Dylan ( /ˈdɪlən/, born Robert Allen Zimmerman on May 24, 1941) is
an American singer-songwriter, musician, poet, film director and painter. He
has been a major and profoundly influential figure in popular music and
culture for five decades. Much of his most celebrated work dates from the
1960s when he was an informal chronicler and a seemingly reluctant
figurehead of social unrest. A number of his early songs such as 'Blowin' in
the Wind' and 'The Times They Are a-Changin'' became anthems for the US
civil rights and anti-war movements. Leaving his initial base in the culture
of folk music behind, Dylan proceeded to revolutionize perceptions of the
limits of popular music in 1965 with the six-minute single 'Like a Rolling
His lyrics incorporated a variety of political, social, philosophical, and
literary influences. They defied existing pop music conventions and appealed
hugely to the then burgeoning counterculture. Initially inspired by the
songs of Woody Guthrie, Robert Johnson, Hank Williams, and the music and
performance styles of Buddy Holly and Little
Richard, Dylan has both amplified and personalized musical genres. His
recording career, spanning fifty years, has explored numerous distinct
traditions in American song—from folk, blues and country to gospel, rock and
roll, and rockabilly, to English, Scottish, and Irish folk music, embracing
even jazz and swing.
Dylan performs with guitar, keyboards, and harmonica. Backed by a changing
line-up of musicians, he has toured steadily since the late 1980s on what
has been dubbed the Never Ending Tour. His accomplishments as a recording
artist and performer have been central to his career, but his greatest
contribution is generally considered to be his songwriting.
Since 1994, Dylan has published three books of drawings and paintings, and
his work has been exhibited in major art galleries. As a songwriter and
musician, Dylan has received numerous awards over the years including
Grammy, Golden Globe, and Academy Awards; he has been inducted into the Rock
and Roll Hall of Fame, Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame, and Songwriters
Hall of Fame. In 2005, the street on which Dylan grew up in Hibbing,
Minnesota, was formally re-named Bob Dylan Drive. In 2008, a road called the
Bob Dylan Pathway was opened in the singer's honor in his birthplace of
Duluth, Minnesota. The Pulitzer Prize jury in 2008 awarded him a special
citation for 'his profound impact on popular music and American culture,
marked by lyrical compositions of extraordinary poetic power.'
Life and career
Origins and musical beginnings
Robert Allen Zimmerman (Hebrew name שבתי זסאל בן אברהם [Shabtai Zisel ben
Avraham]) was born in St. Mary's Hospital on May 24, 1941, in Duluth,
Minnesota, and raised in Hibbing, Minnesota, on the Mesabi Iron Range west
of Lake Superior. His paternal grandparents, Zigman and Anna Zimmerman,
emigrated from Odessa in the Russian Empire (now Ukraine) to the United
States following the anti-Semitic pogroms of 1905. His maternal
grandparents, Benjamin and Lybba Edelstein, were Lithuanian Jews who arrived
in the United States in 1902. In his autobiography Chronicles: Volume One,
Dylan writes that his paternal grandmother's maiden name was Kyrgyz and her
family originated from Kars, Turkey.
Dylan's parents, Abram Zimmerman and Beatrice 'Beatty' Stone, were part of
the area's small but close-knit Jewish community. Robert Zimmerman lived in
Duluth until age six, when his father was stricken with polio and the family
returned to his mother's home town, Hibbing, where Zimmerman spent the rest
of his childhood. Robert Zimmerman spent much of his youth listening to the
radio—first to blues and country stations broadcasting from Shreveport,
Louisiana and, later, to early rock and roll. He formed several bands while
he attended Hibbing High School. The Shadow Blasters was short-lived, but
his next, The Golden Chords, lasted longer and played covers of Little
Richard rock and roll and other popular songs. Their performance of Danny
and the Juniors' 'Rock and Roll Is Here to Stay' at their high school talent
show was so loud that the principal cut the microphone off. In his 1959
school yearbook, Robert Zimmerman listed as his ambition 'To follow Little
Richard.' The same year, using the name Elston Gunnn [sic], he performed two
dates with Bobby Vee, playing piano and providing handclaps.
Zimmerman moved to Minneapolis in September 1959 and enrolled at the
University of Minnesota, where his early focus on rock and roll gave way to
an interest in American folk music. In 1985, Dylan explained the attraction
that folk music had exerted on him:
The thing about rock'n'roll is that for me anyway it wasn't enough ... There
were great catch-phrases and driving pulse rhythms ... but the songs weren't
serious or didn't reflect life in a realistic way. I knew that when I got
into folk music, it was more of a serious type of thing. The songs are
filled with more despair, more sadness, more triumph, more faith in the
supernatural, much deeper feelings.
He soon began to perform at the 10 O'clock Scholar, a coffee house a few
blocks from campus, and became actively involved in the local Dinkytown folk
During his Dinkytown days, Zimmerman began introducing himself as 'Bob
Dylan'. In his autobiography, Dylan acknowledged that he had been influenced
by the poetry of Dylan Thomas. Explaining his change of name in a 2004
interview, Dylan remarked: 'You're born, you know, the wrong names, wrong
parents. I mean, that happens. You call yourself what you want to call
yourself. This is the land of the free.'
Relocation to New York and record deal
Dylan dropped out of college at the end of his freshman year. In January
1961, he travelled to New York City, hoping to perform there and visit his
musical idol Woody Guthrie, who was seriously ill with Huntington's Disease
in Greystone Park Psychiatric Hospital. Guthrie had been a revelation to
Dylan and was the biggest influence on his early performances. Describing
Guthrie's impact on him, Dylan later wrote: 'The songs themselves had the
infinite sweep of humanity in them ... [He] was the true voice of the
American spirit. I said to myself I was going to be Guthrie's greatest
disciple.' As well as visiting Guthrie in the hospital, Dylan befriended
Guthrie's acolyte Ramblin' Jack Elliott. Much of Guthrie's repertoire was
actually channeled through Elliott, and Dylan paid tribute to Elliott in
From February 1961, Dylan played at various clubs around Greenwich Village.
In September, he gained some public recognition when Robert Shelton wrote a
positive review in The New York Times of a show at Gerde's Folk City. The
same month Dylan played harmonica on folk singer Carolyn Hester's eponymous
third album, which brought his talents to the attention of the album's
producer John Hammond. Hammond signed Dylan to Columbia Records in October.
The performances on his first Columbia album, Bob Dylan (1962), consisted of
familiar folk, blues and gospel material combined with two original
compositions. The album made little impact, selling only 5,000 copies in its
first year, just enough to break even. Within Columbia Records, some
referred to the singer as 'Hammond's Folly' and suggested dropping his
contract. Hammond defended Dylan vigorously. In March 1962, Dylan
contributed harmonica and back-up vocals to the album Three Kings and the
Queen, accompanying Victoria Spivey and Big Joe Williams on a recording for
Spivey Records. While working for Columbia, Dylan also recorded several
songs under the pseudonym Blind Boy Grunt, for Broadside Magazine, a folk
music magazine and record label. Dylan used the pseudonym Bob Landy to
record as a piano player on the 1964 anthology album, The Blues Project,
issued by Elektra Records. Under the pseudonym Tedham Porterhouse, Dylan
contributed harmonica to Ramblin' Jack Elliott's 1964 album Jack Elliott.
Dylan made two important career moves in August 1962. He legally changed his
name to Bob Dylan, and signed a management contract with Albert Grossman.
Grossman remained Dylan's manager until 1970, and was notable both for his
sometimes confrontational personality, and for the fiercely protective
loyalty he displayed towards his principal client. Dylan subsequently said
of Grossman, 'He was kind of like a Colonel Tom Parker figure ... you could
smell him coming.' Tensions between Grossman and John Hammond led to Hammond
being replaced as the producer of Dylan's second album by the young African
American jazz producer Tom Wilson.
