“A person is a success if they get up in the morning and gets to bed at night, and in between dose what he wants to do” --words spoken by the singer/songwriter Bob Dylan. Being a man of success himself, yet a very humble and simple man, changed the way people view musical quality. Dylan was awarded with the number one song in the twentieth century with those lyrics from his masterpiece Like a Rolling Stone, by Rolling Stone Magazine. His poetic words were heard all across the world, inspiring all who heard his voice.
Telling tales of political and civil injustice, Dylan’s words brought normal everyday life a new sense of hope through tough times in a person’s life. Discussed will be the early era of Dylan from his unique musical talents during his childhood which drove him to his writing pieces, himself as an inspirational and motivated leader of the 1960’s and how his powerful music makes him one of the most influential musicians of all time. In the beginning, Bob Dylan was born Robert Allan Zimmerman on May 24th, 1941 in Duluth Minnesota (Heatly, 126).
Dylan was raised in a middle-class family to his parents Abraham and Beatrice Zimmerman (Martin). His father owned Zimmerman Furniture & Appliance Company in the small town of Duluth, but the family was forced to move to the nearby town of Hibbing after he lost the business due to him becoming ill with polio in 1946 (Kooper). Dylan was raised in Hibbing, Minnesota from the age of seven and lived there for most of his childhood (Heatly, 126). Raised in a small town, Dylan was musically inclined and had a great significance in music at an incredibly young age which brought him to learn many various instruments at the same time.
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He took piano lessons when first moving to Hibbing, but became impatient with the teacher so decided to quit lessons and began to teach himself how to play piano, guitar and harmonica; without surprisingly knowing how to read music (Martin). With his yearning for music, Dylan was largely influenced by the late-night radio broadcasts of the country, blues and rock-and-roll, during his mid-teens (Heatly, 126). Some of his favorites were the blues musicians, which included Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf and Jimmy Reed (Martin).
Dylan’s favorite musical idol was Woody Guthrie, who was a socially-conscious singer/songwriter of “This Land is Your Land” and several other protest songs (Heatly, 126). Always knowing he wanted to be a musician, Dylan tried to play in many bands as possible during high school and throughout college as well. In 1959, just before enrolling in college, he served a brief stint playing piano for the rising pop star, Bobby Vee (Kooper). With some musical experience, Dylan participated in several high school rock bands while studying at the University of Minnesota with a high interest of American folk music (Heatly 126).
While in college, Dylan discovered the bohemian section of Minneapolis know as Dinkytown (Kooper). An after Dylan explored the talent that came out of Dinkytown; Dylan was inspired to quit the University of Minnesota and became a full-time musician. Dylan traveled to the East Coast, playing at several Greenwich Village coffeehouses and was gaining rising fame (Heatly, 126). He went by the phony name of Bob Dylan, which was picked out after the Welsh poet Dylan Thomas. Dylan picked him because he liked many of Thomas’ poems (Kooper).
During his travels between coffeehouses, Dylan was determined to meet up with musician Woody Guthrie. Guthrie, who was actually in a New Jersey hospital dying from a neurological disorder called Huntington’s Chorea. Dylan was able to speak to Guthrie, his idol, before he passed away… but never explained in detail of their only and final conversation between each other (Heatly, 126). With his multiple coffeehouse performances, his career took off and still soars to this day.
Bob Dylan became a common name and his skills of music and lyrics became widely known; which make you wonder what was said between him and Guthrie? Bob Dylan is a very skillful songwriter, usually expressing his ideas through his well known protest songs. His protest songs often dealt with problems caused by social and political injustice, which include “Blowin in the Wind and “The Times They Are A-Changin” (Martin). The Civil Rights Movement took very kindly to Dylan’s songs, so well that they wanted him to be a part of the cause for quality.
His best known work of the 1960’s took on a musical shadow so large it shaped into a political influence. It was such a huge influence, the Civil Rights Movement adopted his song “Blowin in the wind” as their anthem for equality and peace (Ayoub). Dylan accepted his place in the Civil Rights Movement and gathered the attention of the people to the movement. Frequently performing at the Civil Rights rallies in the early 1960’s which included the March on Washington when Martin Luther King gave his “I Have a Dream” speech on August 28th 1963 (Rathbone).
Dylan became a powerful voice to all the working-class people in America during the 1960’s. He had several protest songs that had political content that both reflected and influenced the concerns of a generation of younger people such as the Civil Rights movement, anti-nuclear weapons campaign and the anti-Vietnam War movement (Rathbone). Dylan was a prominent part of the radical change during the 1960’s reform and was greatly recognized for his participation such as receiving the Tom Paine Award by The National Civil Liberties Committee for his contribution and achievements (Rathbone).
All throughout Bob Dylan’s musical career, he has created and molded new types of different styles of music together. His inspiration was to intimidate the music of his own music idol, Woody Guthrie. He wanted to be a socially conscious singer/composer just like Guthrie (Heatly, 126). As the times changed, Dylan became a musical chameleon. He was able to conform to the changes in the popularity in music. Dylan’s career started with folk and protest music in the early 1960’s then moved through to electrified folk-rock in the mid and late 1960’s and early 1970’s (Kamin).
