33 US
from Bringing It All Back Home
1966 "Mr. Tambourine Man" #4 UK (EP Chart)
from Nashville Skyline
1969 "I Threw It All Away" #30 UK
1969 "Lay Lady Lay" #7 US, #5 UK
from Bob Dylan's Greatest Hits Vol. II
1971 "Watching the River Flow" #24 UK
1972 "George Jackson" #33 US
from Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid
1973 "Knockin on Heaven's Door" #12 US, #14 UK
from Blood on the Tracks
1975 "Tangled Up in Blue" #31 US
1976 "Hurricane (Part I)" #33 US
1978 "Baby Stop Crying" #13 UK
from Slow Train Coming
1979 "Gotta Serve Somebody" #24 US
from Bob Dylan's Greatest Hits Volume 3
1995 "Dignity" #33 UK
1965 "Maggie's Farm" / "On The Road Again" #22 UK
from Bringing It All Back Home
Hard To Handle (1986)
The 30th Anniversary Concert Celebration (1993) #40 US
MTV Unplugged (1995)
[Bob Dylan appears briefly in many other commercial video releases; only
those centering on him are listed.]
Don't Look Back (1967)
Eat the Document (1969)
Renaldo and Clara (1978)
Masked & Anonymous (2003)
Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid (1973)
Hearts Of Fire (1987)
Backtrack aka "Catchfire" (1990)
Paradise Cove (1999)
The Concert For Bangladesh (1972)
The Last Waltz (1978)
Writings And Drawings (1972)
Lyrics: 1962 - 1985
Drawn Blank (1994)
Chronicles: Vol. One (2004)
Lyrics: 1962 - 2001 (2004)