[lang_fr]Bob Dylan : Biographie[/lang_fr][lang_en]Bob Dylan : Biography[/lang_en]

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Bob Dylan (né Robert Allen Zimmerman le 24 mai 1941 à Duluth, Minnesota – ) est un auteur-compositeur-interprète et un musicien américain dont le style musical a évolué au fil des années : rock, folk, country, blues et jazz sont les exemples de la diversité de son œuvre.

Biographie

Depuis ses débuts dans les années 1960, il a, par ses textes et par sa recherche de voies nouvelles (à l’encontre de son public parfois), sensiblement marqué la culture musicale contemporaine : en témoignent les nombreux artistes qui se réclament de son influence (David Bowie, Jeff Buckley, Tom Waits, Elvis Costello, etc. ), ou le vaste répertoire des chansons qu’il a composées, dans lequel puisent des musiciens de tous les horizons et de toutes les générations (Elvis Presley, The Beatles, Neil Young, U2, P.J. Harvey, The White Stripes, Guns N’ Roses, Jimi Hendrix etc.).

Les références dont s’inspire Bob Dylan pour faire évoluer son art sont non seulement à chercher du côté de musiciens américains légendaires, tels Hank Williams, Woody Guthrie et Robert Johnson, mais aussi chez des écrivains de la Beat Generation, comme Jack Kerouac ou Allen Ginsberg. Il apprécie également Arthur Rimbaud, avec qui il sera souvent comparé, et s’intéresse à des dramaturges, tel Bertolt Brecht.

Au xxie siècle, près de 45 ans après la parution de son premier album, Dylan parcourt le monde de concert en concert et continue de composer.

Complexe, en constante évolution (il réinvente régulièrement chacun de ses standards dans différents registres, allant du rock agressif au jazz en passant par les ballades), proche des aspirations sociales et culturelles des époques qu’elle a traversées, l’œuvre de Dylan a, peut-être plus que toute autre, fait évoluer le rôle de la musique populaire en Occident (cf. Analyses). Depuis 1997, Bob Dylan est régulièrement mis en nomination pour l’obtention du Prix Nobel de littérature. Par ailleurs, les textes de ses chansons, qui se situent entre poésie surréaliste et musique traditionnelle américaine, sont étudiés dans les universités américaines. Son dernier album studio, Modern Times, paru fin août 2006, est entré directement n°1 dans les charts aux États Unis, faisant de lui l’unique chanteur au monde âgé de 65 ans encore en vie, n°1 au hit parade.

1941-1961: les débuts

Les grands-parents de Robert Zimmerman sont originaires d’Europe de l’Est, dont ils ont fui les pogroms de la fin du xixe et du début du xxe siècle. Ben D. Stone, son grand-père maternel s’installe à Hibbing, tandis que Zigman Zimmerman qui a fui Odessa en 1907, s’installe à Duluth, dans le Minnesota. Beatrice Stone et Abraham Zimmerman, deux de leurs enfants, se marient en 1934 et donnent naissance à Robert le 24 mai 1941. Celui-ci passe sa petite enfance à Duluth puis en 1947, déménage avec ses parents et David, son jeune frère, à Hibbing.

Dans son autobiographie Les Chroniques (2004), Dylan écrit que sa grand mère maternelle portait le nom de Kirghiz, que la famille de celle-ci avait vécu à Trabzon, sur la côte turque de la Mer Noire ; bien qu’elle eût grandi dans le district de Kağızman, elle venait d’Istanboul, dans l’Est de la Turquie. Son grand père paternel était originaire de Trabzon.

Hibbing

Hibbing est à l’époque une ville minière d’environ 17000 habitants, aux mœurs conservatrices et de tradition chrétienne. Abraham, guéri de la poliomyélite qu’il a contractée à Duluth, ouvre une quincaillerie. Vers l’âge de 8 ou 9 ans, Robert s’initie au piano puis plus tard, à la guitare et à l’harmonica. Il se passionne tout d’abord pour la musique country de Hank Williams dont il répète les morceaux, et écoute des radios qui diffusent du blues, tel que celui de Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, John Lee Hooker et Jimmy Reed. Il sera également marqué par Elvis Presley, Buddy Holly, Bill Haley et Little Richard, dont la gestuelle scénique et les attitudes anticonformistes fascinent la génération adolescente autant qu’elles scandalisent ses aînés.

Au lycée, l’adolescent intègre des petites formations, telle que The Golden Chords, et avec lesquelles il joue dans des fêtes et des « Talent contests ». Avec des amis partageant son goût pour la musique, il étend sa culture musicale en échangeant des disques de jazz et de rythm and blues.

Minneapolis

En septembre 1959, âgé de 18 ans, Zimmerman s’inscrit à l’Université du Minnesota pour y suivre des cours d’art et s’installe à Dinkytown, le quartier étudiant de Minneapolis. Peu assidu aux cours qu’il ne suivra que quelques mois, il découvre le folk (Peter Seeger, Cisco Houston) « des chansons qu’on tient toujours de quelqu’un ». Il joue occasionnellement dans des cafés folk tels que The Scholar ou The Purple Onion pour 2 ou 3 dollars, c’est à cette époque qu’il commence à se faire appeler Bob Dylan.

L’origine de ce nom fut longtemps considérée comme une référence au poète gallois Dylan Thomas, que Zimmerman connaissait, mais il s’agit en réalité de la déformation de son deuxième prénom Allen. Au Chicago Daily News qui l’interrogeait en 1965 sur l’influence de Dylan Thomas sur le choix de son nom, il rétorquait: « Non, Bon Dieu Non. J’ai pris le Dylan parce que j’ai un oncle qui s’appelle Dillion. J’ai modifié l’orthographe mais seulement parce que ça faisait mieux. J’ai lu des trucs de Dylan Thomas et ça ne ressemble pas aux miens. ». Le 9 aout 1962, Dylan fait légalement changer son nom à la Cour Suprême.

Dylan est un gamin aux allures de vagabond, sa façon de jouer de la guitare est jugée presque convenable, sa voix trop monotone, trop rauque, mais il séduit. Il apprend beaucoup et vite : en recherche continuelle de nouvelles chansons à apprendre, il profite notamment de la culture et des discothèques folk des parents de ses amis – à une époque où les disques folk sont rares et précieux. Affabulant parfois, Dylan acquiert progressivement toutes les caractéristiques d’un chanteur folk authentique.

Il fait la connaissance de David Whittaker, étudiant gauchiste avec qui il devient ami, et par lequel il découvre Woody Guthrie, dont il dévore l’autobiographie, Bound For Glory. En décembre 1960, Dylan prend la route de New York pour y rencontrer son idole, malade de la Chorée de Huntington, qui séjourne au Greystone Hospital, dans le New-Jersey.

New York

La Renaissance Folk ne se développe cependant pas au seul Greenwich Village : À Cambridge, en Nouvelle-Angleterre, Joan Baez et Eric Von Schmidt enthousiasment également leur public, notamment à l’Unicorn et au Club 47. C’est à ce dernier que Dylan rencontre Carolyn Hester, une chanteuse de Folk qui vient de signer avec Columbia Records. Carolyn est à la recherche d’un harmoniciste pour l’album auquel elle travaille, et propose la place à Dylan, qui accepte. Lors des séances d’enregistrement, Dylan joue à Carolyn un morceau qu’il a composé, Come Back Baby, qui séduit John H. Hammond, un des directeurs artistiques de Columbia. Au fur et à mesure des séances, Hammond prend conscience du talent de Dylan et, malgré les réticences de sa direction, lui fait signer un contrat: « J’ai vu ce gosse avec sa casquette qui jouait de l’harmonica – pas terrible d’ailleurs, mais j’ai tout de suite été séduit. Je lui ai demandé s’il savait chanter. S’il composait. S’il ne voulait pas enregistrer. »

L’imprésario de Dylan s’appelle Al Grossman, agent célèbre et controversé de New York. Salué pour les succès auxquels il a participé, il est aussi critiqué pour ses objectifs essentiellement commerciaux, peu conciliables avec la misère populaire que dénoncent les chanteurs folk. Grossman est également le cofondateur, avec George Wein, propriétaire d’un club folk à Boston, en 1959, du festival Folk de Newport, et gère les carrières du Kingston Trio, d’Odetta et du trio folk Peter, Paul and Mary. Cachant son intérêt à promouvoir la carrière de Dylan, Grossman incite Izzy Young, propriétaire du Folklore Center au Village à produire le premier concert de Dylan en tête d’affiche, au Carnegie Chapter Hall, le 4 novembre 1961.

En mars 1962 paraît le premier album de Dylan (Bob Dylan, 1962). Composé de reprises folk et blues, il contient également deux titres originaux: Talkin’ New-York et Song To Woody. Le disque, confiné au cénacle folk, se vend mal, mais le contrat de Dylan, farouchement défendu par Hammond et Johnny Cash, n’est pas rompu, comme il fut au départ envisagé.

1962-1964: une notoriété naissante

Broadside

Depuis février 1962, paraît périodiquement Broadside Magazine, un magazine folk fondé par Agnes Cunningham et à l’initiative de Pete Seeger. Des albums seront également produits par le magazine, The broadside Ballads, où Dylan apparait sous le pseudonyme Blind Boy Grunt. Dans ce magazine pour lequel écrivent régulièrement Gil Turner, Tom Paxton et Phil Ochs sont publiés les textes de chansons d’actualité, les « topical songs ». Dylan y écrit une douzaine de textes, souvent écrits dans l’instant, qui témoignent de la faculté incoercible de Dylan à composer sur tous les sujets, de l’inanité de la chasse aux communistes au dégoût qu’il éprouve après l’exécution sommaire d’un noir âgé de 14 ans et la relaxe de ses assassins, blancs.

Porté par la puissance évocatrice de ses textes, Dylan devient la voix d’une génération excédée par les injustices et le conservatisme qui prévalent alors. Blowin’ in the Wind, que Dylan compose en avril 1962, parait dans le numéro six de Broadside. Reprise sur tous les campus et popularisée par le trio Peter, Paul and Mary, elle symbolise la dimension sociale et politique qu’est en train d’acquérir son jeune auteur.

The Freewheelin

Blowin’ In the Wind sera la première chanson de son deuxième album , The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, qu’il commence à enregistrer en juin. Pour cela, Dylan compose de nombreuses chansons engagées telles que « A hard rain’s gonna fall », écrite pendant la crise des missiles de Cuba, « Masters of War » et « Oxford Town » . Mais il rompt également avec la tradition folk de son premier album avec des titres plus intimistes tels que « Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright » , « Girl From The North Country », et « Bob Dylan’s Dream », révélateurs de la mythologie et du sens de la poésie qui l’habitent.

Les sessions d’enregistrement et la production de l’album, plus longue que celle du premier, révèlent également l’animosité qui oppose John H. Hammond à Albert Grossman: Celui-ci conteste tout d’abord la validité du contrat qui lie CBS à Dylan, mineur lorsqu’il le signa; il s’oppose ensuite à Hammond sur la production de « Mixed up Confusion », accompagnée par un piano, une batterie, deux guitares et une basse. Le simple, qui comprend également « Corrina, Corrina », ne concorde pas avec l’image de chanteur de folk de Dylan et est rapidement retiré de la vente.