From December 1962 to January 1963, Dylan made his first trip to the United
Kingdom. He had been invited by TV director Philip Saville to appear in a
drama, The Madhouse on Castle Street, which Saville was directing for BBC
Television. At the end of the play, Dylan performed 'Blowin' in the Wind',
one of the first major public performances of the song. The recording of The
Madhouse on Castle Street was wiped by the BBC in 1968. While in London,
Dylan performed at several London folk clubs, including Les Cousins, The
Pinder of Wakefield, and Bunjies. He also learned new songs from several UK
performers, including Martin Carthy.
By the time Dylan's second album, The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan, was released
in May 1963, he had begun to make his name as both a singer and a
songwriter. Many of the songs on this album were labeled protest songs,
inspired partly by Guthrie and influenced by Pete Seeger's passion for
topical songs. 'Oxford Town', for example, was a sardonic account of James
Meredith's ordeal as the first black student to risk enrollment at the
University of Mississippi.
His most famous song at this time, 'Blowin' in the Wind', partially derived
its melody from the traditional slave song 'No More Auction Block', while
its lyrics questioned the social and political status quo. The song was
widely recorded and became an international hit for Peter, Paul and Mary,
setting a precedent for many other artists who had hits with Dylan's songs.
'A Hard Rain's a-Gonna Fall' was based on the tune of the folk ballad 'Lord
Randall'. With its veiled references to nuclear apocalypse, it gained even
more resonance when the Cuban missile crisis developed only a few weeks
after Dylan began performing it. Like 'Blowin' in the Wind', 'A Hard Rain's
a-Gonna Fall' marked an important new direction in modern songwriting,
blending a stream-of-consciousness, imagist lyrical attack with a
traditional folk form.
'Blowin' in the Wind'
Blowin' in the Wind was, according to critic Andy Gill, 'the song with which
Dylan's name is most inextricably linked, and safeguarded his reputation as
a civil libertarian through any number of changes in style and attitude.'
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While Dylan's topical songs solidified his early reputation, Freewheelin'
also included a mixture of love songs and jokey, surreal talking blues.
Humor was a large part of Dylan's persona, and the range of material on the
album impressed many listeners, including The Beatles. George Harrison said,
'We just played it, just wore it out. The content of the song lyrics and
just the attitude—it was incredibly original and wonderful.'
The rough edge of Dylan's singing was unsettling to some early listeners but
an attraction to others. Describing the impact that Dylan had on her and her
husband, Joyce Carol Oates wrote: 'When we first heard this raw, very young,
and seemingly untrained voice, frankly nasal, as if sandpaper could sing,
the effect was dramatic and electrifying.' Many of his most famous early
songs first reached the public through more immediately palatable versions
by other performers, such as Joan Baez, who became Dylan's advocate, as well
as his lover. Baez was influential in bringing Dylan to national and
international prominence by recording several of his early songs and
inviting him onstage during her own concerts.
Others who recorded and had hits with Dylan's songs in the early and
mid-1960s included The Byrds; Sonny and Cher; The Hollies; Peter, Paul and
Mary; The Association; Manfred Mann; and The Turtles. Most attempted to
impart a pop feel and rhythm to the songs, while Dylan and Baez performed
them mostly as sparse folk pieces. The cover versions became so ubiquitous
that CBS started to promote him with the tag 'Nobody Sings Dylan Like
'Mixed Up Confusion', recorded during the Freewheelin' sessions with a
backing band, was released as a single and then quickly withdrawn. In
contrast to the mostly solo acoustic performances on the album, the single
showed a willingness to experiment with a rockabilly sound. Cameron Crowe
described it as 'a fascinating look at a folk artist with his mind wandering
towards Elvis Presley and Sun Records.'
Protest and Another Side
In May 1963, Dylan's political profile was raised when he walked out of The
Ed Sullivan Show. During rehearsals, Dylan had been informed by CBS
Television's 'head of program practices' that the song he was planning to
perform, 'Talkin' John Birch Paranoid Blues', was potentially libelous to
the John Birch Society. Rather than comply with the censorship, Dylan
refused to appear on the program.
'The Times They Are a-Changin''
Dylan said of 'The Times They Are a-Changin'': 'This was definitely a song
with a purpose. I wanted to write a big song, some kind of theme song, with
short concise verses that piled up on each other in a hypnotic way. The
civil rights movement and the folk music movement were pretty close and
allied together at that time.'
By this time, Dylan and Baez were both prominent in the civil rights
movement, singing together at the March on Washington on August 28, 1963.
Dylan's third album, The Times They Are a-Changin', reflected a more
politicized and cynical Dylan. The songs often took as their subject matter
contemporary, real life stories, with 'Only A Pawn In Their Game' addressing
the murder of civil rights worker Medgar Evers; and the Brechtian 'The
Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll' the death of black hotel barmaid Hattie
Carroll, at the hands of young white socialite William Zantzinger. On a more
general theme, 'Ballad of Hollis Brown' and 'North Country Blues' address
the despair engendered by the breakdown of farming and mining communities.
This political material was accompanied by two personal love songs, 'Boots
of Spanish Leather' and 'One Too Many Mornings'.
By the end of 1963, Dylan felt both manipulated and constrained by the folk
and protest movements. These tensions were publicly displayed when,
accepting the 'Tom Paine Award' from the National Emergency Civil Liberties
Committee shortly after the assassination of John F. Kennedy, an intoxicated
Dylan brashly questioned the role of the committee, characterized the
members as old and balding, and claimed to see something of himself (and of
every man) in Kennedy's alleged assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald.
Another Side of Bob Dylan, recorded on a single June evening in 1964, had a
lighter mood than its predecessor. The surreal, humorous Dylan reemerged on
'I Shall Be Free #10' and 'Motorpsycho Nightmare'. 'Spanish Harlem Incident'
and 'To Ramona' are romantic and passionate love songs, while 'Black Crow
Blues' and 'I Don't Believe You (She Acts Like We Never Have Met)' suggest
the rock and roll soon to dominate Dylan's music. 'It Ain't Me Babe', on the
surface a song about spurned love, has been described as a rejection of the
role his reputation had thrust at him. His newest direction was signaled by
two lengthy songs: the impressionistic 'Chimes of Freedom,' which sets
elements of social commentary against a denser metaphorical landscape in a
style later characterized by Allen Ginsberg as 'chains of flashing images,'
and 'My Back Pages,' which attacks the simplistic and arch seriousness of
his own earlier topical songs and seems to predict the backlash he was about
to encounter from his former champions as he took a new direction.
In the latter half of 1964 and 1965, Dylan's appearance and musical style
changed rapidly, as he made his move from leading contemporary songwriter of
the folk scene to folk-rock pop-music star. His scruffy jeans and work
shirts were replaced by a Carnaby Street wardrobe, sunglasses day or night,
and pointy 'Beatle boots'. A London reporter wrote: 'Hair that would set the
teeth of a comb on edge. A loud shirt that would dim the neon lights of
Leicester Square. He looks like an undernourished cockatoo.' Dylan also
began to spar in increasingly surreal ways with his interviewers. Appearing
on the Les Crane TV show and asked about a movie he was planning to make, he
told Crane it would be a cowboy horror movie. Asked if he played the cowboy,
Dylan replied, 'No, I play my mother.'
Main article: Electric Dylan controversy
Dylan's April 1965 album Bringing It All Back Home was yet another stylistic
leap, featuring his first recordings made with electric instruments. The
first single, 'Subterranean Homesick Blues', owed much to Chuck Berry's 'Too
Much Monkey Business'; its free association lyrics have been described as
both harkening back to the manic energy of Beat poetry and as a forerunner
of rap and hip-hop. The song was provided with an early music video which
opened D. A. Pennebaker's cinéma vérité presentation of Dylan's 1965 tour of
England, Dont Look Back. Instead of miming to the recording, Dylan
illustrated the lyrics by throwing cue cards containing key words from the
song on the ground. Pennebaker has said the sequence was Dylan's idea, and
it has been widely imitated in both music videos and advertisements.
