Bob Dylan

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Portrait photograph by Daniel Kramer
Portrait photograph by Daniel Kramer

Bob Dylan (born Robert Allen Zimmerman May 24, 1941) is an American singer-songwriter, musician, and poet. He is one of America's most highly regarded popular songwriters, and his enduring contributions to the American œuvre are comparable to those of Stephen Foster, Irving Berlin, Woody Guthrie, and Hank Williams.

Much of Dylan's best known work is from the 1960s, when he became a documentarian and reluctant figurehead of American unrest. Many involved in the civil rights movement found an anthem in his song "Blowin' In The Wind". Millions of young people embraced "The Times They Are A-Changin'" as a rallying cry of the decade.

Dylan expanded the vocabulary of popular music by incorporating politics, social commentary, philosophy, and literature. In doing so he created a style which combines lyrical stream of consciousness with often absurdist social and political moralizing, defying folk music convention and appealing widely to the counterculture of the time. While expanding and personalizing musical styles, Dylan has nonetheless shown devotion to traditions of American song, from folk and country/blues to rock 'n' roll and rockabilly, to Gaelic balladry, even jazz, swing, and Broadway.

Dylan performs on several instruments, including the guitar, piano and harmonica. Backed by a changing lineup of musicians, he has toured almost constantly since the late 1980s. Although his contributions as performer and recording artist have been central to his career, his songwriting is generally held as his highest accomplishment.


Musical career and personal life


Dylan was born in Duluth, Minnesota, on the extreme western shore of Lake Superior. His grandparents were Jewish emigrants from Lithuania, Russia and Ukraine, and his parents were part of the area's small but close-knit Jewish community. He lived in Duluth until age six, when his father Abraham was stricken with polio. The family returned to nearby Hibbing, his mother Beatty's home town, where he spent the rest of his childhood (shortly after he became famous he claimed he was raised in Gallup, New Mexico and other towns where he had never lived).

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. He formed several bands while in high school; the first, The Shadow Blasters, was short-lived, but the second, the Golden Chords, proved more durable. They played covers and the Dylan-penned tune "Little Richard" at their high-school talent show, but the group did not become much more than a school pick-up band. 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 moved to Minneapolis in 1959 and enrolled at the University of Minnesota. It was during this transitional time of his life that his predilection for upbeat pop music gave way to the subtler, usually more downtempo approach of often Gaelic-inflected American folk music. He soon became actively involved in the local Dinkytown folk music circuit, fraternizing with local folk enthusiasts whose personal vinyl record collections sometimes diminished considerably after a visit from the unstudious freshman. During his Dinkytown days Zimmerman began introducing himself as Bob Dylan (or Dillon). He 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, Colorado, and Chicago, Illinois. In January 1961, en route to Minneapolis from Chicago, he changed course and headed to New York City to perform and to visit his ailing idol Woody Guthrie in a New Jersey hospital. 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. This article and word-of-mouth around Greenwich Village led to John Hammond, a legendary music business figure, signing him to Columbia Records that October [1].

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 a number of 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, was released in 1963 he had begun to make his name as both a singer and songwriter (at a time when the two were still typically plied as separate trades), specializing in protest songs, initially in the style of Guthrie and soon practically developing his own genre.

His most famous songs of the time are typified by "Blowin' In The Wind", its melody partially derived from the traditional slave song "No More Auction Block", coupled with lyrics challenging the social and political status quo. In hindsight, the lyrics to some of these songs may appear unsophisticated ("How many times must the cannonballs fly before they are forever banned"), but compared to the largely anemic popular culture of the 1950s they were a breath of fresh air, and the songs caught and 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, somewhat overlooked among them on Freewheelin' was a mixture of 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 Freewheelin' song "A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall", built melodically from a loose adaptation of the stanza tune of the folk ballad Lord Randall, with its veiled references to nuclear apocalypse, gained even more resonance as the Cuban missile crisis developed only a few weeks after Dylan began performing it. Perhaps even moreso than "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 time-honoured folk progressions to create a sound and sense that struck listeners as somehow new and ancient simultaneously. The lyrics were contemplative yet hard-hitting: "...I saw a newborn baby with wild wolves all around it/ I saw a highway of diamonds with nobody on it,/ I saw a black branch with blood that kept drippin',/ I saw a room full of men with their hammers a-bleedin',/ I saw a white ladder all covered with water,/ I saw ten thousand talkers whose tongues were all broken...". Soon after the release of Freewheelin Dylan emerged as a dominant figure of the so-called "new folk movement" headquartered in Lower Manhattan's Greenwich Village, sub-headquartered in San Francisco. The Beatles, amongst others, listened to this album and 1964's The Times They Are A-Changin' obsessively and realized that entire albums of boy-meets-girl songs were now, at one blow, outmoded.

