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Trying to encapsulate the life and career of Bob Dylan was an almost futile undertaking of journalists and biographers for well over four decades. As perhaps one of the most prolific and often imitated musical artists since the second half of the 20th century, Dylan remained throughout his career, an elusive and often confounding talent; one not easily pigeonholed, dissected or even interviewed. But Dylan - whose best work was well behind him by the mid-1970s - retained his mantle as one of rock music's most indomitable figures, crossing generations by earning legions of new fans, while influencing countless musicians from Jimi Hendrix and The Beatles to Sheryl Crow and 10,000 Maniacs. Songs like "Blowin' in the Wind," "The Times They Are A-Changin'" and "Like a Rolling Stone" moved beyond being mere hits songs. They entered into our musical lexicon, as part of American language and culture, making Dylan a bona fide music legend.Dylan was born Robert Allen Zimmerman on May 24, 1941 in Duluth, MN and raised in nearby Hibbing. An only child who took to listening to blues and country radio stations when he was young, he learned how to play the guitar and harmonica as a child, forming several bands later...
Trying to encapsulate the life and career of Bob Dylan was an almost futile undertaking of journalists and biographers for well over four decades. As perhaps one of the most prolific and often imitated musical artists since the second half of the 20th century, Dylan remained throughout his career, an elusive and often confounding talent; one not easily pigeonholed, dissected or even interviewed. But Dylan - whose best work was well behind him by the mid-1970s - retained his mantle as one of rock music's most indomitable figures, crossing generations by earning legions of new fans, while influencing countless musicians from Jimi Hendrix and The Beatles to Sheryl Crow and 10,000 Maniacs. Songs like "Blowin' in the Wind," "The Times They Are A-Changin'" and "Like a Rolling Stone" moved beyond being mere hits songs. They entered into our musical lexicon, as part of American language and culture, making Dylan a bona fide music legend.
Dylan was born Robert Allen Zimmerman on May 24, 1941 in Duluth, MN and raised in nearby Hibbing. An only child who took to listening to blues and country radio stations when he was young, he learned how to play the guitar and harmonica as a child, forming several bands later when he was in high school. His first, the Shadow Blasters, was short-lived thanks to having only one Little Richard song played at maximum volume in its repertoire. The band quickly disbanded after an audition for a talent contest at the local junior college, never to be heard from again. Dylan later formed The Golden Chords, a more polished ensemble that still liked playing loud, much to the consternation of school officials who routinely complained about the noise during the band's performances at school dances. After graduating high school in 1959, Dylan enrolled at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, performing in several coffee houses and cafés, while infusing himself into the local folk scene. It was during this time that he began going by the name Bob Dylan, taking the first name of poet Dylan Thomas.
Heavily inspired by the Hank Williams and Woody Guthrie - as well as the more popular Elvis Presley - Dylan went to Denver in the summer of 1960 where he met legendary blues singer and one-man band Jesse Fuller, leading to his decision to pursue a musical career. He then moved to New York City in the winter of 1960-61 with the intention of meeting Guthrie, who was lying in Greystone Park Psychiatric Hospital in New Jersey, dying slowly from Huntington's disease. Dylan made frequent bus trips to visit and play songs with his hero at the hospital, helping to alleviate Guthrie's misery while further developing his own folk repertoire. At 19, Dylan was a part of the folk revival taking place in New York in the early 1960s, playing coffeehouses around Greenwich Village while learning as many songs and techniques as possible. In April of 1961, he opened for blues legend John Lee Hooker, then earned a rave review in The New York Times for a performance later that fall.