The B side of Bringing It All Back Home consisted of four long songs on
which Dylan accompanied himself on acoustic guitar and harmonica. 'Mr.
Tambourine Man' quickly became one of Dylan's best known songs when The
Byrds recorded an electric version that reached number one in both the U.S.
and the U.K. charts. 'It's All Over Now Baby Blue' and 'It's Alright Ma (I'm
Only Bleeding)' were acclaimed as two of Dylan's most important
In the summer of 1965, as the headliner at the Newport Folk Festival, Dylan
performed his first electric set since his high school days with a pickup
group drawn mostly from the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, featuring Mike
Bloomfield (guitar), Sam Lay (drums) and Jerome Arnold (bass), plus Al
Kooper (organ) and Barry Goldberg (piano). Dylan had appeared at Newport in
1963 and 1964, but in 1965 Dylan, met with a mix of cheering and booing,
left the stage after only three songs. One version of the legend has it that
the boos were from the outraged folk fans whom Dylan had alienated by
appearing, unexpectedly, with an electric guitar. Murray Lerner, who filmed
the performance, said: 'I absolutely think that they were booing Dylan going
electric.' An alternative account claims audience members were merely upset
by poor sound quality and a surprisingly short set. This account is
supported by Kooper and one of the directors of the festival, who reports
his audio recording of the concert proves that the only boos were in
reaction to the emcee's announcement that there was only enough time for a
Nevertheless, Dylan's 1965 Newport performance provoked a hostile response
from the folk music establishment. In the September issue of Sing Out!,
singer Ewan MacColl wrote: 'Our traditional songs and ballads are the
creations of extraordinarily talented artists working inside disciplines
formulated over time... 'But what of Bobby Dylan?' scream the outraged
teenagers... Only a completely non-critical audience, nourished on the
watery pap of pop music, could have fallen for such tenth-rate drivel.' On
July 29, just four days after his controversial performance at Newport,
Dylan was back in the studio in New York, recording 'Positively 4th Street'.
The lyrics teemed with images of vengeance and paranoia, and it was widely
interpreted as Dylan's put-down of former friends from the folk
community—friends he had known in the clubs along West 4th Street.
Dylan's 1965 hit single, which appeared on the album Highway 61 Revisited.
In 2004, it was labelled the Greatest Song of All Time by Rolling Stone
In July 1965, Dylan released the single 'Like a Rolling Stone', which peaked
at No.2 in the U.S. and at No.4 in the UK charts. At over six minutes, the
song has been widely credited with altering attitudes about what a pop
single could convey. Bruce Springsteen, in his speech during Dylan's
inauguration into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame said that on first hearing
the single, 'that snare shot sounded like somebody'd kicked open the door to
your mind'. In 2004, and again in 2011, Rolling Stone Magazine listed it as
number one on its list of 'The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time'. The song
also opened Dylan's next album, Highway 61 Revisited, titled after the road
that led from Dylan's Minnesota to the musical hotbed of New Orleans. The
songs were in the same vein as the hit single, flavored by Mike Bloomfield's
blues guitar and Al Kooper's organ riffs. 'Desolation Row' offers the sole
acoustic exception, with Dylan making surreal allusions to a variety of
figures in Western culture during this epic song, which was described by
Andy Gill as 'an 11-minute epic of entropy, which takes the form of a
Fellini-esque parade of grotesques and oddities featuring a huge cast of
celebrated characters, some historical (Einstein, Nero), some biblical
(Noah, Cain and Abel), some fictional (Ophelia, Romeo, Cinderella), some
literary (T.S. Eliot and Ezra Pound), and some who fit into none of the
above categories, notably Dr. Filth and his dubious nurse.'
In support of the record, Dylan was booked for two U.S. concerts and set
about assembling a band. Mike Bloomfield was unwilling to leave the
Butterfield Band, so Dylan mixed Al Kooper and Harvey Brooks from his studio
crew with bar-band stalwarts Robbie Robertson and Levon Helm, best known at
the time for being part of Ronnie Hawkins's backing band The Hawks (later to
become The Band). On August 28 at Forest Hills Tennis Stadium, the group was
heckled by an audience still annoyed by Dylan's electric sound. The band's
reception on September 3 at the Hollywood Bowl was more favorable.
While Dylan and the Hawks met increasingly receptive audiences on tour,
their studio efforts floundered. Producer Bob Johnston persuaded Dylan to
record in Nashville in February 1966, and surrounded him with a cadre of
top-notch session men. At Dylan's insistence, Robertson and Kooper came down
from New York City to play on the sessions. The Nashville sessions produced
the double-album Blonde on Blonde (1966), featuring what Dylan later called
'that thin wild mercury sound'. Al Kooper described the album as 'taking two
cultures and smashing them together with a huge explosion': the musical
world of Nashville and the world of the 'quintessential New York hipster'
On November 22, 1965, Dylan secretly married 25-year-old former model Sara
Lownds. Some of Dylan's friends (including Ramblin' Jack Elliott) claim
that, in conversation immediately after the event, Dylan denied that he was
married. Journalist Nora Ephron first made the news public in the New York
Post in February 1966 with the headline 'Hush! Bob Dylan is wed.'
Dylan undertook a world tour of Australia and Europe in the spring of 1966.
Each show was split into two parts. Dylan performed solo during the first
half, accompanying himself on acoustic guitar and harmonica. In the second
half, backed by the Hawks, he played high voltage electric music. This
contrast provoked many fans, who jeered and slow handclapped. The tour
culminated in a famously raucous confrontation between Dylan and his
audience at the Manchester Free Trade Hall in England on May 17, 1966. An
official recording of this concert was finally released in 1998: The Bootleg
Series Vol. 4: Bob Dylan Live 1966. At the climax of the evening, a member
of the audience, angered by Dylan's electric backing, shouted: 'Judas!' to
which Dylan responded, 'I don't believe you ... You're a liar!' Dylan turned
to his band and said, 'Play it fucking loud!' as they launched into the
final song of the night—'Like a Rolling Stone.'
During his 1966 tour, Dylan was frequently described as exhausted and acting
'as if on a death trip'. D. A. Pennebaker, the film maker accompanying the
tour, described Dylan as 'taking a lot of amphetamine and
who-knows-what-else.' In a 1969 interview with Jann Wenner, Dylan said, 'I
was on the road for almost five years. It wore me down. I was on drugs, a
lot of things... just to keep going, you know?' In 2011, BBC Radio 4
reported that, in an interview which Robert Shelton had taped in 1966, Dylan
claimed that he had kicked a heroin habit in New York City: 'I got very,
very strung out for a while... I had about a $25-a-day habit and I kicked
it.' Some journalists questioned the validity of this confession, pointing
out that Dylan had 'been telling journalists wild lies about his past since
the earliest days of his career.'
Motorcycle accident and reclusion
After his European tour, Dylan returned to New York, but the pressures on
him increased. ABC Television had paid an advance for a TV show they could
screen. His publisher, Macmillan, was demanding a finished manuscript of the
poem/novel Tarantula. Manager Albert Grossman had already scheduled an
extensive concert tour for that summer and fall.
On July 29, 1966, Dylan crashed his 500cc Triumph Tiger 100 motorcycle on a
road near his home in Woodstock, New York, throwing him to the ground.