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, friend and sometime lover, dulcet-voiced reigning queen of New Folk, in addition to jump starting Dylan's performance career by inviting him onstage during her concerts, took it upon herself to record much of his early original material; others who covered his songs included The Byrds, Sonny and Cher, The Hollies, Manfred Mann, The Brothers Four and Herman's Hermits, most attempting to impart more of a pop feel and rhythm to the songs where Dylan and Baez performed them mostly as sparse folk pieces keying rhythmically off the vocals. So ubiquitous were these covers by the mid-1960s that CBS started to promote him with the tag: "Nobody Sings Dylan Like Dylan". Paradoxically, many new artists sprang up at this time with singing styles suspiciously similar to Dylan's, typically using his inflections and tone while dispensing with the "mumbly" and gruff qualities (see Donovan Leitch). Whoever sang Dylan's songs, they were immediately recognizable as his and a good part of his fame rested not only on his characteristic lyrical excellence but on the underlying attitude—a sort of "po' boy adrift in the wide world" posture that soon changed to hipster arbiter of all things cool and not cool.

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. In January, he appeared on British television in the BBC play Madhouse on Castle Street, featuring as a Greek chorus-type figure. Dylan's next album, The Times They Are A-Changin', reflected a more sophisticated, politicized and cynical Dylan. This bleak material, concerned with such subjects as the murder of civil rights worker Medgar Evers and the despair engendered by the breakdown of farming and mining communities ("Ballad of Hollis Brown", "North Country Blues"), was tempered by two love songs, "Boots of Spanish Leather" and "One Too Many Mornings", and the epic renunciation of "Restless Farewell". The Brechtian-influenced "The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll", a highlight of the album, describes a young socialite's killing of a hotel maid. Never explicitly mentioning race, the song leaves no doubt that the killer is white, the victim black.

As a sign of the political influence of Dylan's lyrics, the violent Weathermen radical group even named themselves after a lyric in his "Subterranean Homesick Blues" ("You don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows").

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

Perhaps inevitably then, his next album, the accurately but prosaically titled Another Side Of Bob Dylan, recorded on a single June evening in 1964, had a lighter mood than its predecessor. The surreal Dylan reemerged on "I Shall Be Free #10" and "Motorpsycho Nightmare" employing a sense of humor which would persist throughout his career. "Spanish Harlem Incident" and "To Ramona" were touching love songs, "I Don't Believe You", a prototypical rock and roll song played on acoustic guitar, and "It Ain't Me Babe", a romping rejection of the role his reputation thrust at him. His newest direction was signaled by three songs: "Chimes of Freedom", long and impressionistic, sets elements of social commentary against a denser metaphorical landscape in a style later characterized by Allen Ginsberg as "chains of flashing images"; "My Back Pages" even more personally attacks the simplistic and arch seriousness of his own earlier topical songs; and a musically undeveloped "Mr. Tambourine Man", recorded that night but fortunately left off the album.

In the early 1960s, Dylan had adopted a sort of Huckleberry Finn persona and told picaresque tales of knocking around, hopping freights, and working at folksy jobs. In that phase, lasting a few years, he sang and wrote somewhat like the Woody Guthrie of 25 or 30 years earlier. However, as he “brought it all back home” (the result of psychedelic drug experiences, or so some who knew him have claimed), Dylan’s point of view as a writer became at once more thoroughly contemporary and more surrealistic, and probably more honest.

