Bob Dylan

Portrait photograph of Bob Dylan taken by Daniel Kramer
Portrait photograph of Bob Dylan taken by Daniel Kramer

Bob Dylan (born Robert Allen Zimmerman May 24, 1941) is widely regarded as one of America's greatest popular songwriters. Stephen Foster, Irving Berlin, Woody Guthrie, and Hank Williams are among the few songwriters similarly revered for their enduring contributions to the American oeuvre.

Much of his best-known work is from the 1960s, when his musical shadow was so large that he became a documentarian and reluctant figurehead of American unrest. The civil rights movement had no more moving anthem than his song "Blowin' In The Wind". Millions of young people embraced "The Times They Are A-Changin'" during that era of extreme change. The radical insurgent group The Weathermen named themselves after a lyric in his "Subterranean Homesick Blues" ("You don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows").

More broadly, Dylan is credited with expanding the vocabulary of popular music, moving it beyond traditional boy-and-girl themes into the heady realms of politics/social commentary, philosophy, and a kind of stream of consciousness absurdist humor that defies easy description. This lyrical innovation has occurred within the context of Dylan's steadfast devotion to the richest traditions of American song, from folk and country/blues to rock 'n' roll and rockabilly, to Gaelic balladry, even jazz, swing, and Broadway.



Dylan was born and spent his earliest years in Duluth, Minnesota; After his father Abraham was stricken with polio, the family returned to nearby Hibbing, his mother Beatty's home town, as Robert neared his sixth birthday. His grandparents were Lithuanian, Russian and Ukranian Jewish emigrants, and his parents were part of the area's small but close-knit Jewish community. Dylan spent much of his youth listening to the radio, at first the powerful blues and country music stations beamed all the way from New Orleans and, later, early rock and roll. He made his earliest known recordings (with two friends) on Christmas Eve 1956, in a department store booth, singing verses of songs by Carl Perkins, Little Richard, Lloyd Price, The Penguins, and others. Dylan formed several bands while in high school; the first, The Shadow Blasters, was short-lived, but the second, the Golden Chords, proved more durable and more successful. In 1959 he toured briefly, under the name of Elston Gunnn with Bobby Vee, playing piano and supplying handclaps.

An able but not outstanding student, he started university studies in 1959 in Minneapolis, where he was actively involved in the local Dinkytown folk music circuit. During his Dinkytown days Zimmerman began introducing himself as Bob Dylan (or Dillon). Dylan has never explained the exact source for the pseudonym, sometimes alluding to an apparently mythical uncle, sometimes to the hero of Gunsmoke, to its similarity to his middle name, and occasionally acknowledging some reference to the Welsh poet Dylan Thomas.

Dylan quit college at the end of his freshman year, but stayed in Minneapolis, working the folk circuit there, with temporary sojourns in Denver and Chicago. In January 1961, enroute to Minneapolis from Chicago, he changed course, and headed to New York City to perform and to visit his ailing idol Woody Guthrie. Initially playing mostly in small "basket" clubs for little pay, he soon gained some public recognition after a review in the New York Times (September 29, 1961) by critic Robert Shelton, while John Hammond, a legendary music business figure, signed him to Columbia Records.

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, specialising in protest songs, initially in the style of Guthrie and soon practically developing his own genre.

His most famous songs of the time are typified by "Blowin' In The Wind", its melody partially derived from the traditional slave song "No More Auction Block", coupled with lyrics challenging the social and political status quo. In hindsight, the lyrics to some of these songs may appear unsophisticated ("How many times must the cannonballs fly before they are forever banned"), but compared to the largely anemic popular culture of the 1950s they were a breath of fresh air, and the songs fueled the zeitgeist of the 1960s. "Blowin' In The Wind" itself was widely recorded, an international hit for Peter, Paul and Mary, setting an enduring precedent for other artists to cover Dylan's songs. While Dylan's topical songs made his early reputation, Freewheelin' also mixed in finely crafted bittersweet love songs ("Don't Think Twice, It's Alright", "Girl From the North Country") and jokey, frequently surreal talking blues ("Talking World War III Blues", "I Shall Be Free"). The song "A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall" occupies a plane perhaps above even "Blowin' In The Wind", with its hard hitting imagery and almost God's-eye perspective. It represents a nearly alchemical moment in modern songwriting in which time-tested folk structures are reworked into a latter-day idiom encompassing world events and deep personal reflection (the citizen's life "flashing before his eyes" under the apprehension of apocalypse). The song gained even more resonance as the Cuban missile crisis developed only a few weeks after Dylan began performing it.