Though the extent of his injuries were never fully disclosed, Dylan said
that he broke several vertebrae in his neck. Mystery still surrounds the
circumstances of the accident since no ambulance was called to the scene and
Dylan was not hospitalized. Dylan's biographers have written that the crash
offered Dylan the much-needed chance to escape from the pressures that had
built up around him. Dylan confirmed this interpretation of the crash when
he stated in his autobiography, 'I had been in a motorcycle accident and I'd
been hurt, but I recovered. Truth was that I wanted to get out of the rat
race.' In the wake of his accident, Dylan withdrew from the public and,
apart from a few select appearances, did not tour again for almost eight
Once Dylan was well enough to resume creative work, he began editing film
footage of his 1966 tour for Eat the Document, a rarely exhibited follow-up
to Dont Look Back. A rough-cut was shown to ABC Television and was promptly
rejected as incomprehensible to a mainstream audience. In 1967 he began
recording music with the Hawks at his home and in the basement of the Hawks'
nearby house, called 'Big Pink'. These songs, initially compiled as demos
for other artists to record, provided hit singles for Julie Driscoll ('This
Wheel's on Fire'), The Byrds ('You Ain't Goin' Nowhere', 'Nothing Was
Delivered'), and Manfred Mann ('Mighty Quinn'). Columbia belatedly released
selections from them in 1975 as The Basement Tapes. Over the years, more and
more of the songs recorded by Dylan and his band in 1967 appeared on various
bootleg recordings, culminating in a five-CD bootleg set titled The Genuine
Basement Tapes, containing 107 songs and alternate takes. In the coming
months, the Hawks recorded the album Music from Big Pink using songs they
first worked on in their basement in Woodstock, and renamed themselves The
Band, thus beginning a long and successful recording and performing career
of their own.
In October and November 1967, Dylan returned to Nashville. Back in the
recording studio after a 19-month break, he was accompanied only by Charlie
McCoy on bass, Kenny Buttrey on drums, and Pete Drake on steel guitar. The
result was John Wesley Harding, a quiet, contemplative record of shorter
songs, set in a landscape that drew on both the American West and the Bible.
The sparse structure and instrumentation, coupled with lyrics that took the
Judeo-Christian tradition seriously, marked a departure not only from
Dylan's own work but from the escalating psychedelic fervor of the 1960s
musical culture. It included 'All Along the Watchtower', with lyrics derived
from the Book of Isaiah (21:5–9). The song was later recorded by Jimi
Hendrix, whose version Dylan later acknowledged as definitive. Woody Guthrie
died on October 3, 1967, and Dylan made his first live appearance in twenty
months at a Guthrie memorial concert held at Carnegie Hall on January 20,
1968, where he was backed by The Band.
'Lay Lady Lay'
'Lay Lady Lay,' on the country album Nashville Skyline, has been one of
Dylan's biggest hits, reaching No.7 in the U.S.A.
Dylan's next release, Nashville Skyline (1969), was virtually a mainstream
country record featuring instrumental backing by Nashville musicians, a
mellow-voiced Dylan, a duet with Johnny Cash, and the hit single 'Lay Lady
Lay.' Dylan and Cash also recorded a series of duets, including Dylan's 'One
Too Many Mornings,' but they were not used on the album.
In May 1969, Dylan appeared on the first episode of Johnny Cash's new
television show, duetting with Cash on 'Girl from the North Country', 'I
Threw It All Away' and 'Living the Blues'. Dylan next travelled to England
to top the bill at the Isle of Wight rock festival on August 31, 1969, after
rejecting overtures to appear at the Woodstock Festival far closer to his
In the early 1970s, critics charged that Dylan's output was of varied and
unpredictable quality. Rolling Stone magazine writer and Dylan loyalist
Greil Marcus notoriously asked 'What is this shit?' upon first listening to
1970's Self Portrait. In general, Self Portrait, a double LP including few
original songs, was poorly received. Later that year, Dylan released New
Morning, which some considered a return to form. In November 1968, Dylan had
co-written 'I'd Have You Anytime' with George Harrison; Harrison recorded
both 'I'd Have You Anytime' and Dylan's 'If Not For You' for his 1970 solo
triple album All Things Must Pass. Dylan's surprise appearance at Harrison's
1971 Concert for Bangladesh attracted much media coverage, reflecting that
Dylan's live appearances had become rare.
Between March 16 and 19, 1971, Dylan reserved three days at Blue Rock
Studios, a small studio in New York's Greenwich Village. These sessions
resulted in one single, 'Watching the River Flow', and a new recording of
'When I Paint My Masterpiece'. On November 4, 1971 Dylan recorded 'George
Jackson', which he released a week later. For many, the single was a
surprising return to protest material, mourning the killing of Black Panther
George Jackson in San Quentin Prison that summer. Dylan contributed piano
and harmony vocals to Steve Goodman's album, Somebody Else's Troubles, under
the pseudonym Robert Milkwood Thomas in September 1972.
In 1972, Dylan signed onto Sam Peckinpah's film Pat Garrett and Billy the
Kid, providing songs and backing music for the movie, and playing the role
of 'Alias', a member of Billy's gang with some historical basis. Despite the
film's failure at the box office, the song 'Knockin' on Heaven's Door' has
proven its durability as one of Dylan's most extensively covered songs.
Return to touring
Dylan began 1973 by signing with a new record label, David Geffen's Asylum
Records, when his contract with Columbia Records expired. On his next album,
Planet Waves, he used The Band as backing group, while rehearsing for a
major tour. The album included two versions of 'Forever Young', which became
one of his most popular songs. As one critic described it, the song
projected 'something hymnal and heartfelt that spoke of the father in
Dylan', and Dylan himself commented: 'I wrote it thinking about one of my
boys and not wanting to be too sentimental.' Biographer Howard Sounes noted
that Jakob Dylan believed the song was about him.
Columbia Records simultaneously released Dylan, a haphazard collection of
studio outtakes (almost exclusively cover songs), which was widely
interpreted as a churlish response to Dylan's signing with a rival record
label. In January 1974, Dylan returned to live touring after a break of
seven years; backed by The Band, he embarked on a high-profile,
coast-to-coast North American tour, playing 40 concerts. A live double album
of the tour, Before the Flood, was released on Asylum Records. Soon,
Columbia Records sent word that they 'will spare nothing to bring Dylan back
into the fold'. Dylan had second thoughts about Asylum, apparently miffed
that while there had been millions of unfulfilled ticket requests for the
1974 tour, Geffen had managed to sell only 700,000 copies of Planet Waves.
Dylan returned to Columbia Records, which subsequently reissued his two
Asylum albums on their imprint.
'Tangled Up in Blue'
Dylan said of the opening song from Blood on the Tracks: 'I was trying to
deal with the concept of time, and the way the characters change from the
first person to the third person, and you're never sure if the first person
is talking or the third person. But as you look at The Whole thing it really
After the tour, Dylan and his wife became publicly estranged. He filled a
small red notebook with songs about relationships and ruptures, and quickly
recorded a new album entitled Blood on the Tracks in September 1974. Dylan
delayed the album's release, however, and re-recorded half of the songs at
Sound 80 Studios in Minneapolis with production assistance from his brother
Released in early 1975, Blood on the Tracks received mixed reviews. In the
NME, Nick Kent described 'the accompaniments [as] often so trashy they sound
like mere practice takes.' In Rolling Stone, reviewer Jon Landau wrote that
'the record has been made with typical shoddiness.' However, over the years
critics have come to see it as one of Dylan's greatest achievements, perhaps
the only serious rival to his mid-60s trilogy of albums. In Salon.com, Bill
Wyman wrote: 'Blood on the Tracks is his only flawless album and his best
produced; the songs, each of them, are constructed in disciplined fashion.
It is his kindest album and most dismayed, and seems in hindsight to have
achieved a sublime balance between the logorrhea-plagued excesses of his
mid-'60s output and the self-consciously simple compositions of his
post-accident years.' Novelist Rick Moody called it 'the truest, most honest
account of a love affair from tip to stern ever put down on magnetic tape.'