Throughout this time Dylan's artistic development moved so fast that he frequently left both critics and fans behind. His March 1965 album Bringing It All Back Home was a further stylistic leap. Influenced by The Beatles (whose artistic development had already been enhanced by Dylan's influence) and the rock and roll of his youth, the first side contained his first significant original up-tempo rock songs. Lyrically, however, the songs were pure Dylan, exhibiting his dry wit and inhabited by a sequence of grotesque, metaphorical characters. The raucous first single, "Subterranean Homesick Blues", owed much to Chuck Berry's "Too Much Monkey Business" and was provided with an early music video courtesy of D. A. Pennebaker's cinema verite presentation of Dylan's 1965 tour, Don't Look Back.

Side 2 of the album was a different matter, including four lengthy acoustic songs whose undogmatic political, social and personal concerns are illuminated with the rich poetic imagery that would become another trademark. One of these songs, "Mr. Tambourine Man", had already been a hit for The Byrds, albeit in a truncated form, and would remain one of Dylan's most enduring compositions, while "Gates Of Eden", "It's All Over Now Baby Blue", and "It's Alright Ma (I'm Only Bleeding)" have justifiably been fixtures in Dylan's live performances for most of his 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 version of the legend has it, the boos were from the outraged folk fans Dylan alienated with his electric guitar. An alternative account has it that audience members were upset by poor sound quality and a surprisingly short set. Whatever sparked the crowd's disfavor, Dylan soon reemerged and sang two much better received solo acoustic numbers. Nevertheless, the import of the appearance at Newport worked its way into the awareness of this restless generation: thoughtful acoustic music was no longer enough even for tradition-aware singers like Dylan; times were indeed "a changin" and electricity was needed to express those changes.

Creative height, crash

The single "Like a Rolling Stone" was a U.S. hit, cementing his reputation as a lyricist; at over six minutes, devoid of a bridge, the song also helped to expand the limits of hit radio. Its signature sound, with a full, jangling band and a simple organ riff, would characterize his next album, Highway 61 Revisited (titled after the road that led from his native Minnesota to the musical hotbed of New Orleans; and referencing any number of blues songs; e.g., Mississippi Fred McDowell's "61 Highway"). The songs were in the same vein as the hit single, surreal litanies of the grotesque flavored by Mike Bloomfield's blues guitar, a tight rhythm section and Dylan's obvious enjoyment of the sessions. The closing song, "Desolation Row", is a lengthy apocalyptic vision with references to many figures of Western culture.

 A successful mix of Folk music, Rock and Roll and Dylan's own brand of surrealism, Blonde on Blonde is often considered to be one of the finest recordings of American popular music.
A successful mix of Folk music, Rock and Roll and Dylan's own brand of surrealism, Blonde on Blonde is often considered to be one of the finest recordings of American popular music.

In support of the record, Dylan was booked for two U.S. concerts and set about assembling a band. Bloomfield was unwilling to leave the Butterfield Band, so Dylan mixed Al Kooper and Harvey Brooks from his studio crew with bar-band stalwarts Robbie Robertson and Levon Helm, best known for backing Ronnie Hawkins. In August 1965 at Forest Hills Auditorium, the group were heckled from an audience who, Newport notwithstanding, still demanded the acoustic troubadour of previous years; their reception on the 3rd of September at the Hollywood Bowl was more uniformly favorable.

Neither Kooper nor Brooks wanted to go on the road steadily with Dylan, and he was unable to lure his preferred band, a crew of west coast musicians best known for backing Johnny Rivers, featuring guitarist James Burton and drummer Mickey Jones, away from their regular commitments. Dylan then hired Robertson and Helm's full band, The Hawks, for his tour group, and began a string of studio sessions with them in an effort to record the follow-up to Highway 61 Revisited.