Dylan was soon discovered by producer John Hammond, who signed the young folkie to a contract with Columbia and helped release his self-titled first album in March 1962. Though only costing a few hundred dollars to produce, Bob Dylan featured only two original compositions and, more importantly, sold poorly. Dylan was tagged as being "Hammond's folly" by Columbia executives, a sobriquet that immediately disappeared after his second effort, The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan, perhaps one of the most significant albums ever recorded. With songs like "Blowin' in the Wind," "A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall" and "Don't Think Twice, It's All Right," the album announced Dylan's emergence on the music scene loud and clear, turning the previous unknown into the emerging voice of a generation defining itself through protest and rebellion against authority. Peter, Paul and Mary recorded their own version of "Blowin' in the Wind," turning the song - which had been in Dylan's live set since April 1962 - into a huge pop hit in the summer of 1963. Also at this time, Dylan was romantically entangled with folk singer Joan Baez - making them kind of a fabled hippie couple in the annals of rock history. In two short years, Dylan went from being a struggling folk artist to a widely recognized household name.
After Freewheelin', Dylan recorded a string of albums - The Times They Are A-Changin', Another Side of Bob Dylan and Bringing it All Back Home - that cemented his reputation as a genius artist of the highest caliber. The latter helped touch off a furor among folk purists because it marked the first time Dylan recorded songs with electric instruments. The outrage within the acoustic-only crowd carried over to the 1965 Newport Folk Festival where Dylan showed up sporting a Fender Strat and was backed by the Paul Butterfield Blues Band. The audience booed him mercilessly, though later accounts attributed much of the crowd's derision to a faulty sound system, rather than Dylan's brush-off of traditional folk roots. Nonetheless, the story only added to the songwriter's growing myth, one perpetuated by his own tall tales that he told in his increasingly erratic and confrontational interviews. Later that year, he released perhaps his most widely known album, Highway 61 Revisited, which boasted perhaps his most recognized song, "Like a Rolling Stone."
Dylan, once a prominent part of the Civil Rights movement of the early 1960s, was soon feeling manipulated by organizers. Not helping matters was his deteriorating relationship with Baez, which accelerated after a short tour of Europe in 1965. The highly public affair ended bitterly, with both unwilling to speak to the other - but which inspired Baez's heartbreaking song "Diamonds and Rust." Dylan and Baez did, however, reconcile their friendship in the mid-1970s. He continued recording, of course, releasing his seventh studio album, Blonde on Blonde, a double-sided record that featured the beautiful "Visions of Johanna," the ironic "Stuck Inside a Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again" and the stoner anthem "Rainy Day Women #12 & 35." Meanwhile, just when he was elevated to iconic status in a short three years, Dylan suffered a near-fatal motorcycle accident in 1966 while riding his Triumph 500 in Woodstock, NY. Though the extent of his injuries was never fully disclosed, it was later confirmed that he had broken his neck in the crash.
Dylan convalesced in his home in upstate New York with his new wife, Sara Lowndes (mother to son Jacob of later "Wallflowers" fame), while spending the next few years recording music with The Hawks (later The Band) in Woodstock, releasing the quieter and much more subtle John Wesley Harding in December 1967. The album featured "All Along the Watchtower," which was later rearranged by Jimi Hendrix - one of the few occasions where the cover version actually turned out to be better than the original. Also in 1967, he was featured in D.A. Pennebaker's legendary documentary "Don't Look Back," an inspired piece of filmmaking that followed Dylan on his European tour in 1965, and featured among many other things - the songwriter flashing cue cards with lyrics for "Subterranean Homesick Blues;" lambasting journalists during interviews; and making superstar singer Donovan look foolish. Though still recording music and releasing albums - including the countrified Nashville Skyline in 1969 and his second double-album Self Portrait in 1970 - Dylan remained elusive in public, while critics began lambasting his output - particularly Self Portrait - for being aimless and derivative.