Premières apparitions télévisées

Découvert par le réalisateur Philippe Saville à Greenwich Village, Dylan part à Londres en décembre pour participer à une pièce télévisée: Madhouse On Castle Street, diffusée le soir du 13 janvier 1963 à la BBC. La pièce décrit l’histoire d’un jeune homme rebelle qui s’enferme dans une pension et refuse d’en sortir; sa sœur et son voisinage tentent d’en découvrir la raison. Dylan est d’abord pressenti pour jouer le rôle principal, mais constatant le manque de naturel de Dylan lorsqu’il joue, Saville réécrit la pièce et attribue à Dylan un rôle de narrateur chantant. Dylan interprête quatre chansons dont Blowin In the Wind, dont c’est la première diffusion; L’original de l’enregistrement fut détruit en 1968 et aucune copie n’a depuis été retrouvée.

Le 12 mai 1963, Dylan doit participer au Ed Sullivan Show, une émission accueillant tous les styles de musique et dont la diffusion est nationale; elle est présentée par Ed Sullivan et produite par Bob Precht. Ceux-ci acceptent « Talkin’ John Birch Society Blues », que Dylan désire interpréter, mais Stove Phelps, conseiller à la programmation de CBS, la refuse : dans cette chanson moqueuse, les membres de la John Birch Society sont ridiculisés et sont associés à Hitler. Phelps dit craindre un procès en diffamation, à la surprise de Ed Sullivan39: Hootenany, une autre émission télévisée avait accepté de diffuser une chanson du Chad Mitchell Trio, dont la cible était aussi la John Birch Society. Dylan refuse alors d’interpréter une autre chanson, et s’en va, furieux. La chanson, sous la pression des avocats de CBS, est également retirée de The Freewheelin’, sur lequel la chanson était initialement prévue.

Cet épisode ne marque pas l’arrêt des apparitions télévisées de Bob Dylan: En mai, est diffusée une émission de Westinghouse Studios, intitulée Folk songs and more folk songs, présentée par John Henry Faulk, à laquelle participent également les Brother Four, Carolyn Hester, Barbara Dane et The Staple Singers. Dylan y interprète « Blowin’ In The Wind », « Man Of Constant Sorrow » et « Ballad Of Hollis Brow ».

L’engagement social

Le 28 août 1963, Dylan, comme Joan Baez, Mahalia Jackson, etc. participe à la Marche sur Washington, où plus de 200 000 pacifistes se rassemblent pour dénoncer l’inégalité des droits civiques que subit la population noire. Après que les orateurs se furent succédé et que Martin Luther King eut prononcé son célèbre discours « I have a dream », il interprète « Only A Pawn In Their Game » , tandis que Peter, Paul and Mary chantent Blowin’ In The Wind.

Cet épisode illustre l’implication de Dylan et de nombreux autres artistes pour les droits civiques à cette période: Par l’intermédiaire de Suze Rotolo, qui travaillait au CORE (le « Congress of Racial Equality »), et de Broadside, il cotoyait le milieu contestaire étudiant, qui militait pour les minorités, dans un contexte difficile. Le 10 mai 1963, à Greenwood, dans le Mississipi, Dylan avait chanté à un rassemblement organisé par le SNCC, pour inciter la population noire des États du Sud à s’inscrire sur les listes électorales3. De même, sa présence aux concerts de Joan Baez, leur relation amoureuse, contribuèrent à forger son image de héraut de la contestation sociale, au coté de Joan.

Surgissent cependant les signes de l’étroitesse, de l’inexactitude de cette image:

Le 13 décembre 1963, au cours d’un banquet de charité organisé par le Comité de Secours aux Libertés Civiques (Emergency Civil Liberties Commitee, ECLC), Dylan reçoit le prix Tom Paine, qui récompense « une personnalité qui a symbolisé le juste combat pour la liberté et l’égalité ». Grisé par l’alcool, il prononce un discours désastreux.

À l’occasion d’un profil réalisé par Nat Hentof pour le New Yorker, Dylan décrivit son impression: « Je suis tombé dans un piège quand j’ai accepté le prix Tom Paine […] dès que je m’y suis pointé je me suis senti oppressé. […] Ça m’a vraiment pris à la gorge. Je me suis mis à boire. J’ai… vu un groupe de gens qui n’avaient rien à voir avec mon genre d’idées politiques. J’ai regardé le parterre et j’ai eu la trouille. […] On aurait dit qu’ils donnaient de leur argent parce qu’ils culpabilisaient »46. Dans cet article, Dylan dit également: « je fais partie d’aucun Mouvement. Sinon je ne pourrais rien faire d’autre que d’être dans le Mouvement. Je ne peux pas voir des gens s’asseoir et fabriquer des règles pour moi. Je fais un tas de trucs qu’aucun Mouvement n’autoriserait. »

Joan Baez, de laquelle Dylan s’éloigna en 1964, le décrivit de la façon suivante: « Pour on ne sait quelle raison, à mon avis, il veut se libérer de toute responsabilité. N’importe quelle responsabilité, concernant n’importe qui, me semble-t-il. S’en tirer tout juste avec ce que les autres ont à offrir. ».

Une évolution sensible

C’est le 10 février 196448 que parait The Times They Are a-Changin’, l’album qui constitue le deuxième volet de ce qui est parfois appelé la trilogie folk de Bob Dylan.

Sur cet album, sur lequel Dylan a pour la première fois un contrôle total49, il approfondit encore le registre de la « topical song » avec des chansons jaillies du contexte politique et social aux États-Unis: par exemple « Only a Pawn in Their Game » qui évoque le meurtre de Medgar Evers, leader de la NAACP pour le Mississipi au début de l’été 1963, « The Lonesome Death Of Hattie Carroll », inspirée par un fait divers de la banlieue de Baltimore, ou un homme « de bonne société » tua une domestique,après l’avoir frappée.

Surtout, l’album contient « The Times They Are A-Changin’ » qui, deux ans après « Blowin’ In The Wind » devient le nouvel hymne de la jeunesse. Cette chanson résume l’humeur des années 1960, dans laquelle une voix prophétique annonce un monde en pleine mutation, où journalistes, critiques, hommes politiques ne doivent pas barrer la route aux eaux montantes du changement.

Cependant, The Times They Are a-Changin’ révèle une évolution sensible chez son auteur: tout d’abord au dos de la pochette et dans un encart sont imprimés 11 Outlined Epitaph, « 11 épitaphes esquissées », qui constituent la première publication de poésie de Dylan, et où, subjectivement, il parle plus librement de lui-même. Des allusions à route, à la fuite y sont également récurrentes. Ces poèmes seront republiés plus tard dans Writings And Drawings et seront également le support d’une biographie de Dylan: Bob Dylan, Epitaphes 11.
D’autre part, sont incluses dans l’album des chansons comme « One Too Many Mornings » ou « Boots of Spanish Letter », où Dylan exprime des sentiments sur les femmes, l’amour, l’amitié, que les ballades folk traditionnelles ne savent pas exprimer.

Son public, aussi, a changé: à des amoureux de musique folk, calmes, aux mœurs vestimentaires sobres succède un public pop, jeune, enthousiaste, exubérant. C’est aussi ce que remarque Terri Van Ronk, qui s’occupa de la toute jeune carrière de dylan55, à l’occasion d’un concert au Carnegie Hall le 26 octobre 1963, devant 3000 spectateurs :

« C’était très étonnant. Comme un avant-goût de la Beatlemania. La première grande ascension de Bobby était déjà là, dans ce concert de Carnegie Hall. Quand ce fut fini, nous nous retrouvâmes tous dans les coulisses, et ils cherchaient la ruse pour échapper à l’assaut des jeunes filles qui hurlaient au dehors.»

Another Side

Son album suivant, Another Side Of Bob Dylan, est enregistré en un jour en juin, et parait le 8 août 1964. C’est un album dans la continuité de Freewheeling, qui reste fidèle à l’idiome folk (guitare et harmonica), mais il n’y a plus de chanson protestataire. Ici aussi, des poèmes accompagnent l’album.

Les thèmes centraux de cet album sont l’amour, la liberté individuelle, les rapports humains. Dylan y développe également un autre thème d’importance: la futilité de l’engagement, comme le soutient le titre « my back pages »: Dylan s’y moque de lui-même, de sa vision manichéenne, et juge que les vieux discours et autres symboles ne sont que futilités et mensonges (« Ah j’étais si vieux alors / Je suis plus jeune que ça maintenant »).
Dylan participe ainsi à la création d’un climat culturel qui allait permettre aux artistes, aux groupes de rock de faire partager leur vision poétique, de dépasser les limites de la chanson d’alors58. Lors de l’enregistrement en studio de l’album, Dylan confie à Nat Hentoff, journaliste au New Yorker: « Il n’y aura pas de chanson protestataire dans cet album. Ces chansons, je les avais faites parce que je ne voyais personne faire ce genre de choses. Maintenant beaucoup de gens font des chansons de protestation, pointant du doigt ce qui ne va pas. Je ne veux plus écrire pour les gens, être un porte-parole. [...] Je veux que mes textes viennent de l’intérieur de moi-même ».

L’album est mal accueilli par la critique et par le milieu folk, lui reprochant notamment son excès de subjectivité, son manque d’esthétisme. Un journal rédigea notamment la critique suivante: « Mais Bob / Il a deux problèmes / des petits / la langue qu’il écrit / est pas de l’anglais / la mesure qu’il bat / est pas de la chanson / et c’t’espèce d’/ intellectualisme inverti / fait rien que / me barber à mort. »

1965-1966 : la première période rock

Fin 1964, Dylan ne joue quasiment plus que des nouveaux titres, à l’étrange et sulfureux parfum, ce que ne comprend pas un public venu applaudir la vedette du folk. The Beatles, qu’il a rencontrés quelques mois plus tôt et initiés à la marijuana, montrent l’exemple : l’avenir est dans les instruments électriques. En 1965, il engage le guitariste montant de l’époque, Mike Bloomfield, le « Clapton américain » et enregistre un nouvel album, mi-acoustique, mi-électrique, Bringing It All Back Home. Son public folk ne suit pas et boude l’album, pourtant encore assez proche des précédents, même sur les titres avec instruments électriques.

Trois mois plus tard, paraît Highway 61 Revisited. Entièrement électrique, l’album s’appuie sur un rock basique, très incisif. Là où les morceaux de l’album précédent n’étaient souvent que du folk « électrifié », ceux-ci laissent laissent libre cours aux guitares rageuses et aux orgues tortueuses. Les paroles, abstraites et imagées, sont aussi à l’extrémité de la sobriété folk : Dans « Ballad of a Thin Man », un homme d’affaires cherche en vain la sortie d’un labyrinthe peuplé d’ « hommes nus » qui, en un étrange retournement de situation, voient en lui les monstres qu’ils sont à ses yeux.

Les admirateurs du chanteur sont perplexes : Bob Dylan est pour eux la perpétuation d’une tradition solidement ancrée, entre musique américaine des origines et engagement social, et le rock une musique commerciale, dansante et vulgaire. Dylan, soutenu par un petit groupe de rock garage, les Hawks, qui deviendront plus tard The Band, part en tournée qui est, à l’époque, la plus longue jamais entreprise. Dylan joue ses nouvelles chansons partout dans le monde, et partout il est hué. Le divorce est consommé : Dylan ne sera jamais là où on l’attend.

Au milieu de cette tournée éprouvante, où le groupe joue plus fort que n’importe qui avant eux, Dylan enregistre le dernier volet de « la trilogie électrique » : Blonde on Blonde.