Dylan secretly married Sara Lownds on November 22, 1965; their first child, Jesse Byron Dylan, was born in January 1966. Dylan and Lownds had four children in total: Jesse, Anna, Samuel, and Jakob (born December 9, 1969). Dylan also adopted Sara Lownds' first daughter Maria Lownds (born October 21st, 1961) from a prior marriage. In the 1990's, the youngest of the pair's children, Jakob Dylan, became well known as the lead singer of the band The Wallflowers.

Dylan and Lownds divorced in July 1977, though they reportedly remained in regular contact, for many years and, by some accounts, even to the present day.

While Dylan and the Hawks met increasingly receptive audiences on tour (though not before the audience reaction led Helm to leave the group late in 1965), their studio efforts foundered. At John Hammond's suggestion, producer Bob Johnston brought Dylan to Nashville to record, surrounding him with a cadre of top-notch session men, with only Robertson and Kooper brought down from New York to play more limited roles. The Nashville sessions brought out what Dylan would later call "that thin wild mercury sound" and a classic record often viewed as one of the greatest in American popular music, Blonde on Blonde.

Dylan undertook an ambitious "world tour" of Australia and Europe in the spring of 1966. The first half of these concerts were solo acoustic. The second half, backed by the Hawks, provoked much jeering and slow handclapping. The tour culminated in a famously raucous confrontation with his audience at the Manchester Free Trade Hall in England. Immortalized mistakenly as "The Royal Albert Hall" concert, the recording was officially released in 1998. At the climax of the concert, a folk fan (John Cordwell), angry that Dylan had adopted an electric sound, shouted "Judas!" from the audience, and Dylan responded, "I don't believe you! You're a liar!" before turning to the band and exhorting them to "Play it fuckin' loud!" as they launched into the last song of the night—"Like a Rolling Stone".

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

Once Dylan was well enough to resume creative work, he began editing footage into Eat the Document, a rarely exhibited follow-up to Don't Look Back. In 1967 he began recording music with the Hawks at his home and, legendarily, the basement of the Hawks' nearby "Big Pink". The relaxed atmosphere yielded renditions of many of Dylan's favored old and new songs and some newly written pieces. These originals, at first compiled as demos for other artists to record, began to circulate on their own merits. Columbia belatedly released selections from them in 1975 as The Basement Tapes. Later in 1967, the Hawks—soon to be rechristened as The Band—independently recorded the album Music From Big Pink, thus beginning a long and successful recording and performing career of their own.

Unsurprisingly, Dylan's official output appeared strongly influenced by his changed lifestyle. In December 1967 he released his first official album since the accident, John Wesley Harding, a contemplative record set in a landscape which drew on both the American West and the Old Testament. It included "All Along The Watchtower" with lyrics derived from the Book of Isaiah (21:5–9). The song was later immortalized by Jimi Hendrix in a version that Dylan himself has acknowledged as definitive. The sparse structure and instrumentation, coupled with lyrics which took the Judeo-Christian tradition seriously, marked a departure not only from Dylan's own work but from the escalating psychedelic fervor of the 1960s musical culture.

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

Dylan's next release, Nashville Skyline (1969), was virtually a mainstream country record featuring instrumental backing by Nashville musicians, a mellow-voiced, contented Dylan, a duet with Johnny Cash, and the hit single "Lay Lady Lay". Dylan appeared on Cash's new television show and then gave a high-profile performance at the Isle of Wight rock festival (after rejecting overtures to appear at the Woodstock event far closer to his home).

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. In general, Self Portrait, a double LP including few original songs, was poorly received. Later that year, Dylan released New Morning, something of a return to form. His unannounced appearance at George Harrison's 1971 Concert for Bangladesh was widely praised, but reports of a new album, a television special, and a return to touring came to nothing.

In 1972, Dylan signed onto Sam Peckinpah's film Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid, providing the songs and taking a 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 America; promoter Bill Graham claimed he received more ticket purchase requests than any prior tour by any artist. The tour is documented on the Before the Flood album, but Dylan refused to allow a tour film to be made.