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 rapidlly 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, politicised 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 renunication of "Restless Farewell." The Brechtian-influenced "The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll", a highlight of the album, describes a young socialite's killing of a hotel maid. Never explicitly mentioning race, the song leaves no doubt that the killer is white, the victim black.

By the end of the year, however, Dylan felt both manipulated and constrained by the folk-protest movement. Accepting the "Tom Paine Award" from the National Emergency Civil Liberties Committee at a ceremony shortly after the assassination of John F. Kennedy, a drunken, rambling Dylan questioned the role of the committee, insulted its members as old and balding, and claimed to see something of himself (and of everyman) in assassin Lee Harvey Oswald.

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 re-emerged on "I Shall Be Free #10" and "Motorpsycho Nightmare" employing a sense of humor which would persist throughout his career. "Spanish Harlem Incident" and "To Ramona" were touching love songs, "I Don't Believe You" a prototypical rock and roll song played on acoustic guitar, and "It Ain't Me Babe" a romping rejection of the role his reputation thrust at him. His newest direction was signaled by three songs: "Chimes of Freedom," long and impressionistic, sets elements of social commentary against a denser metaphorical landscape, in a style later characterised by Allen Ginsberg as "chains of flashing images"; "My Back Pages" even more personally attacks the simplistic and archly serious 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 have claimed some who knew him), Dylans 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 uptempo rock songs. Lyrically, however, the songs were pure Dylan, exhibiting his dry wit and inhabited by a sequence of grotesque, metaphorical characters. The raucous first single, "Subterranean Homesick Blues" owed much to Chuck Berry's "Too Much Monkey Business" and was provided with an early music video courtesy of D. A. Pennebaker's cinema verite presentation of Dylan's 1965 tour, Don't Look Back.

Side 2 of the album was a different matter, including four lengthy acoustic songs whose undogmatic political, social and personal concerns are illuminated with the rich poetic imagery that would become another trademark. One of these songs, "Mr. Tambourine Man", had already been a hit for The Byrds, albeit in a truncated form, and would remain one of Dylan's most enduring compositions, while "Gates Of Eden," "It's All Over Now Baby Blue," and "It's Alright Ma (I'm Only Bleeding)" have justifiably been fixtures in Dylan's live performances for most of his career.

That summer, Bob Dylan stoked the drama of his legacy by performing his first electric set (since his high school days) with a pickup group drawn mostly from the Paul Butterfield Blues Band at the Newport Folk Festival. Dylan had appeared at Newport twice before in 1963 and 1964. Two wildly divergent accounts of the crowd's response in 1965 survive to this day. The settled fact is that Dylan, met with a mix of cheering and booing, left the stage after only three songs. As one legend has it, the boos were from the outraged folk fans Dylan alienated with his electric guitar. By one apocryphal account, folk great Pete Seeger even grabbed an axe, threatening to cut the power during the performance. The other story says that the fans were upset by poor sound quality and a surprisingly short set. Whatever sparked the crowd's disfavor, Dylan soon re-emerged and sang two far better received solo acoustic numbers. But the import of the appearance at Newport worked its way into the awareness of this restless generation: thoughtful acoustic music was no longer enough even for tradition-aware singers like Dylan; times were spinning out of control and electricity was needed to express it.

Creative height, motorcycle crash

The single "Like a Rolling Stone" was a US hit, cementing his reputation as a lyricist; at over six minutes, devoid of a bridge, the song also helped to expand the limits of hit radio. Its signature sound, with a full, jangling band and a simple organ riff, would characterise 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 flavoured by Bloomfield's blues guitar, a tight rhythm section and Dylan's obvious enjoyment of the sessions. Electric amplification and the blues-rock backbeat ruled this album and all thought of Dylan remaining exclusively in the "new folk" category should have been abandoned. The closing song, "Desolation Row", is a lengthy apocalyptic vision with references to many figures of Western culture.