That summer Dylan wrote a lengthy ballad championing the cause of boxer
Rubin 'Hurricane' Carter, who had been imprisoned for a triple murder
committed in Paterson, New Jersey, in 1966. After visiting Carter in jail,
Dylan wrote 'Hurricane', presenting the case for Carter's innocence. Despite
its 8:32 minute length, the song was released as a single, peaking at No.33
on the U.S. Billboard Chart, and performed at every 1975 date of Dylan's
next tour, the Rolling Thunder Revue, named after the Shoshone medicine man,
shaman, teacher, and activist Rolling Thunder. The tour was a varied evening
of entertainment featuring about one hundred performers and supporters drawn
from the resurgent Greenwich Village folk scene, including T-Bone Burnett,
Ramblin' Jack Elliott, Joni Mitchell, David Mansfield, Roger McGuinn, Mick
Ronson, Joan Baez, and violinist Scarlet Rivera, whom Dylan discovered while
she was walking down the street, her violin case hanging on her back. Allen
Ginsberg accompanied the troupe, staging scenes for the film Dylan was
simultaneously shooting. Sam Shepard was initially hired to write the film's
screenplay, but ended up accompanying the tour as informal chronicler.
Running through late 1975 and again through early 1976, the tour encompassed
the release of the album Desire, with many of Dylan's new songs featuring an
almost travelogue-like narrative style, showing the influence of his new
collaborator, playwright Jacques Levy. The spring 1976 half of the tour was
documented by a TV concert special, Hard Rain, and the LP Hard Rain; no
concert album from the better-received and better-known opening half of the
tour was released until 2002's Live 1975.
The fall 1975 tour with the Revue also provided the backdrop to Dylan's
nearly four-hour film Renaldo and Clara, a sprawling and improvised
narrative, mixed with 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 acclaimed cinematic chronicle of this show,
The Last Waltz, was released in 1978 and included about half of Dylan's set.
In 1976, Dylan also wrote and duetted on the song 'Sign Language' for Eric
Clapton's No Reason To Cry.
In 1978, Dylan embarked on a year-long world tour, performing 114 shows in
Japan, the Far East, Europe and the US, to a total audience of two million
people. For the tour, Dylan assembled an eight piece band, and was also
accompanied by three backing singers. Concerts in Tokyo in February and
March were recorded and released as the live double album, Bob Dylan At
Budokan. Reviews were mixed. Robert Christgau awarded the album a C+ rating,
giving the album a derisory review, while Janet Maslin defended it in
Rolling Stone, writing: 'These latest live versions of his old songs have
the effect of liberating Bob Dylan from the originals.' When Dylan brought
the tour to the US in September 1978, he was dismayed the press described
the look and sound of the show as a 'Las Vegas Tour'. The 1978 tour grossed
more than $20 million, and Dylan acknowledged to the Los Angeles Times that
he had some debts to pay off because 'I had a couple of bad years. I put a
lot of money into the movie, built a big house ... and it costs a lot to get
divorced in California.'
In April and May 1978, Dylan went into rehearsal space in Santa Monica,
California, to record an album of new material with the same large band and
backing vocalists: Street-Legal. It was described by Michael Gray as, 'after
Blood On The Tracks, arguably Dylan's best record of the 1970s: a crucial
album documenting a crucial period in Dylan's own life'. However, it
suffered from poor sound recording and mixing (attributed to Dylan's studio
practices), muddying the instrumental detail until a remastered CD release
in 1999 restored some of the songs' strengths.
'Gotta Serve Somebody'
Dylan took five months off at the beginning of 1979 to attend Bible school.
His subsequent album Slow Train Coming reached No.3 on the U.S. Billboard
200 chart and included this Grammy-winning song.
In the late 1970s, Dylan became a born-again Christian and released two
albums of Christian gospel music. Slow Train Coming (1979) featured the
guitar accompaniment of Mark Knopfler (of Dire Straits) and was produced by
veteran R&B producer, Jerry Wexler. Wexler recalled that when Dylan had
tried to evangelize him during the recording, he replied: 'Bob, you're
dealing with a sixty-two-year old Jewish atheist. Let's just make an album.'
The album won Dylan a Grammy Award as 'Best Male Vocalist' for the song
'Gotta Serve Somebody'. The second evangelical album, Saved (1980), received
mixed reviews, and was described by Dylan critic Michael Gray as 'the
nearest thing to a follow-up album Dylan has ever made, Slow Train Coming II
and inferior.' When touring from the fall of 1979 through the spring of
1980, Dylan would not play any of his older, secular works, and he delivered
declarations of his faith from the stage, such as:
Years ago they ... said I was a prophet. I used to say, 'No I'm not a
prophet' they say 'Yes you are, you're a prophet.' I said, 'No it's not me.'
They used to say 'You sure are a prophet.' They used to convince me I was a
prophet. Now I come out and say Jesus Christ is the answer. They say, 'Bob
Dylan's no prophet.' They just can't handle it.
Dylan's embrace of born-again Christianity was unpopular with some of his
fans and fellow musicians. Shortly before his murder, John Lennon recorded
'Serve Yourself' in response to Dylan's 'Gotta Serve Somebody'. By 1981,
Stephen Holden wrote in the New York Times that 'neither age (he's now 40)
nor his much-publicized conversion to born-again Christianity has altered
his essentially iconoclastic temperament.'
Dylan in Barcelona, Spain, 1984
In the fall of 1980 Dylan briefly resumed touring for a series of concerts
billed as 'A Musical Retrospective', where he restored several of his
popular 1960s songs to the repertoire. Shot of Love, recorded the next
spring, featured Dylan's first secular compositions in more than two years,
mixed with explicitly Christian songs; the song 'Every Grain of Sand'
reminded some critics of William Blake's verses.
In the 1980s the quality of Dylan's recorded work varied, from the
well-regarded Infidels in 1983 to the panned Down in the Groove in 1988.
Critics such as Michael Gray condemned Dylan's 1980s albums both for showing
an extraordinary carelessness in the studio and for failing to release his
best songs. The Infidels recording sessions, for example, produced several
notable songs that Dylan left off the album. Most well regarded of these
were 'Blind Willie McTell', a tribute to the dead blues musician and an
evocation of African American history, 'Foot of Pride' and 'Lord Protect My
Child'. These three songs were later released on The Bootleg Series Volumes
1–3 (Rare & Unreleased) 1961–1991.
Between July 1984 and March 1985, Dylan recorded his next studio album,
Empire Burlesque. Arthur Baker, who had remixed hits for Bruce Springsteen
and Cyndi Lauper, was asked to engineer and mix the album. Baker has said he
felt he was hired to make Dylan's album sound 'a little bit more
Dylan sang on USA for Africa's famine relief fundraising single 'We Are the
World'. On July 13, 1985, he appeared at the climax at the Live Aid concert
at JFK Stadium, Philadelphia. Backed by Keith Richards and Ronnie Wood,
Dylan performed a ragged version of 'Hollis Brown', his ballad of rural
poverty, and then said to the worldwide audience exceeding one billion
people: 'I hope that some of the money ... maybe they can just take a little
bit of it, maybe ... one or two million, maybe ... and use it to pay the
mortgages on some of the farms and, the farmers here, owe to the banks.' His
remarks were widely criticized as inappropriate, but they did inspire Willie
Nelson to organize a series of events, Farm Aid, to benefit debt-ridden
In April 1986, Dylan made a brief foray into the world of rap music when he
added vocals to the opening verse of 'Street Rock', a song featured on
Kurtis Blow's album Kingdom Blow. Dylan's next studio album, Knocked Out
Loaded, was released in July 1986 and contained three cover songs (by Little
Junior Parker, Kris Kristofferson and the traditional gospel hymn 'Precious
Memories'), plus three collaborations with other writers (Tom Petty, Sam
Shepard and Carole Bayer Sager), and two solo compositions by Dylan. One
reviewer commented that 'the record follows too many detours to be
consistently compelling, and some of those detours wind down roads that are
indisputably dead ends. By 1986, such uneven records weren't entirely
unexpected by Dylan, but that didn't make them any less frustrating.' It was
the first Dylan album since Freewheelin' (1963) to fail to make the Top 50.