After the tour, Dylan and his wife became publicly estranged. He filled a small, red notebook with songs springing from the breakup and in September, with the help of John Hammond, quickly recorded the album Blood on the Tracks in the New York City studio where his recording career began. Word of Dylan's efforts soon leaked out, and expectations were high, but Dylan delayed the album's release, then rerecorded half the songs in Minneapolis at year's end. Released early in 1975, BOTT was critically acclaimed and commercially successful, although Dylan's fans still debate the relative merits of the ultimate release and the original recordings.

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

Running through the fall of 1975 and again through the spring of 1976, the tour also encompassed the release of the album Desire (1976), with many of Dylan's new songs featuring an almost travelogue-like narrative style, showing the influence of his new collaborator, playwright Jacques Levy. The spring 1976 half of the tour was documented by a TV concert special, Hard Rain, and an LP of the same title; no concert album from the better-received and better-known opening half of the tour would be released until 2002, when Live 1975 appeared as the fifth volume of Dylan's 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 generally well reviewed. Lyrically one of his more complex and absorbing, it suffered, however, from a poor sound mix (attributed to his studio recording practices), submerging much of its instrumentation in the sonic equivalent of cotton wadding until its remastered CD release nearly a quarter century later.

Dylan's work in the late 1970s and early 1980s was dominated by his becoming, in 1979, a born-again Christian. He released two albums of exclusively religious material and a third that seemed mostly so; of these, the first, Slow Train Coming (1979), is generally regarded as the most accomplished. The second album was Saved (1980). When touring from the fall of 1979 through the spring of 1980 Dylan played mostly Christian music and delivered sermonettes on stage, often laced with references to the apocalyptic predictions of Hal Lindsey. Opinions on the merits of these evangelistic songs vary widely: some believe Dylan felt a need to create gospel music and his conversion was a sort of self-duping that allowed him to write from within the genre; others believe many of the songs are masterpieces that have gone unrecognized by fans and critics unable to hear beyond their narrow secular mentality. Dylan's current religious beliefs are grist for much speculation among his followers.

Hard-working elder statesman


In the fall of 1980, Dylan briefly resumed touring, restoring songs that were popular before his Christian trilogy to his repertoire, for a series of concerts billed as "A Musical Retrospective". Shot of Love, recorded the next spring, featured Dylan's first secular compositions in more than two years, mixed with explicitly Christian songs and material that resisted pigeonholing.

After composing and recording evangelical Christian songs over the course of his prior three albums, on 1983's well-received Infidels Dylan began his return to writing secular songs. Over his next several albums after Infidels, Dylan's lyrics became consistently secular, culminating in the album Empire Burlesque. Some commentators feel that some subsequent songs subtly suggest Christian themes.

In the 1980s, his work varied from the well-regarded Infidels to the poorly received 1988 Down in the Groove. The Infidels recording session included "Blind Willie McTell", as well as "Foot of Pride", "Someone's Got a Hold of My Heart" and "Lord Protect My Child", which were later released on the boxed set The Bootleg Series Volumes 1-3 (Rare & Unreleased) 1961-1991. An early version of Infidels prepared by producer/guitarist Mark Knopfler with differing arrangements and song selection was not released.

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. Despite Orbison's death, the other four Wilburys issued a sequel in 1990.

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

1990s and beyond

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

The next few years saw Dylan returning to his folk roots with two albums covering old folk and blues numbers: Good As I Been to You (1992) and World Gone Wrong (1993), featuring nuanced interpretations and ragged but highly original acoustic guitar work. His 1995 concert on MTV Unplugged, and the album culled from it, marked Dylan's only newly recorded output during the mid-1990s. Essentially a greatest hits collection, it also included "John Brown", an unreleased 1963 song detailing the ravages of both war and jingoism.

With the quality of his output taking a turn for the better, and a stack of songs reportedly begun while snowed-in on his Minnesota ranch, Dylan returned to the recording studio with Lanois in January 1997. That spring, before the album's release, Dylan was hospitalized with a life-threatening heart infection, pericarditis, brought on by histoplasmosis. His scheduled European tour was cancelled, but Dylan made a speedy recovery and left the hospital saying, "I really thought I'd be seeing Elvis soon." He was back on the road by midsummer, and in early fall performed before the Pope at the World Eucharistic Conference in Bologna, Italy.