Dylan also performed sporadically, taking the stage at a Woody Guthrie tribute in 1968 - following his hero's death in late 1967 - at the Isle of Wight festival in 1969 and later, at his friend George Harrison's Concert for Bangladesh in 1971. Also that year, he was tapped by director Sam Peckinpah to write the soundtrack for "Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid" (1973), a moody western that showcased "Knockin' on Heaven's Door" while giving Dylan his first fictional role in a feature. After releasing perhaps his most esteemed album, Blood on the Tracks, in 1975, Dylan made his directorial debut with "Renaldo and Clara" (1977), an experimental crossbred that chronicled his 1975-76 Rolling Thunder Revue, while depicting Dylan, wife Sara and Baez, among others, in a series of improvisational skits. The nearly four-hour movie was released to scathing reviews. Meanwhile, Dylan was featured in "The Last Waltz" (1978), a concert documentary directed by Martin Scorsese that showcased The Band's final performance at San Francisco's legendary Winterland Ballroom.
Since the late 1970s, Dylan's music career hit the skids both artistically and critically. He converted to Christianity in 1979 and subsequently recorded Slow Train Coming - winning the Grammy for Best Rock Vocal by a Male in 1980. But this highlight was drowned in a sea of mediocre efforts that plagued his catalog, culminating in 1986 with the much-derided Knocked Out Loaded. After a successful - albeit strange - re-emergence on tour with the Grateful Dead as his backup band in 1987, Dylan returned to the feature film world with the uninspired musical drama "Hearts of Fire." In 1988, he embarked on what was later dubbed The Never-Ending Tour, a steady stream of concerts that continued well into the new millennium. However, before setting out on the road, he found time join a new supergroup, The Traveling Wilburys. Along with friends George Harrison, Jeff Lynne, Roy Orbison and Tom Petty, the group found success with two hit albums, including Traveling Wilburys Vol. 1 in 1989 and Traveling Wilburys Vol. 3 in 1990. On his own, he made a huge comeback musically in 1997, releasing the Grammy-winning Time Out of Mind, widely considered his best release since Blood on the Tracks.
Dylan made a rare foray into series television, appearing in a guest starring role as himself on the popular sitcom "Dharma and Greg" (ABC, 1997-2002) in 1999. After continuing his musical comeback with the controversial Love and Theft in 2001, - which was later found to have lyrics allegedly stolen from Confessions of a Yakuza - Dylan made another failed attempt into the feature world with Larry Charles' musical satire "Masked & Anonymous" (2003), playing an enigmatic singer released from prison and exploited by a ruthless concert promoter (John Goodman). He released yet another well-received album in 2006, Modern Times, which quickly became his first #1 record since Desire in 1976. Meanwhile, controversy brewed over the film "Factory Girl" (2006), a biopic on Edie Sedgwick (Sienna Miller), famed muse of artist Andy Warhol. Dylan's lawyers threatened to sue, alleging that the film alluded to him as being responsible for Sedgwick's death in 1971. Meanwhile, Dylan's life and music were re-enacted in "I'm Not There" (2007), an odd biopic directed by Todd Haynes that used different actors - namely Christian Bale, Richard Gere, Heath Ledger and yes, even actress Cate Blanchett - to depict the singer-songwriter at different stages in his career.
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In May 1997, Dylan was diagnosed with a potentially fatal and rare heart infection. He was hospitalized after suffering chest pains but eventually recovered.
Inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1988.
Made a commander of the Order of Arts and Letters by the French government in 1988.
"The saddest thing about songwriting is when you get something really good and you put it down for a while, and you take for granted that you'll be able to get back to it with whatever inspired you do it in the first place--well, whatever inspired you to do it in the first place is never there anymore, So then you've got to consciously stir up the inspiration to figure what it was about. Usually you get one good part and one not-so-good part, and the not-soo-good part wipes out the good part." --Dylan to Bill Flanaghan, March 1985, included in Flanaghan's book "Written In My Soul"
In June 2004, Dylan received an honorary doctor of music degree from Scotland's oldest university St. Andrews.
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MikeMayer ( 2008-05-12 )
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In 2008, Dylan was awarded a Pulitzer Prize Special Citation for his "profound impact on popular music and American culture, marked by lyrical compositions of extraordinary poetic power."
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