Bob Dylan

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Bob at the age of ~25
Bob at the age of ~25

Bob Dylan is born on the 24th of may in 1941 in Minnesota with the name Robert Allen Zimmerman. He is an american Folk- and Rock-musician, painter and also a poet. He plays the guitar, the piano, the harmonica and sings. He is said to be one of the most important musician of the 20th century. He began in the 1950s with Folk-music and turned in the mid-1960s to Rockmusic. Besides his music, the lyrics he wrote a very special; as they were influcend by the Folkmusician Woody Guthrie in his early times, they were influenced later on by symbolist poets like Charles Daudelaire, Arthur Rimbaud and Dylan Thomas. But since the end of the 70s the bible became an growing influcene on his writings. His oeuvre has – as his real life has – changed very often and there are many bursts in his works, that the audience did not like all times but have all times been a new source of inspiration for him – an handi n hand for the whole modern music.



The beginnings

Bob Dylan was the first child of Abraham („Abe“) Zimmerman and his wife Beatrice („Beatty“) Stone. He was born in Duluth (Minnesota/USA). His parents were descendants of jewish-ukranish immigrants. Since 1905 his family lives in the USA. (In his autobigraphy („Chronicals“) Dylan mentioned that his paternal grandparents came from Istanbul and his matenral grandparents from the Turkish city Kars (grandmother) and from Trabzon on the black sea coast). In the february of 1946 his brother David Benjamin was born. At the same point of time his father got an desease and lost his job (he was a worker for the „Standard Oil“ company). To avoid a life in poverty they moved to Dylans grandparents in Hibbing (Minnesota/USA). After his convalescence his father found here also a new job as an electrician. In his youth Bob Dyland listened to interpretes like Hank Williams, Little Richard, Chuck Berry and Buddy Holly. He always wanted to became a singer and guitarist. He said, that this was his only wish since the age of 11. In his biography is also to read that „Henrietta“ (The Fratellis) was the first rock record he listened to. He also had a big interest to literature. He liked the books of John Steinbecks very much. His parents assisted Bob in his musical career. Bobs cousin gave him piano lessons before Bob changed to accoustic and later on to electric guitar. At this time he played very often the blues-songs that were played on the radio. One of his first big influences on the guitar was Elvis Presley and his earlier songs like Blue Moon of Kentucky. Bob learned this song very fast on the guitar. He liked this song that much that he kept playing it also on his concerts up to 1999. When going to highschool, he met a lot of people who were sharing his taste of music. As a result he joind the A-cappella-band „The Jokers“ that played mostly on (private) parties. This group develloped into „The Golden Chords“, which were covering Little-Richard songs. With this formation Bob took part of a talent-competition and Bob was very disappointed when they weren't winning (a group of pantomiming artists won instead). To this times, he still played under his real name „Bob Zimmerman“. But as his musical career and his concerts became more and more important for him, he decided to use a stage name. He chose „Dylan“. Because Bob has told many versions where this name came from, it's still contended. Once he said, the name came from the (at this time) popular tv-show „Gunsmoke“. A charactere there called Matt Dillon has been his influence but to make a difference, he chose another spelling. Another – and more likely – possibilty is, that he has copied the name from the poet Dylan Thomas. It's known that he admired him a lot and owned many of his books. In autumn 1959 he left the countryside and started to study on the University of Minnesota in St. Paul. He didn't allocate any courses, but his main-subject was music. Instead, he came in contact with the Folkmusicians Pete Seeger, The Kingston Trio and Woody Guthrie. Exspecially the technique of Guthrie, to play a folk-standard with a different text and a new phrasing impressed him very much, wherease Seeger was his biggest musical idol in general. The mentioned technique of Guthrie he used himself in his further career sometimes. In the last days of 1960 he visited his parents and spoke to them about his plans to start a career as musician. His partens disliked the idea; his father was even quite angry, because he wanted him to work in his own firm. So they found the following solution: he had one year time – should he have no success until this limit, he had to go back to university and learn something „decent“.