Enregistré en deux semaines de studio pendant lesquelles Dylan écrit souvent les paroles quelques minutes avant le début de la session, Blonde on Blonde, premier double album de l’histoire du rock, est un étrange moment de calme au milieu de la fureur de cette époque. Voix et musique s’y fondent pour nous raconter toutes les dernières expériences de Dylan, vécues et rêvées, dans une ode à l’amour sous toutes ses formes, de la mère à la prostituée, en passant par l’amour illusoire que donne la drogue. Dylan est au sommet du monde, vibrant intérieurement de mille sensations étranges, et fait partager ses expériences dans cet album si surréaliste qu’il est difficile de le décrire. Un chef d’œuvre hors du temps qui fait de Dylan la locomotive du rock and roll.

1968-1970 : les racines country

En juillet 1966, l’épopée rock and roll de Bob Dylan s’arrête plus brutalement encore qu’elle n’avait commencé : la moto Triumph Bonneville du chanteur sort de la route, l’envoyant à l’hôpital, ce qui l’écarte des scènes pendant trois ans. Forcé au repos, Dylan rompt avec la vie remplie d’excès qu’il menait jusqu’alors, tandis que les rumeurs les plus folles circulent à son propos : on le croit mort, fou, kidnappé par la CIA, etc. Sa longue retraite est l’occasion pour lui et ses amis du Band,d’enregistrer des ébauches de chansons, qui sortiront dans les années 1970 sous le nom de Basement Tapes.

Ce n’est qu’en 1968 que Dylan réapparaît, avec John Wesley Harding, un album acoustique apaisé, qui a déçu à l’époque beaucoup d’admirateurs. Il montre un Dylan moins surréaliste et davantage intéressé par le passé de son pays et des histoires populaires nimbées d’un mystère irréel. Pour autant, les admirateurs ne se sont pas calmés : Dylan est encore leur meneur et ils attendent qu’il assume son rôle. Harcelé, le chanteur se réfugie à la campagne, puis prend anonymement un appartement à New York, mais rien n’y fait.

Ce vedettariat, dont il ne veut pas, est sans doute en partie à l’origine des deux albums suivants, où Dylan habillé en cow-boy, s’essaie dans la musique country. Nashville Skyline et le double album Self Portrait, tout en ballades gentillettes et douces, consternent les admirateurs : leur idole abandonne la contre-culture pour devenir un tranquille père de famille. Nashville Skyline marque la rencontre de Dylan avec un autre monstre sacré de la chanson américaine, Johnny Cash. Les chansons « I Threw It All Away », leur reprise de « Girl From the North Country » participent à la réussite de l’album. Bob Dylan investit la country de son génie poétique. L’album Self Portrait est plus hétérogène.

Les années 1970, renaissances et déclins

Au début des années 1970, Dylan se consacre à sa vie de famille. Il sort un album très calme, New Morning, détesté à l’époque par la critique et aujourd’hui considéré comme moyen. Il participe au très controversé concert pour le Bangladesh et joue dans un western, Pat Garret and Billy The Kid, dont il écrit la musique. En grande partie instrumentale, cette bande originale contient tout de même un tube, Knocking on Heaven’s Door. Ce n’est que vers 1975, après un album souvent jugé décevant avec The Band (Planet Waves, qui contient tout de même le classique Forever Young), que Dylan commence à s’ennuyer, et décide donc de repartir en tournée.

Les concerts, dans de très grandes salles, sont énormes : Dylan est en grande forme, décidé à reconquérir ce titre de rock star auquel il avait lui-même renoncé quelques années plus tôt. Il chante de manière plus agressive que jamais, mâchant ses mots, mais le public n’en a cure : il donne enfin l’impression d’être vivant et c’est l’essentiel. La tournée est suivie par un disque qui explique peut-être ce retour aux émotions fortes, car Dylan y conte son divorce avec sa femme Sara. Blood on the Tracks, sans doute l’un des disques les plus cathartiques du rock, est depuis considéré comme l’un de ses chefs-d’œuvre. Les chansons explorent toutes les facettes de la détresse amoureuse : l’apitoiement sur soi-même, la colère, les rechutes amoureuses, etc. Tout cela dans un style poétique inimitable et avec un tout nouveau son, synthèse parfaite entre l’ancien et le nouveau : acoustique certes, mais habillé de batteries, de basses et de claviers qui lui donnent une épaisseur terriblement poignante. Le disque remporte un grand succès, qui ne suffit pas à sortir Dylan de sa dépression, mais ne lui enlève pas non plus son légendaire sens de la répartie : à une journaliste qui lui confie son enthousiasme, il rétorque qu’il ne voit vraiment pas comment on peut aimer expérimenter des sentiments tels que ceux exprimés par Blood on the Tracks.

Dès l’année suivante, le chanteur, de retour pour de bon, réunit ses vieux amis, parmi lesquels la chanteuse folk Joan Baez, et part pour une tournée qui se veut épique et bohème, dans un esprit hippie déjà un peu dépassé à l’époque. Au début, tout marche formidablement : la caravane, forte de dizaines de fêtards et de musiciens, fait escale dans de petites salles, joue avec des musiciens de bar recrutés sur place, un film est tourné. Tout ce bel enthousiasme finira hélas par retomber, mais non sans avoir produit son lot de musique d’exception : un live paru dans les Bootleg Series et l’album Desire, résultat de la coopération de Dylan et du parolier Jacques Levy (!).

Cette étrange idée donne pourtant de très bonnes chansons, récits nimbés de mystères plein de pyramides, de gangsters et de voyous, habillées par une orchestration très riche où le violon, tenu par une musicienne rencontrée par hasard pendant la tournée, occupe une grande place. On y trouve même, pour la première fois depuis plus de dix ans, un chant de protestation ! Hurricane raconte le procès du boxeur Hurricane Carter emprisonné pour meurtre, et que Dylan est résolu à faire libérer. Album à part dans sa discographie, Desire sera hélas le dernier grand disque de Bob Dylan avant près de trois décennies. Les années 1970 se terminent en effet avec Street Legal, qui nous montre un Dylan à nouveau déprimé et fatigué, et ne remporte pas un grand succès.

1979 – 1981 : la période chrétienne

En 1979, Dylan opère un de ces retournements de situation spectaculaire dont il a le secret : du jour au lendemain ou presque, il se convertit au christianisme et se met à écrire sur sa toute nouvelle relation intime avec Dieu. Si le premier disque de cette période, Slow Train Coming, avec notamment Mark Knopfler à la guitare, se révèle sympathique, on ne peut en dire autant de la suite : sur les désastreux Saved et Shot of Love, il écrit ses pires textes, qui semblent directement recopiés d’un livre de cantiques sans aucun ajout personnel ou presque, chante d’une voix brisée et habille sa musique de chœurs et de cuivres assourdissants. Peu appréciés, sauf par quelques uns pour des raisons religieuses, ces albums contiennent toutefois quelques excellents morceaux tel que Every Grain of Sand.

Les années 1980

En 1983, Dylan met fin à sa période chrétienne aussi brutalement qu’il l’avait inaugurée, et enchaîne étrangement avec Infidels, un disque considéré comme moyen dont les thèmes tournent autour… du judaïsme vers lequel il opère un important retour. Les années 80 n’ont notoirement pas été la meilleure période pour les grands artistes rock des années 1960 et 1970, c’est aussi le cas pour Dylan : ses albums sont le plus souvent gâchés par le son discoïde de l’époque, qui ne leur convient particulièrement pas, et ses concerts par le manque de conviction qu’il met désormais à chanter. De son propre aveu, le chanteur a perdu quelque chose de ce qui faisait son génie : les chansons ne viennent plus avec la même facilité qu’avant, et son enthousiasme est usé. La fin de la décennie le trouve associé avec le Grateful Dead pour une série de concerts, et l’énergie semble l’habiter à nouveau. Sur les conseils de Bono, chanteur de U2, il enregistre ensuite avec le producteur Daniel Lanois, connu pour son approche « à l’ancienne », un album, Oh Mercy, qui marquera son « grand retour ». D’autre part, en 1988, Dylan a fondé les Traveling Wilburys, super-groupe regroupant, sous des pseudonymes, Dylan, George Harrison, Jeff Lynne, Tom Petty et Roy Orbison. Le groupe se séparera en 1990 après 2 albums d’un Rock and Roll simple mais éminemment sympathique.

1992 – 1995 : le retour aux sources

Alors que sa maison de disques commence à éditer des coffrets regroupant ses archives les plus attendues depuis des décennies, Dylan débute la décennie 1990 par un retour aux sources les plus profondes de sa musique, avec les albums Good As I Been To You et World Gone Wrong, entièrement composés de reprises de très vieux et souvent très obscurs titres folk et blues. Mieux qu’un nouveau retournement, un pur retour aux sources. Et la critique, enfin, apprécie.

Depuis 1997 : la renaissance sans fin

En 1997, Dylan s’associe à nouveau avec Daniel Lanois pour enregistrer Time Out of Mind, premier album de compositions originales depuis sept ans, qui sera salué comme son meilleur depuis Desire. Peuplé de compositions habitées, animé par un son profond typique de Lanois, Time Out of Mind est une chronique désespérée mais bien vivante de la vieillesse d’une vedette du rock. Dylan y pose un regard sans complaisance sur son âge, évitant au passage les clichés rock and roll cultivés jusqu’au ridicule par certains autres « dinosaures » du rock.

Vu le ton très mélancolique de ce disque, on pouvaiit craindre qu’il ne s’agisse de son dernier. Crainte dissipée en septembre 2001 par la sortie de Love and Theft, album salué encore une fois comme un succès. Très bluesy et jazzy, dépouillé et proche du son de ses concerts, ce nouvel album est nettement plus enthousiaste que ses prédécesseurs, il s’agit même du premier album de Dylan depuis des années à ne pas être nostalgique !

D’autre part, Dylan enchaîne depuis la fin des années 1980 un nombre étonnant de concerts sur les cinq continents, davantage que n’importe quel autre artiste de sa génération, à un rythme qui s’est encore accéléré ces dernières années. Ce Never Ending Tour (« Tournée sans fin », en français), comme le surnomme Dylan lui-même, est l’occasion pour lui de revisiter ses standards en laissant la part belle à l’improvisation : son groupe change de morceaux tous les soirs, et ne rejoue quasiment jamais une chanson de la même façon d’un soir sur l’autre.

D’autre part, alors que Martin Scorsese lui consacrait un film documentaire (“No Direction Home”), Dylan finalisait la rédaction de la première partie de ses mémoires. Surprenant comme toujours, ce volume apporte une vision personnelle sur des périodes mal connues de sa vie, comme ses débuts à New York, ou l’enregistrement de Oh Mercy en 1989. La parution régulière des Bootleg Series, enregistrements pirates jadis introuvables, désormais remasterisés et officiels, et dont la source paraît intarissable, ravit les admirateurs en levant le voile sur des enregistrements légendaires disponibles pour la première fois.

Enfin, le 28 août 2006 paraît un nouvel album intitulé ironiquement Modern Times, en référence au film de Charles Chaplin. Il constitue le 3e volet d’une trilogie commencée en 1997 avec Time Out of Mind. Produit par Dylan et enregistré dans des conditions quasi live avec le groupe qui l’accompagne sur scène, ce nouvel album retrouve les accents de jazz, de ragtime, de bluegrass et de rockabilly de son précédent opus Love and Theft, dans une ambiance plus feutrée et glamour, qui fait désormais clairement référence à la période d’or des années 1930 : celle des postes à galène, de Bing Crosby et de Louis Armstrong. Pour accompagner la sortie de cet album, Dylan a déclaré dans le magazine Rolling Stone que rien de ce qui avait été fait depuis les 20 dernières années n’avait grâce à ses yeux.

