Musician Portrait: Bob Dylan Essay


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Bob Dylan brought the folk traditions of artists such as Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger to both the mainstream and beatnik culture of America, and into the rock and roll era. His writing provided a more thoughtful counterpart to The Beatles and the other musicians of the era, who were always more commercially successful, fusing popular music with an intellectuality and social conscience. His lyrics were the first to be analysed and seriously regarded as literature and his words today represent part of the Western Canon, cited by presidents, scholars and musicians in equal measure (Rolling Stone 2001). For five decades he has been writing and performing, and his works are hugely varied in musical and lyrical content, from blues-influenced anti-war sing-alongs to ecclesiastical-funk in the rather forgettable born-again Christian years. His lyrics’ social commentary – particularly in his earlier years – truly fulfils the role of folk-music in spreading tales and ideas by oral means, which will always be a refreshing memory of when the large proportion of popular songs didn’t seem to revolve around either fellatio or handguns. Biography Ethnic/Racial Roots and Early Years Bob Dylan was born Robert Zimmerman into a Jewish family in Minnesota, where he grew up in the earliest years of rock and roll, and popular music as a whole.


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Highway 61 Revisited (1965) Dylan’s sixth studio album, ‘Highway 61…’ was the first he recorded with a full backing band, and represented a return his rock and roll roots. A departure from the often light-hearted grassroots folk songs of his earlier career, the album is emotionally intense and far more serious. Offending many of his folk fans, Dylan was booed off during his second performance of the album by the crowd Folk Festival in England, whose rage was directed symbolically at his electric guitar, seen as a particular betrayal. The album’s best-known song ‘Like A Rolling Stone’ was in 2004 named the ‘Greatest Song of All-Time’ by Rolling Stone magazine. Desire (1976) One of his most commercially successful albums, and the most acclaimed in the on-off period of the 70s and 80s, Desire was the most folk-influenced of the era for Dylan. The album was recorded with somewhat of a bordello of travelling musicians, with whom Dylan had toured and written with for the past year or so. The album’s opening track, Hurricane is one of his later protest songs, and – of the 4 songs over seven minutes on the album – an almost epic ballad, and his best example of classic folk storytelling. Modern Times (2006) His second album of the new millennium, Modern Times is a blues-rock orientated album, a genre not explored extensively in his earlier career.


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It also contains an extensive lyrics library which I used in analyzing ‘Like A Rolling Stone’ and many audio and video files of recordings and performances. http://folkmusic. com – This extensive catalog of articles has a particularly good section on protest songs, and the significance of folk music in the anti-war and civil rights movements. The article entitled ‘Who’s The Next Bob Dylan’ also provided me with some new names in folk music to pursue Citations Romanowski et al. The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll – (Simon & Schuster, 2001) A Tribute to Bob Dylan – Life in Hibbing. org – (Copyright 2002) Shelton. No Direction Home – (Penguin, 1987) Heylin. Bob Dylan: Behind the Shades Revisited – (Harper, 2003) Wikipedia – Modern Times (album).


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