Since then, some critics have called the 11-minute epic that Dylan co-wrote
with Sam Shepard, 'Brownsville Girl', a work of genius.
In 1986 and 1987, Dylan toured extensively with Tom Petty and the
Heartbreakers, sharing vocals with Petty on several songs each night. Dylan
also toured with The Grateful Dead in 1987, resulting in a live album Dylan
& The Dead. This album received some very negative reviews: Allmusic said,
'Quite possibly the worst album by either Bob Dylan or the Grateful Dead.'
After performing with these musical permutations, Dylan initiated what came
to be called The Never Ending Tour on June 7, 1988, performing with a tight
back-up band featuring guitarist G. E. Smith. Dylan continued to tour with
this small but constantly evolving band for the next 20 years.
In 1987, Dylan starred in Richard Marquand's movie Hearts of Fire, in which
he played Billy Parker, a washed-up-rock-star-turned-chicken farmer whose
teenage lover (Fiona) leaves him for a jaded English synth-pop sensation
(played by Rupert Everett). Dylan also contributed two original songs to the
soundtrack—'Night After Night', and 'I Had a Dream About You, Baby', as well
as a cover of John Hiatt's 'The Usual'. The film was a critical and
commercial flop. Dylan was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in
January 1988, with Bruce Springsteen's introductory speech declaring, 'Bob
freed your mind the way Elvis freed your body. He showed us that just
because music was innately physical did not mean that it was
When Dylan released the album Down in the Groove in May 1988, it was even
more unsuccessful in its sales than his previous studio album. Michael Gray
wrote: 'The very title undercuts any idea that inspired work may lie within.
Here was a further devaluing of the notion of a new Bob Dylan album as
something significant.' The critical and commercial disappointment of that
album was swiftly followed by the success of the Traveling Wilburys. Dylan
co-founded the band with George Harrison, Jeff Lynne, Roy Orbison, and Tom
Petty, and in the fall of 1988 their multi-platinum Traveling Wilburys Vol.
1 reached number three on the US album chart, featuring songs that were
described as Dylan's most accessible compositions in years. Despite
Orbison's death in December 1988, the remaining four recorded a second album
in May 1990, which they released with the unexpected title Traveling
Wilburys Vol. 3.
Dylan finished the decade on a critical high note with Oh Mercy produced by
Daniel Lanois. Dylan critic Michael Gray wrote that the album was:
'Attentively written, vocally distinctive, musically warm, and
uncompromisingly professional, this cohesive whole is the nearest thing to a
great Bob Dylan album in the 1980s.' The track 'Most of the Time', a lost
love composition, was later prominently featured in the film High Fidelity,
while 'What Was It You Wanted?' has been interpreted both as a catechism and
a wry comment on the expectations of critics and fans. The religious imagery
of 'Ring Them Bells' struck some critics as a re-affirmation of faith.
Dylan's 1990s began with Under the Red Sky (1990), an about-face from the
serious Oh Mercy. The album contained several apparently simple songs,
including 'Under the Red Sky' and 'Wiggle Wiggle'. The album was dedicated
to 'Gabby Goo Goo'; this was later explained as a nickname for the daughter
of Dylan and Carolyn Dennis, Desiree Gabrielle Dennis-Dylan, who was four at
that time. Sidemen on the album included George Harrison, Slash from Guns N'
Roses, David Crosby, Bruce Hornsby, Stevie Ray Vaughan, and Elton John.
Despite the stellar line-up, the record received bad reviews and sold
In 1991, Dylan was honored by the recording industry with a Grammy Lifetime
Achievement Award from American actor Jack Nicholson. The event coincided
with the start of the Gulf War against Saddam Hussein, and Dylan performed
his song 'Masters of War'. Dylan then made a short speech that startled some
of the audience.
The next few years saw Dylan returning to his roots with two albums covering
old folk and blues numbers: Good as I Been to You (1992) and World Gone
Wrong (1993), featuring interpretations and acoustic guitar work. Many
critics and fans commented on the quiet beauty of the song 'Lone Pilgrim',
penned by a 19th century teacher and sung by Dylan with a haunting
reverence. In November 1994 Dylan recorded two live shows for MTV Unplugged.
He claimed his wish to perform a set of traditional songs for the show was
overruled by Sony executives who insisted on a greatest hits package. The
album produced from it, MTV Unplugged, included 'John Brown', an unreleased
1963 song detailing the ravages of both war and jingoism.
With a collection of songs reportedly written while snowed-in on his
Minnesota ranch, Dylan booked recording time with Daniel Lanois at Miami's
Criteria Studios in January 1997. The subsequent recording sessions were, by
some accounts, fraught with musical tension. Late that spring, before the
album's release, Dylan was hospitalized with a life-threatening heart
infection, pericarditis, brought on by histoplasmosis. His scheduled
European tour was cancelled, but Dylan made a speedy recovery and left the
hospital saying, 'I really thought I'd be seeing Elvis soon.' He was back on
the road by midsummer, and in early fall performed before Pope John Paul II
at the World Eucharistic Conference in Bologna, Italy. The Pope treated the
audience of 200,000 people to a homily based on Dylan's lyric 'Blowin' in
September saw the release of the new Lanois-produced album, Time Out of
Mind. With its bitter assessment of love and morbid ruminations, Dylan's
first collection of original songs in seven years was highly acclaimed. One
critic wrote: 'the songs themselves are uniformly powerful, adding up to
Dylan's best overall collection in years.' This collection of complex songs
won him his first solo 'Album of the Year' Grammy Award.
In December 1997, U.S. President Bill Clinton presented Dylan with a Kennedy
Center Honor in the East Room of the White House, paying this tribute: 'He
probably had more impact on people of my generation than any other creative
artist. His voice and lyrics haven't always been easy on the ear, but
throughout his career Bob Dylan has never aimed to please. He's disturbed
the peace and discomforted the powerful.'
'Things Have Changed'
Dylan's Oscar winning song was featured in the movie Wonder Boys. The line
'sapphire-tinted skies' echoes the verse of Shelley while 'forty miles of
bad road' echoes Duane Eddy's hit single.
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Dylan commenced the new millennium by winning his first Oscar; his song
'Things Have Changed', penned for the film Wonder Boys, won an Academy Award
in March 2001. The Oscar (by some reports a facsimile) tours with him,
presiding over shows perched atop an amplifier.
'Love and Theft' was released on September 11, 2001. Recorded with his
touring band, Dylan produced the album himself under the pseudonym Jack
Frost. The album was critically well-received and earned nominations for
several Grammy awards. Critics noted that Dylan was widening his musical
palette to include rockabilly, Western swing, jazz, and even lounge ballads.
'Love and Theft' generated controversy when The Wall Street Journal pointed
out similarities between the album's lyrics and Japanese author Junichi
Saga's book Confessions of a Yakuza.
In 2003, Dylan revisited the evangelical songs from his 'born again' period
and participated in the CD project Gotta Serve Somebody: The Gospel Songs of
Bob Dylan. That year also saw the release of the film Masked & Anonymous,
which Dylan co-wrote with director Larry Charles under the alias Sergei
Petrov. Dylan played the central character in the film, Jack Fate, alongside
a cast which included Jeff Bridges, Penelope Cruz and John Goodman. The film
polarised critics: many dismissed it as an 'incoherent mess'; a few treated
it as a serious work of art.