Dans une prose biblique, parfois surréaliste, matinée de références au monde contemporain à travers des évocations de l’ouragan Katrina, des attentats du 11 septembre 2001 ou encore une déclaration d’amour déguisée à la jeune vedette du RnB Alicia Keys, Dylan y revisite à travers 10 titres intemporels les influences musicales de son jeune âge, endossant avec aisance et une gaieté non dissimulée le costume de la tradition américaine du siècle qui l’a précédé. On annonce pour décembre 2007 la sortie d’un film de Todd Haynes, “I’m not there” ou la vie du musicien sera interprétée par 7 acteurs différents.

Dylan classique ou moderne ? Près de 45 ans après son arrivée à New York, le barde énigmatique de Duluth n’en finit toujours pas de faire parler de lui.

L’influence de Dylan sur son époque

« Bob Dylan ne donnait pas tant l’impression de se tenir à un tournant décisif de l’espace-temps culturel que d’être ce tournant décisif. Comme si la civilisation avait pu évoluer à son gré, ou même au gré de sa fantaisie [...] »
Greil Marcus – La République Invisible.

Riche d’une quarantaine d’albums, l’œuvre de Bob Dylan réunit la musique traditionnelle qui a accompagné l’édification des États-Unis et la modernité la plus avant-gardiste : L’Ouest profond et Greenwich Village. Il est l’un des artistes qui ont le plus révolutionné la musique populaire dans les années 1960 et 1970, contribuant à l’élever au rang d’un véritable art. Son influence déborde même du cadre de la musique, s’étendant à la littérature, au cinéma et même à la politique, puisqu’il fut, de manière plus ou moins involontaire, l’un des meneurs de la contre-culture de cette époque.

Dès ses débuts en 1961, Dylan fait parler de lui dans les milieux folk américains en adoptant une manière de chanter très expressive, qui surprend encore parfois aujourd’hui, loin des standards de la « belle » chanson. Souvent accusé de « ne pas savoir » chanter, Dylan est en réalité l’un des artistes modernes à avoir le plus fait progresser l’usage de la voix, l’employant comme un véritable instrument de musique et recherchant davantage l’expressivité que la beauté classique. Il a considérablement expérimenté sur l’usage des dissonances, se faisant ainsi l’héritier direct des bluesmen des années 1930, tel Howlin’ Wolf.

Musicalement, même si ses compositions restent le plus souvent relativement « classiques », il a contribué, au côté d’artistes comme Eric Clapton et The Rolling Stones, à faire entrer la musique traditionnelle américaine – blues, folk, country … – dans l’ère moderne, comme le montrent les disques de sa « première époque rock », entre 1965 et 1966.

Mais le domaine dans lequel Dylan a eu une importance cruciale est celui des textes: Dès son deuxième album (le premier étant presque entièrement composé de reprises, comme cela se pratiquait très couramment à l’époque), il a imposé une manière d’écrire des chansons totalement unique à son époque. Inspirés par la littérature, la poésie surréaliste, mais aussi les « folksongs » réalistes de la grande tradition américaine, ses textes dessinent un univers intérieur d’une richesse exceptionnelle. Dès le début, le thème principal de l’œuvre de Dylan est son expérience personnelle du monde, sa vision des choses, qu’elle soit réelle ou fantasmée. Le surréalisme qui imprègne profondément la plupart de ses textes, même les plus simples, atteindra son apogée en 1965 et 1966 lorsque Dylan délaissera le folk pour le rock and roll.

Libéré de toutes les contraintes du format folk, une créativité exacerbée par l’usage de drogues, il écrit alors plusieurs chefs-d’œuvre qui en font un poète majeur du xxe siècle. Loin d’être incompréhensibles et absurdes, comme ils sont parfois considérés, les textes de cette époque ne cherchent pas à avoir un sens figé, mais à décrire des impressions et des sentiments au delà des mots. Comme un tableau abstrait, ils peuvent acquérir un sens différent selon l’humeur de l’auditeur, tout en conservant une très forte identité. En cela, les mots de Dylan s’approchent de l’essence même de la musique, qui tire une partie de son pouvoir du fait qu’elle est le seul art à n’être aucunement figuratif, à une époque où la plupart des chansons populaires, et particulièrement les chansons rock, parlaient encore de (mes)aventures sentimentales et de voitures. Elles ont considérablement influencé l’ensemble des artistes pop de l’époque, au delà de l’univers du rock and roll et même de la musique, et ont changé de manière radicale la carrière d’artistes aussi talentueux que les Beatles.

Enfin, par ses textes, ses prises de position, mais aussi par son attitude envers son statut de vedette et de musicien, Dylan a joué un rôle très important sur l’évolution de la société dans la seconde moitié du xxe siècle. Adulé par le public folk et les milieux révolutionnaires de gauche du début des années 1960, il refusa d’assumer ce rôle, préférant inciter ses admirateurs, comme il l’exprime dans certains de ses textes (“Don’t follow leaders / Watch the parkin’ meters”), à penser par eux-mêmes et à renoncer aux messies, de quelque bord qu’ils soient.

En refusant de participer aux jeux de l’industrie de la musique, en changeant sans cesse d’orientation musicale, ce qui lui a régulièrement valu d’être accusé de « traîtrise » par ses anciens admirateurs, il a changé l’image du musicien populaire, faisant entrer la musique pop de plain-pied dans le monde des arts « sérieux ». Même ses errements artistiques, comme ses disques des années 1980, où il inventa le rock chrétien, étaient, semble-t-il, surtout une tentative d’en finir avec l’idolâtrie dont il était l’objet depuis les années 1960. Certes, la complexité de l’œuvre de Dylan l’a empêché d’être un très gros vendeur de disques, et donc de toucher un public aussi large que d’autres vedettes de la pop. Mais, en influençant de manière directe presque tous les artistes de son temps, il a considérablement pesé sur le devenir d’une musique qui a changé la vision du monde de millions de personnes.

Les passages de Bob Dylan au Festival Folk de Newport

Le 3 aout 2002, le retour de Bob Dylan au festival de folk de Newport fut l’occasion de s’interroger sur la rupture présumée entre lui et son public en 1965. La forte conspuation perceptible sur les bandes n’est pas anecdotique: elle ponctuera en effet les tournées américaines et européennes qui suivront.

1963

Révélée 4 ans plus tôt à ce même festival, Joan Baez est la tête d’affiche de l’édition 1963 et y introduit Dylan (chemise militaire kaki et blue-jeans délavés), précédé par sa renommée grandissante de chanteur protestataire. Après son tour de chant, il rejoint sur scène Peter, Paul and Mary, Joan Baez, Pete Seeger et The Freedom Singers, et la fête s’achève en chœur sur « We shall Overcome ». Le dimanche soir, Baez, qui chante « With God on our side » l’invite à la rejoindre sur scène et le festival se conclut sur le triomphe de Dylan, alors en communion totale avec son public5.

1964

En 1964, Dylan, par ses chansons, les concerts qu’il donne est une célébrité du monde folk, tandis que les « topical song », que composent des artistes tels que Phil Ochs, Tom Paxton ou Buffy Sainte-Marie sont très populaires. Dylan, qui fait trois apparitions cette année, chante cependant des chansons plus personnelles de Another Side, à paraitre, telles que « All I really want to do », « It ain’ me » et « To Ramona », ainsi que « Mr Tambourine Man » (Bringing It All Back Home). Ses premiers fans le ressentent comme une trahison: Irwin Silber, le rédacteur en chef du magazine folk Sing Out! rédigea ainsi en novembre 1964 « une lettre ouverte à Dylan » où il manifeste son inquiétude à propos du « détachement », du « potentiel d’auto-destruction » de Dylan et de ses nouvelles chansons « centrées sur lui-même, sentimentales et cyniques »65, tandis que Paul Wolfe, un auteur de Broadside, décrivit Dylan comme « un faussaire, un hypocrite et un manipulateur de son public ».

1965

Le 25 juillet 1965, Dylan est la tête d’affiche du festival mais, à l’image de sa tenue vestimentaire (lunettes de soleil et blouson de cuir) les choses ont changé. Pour lui d’abord : en mars est paru Bringing it all back home, composé de morceaux acoustiques et d’autres plus rock. Mi-juillet, Dylan vient d’enregistrer Like a Rolling Stone, qu’il compte jouer au festival. Sur les ondes d’autre part : alors que Les Beatles monopolisent le « top ten », la reprise pop de «Mr tambourine Man » des Byrds marque les esprits. Au Royaume-Uni, parallèlement à la Beatlemania le rock renait, grâce à la redécouverte du Blues.

A l’atelier blues de ce festival est également présent66 The Paul Butterfield Blues Band, un groupe de blues urbain, avec amplis et guitares électriques, qui connait le succès avec « Born In Chicago », tiré de leur premier album The Paul Butterfield Blues Band. Outre le chanteur Paul Butterfield, le groupe se compose du guitariste Mike Bloomfield, du bassiste Jerome Arnold et du batteur Sam Lay .

Renforcés par le pianiste Barry Goldberg et l’organiste Al Kooper, Dylan et les musiciens du Paul Butterfield Blues Band répètent toute la nuit un nombre limité de chansons : Maggie’s Farm, Like a Rolling Stone et Phantom Engineer». Le lendemain, ils jouent ces trois morceaux et leurs transitions sont accompagnées d’un brouhaha indescriptible. Sur les prières du présentateur Peter Yarrow,de Peter, Paul And Mary, Dylan revient accompagné d’une guitare acoustique et interprète deux de ses succès : It’s All over Now Baby Blue et Mr. Tambourine Man.

De cet évènement, relaté par Robert Shelton, naquit la légende de Dylan délaissant le folk pour le rock, indifférent à l’indignation et à l’amertume de son public69, tandis qu’en coulisse, les bruits les plus fous circulaient (La rumeur prétendit que le chanteur Peter Seeger, furieux, chercha une hache pour couper les câbles du micro; ce qu’il démentit).

Cependant, des arguments viennent contredire cette interprétation, notamment ceux avancés par Bruce Jackson, un des organisateurs du festival, qui a étudié les enregistrements qu’il avait conservés.

Jackson argue tout d’abord que la première personne sifflée ne fut pas Dylan, mais Peter Yarrow, en charge de l’annoncer et dont les phrases entrecoupées par de longs silences agaçaient un public impatient. D’autre part,les applaudissements sont nourris quand Dylan apparait, alors que les instruments électriques sont déjà installés et visibles sur la scène. Par ailleurs, quand le groupe joue, la voix de Dylan est noyée sous le volume de l’instrumentation, en raison d’une balance des sons trop hâtive. Jackson avance également que malgré le fait que Dylan soit la tête d’affiche du festival, il ne joue que quinze minutes, alors que d’autres sont restés sur scène 45 min. Enfin, le public réclame le retour de « Bobby », ce qu’interprète Yarrow par « avec une guitare folk ».

En conclusion, Jackson avance l’hypothèse que la réaction du public de Newport guida celle des spectateurs des concerts à venir, décontenancés par une musique en laquelle ils ne se reconnaissaient plus.