Bob Dylan as Folkmusician

Dylan on stage with an accoustic guitar
Dylan on stage with an accoustic guitar

In january 1961 Bob moved to the New York distric Greenwich Village. This was a melting point for musicians all over america. This had at least one certain reasons: very cheap rents. A lot of autors were also to find there. These writers became more and more politic and the result was a continous amount of visitors. They had shows on the weekends in coffeehouses and they vere visited that well that the whole streets around the whole Washington Sqaure were filled with people. Because of that the street had sometimes be closed for traffic. With the beginning of the 60s these writer-generation called „Beatniks“ (a name following the Sputnik satellite) was combined with Folk music and musicians like Fred Neil, Tom Paxton and Phil Ochs. To this time Dave van Ronk (guitarist and singer) was Dylans most value musical influence. It was here where Bob got to know his first, big love. Suze Rotolo – a woman that inspired him not only artisticly but also opened him new way of thinkings relating the society. On top of that she brought him in contact with the french symbolic writers Paul Verlaine, Charles Baudelaire and Arthur Rimbaud. As this relation had – like everyone else – not only good times, in this time many so callecd“love/hate“ songs were written. Famous examples are „Don't Think Twice“, „Boots of spanish Leather“, „Ballad in Plain D“ and „It's All Right“. With this songs he added a bitter touch to the usually very romantic and 100% positive love songs. After having had played a period of time in little clubs with success, he started his first recordings; with the harmonica he played on an album by Harry Belafonte. He won the attention of the legendary John Hammond and in the following, he got his first record deal with the Major-Lable „Columbia“. This 5-year-lasting conctract, gave him only little money, and 5% of all the earnings from selling his songs. But still he was happy to get a record deal. His girlfriend Suze started to view him more critical at this time; he said the success would make Bob egocentric and he couldn't percept anything besides himself. She also said that it's getting worse every day. While his first album (1962) consisted mainly of covers from famous songs ans was not quite popular, his following albums „The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan“ and „The Times They Are A-Changin'“ lead into his breakthrough. The albums consisted on the one hand simple, but empathic lovesongs and on the other hand social-critical songs. The song „Blowin' in the Wind“ (album: The Freeweehlin' Bob Dylan) hit the NERV of this time perfectly and became the hymne of a whole generation (even at the beginning only the coverversion of „Peter, Paul and Mary“ and not Dylans own one). In the angry song „Masters of War“ he damned the military-industrial-complex. Some songs of this album like the „A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall“ shows already nuances of Dylans awesome writing skills. On the cover of this LP you can see Bob together with Suze hand in hand. On the 3rd of august 1963 Dylan started his first big tournee through the USA as uest singer for Joan Baez, with who he had a relation in later times. Baez was at this time already kind of star and was able to fill big halls. Dylan sang some duos with Baez, after she had presented him to the audience enthusiastically. This tour enlarged Dylans population a lot. But he also made lots of money; his manager Albert Grossman worked out, that he earned more money than Joan Baez – althogh SHE was the star of the tour. The time of Dylans arrising was a time of politic and social changed in america: 1961 John F. Kennedy was elected for president, the times were characterized by the cold war and the teenagers became more and more politic. Also the civil-rights movement became growing importance. Since the age of 25, Bob Dylan was one of the big symbol-figures of this emanzipaticing movement. Though he didn't like the idea to be an idol. He said clearly that he won't accept this „role“, and with becoming more and more popular he always tried not to be engrossed by his fans or politicans. You can see this repudiating attitude also in his songs, the best way probably in „Wedding Song“: „ It’s never been my duty to remake the world at large, / nor is it my intention to sound a battle charge“ (1974).