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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 US concerts, and set about assembling a band. Bloomfield was unwilling to leave the Butterfield Band, so Dylan mixed Al Kooper and Harvey Brooks from his studio crew with bar-band stalwarts Robbie Robertson and Levon Helm, best know for backing Ronnie Hawkins. In August 1965 at Forest Hills Auditorium, the group were heckled from an audience who, Newport notwithstanding, still demanded the acoustic troubadour of previous years; their reception in early 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 followup 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 Bruce Johnston brought Dylan to Nashville to record, surrounding him with a cadre of top-notch session men, with only Robertson and Kooper brought down from New York to play more limited roles. The Nashville sessions brought out what Dylan would later call "that thin wild mercury sound" and a classic record often viewed as one of the greatest in American popular music, Blonde on Blonde

Dylan began an ambitious "world tour" of Australia and Europe in the spring of 1966, including a famously raucous confrontation with an audience at the Manchester Free Trade Hall in England. Immortalized mistakenly as the "Royal Albert Hall" concert, the recording was officially released in 1998. Before the concert's last song, "Like a Rolling Stone," a folk fan angry that Dylan had adopted an electric sound, loudly shouted "Judas!" from the restless audience, and Dylan responded, "I don't believe you! You're a liar!" before turning to the band and exhorting them to "Play fuckin' loud!" on the next songthe last of the set"Like a Rolling Stone".

Dylan returned to New York after his European tour finished, but the pressures on him continued to increase: his publisher was demanding a finished manuscript of the poem/novel Tarantula, and manager Albert Grossman had already scheduled a grueling summer/fall concert tour. The pace of his private and professional life seemed unsustainable. On July 29 1966, near his home in Woodstock, New York, the brakes of his Triumph 500 motorcycle locked, throwing him to the ground. The extent of his injuries was never fully disclosed and, whether through necessity or opportunism, Dylan used an extended convalescence to escape the pressures of stardom.

Once Dylan was well enough to resume creative work, he began editing footage into Eat the Document, a rarely exhibited follow-up to Don't Look Back. He began recording music with the Hawks at his home and, legendarily, the basement of the Hawks' nearby "Big Pink". The relaxed atmosphere yielded renditions of many of Dylan's favored old and new songs and some newly written pieces. These originals, at first compiled as demos for other artists to record, began to circulate on their own merits. Columbia belatedly released selections from them in 1975 as The Basement Tapes.

Unsurprisingly, Dylan's official output appeared strongly influenced by his newly relaxed lifestyle. His first release of songs recorded after the accident, John Wesley Harding (1967), was a contemplative record, heavily influenced by the Bible, which included "All Along The Watchtower", later immortalised by Jimi Hendrix in a version that Dylan himself has acknowledged as definitive. The sparse structure and instrumentation, coupled with lyrics which took the Judeo-Christian tradition seriously, marked a departure not only from Dylan's own work, but from the escalating psychedelic fervor of the 1960s musical culture.

Woody Guthrie died in October 1967, and Dylan made his first public appearances in 18 months at a pair of Guthrie memorial concerts in January 1968.

Dylan's next release, Nashville Skyline (1969), was virtually a mainstream country record featuring a mellow-voiced, contented Dylan, a duet with Johnny Cash, and a hit single "Lay Lady Lay". Dylan appeared on Cash's new television show, then gave a high-profile performance at the Isle of Wight rock festival (shunning the more famous Woodstock event).

The 1970s

In the early 1970s Dylan's output was of varied and unpredictable quality. "What is this shit?" notoriously asked Greil Marcus, Rolling Stone magazine writer and Dylan loyalist, about 1970's Self Portrait, a poorly received double LP including few original songs that forced critics to re-evaluate Dylan's career and reputation. Later that year, Dylan released New Morning, something of a return to form. His unannounced appearance at George Harrison's 1971 Concert For Bangla Desh was widely praised, but reports of a new album 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 soundtracks 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 film itself.

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 Duluth at year's end. Released early in 1975, BOTT was critically acclaimed and commercially successful, although Dylan's fans still debate the relative merits of the ultimate release and the original recordings.

That summer, Dylan wrote his first successful "protest" song in 12 years (an eponymous 1971 tribute to George Jackson sank almost unnoticed), championing the cause of boxer Rubin "Hurricane" Carter who he believed had been wrongfully imprisoned for a triple homicide in Paterson, New Jersey. (Carter was retried and reconvicted in the mid-1970s, then released in 1985 when that conviction was overturned). After visiting Carter in jail Dylan wrote "Hurricane", a sympathetic presentation of Carter's situation. Despite its length, the song was released as a single and performed at every 1975 date of Dylan's next tour, the Rolling Thunder Revue. The tour was something different: a varied evening of entertainment featuring many performers drawn mostly from the resurgent Greenwich Village folk scene, including T-Bone Burnett; Steven Soles; David Mansfield; former Byrds frontman Roger McGuinn; Scarlet Rivera, a violin player Dylan discovered while she was walking down the street to a rehearsal, her violin case hanging on her back; and a reunion with Joan Baez. Joni Mitchell added herself to the Revue in November, and poet Allen Ginsberg accompanied the troupe, staging scenes for the film Dylan was simultaneously shooting.