In October 2004, Dylan published the first part of his autobiography,
Chronicles: Volume One. The book confounded expectations. Dylan devoted
three chapters to his first year in New York City in 1961–1962, virtually
ignoring the mid-'60s when his fame was at its height. He also devoted
chapters to the albums New Morning (1970) and Oh Mercy (1989). The book
reached number two on The New York Times' Hardcover Non-Fiction best seller
list in December 2004 and was nominated for a National Book Award.
Martin Scorsese's acclaimed film biography No Direction Home was broadcast
in September 2005. It was shown on September 26–27, 2005, on BBC Two in the
UK and PBS in the US. The documentary focuses on the period from Dylan's
arrival in New York in 1961 to his motorcycle crash in 1966, featuring
interviews with Suze Rotolo, Liam Clancy, Joan Baez, Allen Ginsberg, Pete
Seeger, Mavis Staples, and Dylan himself. The film received a Peabody Award
in April 2006 and a Columbia-duPont Award in January 2007. The accompanying
soundtrack featured unreleased songs from Dylan's early career.
Dylan earned yet another distinction in a 2007 study of US legal opinions
and briefs that found his lyrics were quoted by judges and lawyers more than
those of any other songwriter, 186 times versus 74 by The Beatles, who were
second. Among those quoting Dylan were US Supreme Court Chief Justice John
Roberts and Justice Antonin Scalia, both conservatives. The most widely
cited lines included 'you don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind
blows' from 'Subterranean Homesick Blues' and 'when you ain't got nothing,
you got nothing to lose' from 'Like a Rolling Stone'.
Modern Times (2006–08)
May 3, 2006, was the premiere of Dylan's DJ career, hosting a weekly radio
program, Theme Time Radio Hour, for XM Satellite Radio, with song selections
revolving around a chosen theme. Dylan played classic and obscure records
from the 1930s to the present day, including contemporary artists as diverse
as Blur, Prince, L.L. Cool J and The Streets. The show was praised by fans
and critics as 'great radio,' as Dylan told stories and made eclectic
references with his sardonic humor, while achieving a thematic beauty with
his musical choices. In April 2009, Dylan broadcast the 100th show in his
radio series; the theme was 'Goodbye' and the final record played was Woody
Guthrie's 'So Long, It's Been Good To Know Yuh'. This has led to speculation
that Dylan's radio series may have ended.
On August 29, 2006, Dylan released his Modern Times album. Despite some
coarsening of Dylan's voice (a critic for The Guardian characterised his
singing on the album as 'a catarrhal death rattle') most reviewers praised
the album, and many described it as the final installment of a successful
trilogy, embracing Time Out of Mind and 'Love and Theft'. Modern Times
entered the U.S. charts at number one, making it Dylan's first album to
reach that position since 1976's Desire. The New York Times published an
article exploring similarities between some of Dylan's lyrics in Modern
Times and the work of the Civil War poet Henry Timrod.
Nominated for three Grammy Awards, Modern Times won Best Contemporary
Folk/Americana Album and Bob Dylan also won Best Solo Rock Vocal Performance
for 'Someday Baby'. Modern Times was named Album of the Year, 2006, by
Rolling Stone magazine, and by Uncut in the UK. On the same day that Modern
Times was released the iTunes Music Store released Bob Dylan: The
Collection, a digital box set containing all of his albums (773 tracks in
total), along with 42 rare and unreleased tracks.
In August 2007, the award-winning film biography of Dylan I'm Not There,
written and directed by Todd Haynes, was released—bearing the tagline
'inspired by the music and many lives of Bob Dylan'. The movie uses six
distinct characters to represent different aspects of Dylan's life, played
by Christian Bale, Cate Blanchett, Marcus Carl Franklin, Richard Gere, Heath
Ledger and Ben Whishaw. Dylan's previously unreleased 1967 recording from
which the film takes its name was released for the first time on the film's
original soundtrack; all other tracks are covers of Dylan songs, specially
recorded for the movie by a diverse range of artists, including Eddie
Vedder, Mason Jennings, Stephen Malkmus, Jeff Tweedy, Karen O, Willie
Nelson, Cat Power, Richie Havens, and Tom Verlaine.
Bob Dylan performs at Air Canada Centre, Toronto, November 7, 2006
On October 1, 2007, Columbia Records released the triple CD retrospective
album Dylan, anthologising his entire career under the Dylan 07 logo. As
part of this campaign, Mark Ronson produced a re-mix of Dylan's 1966 tune
'Most Likely You Go Your Way (And I'll Go Mine),' which was released as a
maxi-single. This was the first time Dylan had sanctioned a re-mix of one of
his classic recordings.
The sophistication of the Dylan 07 marketing campaign was a reminder that
Dylan's commercial profile had risen considerably since the 1990s. This
first became evidenced in 2004, when Dylan appeared in a TV advertisement
for Victoria's Secret lingerie. Three years later, in October 2007, he
participated in a multi-media campaign for the 2008 Cadillac Escalade. Then,
in 2009, he gave the highest profile endorsement of his career, appearing
with rapper Will.i.am in a Pepsi ad that debuted during the telecast of
Super Bowl XLIII. The ad, broadcast to a record audience of 98 million
viewers, opened with Dylan singing the first verse of 'Forever Young'
followed by Will.i.am doing a hip hop version of the song's third and final
In October 2008, Columbia released Volume 8 of Dylan's Bootleg Series, Tell
Tale Signs: Rare And Unreleased 1989–2006 as both a two-CD set and a
three-CD version with a 150-page hardcover book. The set contains live
performances and outtakes from selected studio albums from Oh Mercy to
Modern Times, as well as soundtrack contributions and collaborations with
David Bromberg and Ralph Stanley. The pricing of the album—the two-CD set
went on sale for $18.99 and the three-CD version for $129.99—led to
complaints about 'rip-off packaging' from some fans and commentators. The
release was widely acclaimed by critics. The plethora of alternative takes
and unreleased material suggested to Uncut's reviewer: 'Tell Tale Signs is
awash with evidence of (Dylan's) staggering mercuriality, his evident
determination even in the studio to repeat himself as little as possible.'
Together Through Life, Christmas in the Heart (2009)
Bob Dylan released his album Together Through Life on April 28, 2009. In a
conversation with music journalist Bill Flanagan, published on Dylan's
website, Dylan explained that the genesis of the record was when French film
director Olivier Dahan asked him to supply a song for his new road movie, My
Own Love Song; initially only intending to record a single track, 'Life Is
Hard,' 'the record sort of took its own direction'. Nine of the ten songs on
the album are credited as co-written by Bob Dylan and Robert Hunter.
The album received largely favorable reviews, although several critics
described it as a minor addition to Dylan's canon of work. Andy Gill wrote
in The Independent that the record 'features Dylan in fairly relaxed,
spontaneous mood, content to grab such grooves and sentiments as flit
momentarily across his radar. So while it may not contain too many landmark
tracks, it's one of the most naturally enjoyable albums you'll hear all
In its first week of release, the album reached number one in the Billboard
200 chart in the U.S., making Bob Dylan (67 years of age) the oldest artist
to ever debut at number one on that chart. It also reached number one on the
UK album chart, 39 years after Dylan's previous UK album chart topper New
Morning. This meant that Dylan currently holds the record for the longest
gap between solo number one albums in the UK chart.
On October 13, 2009, Dylan released a Christmas album, Christmas in the
Heart, comprising such Christmas standards as 'Little Drummer Boy', 'Winter
Wonderland' and 'Here Comes Santa Claus'. Dylan's royalties from the sale of
this album will benefit the charities Feeding America in the USA, Crisis in
the UK, and the World Food Programme.