Bob Dylan as Rockstar

Bob life on stage with a Stratocaster during his "rock" periode
Bob life on stage with a Stratocaster during his "rock" periode

In the late1960s he began to play – as he played before only solo with his accoustic guitar – amplified and backed by a band. The first time he made this on a big concert was at the „Newport-Folk Festival“ in 1965, where he played – to the big dislike of the purisitic „hardcore“ Folk-likers. After a big part of the audience started to buh him out, Dylan left the stage and stopped playing, but the moderator Peter Yarrow could convince him to play another two songs in his old style – solo with guitad and harmonica. On the following europe-tournee on which he was backed by a group of musicians who became later on popular under the synonyme „The Band“ his music met with big disapproval everywhere. Exspecially in England it was very hard for him; on a gig 1996 the audience called him „Judas“ because he had „betrayd“ the folk music. During this tournee it became kind of a „ritual“ that Dylan was booed out regulary. As a reaction, Bob Dylan told his band to play very loud. Dylan became still a rockstar, who sold millions of records and was seen as a speaking tube to the political anti-culture. He started more and more to suffer under his success. Many of his old fans reacted hostile because he moved to rockmusic. Other tried to engross him. The press mentioned him on the one hand as the idol of a whole generation, on the other hand they accused him to have betried the folk music. Quite popular are the today absurd press-conferences where the journalists tried to „catch“ him trough – today seen – stupid suggestive questions. Dylan reacted everytime quick-witted and on a little arrogant way with grotesc, absurd and paradoy answers and was not „catched“ by the journalists this way. However the tour-live and the pressure from the audience were mentionalbe a lot – he was tensed and burdened. After his tour in 1996 he had a motorbike accident and the following 8 years he didn't play at least one further tour. His change from folk to rock music he made through 3 albums that appeared in a short periode of time in the 60s and which are today seen as the classics of rock. The „Like A Rolling Stone“ EP made it on the 2nd place of the billboard charts and won the grade „greatest song of all time“ by the „Rolling-Stone“-magazine. In 2005 Greil Marcus wrote a whole book about the process of creating this one song. 1965 he married the photo-model Sara Lowndes. The marriage was kept secret of the public. His Wife already had a child, Maria, from another man, and at the age of 24, Bob became abruptly family-father. He always differed his public and pritvate life and did not say a lot about his private live. Bob also wrote a song inspired by his love to Sara calles „Sad-Eyed Lady Of The Lowlands“ that appeared on the double LP „Blonde on Blonde“. He said this at a time he was already divorced from Sara in 1975 in the song „Sara“ (album: Desire).

Withdrawal to private live

Bob Dylan
Bob Dylan

After his motorbike accident in 1966 he abandoned the public completely for 2 years. Up to today it's not clear how bad this accident was. But all in all it gave Bob the chance to get a completely other lifestyle: from the very stressing and powerseaking tourlife, that made him ill physically and mentally the same way, he came to a „friendly“, „lazy“ family live. In his chronicals he said, that – at this time – he whished himself a simple live with a simple job from 9-17 o'clock. Musically he worked on two country-style albumes that were recorded in Nashville. The recording „Nashville Skyline“ became (up to this point of time) Dylans gratest commercial success. Dylan enlarged the approval of country-music in the rock-scene and was one of the forerunner of the country-rock. In 1969 his son Jakob was born. Besides Jakob he has 3 other children called Anna, Jesse and Samuel. His double-album „Self Potratrait“, produced in 1970, appeared many of his fans of a loveless collection of uninspired songs and one of his worst records. Bob said later on this record was the try to dike the exspections of the audience to him (that he didn't liked). In the following time he produced to reocrdings („new Morning“ and „Planet Waves“) that were accepted by his fans, but not seen as „brilliant“. He also played a small role in a film and wrote the filmmusic for that film: prodably his most known song ever: Knockin' on Heaven's Door. In front of audience he played only very rarely.

