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Tuesday, September 13, 2011

(Published in The New Indian Express, School Edition, dated 5 September, 2011, retrieved from

In the weeks following Amy Winehouse’s death, a lot has been written about ‘The 27 Club’ – musicians who died young, many from drug overdose. But there are others whose legends are driven not by what may have been, but what was. And what greater proof can there be of longevity than a song penned in 1964 being used as the title track of a movie released in 2009? If the haunting melody of The Times They Are a-Changin’ stayed with you as you watched Watchmen, you should be listening to more Bob Dylan.

The singer-songwriter, who turned 70 this May, has been on the circuit since 1961, and still averages a concert every three days. Born Robert Allen Zimmerman, he changed his name as a tribute to the Welsh poet Dylan Thomas. He has also used the pseudonym Robert Milkwood Thomas.
Bob Dylan is not simply a pop icon, but a cultural one. Often dubbed a prophet and poet, possibly because his lyrics are arguably more powerful than their catchy tunes, he is also a writer and artist. There have even been calls for him to be awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, for his poetry.
Dylan started off as a folk and country singer, and went on to perform blues and rock ’n’ roll. He experimented with jazz and swing, and even got into gospel music for a period.
It may have been his voice, which has sometimes been compared to sandpaper and sawdust, that inspired his sudden rise to fame, after his first album did so badly that his recording label termed him a “folly” and considered dumping him. And that voice took up several social causes, including civil rights, anti-war campaigning, and even the creation of Bangladesh.
Born in Duluth, Minnesota, into a Jewish family of Eastern European origin, Dylan was inspired by performers Little Richard and Woody Guthrie. Guthrie, who sang the famous This Land is Your Land, would later become Dylan’s mentor, and would be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame the same year as Dylan – 1988.
As he became a major player in the ‘Counterculture’ of the sixties, Bob Dylan came into contact with the Beatles, Joan Baez and Jimi Hendrix, and performed with several groups and musicians, often under aliases such as Bob Landy, Blind Boy Grunt (among his influences were Blind Blake and Blind Willie McTell) and Tedham Porterhouse.
Over the years, Dylan – who recorded more than 300 songs in the first three years of his career – has changed his voice, genre, instruments and religion. From his losing himself in psychedelic drugs to finding Jesus, every aspect of his personal and professional life has been publicised. His relationship with the media has been strained, with critics hailing and trashing him in turns, and journalists accusing him of arrogance, exaggeration and even outright lying. He refers to his labels as stereotypical media creations.
In a career spanning five decades, Dylan has taken very few breaks. His touring schedule was interrupted only by a motorcycle accident and a fungal inflection – histoplasmosis – which saw him hospitalised.
To understand the range of his music, one should listen to Blowin’ in the Wind, Like a Rolling Stone, Subterranean Homesick Blues (which signalled his shift to electric guitar), Mr Tambourine Man, The Lonesome Death of Hattie Caroll, Lay Lady Lay, Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door, Lone Pilgrim, Things Are Changing (which won him an Academy Award) and Forever Young. Each of these has a different style, attitude, subject and even voice!


Pope John Paul II delivered a speech based on Dylan’s song Blowin’ in the Wind
Dylan wrote the song All Along the Watchtowerand recorded it before Jimi Hendrix did
He had a motorcycle accident at the height of his career, and didn’t tour for 8 years after that
He was a radio DJ for 3 years, from 2006-2009
He doesn’t like the phrase Never Ending Tour, used to describe his almost everyday performances since 1988
His song I’m Not There was released 40 years after it was first recorded.


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