Paradoxalement à ces interprétations divergentes, les faits sont bien documentés, il en est question notamment sur ces différents supports :

Festival ! de Murray Lerner (1967)
No direction Home, de Martin Scorsese (2005)
Quelques disques pirates tel que Folk Rogue,

Discographie

Enregistrements studio :

1962 : Bob Dylan
1963 : The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan
1964 : The Times They Are a-Changin’
1964 : Another Side Of Bob Dylan
1965 : Bringing It All Back Home
1965 : Highway 61 Revisited
1966 : Blonde on Blonde
1967 : John Wesley Harding
1969 : Nashville Skyline
1970 : Self Portrait
1970 : New Morning
1973 : B.O.F Pat Garrett et Billy le Kid
1973 : Dylan
1974 : Planet Waves
1975 : Blood on the Tracks
1975 : The Basement Tapes
1976 : Desire
1978 : Street Legal
1979 : Slow Train Coming
1980 : Saved
1981 : Shot of Love
1983 : Infidels
1985 : Empire Burlesque
1985 : Biograph
1986 : Knocked Out Loaded
1988 : Down In The Groove
1989 : Oh Mercy
1990 : Under The Red Sky
1992 : Good as I Been to You
1993 : World Gone Wrong
1997 : Time Out of Mind
2001 : Love and Theft
2006 : Modern Times

En public :

1974 : Before the Flood
1976 : Hard Rain
1979 : At Budokan
1984 : Real Live
1989 : Dylan And The Dead
1993 : The Bob Dylan 30th Anniversary Concert Celebration
1995 : MTV Unplugged

Compilations:

1967 : Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits
1971 : Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits, Vol. 2 (More Bob Dylan Greatest Hits)
1985 : Biograph
1994 : Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits, Vol. 3
1997 : The Best Of Bob Dylan, Vol. 1
2000 : The Best Of Bob Dylan, Vol. 2
2001 : The Essential Bob Dylan
2005 : The Best Of Bob Dylan
2007 : Dylan

The Bootleg Series:

1991 : The Bootleg Series Volumes 1-3 (Rare & Unreleased) 1961-1991
1998 : Live 1966 – The Royal Albert Hall Concert, Vol. 4
2002 : Live 1975 – The Rolling Thunder Review, Vol. 5
2004 : Live 1964 – Concert At Philarmonic Hall, Vol. 6
2005 : No Direction Home – The Soundtrack, Vol. 7

Ecoutez Bob Dylan sur 121 web Radio !

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Bob Dylan (born Robert Allen Zimmerman, May 24, 1941) is an American singer-songwriter, author, musician, poet and, of late, disc jockey who has been a major figure in popular music for five decades. Much of Dylan’s most recognized work dates from the 1960s, when he became an informal chronicler and a reluctant figurehead of American unrest. A number of his songs, such as “Blowin’ in the Wind” and “The Times They Are a-Changin’”, became anthems of the anti-war and civil rights movements. His most recent studio album, Modern Times, released on August 29, 2006, entered the U.S. album charts at #1, making him, at age 65, the oldest living person to top those charts. It was later named Album of the Year by Rolling Stone magazine.

Dylan’s early lyrics incorporated politics, social commentary, philosophy and literary influences, defying existing pop music conventions and appealing widely to the counterculture of the time. While expanding and personalizing musical styles, he has shown steadfast devotion to many traditions of American song, from folk and country/blues to rock and roll and rockabilly, to English, Scottish and Irish folk music, even jazz, swing, Broadway, hard rock and gospel.

Dylan performs with the guitar, keyboard and harmonica. Backed by a changing lineup of musicians, he has toured steadily since the late 1980s on what has been dubbed the “Never Ending Tour”. He has also performed alongside other major artists, such as The Band, Tom Petty, Joan Baez, George Harrison, The Grateful Dead, Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, Paul Simon, Eric Clapton, Patti Smith, Emmylou Harris, Bruce Springsteen, U2, The Rolling Stones, Joni Mitchell, Jack White, Merle Haggard, Neil Young, Van Morrison, Ringo Starr and Stevie Nicks. Although his accomplishments as performer and recording artist have been central to his career, his songwriting is generally regarded as his greatest contribution.

Over many years, Dylan has been recognized and honored for his songwriting, performing, and recording. His records have earned Grammy, Golden Globe, and Academy Awards, and he has been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame and Songwriters Hall of Fame. In 1999, Dylan was included in TIME Magazine’s 100 most influential people of the 20th century, and 2004, he was ranked #2 in Rolling Stone magazine’s list of “Greatest Artists of All Time”, second only to The Beatles. In January 1990, Dylan was made a Commandeur des Arts et des Lettres by French Minister of Culture Jack Lang; in 2000, he was awarded the Polar Music Prize by the Royal Swedish Academy of Music; and in 2007, Dylan was awarded the Prince of Asturias Award in Arts. He has been nominated several times for the Nobel Prize in Literature.

Life and career

Origins and musical beginnings

Robert Allen Zimmerman (Jewish name: Zushe ben Avraham) was born on May 24, 1941, in Duluth, Minnesota, and raised there and in Hibbing, Minnesota, on the Mesabi Iron Range northwest of Lake Superior. Research by Dylan’s biographers has shown that his paternal grandparents, Zigman and Anna Zimmerman, emigrated from Odessa in Ukraine to the United States after the antisemitic pogroms of 1905. Dylan himself has written (in his 2004 autobiography, Chronicles) that his paternal grandmother’s maiden name was Kyrgyz and her family originated from Istanbul, although she grew up in the Kağızman district of Kars in Eastern Turkey. He also wrote that his paternal grandfather was from Trabzon on the Black Sea coast of Turkey. His mother’s grandparents, Benjamin and Lybba Edelstein, were Lithuanian Jews who arrived in America in 1902.
His parents, Abram Zimmerman and Beatrice “Beatty” Stone, were part of the area’s small but close-knit Jewish community. Zimmerman lived in Duluth until age seven. When his father was stricken with polio, the family returned to nearby Hibbing, where Zimmerman spent the rest of his childhood. Abram was recalled by one of Bob’s childhood friends as strict and unwelcoming, whereas his mother was remembered as warm and friendly.

Zimmerman spent much of his youth listening to the radio — first to the powerful blues and country stations broadcasting from Shreveport, Louisiana and, later, to early rock and roll. He formed several bands in high school: the first, The Shadow Blasters, was short-lived; but his next band, The Golden Chords, lasted longer playing covers of 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 year book, Robert Zimmerman listed as his ambition “To join Little Richard.” The same year, using the name Elston Gunn, he performed two dates with Bobby Vee, playing piano and providing handclaps. Zimmerman enrolled at the University of Minnesota in September 1959 and moved to Minneapolis. His early focus on rock and roll gave way to an interest in American folk music, typically performed with an acoustic guitar. He has recalled, “The first thing that turned me onto folk singing was Odetta. I heard a record of hers in a record store. Right then and there, I went out and traded my electric guitar and amplifier for an acoustical guitar, a flat-top Gibson.” He may have taken guitar lessons with Marvin Karlins at the University of Minnesota. 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 music circuit, fraternizing with local folk enthusiasts and occasionally “borrowing” many of their albums.

During his Dinkytown days, Zimmerman began introducing himself as “Bob Dylan”. In his autobiography, Chronicles (2004), he wrote, “What I was going to do as soon as I left home was just call myself Robert Allen…. It sounded like a Scottish king and I liked it.” However, by reading Downbeat magazine, he discovered that there was already a saxophonist called David Allyn. Around the same time, he became acquainted with the poetry of Dylan Thomas. Zimmerman felt he had to choose between Robert Allyn and Robert Dylan. “I couldn’t decide — the letter D came on stronger”, he explained. He decided on “Bob” because there were several Bobbies in popular music at the time.

Relocation to New York and record deal

Dylan dropped out of college at the end of his freshman year. He stayed in Minneapolis, working the folk circuit there with temporary journeys to Denver, Colorado; Madison, Wisconsin; and Chicago, Illinois. In January 1961, he moved to New York City, to perform there and to visit his ailing musical idol Woody Guthrie, who was then dying in a New Jersey hospital. Guthrie had been a revelation to Dylan and was the biggest influence on his early performances. Dylan would later say of Guthrie’s work, “You could listen to his songs and actually learn how to live.” In the hospital room, Dylan met Woody’s old road-buddy Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, who was visiting Guthrie the day after returning from his own trip to Europe. Dylan and Elliott became friends, and much of Guthrie’s repertoire was actually channeled through Elliott. Dylan paid tribute to Elliott in Chronicles (2004).

From April to September 1961, he played at various clubs around Greenwich Village. Dylan gained some public recognition after a positive review in The New York Times by critic Robert Shelton of a show he played at Gerde’s Folk City in September. Also in September, Dylan was invited to play harmonica by folk singer Carolyn Hester on her third album, entitled Carolyn Hester. This brought Dylan’s talents to the attention of John Hammond, who was producing Hester’s album for Columbia Records. Hammond signed Dylan to Columbia that October. The performances on his first Columbia album Bob Dylan (1962), consisted of familiar folk, blues and gospel material combined with two of his own songs. Dylan’s first 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, and Johnny Cash was also a powerful ally of Dylan at Columbia. While Dylan continued to work for Columbia, he also recorded more than a dozen songs, under the pseudonym Blind Boy Grunt, for Broadside Magazine, a folk music magazine and record label. In August 1962, he went to the Supreme Court building in New York and changed his name to Robert Dylan.

By the time Dylan’s second album, The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, was released in 1963, he had begun making his name as both a singer and a songwriter. Many of the songs on this album were labelled 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 of the 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 would have hits with Dylan’s songs. 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 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. 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 traditional folk progressions.

Soon after the release of Freewheelin, Dylan emerged as a dominant figure of the so-called “new folk movement” centered in Greenwich Village. Dylan’s singing voice was untrained and had an unusual edge to it, yet it was suited to the interpretation of traditional songs. Robert Shelton described Dylan’s vocal style as “a rusty voice suggesting Guthrie’s old performances, etched in gravel like Dave Van Ronk’s” Many of his most famous early songs first reached the public through other performers’ versions that were more immediately palatable. Joan Baez became Dylan’s advocate, as well as his lover. Baez was influential in bringing Dylan to national and international prominence, jumpstarting his performance career by inviting him onstage during her own concerts, and recording several of his early songs.

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, 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, keying rhythmically off the vocals. The covers became so ubiquitous that CBS started to promote him with the tag “Nobody Sings Dylan Like Dylan”.

Protest and Another Side

By 1963, Dylan and Baez were both prominent in the civil rights movement, singing together at rallies including the March on Washington where Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his “I have a dream” speech. In January, Dylan appeared on British television in the BBC play Madhouse on Castle Street, playing the part of a “hobo guitar-player”. His next album, The Times They Are a-Changin’, reflected a more sophisticated, politicized and cynical Dylan. This bleak material, addressing 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 accompanied by two love songs, “Boots of Spanish Leather” and “One Too Many Mornings”, and the renunciation of “Restless Farewell”. The Brechtian “The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll” describes the true story of a young socialite’s (William Zantzinger) killing of a hotel maid (Hattie Carroll). Though never explicitly mentioning their respective races, the song leaves no doubt that the killer is white and the victim is black.

By the end of 1963, Dylan felt both manipulated and constrained by the folk and protest movements. 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.

His next album, 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”, accompanied by a sense of humor that has often reappeared over the years. “Spanish Harlem Incident” and “To Ramona” are, unusually for Dylan at the time, non-ironic love songs, while “I Don’t Believe You” suggests 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 thinly disguised 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.

During 1964 and 1965, Dylan’s appearance changed rapidly, as he made his move from leading contemporary song-writer of the folk scene to rock’n’roll star. His scruffy jeans and work shirts were replaced by a Carnaby Street wardrobe. 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 play with frequently hapless interviewers in increasingly cruel and surreal ways. 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.”