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 Bootleg Series.

The fall 1975 tour with the Revue also provided the backdrop to Dylan's three hour and fifty-five minute film Renaldo and Clara, its sprawling, improvised and frequently baffling narrative mixed with striking concert footage and reminiscences. Released in 1978, the movie received generally poor, sometimes scathing reviews, and had a very brief theatrical run. Later in that year, Dylan allowed a two-hour edit, dominated by the concert performances, to be more widely released.

In November 1976, Dylan appeared at The Band's "farewell" concert, along with other guests including Joni Mitchell, Muddy Waters, Van Morrison, and Neil Young. Martin Scorsese's concert film The Last Waltz, including about half of Dylan's set, was released in 1978.

Dylan's 1978 album Street Legal was well reviewed (with some disparaging exceptions). Lyrically one of his more complex and absorbing, it suffered from a poor sound mix (attributed to his studio recording practices), submerging much of its instrumentation in the sonic equivalent of cotton wadding until its remastered CD release nearly a quarter century later.

Dylan's work in the late 1970s and early 1980s was dominated by his becoming, in 1979, a born-again Christian (although he had showed hints of interest in Christianity since 1967). He released three albums of primarily religious songs; of these, some fans regard Slow Train Coming (1979) as most worth attention. Because of their religious content, many listeners overlook the masterworks on these records, which received harsh critical receptions that may have contributed to Dylan's loss of interest in creating high-quality albums in the mid-Eighties. Ranking among his best work are the sincere "Precious Angel", the syncopated "Gonna Change My Way of Thinking" and the forboding title track "Slow Train Coming". Other songs of note from this period include "Solid Rock", "Saving Grace", "Pressing On" and "In the Garden" from Saved (1980), plus "Every Grain of Sand" and the title song from Shot of Love (1981), along with the Shot of Love outtakes "Caribbean Wind" and "Angelina." When touring to support the first two of these albums, Dylan refused to play secular music and delivered short sermons on stage, typified by:

Years ago they used ..., said I was a prophet. I used to say, "No, I'm not a prophet," they say, "Yes, you are, you're a prophet." I said, "No, it's not me." They used to say, "You sure are a prophet." They used to convince me I was a prophet. Now I come out and say Jesus Christ is the answer. They say, 'Bob Dylan's no prophet.' They just can't handle it."

Hard-working elder statesman


Doldrums set in through much of the 1980s, with his work varying from the well-regarded (1983's Infidels) to the dreadful (1988's Down in the Groove). Infidels was more noteworthy for what it did not include than for what it did, as Dylan left off the album what many consider to be one of his greatest songs, "Blind Willie McTell", as well "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 Vol. 1-3. Many Dylan devotees consider an early version of the LP, prepared by producer/guitarist Mark Knopfler, to be superior to the final version both in performance and in song selection. The decade's later albums each contain gems, from 1985's Empire Burlesque ("When the Night Comes Falling from the Sky" and "Dark Eyes") to Knocked Out Loaded (1986) (with the long, clever "Brownsville Girl") to even Down in the Groove (1988) (containing the catchy "Silvio", with lyrics written by Grateful Dead collaborator Robert Hunter. Dylan made a number of music videos during this period, but only "Political World," found any regular airtime on MTV.

In late 1985, Dylan married his longtime backup singer Carolyn Dennis (often professionally known as Carol Dennis). Their daughter, Desiree, was born early in 1986. The couple divorced in the early 1990s.

In 1987 he starred in Richard Marquand's movie Hearts of Fire in which he played a washed up rock star turned chicken farmer whose teenage lover (Fiona) leaves him for a jaded English synth-pop sensation (Rupert Everett). The film was a critical and commercial dud. When asked in a press conference if he had anything to do with writing this movie Dylan replied, attempting to stifle his laughter, "I couldn't have possibly written anything like that."

