October 13, 2016 4 min read
Robert Allen Zimmerman was born May 24th, 1941 in Duluth, Minnesota. He lived a quiet, traditional childhood, listening to country and blues on the radio before moving on to rock n’ roll during his teenage years.
During his time in High School, Zimmerman began experimenting with an old, out of tune piano where his love for music was born. When there wasn’t a piano available, Zimmerman would sing or play the guitar. One of his first musical incursions was with the band The Golden Chords, which he formed whilst in school, where he performed covers of songs by Little Richard and Elvis Presley. In 1959, his fellow classmates captioned his senior yearbook: “Robert Zimmerman: to join ‘Little Richard’”.
In 1959, Zimmerman moved to Minneapolis where he enrolled at the University of Minnesota and quickly became involved with the music scene. From then on, he began referring to himself as “Bob Dylan”.
“Like a Rolling Stone”
The sixties were a turning point for Dylan’s career. He dropped out of college and traveled to New York City in 1960 and, a year later, found himself playing folk covers at various clubs in Greenwich Village. A legend was born from Dylan’s up-country journey: at first, he had told people he’d made it to New York solely by hitching a ride on multiple train cars. Nonetless, a few years later Dylan admitted to having paid a man for a spot in his car.
By 1962, Dylan signed his first contract with Columbia Records and released his first album, simply titled Bob Dylan, which sold roughly 5.000 copies. Despite the insistencies made to drop him, Dylan continued his contract with Columbia and released The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan (1963). The album, which was composed mostly of original songs, which greatly differs from his previous work of covers-only approach, reached number 22 in the United States and became a number-one hit un the United Kingdom a year later. With his crackling voice and powerful lyrics, Dylan’s genius cemented itself, and, by 1964, he was playing 200 concerts a year. 1964 also saw the release of The Times Are a-Changin’, which feautured a mix of protest songs with more personal lyrics.
Between 1965 and 1966, Dylan’s new sound revolutionized rock history with albums like Highway 61 Revisited and Blonde on Blonde. Dylan’s 1965 single, “Like a Rolling Stone”, became his first milestone in an ever-growing musical collection.
Dylan would shy away from the spotlight for about two years after a motorcycle accident in 1966. Nevertheless, he re-entered the music scene in 1968 with the folk album John Wesley Harding. With its perplexing lyrics and a soft sound, it reached number two in the United States. The end of the sixties also saw the birth of a new musical collaboration. Partnered with Johnny Cash, Dylan released the song “Girl from the North Country”, which takes from both Dylan’s raw vocals and Cash’s mellower sound.
After a successful career in the sixties, and the release of five albums between 1970 and 1974, Dylan released Blood on the Tracks (1975), which reached number one in the United States. Although it received mixed reviews at first, it has become one of Dylan’s greatest albums in the eyes of fans and critics alike.
In 1979, he announced to the world that he’d become a born-again Christian and released two albums of contemporary gospel music: Saved (1980) and Shot of Love(1981). Dylan’s admittance was unpopular with fans and musicians, garnering critiques from household names such as John Lennon, and the artist even refused to play his earlier work while touring in late 1979 and 1980.
In 1985, Dylan released a five-LP retrospective called Biograph, which contained 18 previously unreleased tracks that took listeners on a journey through his earlier music. The next two years of Dylan’s life were occupied with tours alongside Tom Petty (1986) and The Grateful Dead (1987), both which prompted sloppy collaboration albums, before being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1989.
On October 1992, Columbia Records marked the 30th anniversary of Dylan’s first album with a star studded concert streamed live on pay-per-view. The concert was later released as an album that featured artists such as Johnny Cash, Eddie Vedder, Eric Clapton and Lou Reed, amongst others, and included Dylan himself.
In 1997, with the release of Time Out of Mind, Dylan received three Grammy Awards, including Album of the Year. Hailed as one of his best albums, it proved the return of Dylan’s artistic genius with more wholesome songs and the sound of his ever-trusted companion: the harmonica.
By the time 2001 rolled around, Dylan had recorded and released over 30 albums along the course of his career – and he had no intention of slowing down. In the past year, Dylan has released Shadows in the Night(2015): a compilation of songs written between 1923 and 1963 and previously recorded by Frank Sinatra. When asked about his newest batch of covers, Dylan responded: "I don't see myself as covering these songs in any way. They've been covered enough. Buried, as a matter a fact. What me and my band are basically doing is uncovering them. Lifting them out of the grave and bringing them into the light of day."
Playin’ it cool
Dylan’s significance, both musically and aesthetically, stems off his creation of the true singer-songwriter persona: a well-rounded musician who can write, compose and perform his own music. That, combined with an effortlessly cool way of presenting himself, is what has transformed Dylan’s act into a well-crafted, all-encompassing legacy. And his contemporaries agree.
The morning of October 13th, the internet went wild with the news that Dylan had been awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature “for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition”, further proving that his effect on people and art veers off in multiple directions.
This one’s for you, Bobbie