“Going electric”

His March 1965 album Bringing It All Back Home was yet another stylistic leap. The album featured his first recordings made with electric instruments. The 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 cinéma vérité presentation of Dylan’s 1965 tour of England, Dont Look Back. Its free association lyrics both harked back to the manic energy of Beat poetry and were a forerunner of rap and hip-hop. In 1969, the militant Weatherman group took their name from a line in “Subterranean Homesick Blues.” (“You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.”)

The B side of the album was a different matter. It included four lengthy acoustic songs whose undogmatic political, social, and personal concerns are illuminated with the semi-mystical imagery that became another Dylan trademark. One of these tracks, “Mr. Tambourine Man”, which would become one of his best known songs, had already been a hit for The Byrds; while “Gates of Eden”, “It’s All Over Now Baby Blue”, and “It’s Alright Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)” have been fixtures in Dylan’s live performances for most of his career.

That summer Dylan made history by performing 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), Jerome Arnold (bass), plus Al Kooper (organ) and Barry Goldberg (piano), while headlining at the Newport Folk Festival (see The electric Dylan controversy). Dylan had appeared at Newport twice before, in 1963 and 1964, and two wildly divergent accounts of the crowd’s response in 1965 emerged. 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 whom Dylan had alienated by his electric guitar. An alternative account claims audience members were merely 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, “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue” and “Mr. Tambourine Man.” His choice of the former has often been described as a carefully selected death knell for the kind of consciously sociopolitical, purely acoustic music that the cat-callers were demanding of him, with “New Folk” in the role of “Baby Blue”.

Dylan’s 1965 Newport performance provoked an outraged response from the folk music establishment. Ewan MacColl wrote in Sing Out!, “Our traditional songs and ballads are the creations of extraordinarily talented artists working inside traditions formulated over time… But what of Bobby Dylan?… Only a 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 into the studio in New York and recorded “Positively 4th Street.” The song teemed with images of paranoia and revenge. (“I know the reason/That you talk behind my back/I used to be among the crowd/You’re in with.”) 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.

Many in the folk revival had embraced the idea that life equaled art, that a certain kind of life defined by suffering and social exclusion in fact replaced art. Folksong collectors and singers often presented folk music as an innocent characteristic of lives lived without reflection or the false consciousness of capitalism. This philosophy, both genteel and paternalistic, was ultimately what Dylan had run afoul of by 1965. But at an Austin press conference in September of that year, on the day of his first performance with Levon and the Hawks, he described his music not as a pop charts-bound break with the past, but as “historical-traditional music.” Dylan later told interviewer Nat Hentoff: “What folk music is… is based on myths and the Bible and plague and famine and all kinds of things like that which are nothing but mystery and you can see it in all the songs….All these songs about roses growing out of people’s brains and lovers who are really geese and swans that turn into angels…and seven years of this and eight years of that and it’s all really something that nobody can touch…. (the songs) are not going to die.” It was this mystical, living tradition of songs that served as the palette for Bringing It All Back Home, but in a nod to changing times first openly displayed at Newport, electrically amplified instruments would now become part of the mix.

Highway 61 Revisited and Blonde on Blonde

In July 1965, Dylan released the single “Like a Rolling Stone”, which peaked at #2 in the U.S. and at #4 in the UK charts. At over six minutes in length, this song has been widely credited with altering attitudes about what a pop single could convey. Bruce Springsteen said that on first hearing this single, “that snare shot sounded like somebody’d kicked open the door to your mind… I knew that I was listening to the toughest voice that I had ever heard.“ In 2004, Rolling Stone magazine listed it at number one on its list of the 500 greatest songs of all time. Its signature sound — with a full, jangling band and an organ riff — also characterized his next album, Highway 61 Revisited, titled after the road that led from Dylan’s native Minnesota to the musical hotbed of New Orleans. The songs passed stylistically through the birthplace of blues, the Mississippi Delta, and referenced a number of blues songs, including Mississippi Fred McDowell’s “61 Highway”. The songs were in the same vein as the hit single, with surreal litanies of the grotesque flavored by Mike Bloomfield’s blues guitar, a rhythm section, and Dylan’s obvious enjoyment of the sessions. The closing song, “Desolation Row”, is an apocalyptic vision with references to many figures of Western culture.

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 for backing Ronnie Hawkins. In August 1965 at Forest Hills Tennis Stadium, the group was heckled by an audience who, Newport notwithstanding, still demanded the acoustic troubadour of previous years. The band’s reception on September 3 at the Hollywood Bowl was more uniformly favorable.

Neither Kooper nor Brooks wanted to tour 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. So Dylan then hired Robertson and Helm’s full band, The Hawks, as his tour group, and began a string of studio sessions with them in an effort to record the follow-up to Highway 61 Revisited.

While Dylan and the Hawks met increasingly receptive audiences on tour, their studio efforts floundered. Producer Bob Johnston had been trying to persuade Dylan to record in Nashville for some time. In February 1966 Dylan agreed and Johnston 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 album Blonde on Blonde (1966), featuring what Dylan later called “that thin wild mercury sound.” Al Kooper said the record was a masterpiece because it was “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” Bob Dylan.

For many critics, Dylan’s mid-’60s trilogy of albums — Bringing It All Back Home, Highway 61 Revisited and Blonde on Blonde — represents one of the great cultural achievements of the 20th century. In Mike Marqusee’s words: “Between late 1964 and the summer of 1966, Dylan created a body of work that remains unique. Drawing on folk, blues, country, R&B, rock’n’roll, gospel, British beat, symbolist, modernist and Beat poetry, surrealism and Dada, advertising jargon and social commentary, Fellini and Mad magazine, he forged a coherent and original artistic voice and vision. The beauty of these albums retains the power to shock and console.”

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 slowly handclapped.

The tour culminated in a famously raucous confrontation between Dylan and his audience at the Manchester Free Trade Hall in England (officially released on CD in 1998 as The Bootleg Series Vol. 4: Bob Dylan Live 1966, The “Royal Albert Hall” Concert). At the climax of the concert, one fan, angry with Dylan’s electric sound, shouted: “Judas!” and Dylan responded, “I don’t believe you… You’re a liar!” He turned to the band and, just within earshot of the microphone, said “Play it fucking loud!”
They then launched into the last song of the night with gusto — “Like a Rolling Stone.”

Crash and the late 1960s

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. Manager Albert Grossman had already scheduled an extensive concert tour for that summer and fall. On July 29, 1966, while Dylan rode his Triumph 500 motorcycle in Woodstock, New York, its brakes locked, throwing him to the ground. Though the extent of his injuries was never fully disclosed, it was confirmed that he indeed broke his neck. Dylan took advantage of his extended convalescence to escape the pressures of stardom: “When I had that motorcycle accident … I woke up and caught my senses, I realized that I was just workin’ for all these leeches. And I really didn’t want to do that.”

Nevertheless, questions lingered about the accident and the extent of Dylan’s injuries. At the time, Dylan was said to be particularly unhappy with his management and the demands upon him. According to Howard Sounes’ biography, Down the Highway: The Life Of Bob Dylan, Dylan’s treatment pattern in the immediate aftermath of the accident, as well as his treatment thereafter, severely call into question the notion that Dylan’s injuries were truly life threatening.

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 Don’t Look Back. In 1967 he began recording music with the Hawks at his home and in the basement of the Hawks’ nearby house, called “Big Pink”. The relaxed atmosphere yielded renditions of many of Dylan’s favored old and new songs and some newly written pieces. 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 (“Quinn the Eskimo (The Mighty Quinn)”). 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.

In December 1967 Dylan released John Wesley Harding, his first album since the motorcycle crash. It was 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 celebrated version Dylan himself acknowledged as definitive in the liner notes to Biograph. As proof, since 1974 Dylan and his bands have performed arrangements much closer to Hendrix’s than to the John Wesley Harding version.

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.

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”. 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”, “It Ain’t Me Babe” 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 home.

1970s

In the early 1970s critics charged 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. His unannounced appearance at George Harrison’s 1971 Concert for Bangladesh was widely praised, particularly a snarling version of “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall”. However, reports of a new album, a television special, and a return to touring came to nothing.

Between March 16th and 19th, 1971, Dylan reserved three days at Blue Rock Studios, a small studio in New York’s Greenwich Village. The sessions resulted in three singles (“Watching The River Flow”, “When I Paint My Masterpiece” and “George Jackson”), but no album. The only long-player released by Dylan in either ’71 or ’72 was his second greatest hits compilation, “Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits Vol. II”, which included a number of re-workings of as-then unreleased Basement Tapes tracks, such as “I Shall Be Released” and “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere” with Happy Traum on backup. In November of 1971 Dylan recorded a series of as-yet-unreleased sessions with Beat poet Allen Ginsberg at the Record Plant in New York, intended for Ginsberg’s “Holy Soul Jelly Roll” album. The sessions resulted in tracks such as the Dylan/Ginsberg compositions “Vomit Express”, “September On Jessore Road” and “Jimmy Berman”, as well as a number of Ginsberg originals and William Blake poems set to music. Ginsberg sang lead on most songs, with Dylan playing guitar and harmonica and providing backing vocals It is unknown at this time if the sessions will ever be released officially, however there are a number of bootlegs in circulation.

In 1972 Dylan signed onto Sam Peckinpah’s film Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid, providing the songs (see Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid (album)) and taking a role as “Alias”, a minor member of Billy’s gang. Despite the film’s failure at the box office, the song “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” has proven its durability, having been covered by over 150 recording artists.

Dylan started 1973 by contributing his own composition, “Wallflower”, to Doug Sahm’s “Doug Sahm and Band” album released on Atlantic Records, as well as sharing lead vocal and playing guitar on the track. (Dylan’s own version of the song would later be released on The Bootleg Series Volumes 1-3.) Dylan also signed with David Geffen’s new Asylum label when his contract with Columbia Records expired in 1973, and he recorded Planet Waves with The Band while rehearsing for a major tour. The album included two versions of “Forever Young”. Christopher Ricks has connected the chorus of this song with John Keats’s Ode on a Grecian Urn, (“For ever panting, and for ever young”), and Dylan has recalled writing the song for one of his own children: “I wrote it thinking about one of my boys and not wanting to be too sentimental”.
It has remained one of the most frequently performed of his songs, and one critic described it as “something hymnal and heartfelt that spoke of the father in Dylan.”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 and The Band embarked on their high-profile, coast-to-coast Bob Dylan and The Band 1974 Tour of North America; promoter Bill Graham claimed he received more ticket purchase requests than for any prior tour by any artist. A live double album of the tour, Before the Flood which included Dylan with The Band, was released on Asylum Records. Later in the mid 70s Before the Flood was released by Columbia records.

After the tour, Dylan and his wife became publicly estranged. He filled a small red notebook with songs about his marital problems, and quickly recorded a new album entitled Blood on the Tracks in September 1974. Word of Dylan’s efforts soon leaked out, and expectations were high. But Dylan delayed the album’s release, and then, by years end he had re-recorded half of the songs at Sound 80 Studios in Minneapolis with production assistance from his brother David Zimmerman. During this time, Dylan returned to Columbia Records which eventually reissued his Asylum albums.

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 practise 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 great 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.”The songs have been described as Dylan’s most intimate and direct. A year later, Dylan recorded a duet of the song “Buckets of Rain” with Bette Midler on her Songs for the New Depression album. When Dylan was initially approached to do a duet with Midler, he wanted to record a version of “Friends.” While they rehearsed this song, it was the “Blood on the Tracks” closer which was eventually released.