September saw the release of the new Lanois-produced album, Dylan's first collection of original songs in seven years. Time Out of Mind, with its bitter assessment of love and morbid ruminations, was highly acclaimed and achieved an unforeseen popularity among young listeners, particularly the song "Love Sick", later covered by The White Stripes (who also covered Dylan's "One More Cup of Coffee"). 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 diverse styles of American music and revisits Dylan's own creative roots, is described by many fans as an uplifting piece of art amidst a great tragedy, due to the coincidence of having been released on September 11, 2001. Love and Theft, by many critical accounts, stands among the greatest of his work, with lyrical strengths as pronounced as in much of his early work. However, those familiar with his earlier work may have trouble digesting Dylan's crooning on this album, as he does on "Bye and Bye" and "Moonlight". Though Dylan produced the record himself under the pseudonym Jack Frost, the record's unique 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[2], one of the most accomplished American guitarists of the last two decades, played on the road with Dylan from 1997 through 2004. Guitarist Charlie Sexton and drummer David Kemper had also toured with Dylan for years. Keyboard player Augie Meyers, the only musician not part of Dylan's touring band, had also played on Time Out of Mind.

2003 saw the release of the film Masked & Anonymous, largely a joint creative venture with television producer Larry Charles, featuring one of the largest ever assemblages of top Hollywood stars in a single film. Dylan and Charles cowrote the film under the pseudonyms Rene Fontaine and Sergei Petrov. As difficult to decipher as some of his songs, Masked & Anonymous was panned by most major critics and had a limited run in theaters.

In 2005 preproduction began on a film entitled I'm Not There: Suppositions on a Film Concerning Dylan [3]. 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, Christian Bale and Richard Gere.

Martin Scorsese's film biography No Direction Home was shown on September 26 and September 27, 2005 on the BBC in the United Kingdom and PBS in the United States. [4] A DVD of this film was released on September 20, with an accompanying soundtrack released on August 20, 2005.

Dylan himself returned to recording studio at some point in 2005. He recorded at least one song, entitled "Tell Ol' Bill" for the motion picture North Country. The song is not the same as the traditional folk song Tell Old Bill.

Recent live performances

Dylan (right) jams with bandmate Larry Campbell at Irving Plaza, New York City, 1997
Dylan (right) 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 longtime bassist Tony Garnier and filled out with talented musicians better known to their peers than to their audiences. To the dismay of some fans Dylan refuses to be a nostalgia act; his reworked arrangements, evolving bands and experimental vocal approaches keep the music unpredictable night after night.

Dylan, once famous as a guitar player, has not been playing guitar in live performance since 2002 (with very rare exceptions). Instead he chooses to play on the keyboard, with the occasional harmonica solo. Various rumors have circulated as to why Dylan gave up his guitar, none terribly 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, set lists and reviews are posted by his loyal following.

The poet laureate of Britain, Andrew Motion, is a vocal supporter of Dylan's work, as are musicians Lou Reed, Tom Waits, Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty, David Bowie, Ian Hunter, Neil Young, and Mike Watt. His songs have been covered by more artists than perhaps any other contemporary songwriter'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 poet Archibald MacLeish and producer Daniel Lanois. In the New Morning chapter, Dylan expresses distaste for the label "spokesman of a generation" and he evinces disgust with his more fanatical followers.

Another section features Dylan's account of a guitar-strumming style in mathematical detail that he claimed was the key to his renaissance in the 1990s. Despite the opacity of some passages, there is an overall clarity in voice that is generally missing in Dylan's other prose writings, and a noticeable generosity towards friends and lovers of his early years. At the end of the book, Dylan describes with great passion the moment when he listened to the Brecht/Weill song "Pirate Jenny", and the moment when he first heard Robert Johnson’s recordings. In these passages, Dylan suggested the process which ignited his own song-writing.