The album received generally favorable reviews. The New Yorker commented
that Dylan had welded a pre-rock musical sound to 'some of his croakiest
vocals in a while', and speculated that Dylan's intentions might be ironic:
'Dylan has a long and highly publicized history with Christianity; to claim
there's not a wink in the childish optimism of 'Here Comes Santa Claus' or
'Winter Wonderland' is to ignore a half-century of biting satire.' In USA
Today, Edna Gundersen pointed out that Dylan was 'revisiting yuletide styles
popularized by Nat King Cole, Mel Tormé, and the Ray Conniff Singers.'
Gundersen concluded that Dylan 'couldn't sound more sentimental or sincere'.
In an interview published by Street News Service, journalist Bill Flanagan
asked Dylan why he had performed the songs in a straightforward style, and
Dylan responded: 'There wasn't any other way to play it. These songs are
part of my life, just like folk songs. You have to play them straight too.'
'The Times they are a Changin''
Dylan performs 'The Times they are a-Changin'' at a White House celebration
of music from the Civil Rights era, February 9, 2010.
'The Times they are a Changin''
On October 18, 2010, Dylan released Volume 9 of his Bootleg Series, The
Witmark Demos. This comprised 47 demo recordings of songs taped between 1962
and 1964 for Dylan's earliest music publishers: Leeds Music in 1962, and
Witmark Music from 1962 to 1964. One reviewer described the set as 'a kind
of alternate early history of Dylan's songwriting process, 'writing five new
songs before breakfast,' as he once famously quipped'. The critical
aggregator website Metacritic awarded the album a Metascore of 86,
indicating 'universal acclaim'. In the same week, Sony Legacy released Bob
Dylan: The Original Mono Recordings, a box set which for the first time
presented Dylan's eight earliest albums, from Bob Dylan (1962) to John
Wesley Harding (1967), in their original mono mix in the CD format,
accompanied by new liner notes by Dylan critic Greil Marcus.
On April 12, 2011, Legacy Recordings released Bob Dylan in Concert –
Brandeis University 1963 . The recording was taped at Brandeis University on
May 10, 1963, two weeks prior to the release of The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan.
The tape had been discovered in the archive of music writer Ralph J.
Gleason, and had previously been available as a limited edition supplement
to The Bootleg Series Vol. 9. The recording carries liner notes by Dylan
scholar Michael Gray. Gray writes, '(The) Dylan performance it captured,
from way back when Kennedy was President and the Beatles hadn't yet reached
America, wasn't even on fans' radar.... It reveals him not at any Big Moment
but giving a performance like his folk club sets of the period... This is
the last live performance we have of Bob Dylan before he becomes a star.'
The extent to which his work was studied at an academic level was
demonstrated on Dylan's 70th birthday on May 24, 2011, when three
universities organised symposia on his work. The University of Mainz, the
University of Vienna, and the University of Bristol invited literary critics
and cultural historians from Europe and the US to give papers on aspects of
Dylan's work. Other events, including tribute bands, intellectual debates
and simple singalongs, took place around the world, as reported in The
Guardian: 'From Moscow to Madrid, Norway to Northampton and Malaysia to his
home state of Minnesota, self-confessed 'Bobcats' will gather today to
celebrate the 70th birthday of a giant of popular music.'
On October 4, 2011, Dylan's label, Egyptian Records, released an album of
previously unheard Hank Williams songs, The Lost Notebooks of Hank Williams.
Dylan had helped to curate this project, in which songs unfinished when
Williams died in 1953 were completed and recorded by a variety of artists,
including Dylan himself, his son Jakob Dylan, Levon Helm, Norah Jones, Jack
White, and others.
On December 10, 2011, to mark International Human Rights Day, Amnesty
International announced they would release a 4-CD set, Chimes of Freedom:
Songs of Bob Dylan Honoring 50 Years of Amnesty International, to mark the
50th anniversary of the international human rights organization in January
2012. The album contains 76 newly recorded cover versions of songs by Dylan,
contributed my more than 80 artists. Included on the album are 'Don't Think
Twice, It's All Right' performed by both Kesha and the Kronos Quartet, Pete
Townshend performing 'Corrina Corrina', Sinéad O'Connor performing 'Property
of Jesus', and Lucinda Williams performing 'Tryin’ To Get To Heaven'. Helen
Garrett, director of special projects for Amnesty International, said:
'Chimes of Freedom is an abundance of riches. It's fair to say that the
collection shows how deeply musicians feel about the beauty of Dylan's
music—across generations—and how passionate they are about supporting human
Never Ending Tour
The Never Ending Tour commenced on June 7, 1988, and Dylan has played
roughly 100 dates a year for the entirety of the 1990s and the first decade
of the 21st century—a heavier schedule than most performers who started out
in the 1960s. By the end of 2010, Dylan and his band had played more than
2300 shows, anchored by long-time bassist Tony Garnier,
multi-instrumentalist Donnie Herron and guitarist Charlie Sexton. To the
dismay of some of his audience, Dylan's performances remain unpredictable as
he alters his arrangements and changes his vocal approach night after night.
Critical opinion about Dylan's shows remains divided. Critics such as
Richard Williams and Andy Gill have argued that Dylan has found a successful
way to present his rich legacy of material. Others have criticised his vocal
style as a 'one-dimensional growl with which he chews up, mangles and spits
out the greatest lyrics ever written so that they are effectively
unrecognisable', and his lack of interest in bonding with his audience.
Dylan's performances in China in April 2011 generated controversy. Some
criticised him for not making any explicit comment on the political
situation in China, and for, allegedly, allowing the Chinese authorities to
censor his set-list. Others defended Dylan's performances, arguing that such
criticism represented a misunderstanding of Dylan's art, and that no
evidence for the censorship of Dylan's set-list existed.
Dylan responded to these allegations of censorship by posting a statement on
his website: 'As far as censorship goes, the Chinese government had asked
for the names of the songs that I would be playing. There's no logical
answer to that, so we sent them the set lists from the previous 3 months. If
there were any songs, verses or lines censored, nobody ever told me about it
and we played all the songs that we intended to play.'
In April 2011, Dylan performed concerts in Taiwan, China, Singapore, Vietnam
and Australia. He toured Europe, Israel and the US from June to August 2011,
commencing in Cork, Ireland, and concluding in Boston, Massachusetts.
Accompanied by Mark Knopfler as a supporting act, Dylan undertook a second
European tour in October and November, which began in Dublin and ended in
Over a decade after Random House had published Drawn Blank (1994), a book of
Dylan's drawings, an exhibit of his art, The Drawn Blank Series, opened in
October 2007 at the Kunstsammlungen in Chemnitz, Germany. This first public
exhibition of Dylan's paintings showcased more than 200 watercolors and
gouaches made earlier in 2007 from the original drawings. The exhibition
coincided with the publication of the book Bob Dylan: The Drawn Blank
Series, which includes 170 reproductions from the series. From September
2010 until April 2011, the National Gallery of Denmark exhibited 40
large-scale acrylic paintings by Dylan, The Brazil Series.
In July 2011, a leading contemporary art gallery, Gagosian Gallery,
announced their representation of Dylan's paintings. An exhibition of
Dylan's art, The Asia Series, opened at the Gagosian Madison Avenue Gallery
on September 20, displaying Dylan's paintings of scenes in China and the Far
East. The New York Times reported that 'some fans and Dylanologists have
raised questions about whether some of these paintings are based on the
singer’s own experiences and observations, or on photographs that are widely
available and were not taken by Mr. Dylan.' The Times pointed to close
resemblances between Dylan's paintings and six historic photos of Japan and
China which had been posted on the Flickr website. Dylan's paintings also
appeared to be based on photographs taken by Dmitri Kessel, Henri
Cartier-Bresson, and Jacob Aue Sobol. The Magnum photo agency confirmed that
Dylan had licensed the reproduction rights of these photographs.