That summer Dylan wrote his first successful “protest” song in twelve years, championing the cause of boxer Rubin “Hurricane” Carter whom he believed had been wrongfully imprisoned for a triple murder in Paterson, New Jersey. 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 #33 on the U.S. Billboard Chart, and performed at every 1975 date of Dylan’s next tour, the Rolling Thunder Revue. The tour was a varied evening of entertainment featuring many performers drawn mostly from the resurgent Greenwich Village folk scene, including T-Bone Burnett; Allen Ginsberg; Ramblin’ Jack Elliott; Steven Soles; David Mansfield; former Byrds frontman Roger McGuinn; British guitarist Mick Ronson; 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 Joan Baez (the tour marked Baez and Dylan’s first joint performance in more than a decade). 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. Sam Shepard was initially hired as the writer for this film, 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 (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 the LP Hard Rain; no concert album from the better-received and better-known opening half of the tour was released until 2002, when Live 1975 appeared as the fifth volume in Dylan’s official Bootleg Series.

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 this year Dylan also wrote and duetted on the song “Sign Language” for Eric Clapton’s “No Reason To Cry” album – no other versions of the song apart from the one which appears on this album have ever been released. In 1977 he also contributed backing vocals to Leonard Cohen’s Phil Spector-produced album “Death of a Ladies’ Man”.
Dylan’s 1978 album Street Legal was lyrically one of his more complex and cohesive; 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.

Born Again

In the late 1970s, Dylan became a born-again Christian. From January to April 1979, Dylan participated in Bible study classes at the Vineyard School of Discipleship in Reseda, Southern California. Pastor Kenn Gulliksen has recalled: “Larry Myers and Paul Emond went over to Bob’s house and ministered to him. He responded by saying, Yes he did in fact want Christ in His life. And he prayed that day and received the Lord. ”Dylan released two albums of Christian gospel music. Slow Train Coming (1979) is generally regarded as the more accomplished of these albums, winning him the Grammy Award as “Best Male Vocalist” for the song “Gotta Serve Somebody”. The second album, Saved (1980), was not as well-received. 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.

Robert Hilburn interviewed Dylan about the new direction in his music for the Los Angeles Times. Hilburn’s article, published November 23, 1980, began:

Bob Dylan has finally confirmed in an interview what he’s been saying in his music for 18 months: He’s a born-again Christian. Dylan said he accepted Jesus Christ in his heart in 1978 after “a vision and feeling” during which the room moved: “There was a presence in the room that couldn’t have been anybody but Jesus.”

Dylan’s embrace of Christianity was unpopular with some of his fans and fellow musicians. Shortly before his December 1980 shooting, John Lennon recorded “Serve Yourself” in response to Dylan’s “Gotta Serve Somebody”. By 1981, while Dylan’s Christian faith was obvious, his “iconoclastic temperament” had not changed, as Stephen Holden wrote in the New York Times:

“Mr. Dylan showed that neither age (he’s now 40) nor his much-publicized conversion to born-again Christianity has altered his essentially iconoclastic temperament.”

Rolling Stone editor Jann Wenner, writing in his review for Slow Train Coming, commented:

“Slow Train Coming is pure, true Dylan, probably the purest and truest Dylan ever. The religious symbolism is a logical progression of Dylan’s Manichaean vision of life and his pain-filled struggle with good and evil… since politics, economics and war have failed to make us feel any better – as individuals or as a nation – and we look back at long years of disrepair, then maybe the time for religion has come again, and rather too suddenly – “like a thief in the night.”

Since the early 1980s Dylan’s personal religious beliefs have been the subject of debate among fans and critics. He has seemingly supported the Chabad Lubavitch movement and participated in many Jewish rituals. More recently, it has been reported that Dylan has “shown up” a few times at various High Holiday services at various Chabad synagogues. He attended a Woodbury, New York synagogue in 2005, and attended Congregation Beth Tefillah, in Atlanta, Georgia on September 22, 2007 (Yom Kippur), where he was called to the Torah for the sixth “aliyah”.

In 1997 he told David Gates of Newsweek:

“Here’s the thing with me and the religious thing. This is the flat-out truth: I find the religiosity and philosophy in the music. I don’t find it anywhere else. Songs like “Let Me Rest on a Peaceful Mountain” or “I Saw the Light” – that’s my religion. I don’t adhere to rabbis, preachers, evangelists, all of that. I’ve learned more from the songs than I’ve learned from any of this kind of entity. The songs are my lexicon. I believe the songs.”

In an interview published in The New York Times on September 28, 1997, journalist Jon Pareles reported that “Dylan says he now subscribes to no organized religion.”

1980s

In the fall of 1980 Dylan briefly resumed touring, restoring several of his most popular 1960s songs 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. The haunting “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 produced several notable outtakes, and many have questioned Dylan’s judgment in leaving them off the album. Most well-regarded of these were “Blind Willie McTell” (which was both a tribute to the dead blues singer and an extraordinary evocation of African American history reaching back to “the ghosts of slavery ships”), “Foot of Pride” and “Lord Protect My Child”; these songs were later released on the boxed set The Bootleg Series Volumes 1-3 (Rare & Unreleased) 1961-1991. An earlier version of Infidels, prepared by producer/guitarist Mark Knopfler, contained different arrangements and song selections than what appeared on the final product.

Dylan contributed vocals to USA for Africa’s famine relief fundraising single “We Are the World”. On 13 July 1985, he appeared at the climax of the Live Aid concert at JFK Stadium, Philadelphia. Backed by Keith Richards and Ron Wood, Dylan performed a ragged version of “Hollis Brown”, his ballad of rural poverty, and then said to a 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 criticised as inappropriate, but they did inspire Willie Nelson to organise a series of events, Farm Aid, to benefit debt-ridden American farmers.

In 1986 Dylan made a foray into the world of rap music, appearing on Kurtis Blow’s Kingdom Blow album. In an arrangement set up, in part, by Debra Byrd (one of Dylan’s back-up singers) and Wayne K. Garfield (an associate of Blow’s), Dylan contributed vocals to the track “Street Rock.”In his memoir, Chronicles, Dylan writes, “Blow familiarized me with that stuff, Ice-T, Public Enemy, N.W.A., Run-D.M.C.. These guys definitely weren’t standing around bullshitting. They were all poets and knew what was going on.”Dylan’s opening rap for “Street Rock” goes, “I’ve indulged in higher knowledge through scan of encyclopedia / keep in constant research of our report and news media / kids starve in Ethiopia and we are getting greedier / the rich are getting richer and the needy’s getting needier.”

In 1987 Dylan starred in Richard Marquand’s movie Hearts of Fire, in which he played a washed-up-rock-star-turned-chicken farmer called “Billy Parker”, whose teenage lover (Fiona) leaves him for a jaded English synth-pop sensation (Rupert Everett). Dylan also contributed three original songs to the soundtrack – “The Usual”, “Night After Night”, and ‘I Had a Dream About You, Baby”. The film was a critical and commercial flop.

Dylan was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in January 1988. Bruce Springsteen made the induction 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 anti-intellectual.”Later that spring, Dylan joined Roy Orbison, Jeff Lynne, Tom Petty, and George Harrison to create a lighthearted, well-selling album as the Traveling Wilburys. 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 also toured with the Grateful Dead and Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers in the late 1980s.

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. “Ring Them Bells”, one of the most celebrated songs on the album, appears to implore Christians to maintain a visible presence in the world (“Ring them bells St. Catherine/From the top of the room/Oh the lines are long/And the fighting is strong/And they’re breaking down the distance/Between right and wrong”). 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. Dylan also made a number of music videos during this period, but only “Political World” found any regular airtime on MTV.

1990s

Dylan’s 1990s began with Under the Red Sky (1990), an about-face from the serious Oh Mercy. The album was dedicated to “Gabby Goo Goo”, and contained several apparently simple songs, including “Under the Red Sky” and “Wiggle Wiggle”. The “Gabby Goo Goo” dedication was later explained as a nickname for Dylan’s four-year-old daughter.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 poorly. Dylan would not make another studio album of new songs for seven years.

In 1991 Bob Dylan was inducted into the Minnesota Music Hall of Fame and in 1992 Dylan performed a brief tour with Santana.

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. An exception to this rootsy mood came in Dylan’s 1991 songwriting collaboration with Michael Bolton; the resulting song “Steel Bars”, was released on Bolton’s album Time, Love & Tenderness. Twenty-five years after famously failing to perform at the Woodstock Festival, Dylan appeared at the commemorative event entitled Woodstock 94. In 1995 Dylan recorded a live show 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 (see MTV Unplugged (Bob Dylan album)) 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 returned to the recording studio with Lanois in January 1997. Late that spring, before the album’s release, he 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 sermon based on Dylan’s lyric “Blowin’ in the Wind”.

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 became highly acclaimed. It also achieved an unforeseen popularity among young listeners, particularly the opening song, “Love Sick”.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 love song “Make You Feel My Love” was covered by both Garth Brooks and Billy Joel.
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.”

In 1998 Dylan appeared on Ralph Stanley’s album “Clinch Mountain Country”, duetting with the bluegrass legend on “The Lonesome River.”Between June and September, 1999, Dylan toured with Paul Simon. They performed a couple of songs together at each show, including “I Walk the Line” and “Blue Moon Of Kentucky”. (Simon & Garfunkel had recorded “The Times They Are a-Changin’” on their debut album, Wednesday Morning, 3AM, and Dylan had covered The Boxer on his Self Portrait album.) Dylan ended the nineties by returning to the big screen after a break of ten years in the role of Alfred the Chaffeur alongside Ben Gazzara and Karen Black in Robert Clapsaddle’s Paradise Cove.

2000 and beyond

In 2000 his song “Things Have Changed”, penned for the film Wonder Boys, won a Golden Globe Award for Best Original Song and 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” was released on September 11, 2001. Dylan produced the album himself under the pseudonym Jack Frost, and its distinctive sound owes much to the accompanists. Tony Garnier, bassist and bandleader, had played with Dylan for 12 years, longer than any other musician. Larry Campbell, one of the most accomplished American guitarists of the last two decades, played on the road with Dylan from 1997 through 2004. Guitarist Charlie Sexton and drummer David Kemper had also toured with Dylan for years. Keyboard player Augie Meyers, the only musician not part of Dylan’s touring band, had also played on Time Out of Mind. The album was critically well-received and nominated for several Grammy awards. Critics noted that at this late stage in his career, Dylan was deliberately widening his musical palette. The styles referenced in this album included rockabilly, Western swing, jazz, and even lounge ballads.

“Love and Theft” generated controversy when some similarities between the lyrics of the album to Japanese writer Junichi Saga’s book Confessions of a Yakuza were pointed out. It is unclear if Dylan intentionally lifted any material. Dylan’s publicist had no comment.

“I Can’t Get You Off of My Mind”, Dylan’s contribution to the Hank Williams tribute album “Timeless” was also released in September 2001. A year later he also contributed a cover of “Train Of Love” for a similar Johnny Cash tribute album called “Kindred Spirits”. In February 2003, an 8-minute long epic ballad called “Cross The Green Mountain”, written and recorded by Dylan, was released as the closing song on the soundtrack to the Civil War movie Gods and Generals, and later appeared as one of the 42 rare tracks on the iTunes Music Store release of Bob Dylan: The Collection. A music video for the song was also produced in promotion of the motion picture.