Dylan was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1988. Later that spring, he took part in the first Traveling Wilburys album project, working with Roy Orbison, Jeff Lynne, Tom Petty, and his good friend George Harrison on lighthearted, well-selling fare. Dylan added both Lucky and Boo Wilbury to his growing list of pseudonyms. Despite Orbison's death, the other four Wilburys issued a sequel in 1990.

Dylan finished the decade with Daniel Lanois-produced Oh Mercy (1989). Lanois's influence is audible throughout Oh Mercy, especially in the ambience provided by reverb-heavy guitar tracks. "Ring Them Bells" seems to call for Christians to maintain a visible presence in the world, perhaps adding fuel to the debate over Dylan's religious orientation. The track "Most of the Time", a ruminative lost love composition, was later prominently featured in the film High Fidelity, while "What Was It You Wanted?" was a love song that doubled as a dry comment on the expectations of fans. The dense, production-heavy arrangements throughout the album count as yet another of Dylan's inspired departures.

1990s and beyond

Dylan's 1990s began with Under the Red Sky (1990), an odd about-face from the serious Oh Mercy. This album, dedicated to Gabby Goo Goo, puzzlingly included several apparently childish songs, including "Under the Red Sky" and "Wiggle Wiggle", all recorded straight-on without any of the studio wizardry of "Oh Mercy". The dedication can be explained as a nickname for Dylan's four-year-old daughter, but the story that the album's songs were written for her entertainment is plainly apocryphal.

The next few years saw Dylan returning to his folk roots with two albums covering old folk and blues numbers: Good As I Been To You (1992) and World Gone Wrong (1993), featuring nuanced interpretations and ragged but highly original acoustic guitar work, led by a powerful version of "Lone Pilgrim". His 1995 concert on MTV Unplugged, and the album culled from it, marked Dylan's only newly-recorded output during the mid-1990s. Essentially a greatest hits collection, it was notable for its inclusion of "John Brown," an unreleased 1963 song detailing the ravages of both war 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 of 1997. That spring, before the album's release, Dylan was hospitalized with a life-threatening heart infection, pericarditis, brought on by histoplasmosis. To his doctors' surprise and his own he made a speedy recovery and left the hospital saying "I really thought I'd be seeing Elvis soon." He was back on the road by the summer.

September saw the release of the new Lanois-produced album, Dylan's first collection of original songs in seven years. Time Out of Mind, with its bitter assessment of love and morbid ruminations, was highly acclaimed and achieved an unforeseen popularity among young listeners, particularly the song "Love Sick", later covered by The White Stripes. This collection of complex songs won him his first solo Album of the Year Grammy Award (he was one of numerous performers on The Concert for Bangladesh, the 1972 winner.) The ballad "To Make You Feel My Love", covered by both Garth Brooks and Billy Joel, generated more royalties than any song he had written since the 1960s. Black humor is present throughout Time Out of Mind, but comes out most on the 16 minute blues "Highlands", his longest track to date.

In 2001, his song "Things Have Changed", penned for the movie Wonder Boys, won an Academy Award for Best Song. For reasons unannounced, the Oscar (by some reports a facsimile) tours with him, presiding over shows perched atop an amplifier.

Love and Theft, an album that explores divergent styles of American music and revisits Dylan's own creative roots, emerged as an uplifting piece of art amidst a great tragedy, having been released on September 11, 2001. Lyrically adventurous and musically unprecedented in his long career, Love and Theft, by many accounts, stands among the greatest of his work. Even those quite familiar with his earlier work may have trouble imagining Bob Dylan crooning, as he does on "Bye and Bye" and "Moonlight". Many believe the album's lyrical strengths are as pronounced as in his most famous earlier work. Though Dylan produced the record himself under the pseudonym Jack Frost, the record's fresh sound is owed in part to the accompanists. Tony Garnier, bassist and bandleader, had played with Dylan for 12 years, longer than any other musician. Larry Campbell[1] ( , one of the most accomplished American guitarists of the last two decades, played on the road with Dylan from 1997 through 2004. Guitaris Charlie Sexton and drummer David Kemper had also toured with Dylan for years. Keyboard player Augie Meyers, the only musician not part of Dylan's touring band, had also played on Time Out of Mind.

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 co-wrote the film under the pseudonyms Rene Fontaine and Sergei Petrov. As difficult to decipher as one of his songs, Masked & Anonymous was panned by most major critics and had a limited run in theaters. Some say this is not the movie's fault, as its black comedy is often mistaken for ponderous philosophy by critics unequipped to tell the difference.