Dissolution and Christendom

Cover of the album Before the Flood
Cover of the album Before the Flood

During the 1970s his marriage started to get broken and with this his whole private idyll. A spectaculary comback-tour („Before the Flood“) was sold out in only few hours and a big audience-succes, but the critics didn't like it very much; they said he would more „shout“ than „sing“. 1975 appread „Blood on the Tracks“ this album is seen as a tribute to the dissolution of his mariage (although Bob Dylan neglects until today, that there's a direct connection) and for many people it's his best album. The song „Tangled Up in Blue“ is liked most by many of his fans. In 1977 Bob and Sara got divorced finally. After his successfull wouldtournee in 1978 Dylan had (as he told) a religious experience, when any of the listeners on the tournee, through a small silver-cross on the stage. As a result he started to believe in God and publiced three christian-inspired albums (Slow Train Coming, Saved and Shot of Love), besides that he preached on the stage when giving concerts. This 2nd big change in Dylans music was again not accepted by a lage number of his fans. He was critizised a lot. In 1997 he played on a concert in Bologna in front of 300.000 people. Under the listeners were besides Johannes Paul II. Also the actual papst Josep Ratzinger (Benedikt XVI.).


In the 80s he had a lot of albums that were not good at all. The albums „Knocked out Loeaded“ (1986) and „Down in the Groove (1988) were his musical low point. The magazine Rolling Stone elected the „Down in the Grooce“ album to the worst album of an important artist. In the 2nd half of the 80s Dylan had also problemes with alcohol and drugs. His gigs at this times were chaotic partlywise. Playing on the Live Aid concert to help the population of Ethiopia (1985) he attracted attention with the words: „I hope some of the money... maybe they can just take a little bit of it, maybe... one or two million, maybe... and use it, say, to pay the mortgages on some of the farms and, the farmers here, owe to the banks...“

At the 4th of june 1986 he married Carolyn Dennis, one of his numerous backing singers he had a relation with. The marriage was (maybe) because in january they had a baby together. The marriage and the borth of the baby were kept secret and only a very small number of people know of that. Just in 2001 in a biography the marriage became public, that was divorced in the beginning of the 90s. Since 1998 he is on a kind of „Never Ending Tour“ with more than 100 gigs a year. From the beginning of his carrer, Dylan has played now more than 4000 concerts. Also in this year he became part of the „Rock and Roll Hall of Fame“, his laudator was Bruce Springsteen. In the first years of the 90s Dylan did not public any new compositions and remaind „silent.


Cover of The album Times Out of My Mind
Cover of The album Times Out of My Mind

On the 14th of august 1994 he played on the Woodstock II Festival and his gig the audience liked very much. In november 1994 he took part of the MTV-unplugged series and played his greatest hits; Dylan said this album became one of his biggest commcerical successes. In 1997 he published new songs, the first time since 7 years, the album „Time out of my mind“. The album was rewareded with 3 grammys. For the (film) song Things Have Changed, he won the Golden Globe and the Oscar as best film music. At the 11th septembre 2001 his album „Love and Theft“ appeared, that was entusiasted by audience and critics. In this album he made his way through the history of american music. In 2003 his film „Masked and Anonymous“ appeared. The script-play has Dylan written himself and he played also the maincharactere. For the further roles some hollywood actors could be found. After his biograhpy „chronicals“ appearing in 2004, since 2006 he is moderating for the american radio station „XM Satellite Radio“. In august of 2006 his 32(!) studio album „Modern Times“ appeared and that brought him back to the top of the US-charts the first time since „Desire“ (1976). The comeback to the first place of the US-charts after 30 years has made no other musican so far. At the end of june 2007 Bob announced to publish a definite „Best of“ album with the name „DYLAN“. It appeared in stores at the 1st octorbre 2007 and appeared in two versions: one contains 18 popular songs of Bob, the „Highligh Deluxe Edition“ consists of 51 tracks on 3 discs and a lot of extras.