2003 also saw the release of the film Masked & Anonymous, a creative collaboration with television producer Larry Charles, featuring many well-known actors. 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 had a limited run in theaters, and was panned by many major critics. A few treasured it as Dylan’s bringing a dark and mysterious vision of the USA as a war-torn banana republic to the screen.

On Wednesday 23 June 2004, Dylan was awarded an honorary degree by the University of St. Andrews and made a “Doctor of Music.” Professor Neil Corcoran, of the university’s school of English department, and author of the collection of academic essays on Dylan entitled Do You Mr Jones: Bob Dylan with the Poets and the Professors, declared in his presentation speech that “For many of us, Bob Dylan has been an extension of our consciousness and part of our growing up.” This is only the second time that Dylan has accepted an honorary degree, the other being an honorary doctorate in music conferred on him by Princeton University in 1970.

Martin Scorsese’s film biography No Direction Home was shown on September 26 and September 27, 2005 on BBC Two in the United Kingdom and PBS in the United States.The documentary concentrates of the years between Dylan’s arrival in New York in 1961 and the 1966 motorbike crash, featuring interviews with Suze Rotolo, Liam Clancy, Joan Baez, Allen Ginsberg, Dave Van Ronk, Bob Neuwirth and many others. An accompanying soundtrack was released in August 2005, which contained much previously unavailable early Dylan material. The documentary received a Peabody Award in April 2006, and a Columbia-duPont Award in January 2007.

Dylan himself returned to the recording studio at some point in 2005, where he recorded “Tell Ol’ Bill” for the motion picture North Country. The song is an original composition, not a cover of the similarly titled traditional folk song. The melody is based on “I Never Loved But One” by the Carter Family.

In February 2006, Dylan recorded tracks for a new album in New York City that resulted in the album Modern Times, released on August 29, 2006. This date also included the iTunes Music Store release of Bob Dylan: The Collection, a digital box set containing all of his studio and live albums (773 tracks in total), along with 42 rare & unreleased tracks and a 100 page booklet. To promote the digital box set and the new album (on iTunes), Apple released a 30 second TV spot featuring Dylan, in full country & western regalia, lip-synching to “Someday Baby” against a striking white background. In a well-publicized interview to promote the album, Dylan criticised the quality of modern sound recordings and claimed that his new songs “probably sounded ten times better in the studio when we recorded ‘em”.

Despite some coarsening of Dylan’s voice (The Guardian critic characterised his singing on the album as “a catarrhal death rattle”) most reviewers gave the album high marks and many described it as the final installment of a successful trilogy, embracing Time Out of Mind and “Love and Theft”. Among the tracks most frequently singled out for praise were “Workingman’s Blues #2″ (the title was a nod to Merle Haggard’s song of that name), and the final song “Ain’t Talkin’”, a nine minute talking blues in which Dylan appeared to be walking “through all-enveloping darkness, before finally disappearing into the murk”. Modern Times made news by entering the U.S. charts at #1, making it Dylan’s first album to reach that position since 1976′s Desire, 30 years prior. At 65, Dylan became the oldest living musician to top the Billboard albums chart. The record also reached number one in Australia, Canada, Denmark, Ireland, New Zealand, Norway and Switzerland.

Nominated for three Grammy Awards, Modern Times won for Best Contemporary Folk/Americana Album and Bob Dylan also won for Best Solo Rock Vocal Performance for “Someday Baby.” Modern Times was ranked as the #1 album of 2006 by Rolling Stone Magazine, and Album of the Year, 2006, by Uncut in the UK.

In September 2006 Scott Warmuth, an Albuquerque, N.M.-based disc jockey, noted similarities between Dylan’s lyrics in the album, Modern Times and the poetry of Henry Timrod, the ‘Poet Laureate of the Confederacy’. A wider debate developed in The New York Times and other journals about the nature of “borrowing” within the folk process and in literature.

May 3, 2006, was the premiere of Dylan’s DJ career, hosting a weekly radio program, Theme Time Radio Hour, for XM Satellite Radio.Each one hour show revolved around a theme such as ‘Flowers’ ‘Tears’, ‘The Bible’, ‘Rich man/Poor man’. Among the classic and obscure records played on his show from the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s, Dylan has also played tracks by Blur, Prince, Billy Bragg & Wilco, Mary Gauthier and even L.L. Cool J and The Streets. Each show was introduced with a few sentences spoken in a sultry voice by the actress Ellen Barkin. BBC Radio 2 commenced transmission of Dylan’s radio show in the UK on December 23, 2006, and BBC 6 Music started carrying it in January 2007. The show quickly won widespread praise from fans and critics for the way that Dylan conveyed his eclectic musical taste with panache and eccentric humor. Dylan’s show with a ‘Baseball’ theme was selected for inclusion in the National Baseball Hall of Fame in June 2006. After 50 successful shows, a second season of Theme Time Radio Hour was commissioned to begin in September 2007.

2007 saw the unveiling of the film I’m Not There written and directed by Todd Haynes – bearing the tagline “inspired by the music and the many lives of Bob Dylan”. The movie makes use of seven distinct characters to represent different aspects of Dylan’s life, played by six different actors. The actors playing Dylan are Cate Blanchett, Heath Ledger, Christian Bale, Richard Gere, Ben Whishaw, and Marcus Carl Franklin. The film premiered at the Telluride Film Festival on August 31, 2007. The film was subsequently screened at the New York Film Festival and the Venice Film Festival. At Venice, Cate Blanchett was awarded the prize for best actress (portraying the Blonde on Blonde-era Bob Dylan) and Todd Haynes was awarded a special jury prize for his movie. Also released was the original soundtrack for the film containing covers of Dylan’s songs, specially recorded for the movie by a wide variety of artists, including Stephen Malkmus, Jeff Tweedy, Willie Nelson, Cat Power, and Tom Verlaine.

On October 1, Columbia Records released a triple CD retrospective album entitled Dylan, anthologising his entire career. As part of the marketing campaign for this album, using the Dylan 07 logo, British record producer Mark Ronson was asked to produce a re-mix of “Most Likely You Go Your Way (And I’ll Go Mine)”, originally released on Blonde on Blonde in 1966. This was the first time Dylan had sanctioned a re-mix of one of his classic recordings. Ronson’s re-mix was released as a maxi-single in October but not included in the Dylan triple album. Also scheduled for October release is the DVD The Other Side of the Mirror: Bob Dylan Live at the Newport Folk Festival 1963-1965. This DVD features previously unseen footage, chronicling the changes in Dylan’s style when he appeared at Newport in three successive years. The director Murray Lerner commented: “Over the course of three Newport gigs, Dylan becomes more conscious of his power. His charisma is startling. With electricity and radio, he did what Yeats, Lorca, T.S. Eliot and Ezra Pound never achieved. He reached a mass audience with poetry.”

A new original Dylan song, “Huck’s Tune”, written and recorded for the soundtrack to the film Lucky You, was released on April 24, 2007. Dylan commenced the 2007 installment of his “Never Ending Tour” with concert dates in Europe in the spring, followed by Australia and New Zealand in the summer, and the USA in the fall.

Beginning in late September 2007, rumors began to swirl on the Internet that a new Dylan studio album could be arriving in early 2008, though these rumors are unconfirmed.

Recent live performances and the Never Ending Tour

Dylan has played roughly 100 dates a year for the entirety of the 1990s and the 2000s, a 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. Some fans have complained that, as Dylan’s vocal range has diminished, he has resorted to a technique they have labelled ‘upsinging’. One critic described the technique as Dylan’s “dismantling melodies by delivering phrases in a monotone and ending them an octave higher”.

For a two and a half year period, between 2003 and 2006, Dylan ceased playing guitar, and stuck to the keyboard during concerts. Various rumors circulated as to why Dylan gave up guitar during this period, none very reliable. According to David Gates, a Newsweek reporter who interviewed Dylan in 2004, “…basically it has to do with his guitar not giving him quite the fullness of sound he was wanting at the bottom. (Six strings on a guitar, ten fingers on a piano.) He’s thought of hiring a keyboard player so he doesn’t have to do it himself, but hasn’t been able to figure out who. Most keyboard players, he says, like to be soloists, and he wants a very basic sound.”Dylan’s touring band has two guitarists along with a multi-instrumentalist who plays steel guitar, mandolin, banjo and fiddle. From 2002 to 2005, Dylan’s keyboard had a piano sound. In 2006, this was changed to an organ sound. At the start of his Spring 2007 tour in Europe, Dylan played the first half of the set on electric guitar and switched to keyboard for the second half.

Personal life

Dylan privately married Sara Lownds on November 22, 1965; their first child, Jesse Byron Dylan, was born on January 6, 1966. Dylan and Lownds had four biological children in total: Jesse Byron, Anna Lea, Samuel Isaac Abraham, and Jakob Luke (born December 9, 1969). Dylan also adopted Sara Lownds’ daughter from a prior marriage, Maria Lownds (later Dylan), (born October 21, 1961 now married to musician Peter Himmelman). In the 1990s the youngest of his five children with Sara, Jakob Dylan, became well known as the lead singer of the band The Wallflowers. Jesse Dylan is a film director and a successful businessman. Bob and Sara Dylan were divorced on June 29, 1977, though they reportedly remained in regular contact for many years and, by some accounts, even to the present day.

In June 1986, Dylan secretly married his longtime backup singer Carolyn Dennis (often professionally known as Carol Dennis).Their daughter, Desiree Gabrielle Dennis-Dylan, was born on January 31, 1986. The couple divorced in October 1992. Their marriage and child remained a closely guarded secret until the publication of Howard Sounes’ Dylan biography, Down the Highway: The Life Of Bob Dylan in 2001.

Fan base

Bob Dylan’s large and vocal fan base writes books, essays, ‘zines, etc. at a furious rate. They also maintain a massive Internet presence with daily Dylan news: a site which documents every song he has ever played in concert; one that documents bootlegs that have been released; and one where visitors bet on what songs he will play on upcoming tours; along with hundreds of other Dylan-themed sites. Within minutes of the end of concerts, set lists and reviews are posted by his loyal following.

The Dylan Pool, created in 2001 has been featured on CNN, CBC, BBC, and the Associated Press. The Associated Press reported: “The pool reflects both the obsessive interest Dylan still draws 45 years into his career and the way this road warrior has structured his career. “It allows interaction between fans while adding a level of competition through the unique online Bob Dylan fantasy game. In the summer of 2007 the Dylan Pool went offline but some fans, having anticipated this eventuality, launched a new website: The neverending pool.

The poet laureate of England, Andrew Motion, is a vocal supporter of Dylan’s work, as are musicians Lou Reed, Bono, Neil Young, Bruce Springsteen,Tom Petty, The Go-Betweens, David Bowie, Mike Watt, Roger Waters, Ian Hunter, Paul Simon, David Gilmour, Nick Cave, Keith Richards, Patti Smith, Iggy Pop, Jack White, Noel Gallagher, Ronnie Wood, and Tom Waits.

Chronicles: Volume One

After a lengthy delay, October 2004 saw the publishing of Dylan’s autobiography Chronicles: Volume One, with which he once again confounded expectations. Dylan wrote three chapters about the year between his arrival in New York City in 1961 and recording his first album. Dylan focused on the brief period before he was a household name, while virtually ignoring the mid-1960s when his fame was at its height. Details about his motorcycle accident are limited to a few words in a single sentence. 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 “spokesman of a generation” label bestowed upon him, and evinces disgust with his more fanatical followers.

Another section features Dylan’s account of a guitar-playing 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.

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