After the Civil Rights, most fans found Dylan’s folk music more admiring and significant than anything he had ever wrote; popularity formed by creating the raw-sounding combo of vocals, harmonica and guitar. That mixture alone has kept his music career last him forty-seven years (Rathbone). Dylan did not want to stop there; he wanted to evolve into the new generation of music. Dylan cross-pollinated folk and country music with electric rock, creating an entirely new dimension of popular music (Heatly, 126). He liked to mix sounds and experiment different styles to meet his high expectations of creativity.
He created the new style called “folk-rock” mixing his original folk sound but began to play electric guitar to embrace rock-and-roll (Dylan). Some Dylan fans did not approve of his switch but happened to still remained a musical sensation with a wider audience. Dylan and his band also caused an uproar at the Newport Folk Festival in July of 1965, when they began to perform with electric instruments instead of traditional acoustic ones. After being heckled by the crowd, they left the stage after only playing three songs (Martin). Dylan kept his optimism up with his fan-base and continued to play his electric instruments.
To win back his fans, “Like a Rolling Stone” was a United States hit, cementing his reputation as a lyricist but added his new sound among the electrical instruments of guitars and organs (Ayoub). His musical career had its ups and downs, but his fans rolled through his many experimented musical styles. Dylan’s voice and songwriting were still raw but were mixed with the realms of traditional folk, country, blues, rock-and-roll and gospel (Kamin). A Bob Dylan song is more than just a catchy tune to whistle to. Dylan was possibly the most influential singer/songwriters of his era (Dylan).
Not only did he create a respectable musical rhythm, his lyrics were his area of expertise. He wrote very poetic and sometimes even abstract but often-philosophical lyrics of astute commentary and therapeutic introspection that spoke to masses during an era of social unrest, political upheaval and radical change (Heatly 126). Dylan had many techniques to keep his audience engaged with his poetic lyrics, by performing his allusive, poetic songs with his nasal spontaneous vocal style and electrical bond. He enlarged pop music’s range and vocabulary while creating a widely limited sound.
While accomplishing all of that, he still had the ability to challenge, influence and surprise his listeners (Wenner). In his earlier lyric writings, he focused on the societal issues during his protest era. The songs were broken down into a simple folk melody combined with lyrics questioning the social and political status quo. These songs were very native and unsophisticated in their nature, catching the attention of the zeitgeist of the 1960’s (Ayoub). All of his music was interpreted differently but he reached an elevated standard of lyric writing also the role of the singer/songwriter as well (Heatly, 126).
While a fine interpreter of songs, Dylan was not considered a beautiful singer. Many of his own songs when first reaching the public were sung through other artists. Dylan’s fans could get past his singing, only because they were amazed how he could write such wonderful lyrics. Dylan’s music was also more popular though other artist that covered his songs such as Joan Baez, Pete Paul & Mary, Guns n’ Roses, The Byrds and Jimi Hendrix, because adding an able singer to his wonderful lyrics made his music very popular to a wider group of fans (Ayoub).
Dylan was hailed the Shakespeare of his generation, due to his intellectualism of classic literature and poetry that showed though his music; even if he was not the artist performing the song (Kooper). It was subsequently common for a band to cover Dylan’s songs in the mid-1960’s, that CBS started to promote him by saying “Nobody sings Dylan like Dylan. ” Whoever sang his songs were immediately recognized as his and a good part of his fame rested not only on his lyrical excellence but on the underlying attitude of Dylan (Ayoub).
Even though many artists covered his songs, Dylan had his own techniques to sing his songs. He sang in what he called the “taking blues” and story-telling format in most of his first few albums such as “The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan” and “The times They Are A-Changin” (Dylan). Dylan had many other trademarks and techniques that signified his music. One of his newer types of songs was a lengthy and impressionistic still retaining an element of social commentary but added dense metaphorical landscape like the songs “Chimes of Freedom” and “Mr. Tambourine Man.
He exhibited his dry wit and inhabited by a sequence of grotesque, metaphorical character (Ayoub). Dylan’s many styles of lyrics have all contributed to his success as a musician. The music Dylan made revolutionized rock, as his lyrics were analyzed, debated, and quoted like no music before him. Dylan chewed up traditional folk and spat out literary and folk traditions still used today (Wenner). Bob Dylan was given a lot of recognition and praise for his achievements and gain throughout his musical career. There are so many musical facets he discovered and always pushed his musical talent to the limit.
Not only had Dylan achieve a high musical status, but he is highly looked upon in society for his contribution for the Civil Rights movement. He gave a voice to the working-class to fight for peace and help give a reason for freedom to the minorities. Dylan’s musical talent is beyond any other, as being able to compose his own music and create a whole new genre of music for an ever-changing society of his time. Along with his musical style, his lyrical masterpieces gave his listeners a mass of different trademarks in his lyrics.
Every song he has written, all the way from his first protest song to his upbeat electric songs along with his metaphorical and abstract songs, has changed the standard of a singer/songwriter. All throughout his career, Dylan has given a voice to the working people, by creating new genres of music and is the ideal singer/songwriter of the 1960’s. As the ambiguous man he was, he had more questions than answers. At the end of the day, Bob Dylan would always say “All I can do is be me, whoever that is. ” He knew he was a man of radical change, but he did not know he could change the world with a piece of paper, a pencil and a guitar.
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