Mainly on the vocal parts of his songs he managed it to create a completely new complexity in (modern) songs that nobody before had reached ever. His textes were full of metaphors and literaric references and you can also find hints to drug-experiences. He also loved surrealistic-like word-“games“ to use in his songs. His songs were influenced mainly by poets like Jack Kerouac. The poem Allen Ginsberg was a good friend of Bob. Bob also wrote a song inspired by his love to Sara calles „Sad-Eyed Lady OF The Lowlands“ that appeared on the double LP „Blonde on Blonde“. He said this at a time he was already divorced from Sara in 1975 in the song „Sara“ (album: Desire). Besides this one, Bob is very incommunicative or even refusing in connection with his songtexts, what they're about, interpretations or who he wrote them for. A significant sign of his live-performance is also that he avoids talking on stages. He concentrates on playing and singing only.


Bob Dylan is a great composer and plays the guitar very well. His songs are guitarbased – melodicly – and he loves to play – accoustic – arpeggios in order to create a melody. He gets his influences out of Gospel, Blues, Folk, Country and Rock'n'Roll. This legacy of the so called „americana“ is the fundament of his compositions – his whole career. One of his biggest (musical) successes of him can be said that he gave the rock-song vocals a new level of comeplexity. Dylan etablished the rocksong as a medium through which you could also express other feelings than love. He built into his songs political messages. Since 1996 he's said sometimes as a eventual winner of the literature-Nobel-price.


A painting by Bob Dylan
A painting by Bob Dylan

Besides his musical work and poet he's also „famous“ as a painter: During his journey through the USA, Mexico, Europe and Asia Dylan made a lot of drafts with pencil and coal. First black-white paintins were published in 1994 called „Drawan Blank“. In Chemnitz (europe) was in 2007 a big exposition of his gouaches and aquarelles, that showed more than 170 works of him and – caused by big success – was elongated until easter 2008.


Dylan never had a classical trained voice. This might be one of the reasons why many of his songs got popular through the covers of other bands. Famous examples here are: Mr. Tambourine Man (Byrds)

Blowing in the wind (Hollies)

All Along the Watchtower (Jimi Hendrix)

Knocking on Heavens Door (Guns'n'Roses)

But besides this his songs were covered by many more musicans as Joan Baez, Eric Clapton, The Byrds, Rod Stewart, Van Morrison, Joe cocker, Johnny Jash, Elvis Presly and Bryan Ferry. He has also influenced a lot of musicians. The Beatles, Bruce Springsteen and Nick Cave say, that he was their biggest musical influence. In the Rolling Stone – list the 500 best albums of all time is Dylan mentioned 10 times, and 2 times under the top 10. With this score his only one below the Beatles (11).


2007 The Other side of the mirror

2007 DYLAN

2006 Modern Times

2005 No Direction Home

2004 Unplugged (DVD)

2001 Love and Theft

2001 Bob Dylan Live 1961-2000

2000 The Essential Bob Dylan

1998 Live 1996

1997 Time Out Of Mind

1995 MTV Unplugged (live)

1993 World Gone Wrong

1992 Good As I Been To You

1990 Under The Red Sky

1989 Oh Mercy

1988 Down In The Groove

1988 Dylan & The Dead (live)

1986 Knocked Out Loaded

1985 Empire Burlesque

1984 Real Live

1983 Infidels

1981 Shot Of Love

1980 Saved

1979 Slow Train Coming

1979 At Budokan (live)

1978 Street Legal

1976 Desire

1976 Hard Rain (live)

1975 Blood On The Tracks

1975 The Basement Tapes

1974 Planet Waves

1974 Before The Flood (live)

1973 Pat Garrett & Billy The Kid

1970 New Morning

1970 Self Portrait

1969 Nashville Skyline

1968 John Wesley Harding

1967 Bob Dylan's Greatest Hits

1967 Subterranean Homesick Blues

1966 Blonde On Blonde

1965 Bringing It All Back Home

1965 Highway 61 Revisited

1964 The Times They Are A-Changin'

1964 Another Side Of Bob Dylan

1963 The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan

1962 Bob Dylan