Six weeks after its publication, Chronicles, Vol. 1 was number 5 on the New York Times' Hardcover Non-Fiction best seller list and climbing. Simultaneously, and reported it as their number 2 best seller among all categories. Chronicles Vol. 1 is the first of three planned volumes.


See Bob Dylan discography.


The current members of Bob Dylan's touring band:

Known pseudonyms

Further reading

  • Bob Dylan, Chronicles: Volume 1. Simon and Schuster, October 5, 2004, hardcover, 208 pages. ISBN 0743228154
  • Michael J. Gilmour, "Tangled Up in the Bible: Bob Dylan and Scripture". Continuum, 2004, 160 pages. ISBN 0826416020
  • Michael Gray, Song & Dance Man III: The Art of Bob Dylan. Continuum International, 2000, paperback, 944 pages. ISBN 0826463827
  • 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* 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
  • John Hinchey. Like a Complete Unknown: The Poetry of Bob Dylan’s Songs, 1961-1966. Stealing Home Press, 2002. 277 pages. ISBN 0972359206
  • Greil Marcus, The Old, Weird America: The World of Bob Dylan's Basement Tapes, Picador, 2001. ISBN 0312420439 (also published as "Invisible Republic")
  • Greil Marcus, Like A Rolling Stone: Bob Dylan at the Crossroads, PublicAffairs, 2005. ISBN 1586482548
  • 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
  • Sam Shepard, Rolling Thunder Logbook, Da Capo, 2004 reissue, 176 pages. ISBN 0306813718
  • Howard Sounes, Down The Highway: The Life Of Bob Dylan, Grove Press, 2001, 527 pages. ISBN 0802116868
  • Anthony Varesi, "The Bob Dylan Albums", Guernica Editions, 2002, 264 pages. ISBN 1550711393

See also

External links

Wikiquote has a collection of quotations related to:
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Chords and lyrics

Concert recordings, outtakes, etc.

Reference works


Commentary on religious themes




Bob Dylan

Studio Albums: Bob Dylan | The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan | The Times They Are A-Changin' | Another Side of Bob Dylan | Bringing It All Back Home | Highway 61 Revisited | Blonde on Blonde | John Wesley Harding | Nashville Skyline | Self Portrait | New Morning | Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid | Dylan | Planet Waves | Blood on the Tracks | The Basement Tapes | Desire | Street-Legal | Slow Train Coming | Saved | Shot of Love | Infidels | Empire Burlesque | Knocked Out Loaded | Down in the Groove | Oh Mercy | Under the Red Sky | Good as I Been to You | World Gone Wrong | Time Out of Mind | Love and Theft

Live Recordings: Before the Flood | Hard Rain | Bob Dylan At Budokan | Real Live | Dylan & The Dead | The 30th Anniversary Concert Celebration | MTV Unplugged | Live at The Gaslight 1962 | The Concert For Bangla Desh

Compilations: Bob Dylan's Greatest Hits | Bob Dylan's Greatest Hits Vol. II | Biograph | Bob Dylan's Greatest Hits Volume 3 | The Essential Bob Dylan

The Bootleg Series: Volumes 1-3 (Rare & Unreleased) 1961-1991 | Vol. 4: Bob Dylan Live 1966, The "Royal Albert Hall" Concert | Vol. 5: Bob Dylan Live 1975, The Rolling Thunder Revue | Vol. 6: Bob Dylan Live 1964, Concert at Philharmonic Hall | Vol. 7: No Direction Home: The Soundtrack


Principal: Don't Look Back | Eat the Document | Renaldo and Clara | Masked & Anonymous | No Direction Home

Actor: The Madhouse on Castle Street | Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid | Hearts of Fire | Backtrack (aka Catchfire) | Paradise Cove

Performer: Festival | The Concert for Bangladesh | The Last Waltz


Tarantula | Writings and Drawings | Lyrics: 1962 - 1985 | Drawn Blank | Chronicles, Vol. 1 | Lyrics: 1962 - 2001

Unauthorized, from public domain: Saved: The Gospel Speeches of Bob Dylan | Bob Dylan: In His Own Words

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