In 2005 preproduction began on a film entitled I'm Not There: Suppositions on a Film Concerning Dylan [2] ( 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, Adrian Brody and Richard Gere.

Recent live performances

Dylan jams with bandmate Larry Campbell at Irving Plaza, New York City, 1997
Dylan jams with bandmate Larry Campbell at Irving Plaza, New York City, 1997

Dylan 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 long-time 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 reliable.

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.

Fan base

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, setlists 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 and Neil Young. His songs have been covered by more artists than perhaps any other musician's.

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 Johnsons recordings. In these passages, Dylan suggested the process which ignited his own song writing gift.

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, and reported it as their number 2 best seller among all categories. Chronicles Vol. 1 is the first of three planned volumes.

Discography/Film/Books (incomplete)

See Bob Dylan discography.


The most famous songs:

The best songs (according to perceived consensus of Usenet group, in order)

  • "Tangled Up in Blue" (Blood On The Tracks, 1975)
  • "Like a Rolling Stone" (Highway 61 Revisited, 1965)
  • "Desolation Row" (Highway 61 Revisted, 1965)
  • "Blind Willie McTell" (outtake, Infidels, 1983, released on The Bootleg Series 1-3, 1991)
  • "A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall" (The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan, 1963)
  • "Not Dark Yet" (Time Out of Mind, 1997)
  • "Visions of Johanna" (Blonde On Blonde, 1966)
  • "Every Grain of Sand" (Shot of Love, 1981)
  • "Seor" (Street Legal, 1978)

See also: List of people compared to Bob Dylan, List of Born-again Christian Laypeople

Known pseudonyms

  • Elston Gunnn (the spelling an eccentricity of his adolescence)
  • Bob Dylan (now legal name)
  • Blind Boy Grunt
  • Bob Landy
  • Robert Milkwood Thomas
  • Lucky Wilbury
  • Boo Wilbury
  • Jack Frost
  • Sergei Petrov

Further reading

  • Bob Dylan, Chronicles: Volume 1. Simon and Schuster, October 5, 2004, hardcover, 208 pages. ISBN 0743228154
  • Clinton Heylin, Bob Dylan: Behind the Shades Revisited. Perennial Currents, 2003, 800 pages. ISBN 006052569X
  • Clinton Heylin, Bob Dylan: A Life In Stolen Moments, Schirmer Books, 1986, 403 pages. ISBN 0825671566. Also known as Bob Dylan: Day By Day
  • David Hajdu, Positively 4th Street: The Lives and Times of Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, Mimi Baez Farina, and Richard Farina Farrar Straus Giroux, 2001, 328 pages. ISBN 0374281998
  • Mike Marqusee, Chimes of Freedom : The Politics of Bob Dylan's Art The New Press, NY, 2003. 327 pages. ISBN 1-56584-825-X
  • Anthony Scaduto, Bob Dylan, Helter Skelter, 2001 reprint of 1972 original, 312 pages. ISBN 1900924234
  • Robert Shelton, No Direction Home, Da Capo Press, 2003 reprint of 1986 original, 576 pages. ISBN 0306812878
  • Howard Sounes, Down The Highway: The Life Of Bob Dylan, Grove Press, 2001, 527 pages. ISBN 0802116868
  • Marcus, Greil: The Old, Weird America: The World of Bob Dylan's Basement Tapes, Picador, 2001, ISBN 0312420439 (also published as "Invisible Republic")
  • Marcus, Greil: Like A Rolling Stone: Bob Dylan at the Crossroads, PublicAffairs, 2005 ISBN 1586482548 2005

See also

External links

Template:Wikiquote Template:Commons


  • ( - official site, including lyrics
  • Expecting Rain ( Longtime favorite fan site, updated daily.
  • BobLinks ( Another classic fansite, with a comprehensive categorized link collection and up-to-date tour information.

Chords and Lyrics

Concert recordings, outtakes, etc.

  • Bob Dylan Field Recordings Guide ( A huge compilation/index of information information on Dylan's "unofficial" recordings
  • CD-Rs (
  • Dusty Old Fairgrounds ( an exhaustive index of Dylan's recordings and performances
  • ( Bob Dylan DVD Recording Database
  • Dylanbase ( User-contributed reviews of "unofficial" recordings
  • Rare but not Boot (
  • Covers by Bob (

Reference works


  • The Bridge (
  • ISIS (
  • Judas! (
  • Freewheelin' ( (online magazine)
  • The Telegraph ( (archive, no longer published)





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