I find the term fan limiting, as to how I conceive Bob Dylan the artist, the poet, the musician and the man. Fact is, his influence on modern/popular music- if you wish to categorise that into your preferred genre, i.e. country, pop, rock and r&b - is unavoidable.
|Newark Airport 1964 by Daniel Kramer / Promo photo 1978 - Anon. / Modern Times 2006 by William Claxton|
Whether you have read Shakespeare or not, you cannot deny William’s importance to the English language; most writers have been inspired by his descriptive use of words and prose. You may not understand the cubes, or the blues of a Picasso painting, but it is open knowledge that he was one of the greatest influences on the face of modern art. You could go as far as to say that they were prime architects of their craft; who, ignoring negative criticism, smashed through all established barriers, opening to those who followed the unending world of creativity. Bob Dylan ranks on par with the few who fall into this elite, farseeing, artistic category of geniuses.
In the early 60’s he was the prophet who showed the music world that it was time to grow up and leave school to face the World and all its perils. Armed with a guitar and a typewriter, he set long imprisoned words free, and married them to music. No subject was taboo for this young writer, the flow of ideas and the lyrics out of his artistic soul never ceased; even his rejects were masterpieces, a fact confirmed by Joan Baez, who seems to have enjoyed rummaging through his waste paper basket! Among his mentors were: Woody Guthrie, Robert Johnson, and the poet Dylan Thomas. Their job was to fuel his innovative mind, the product that came out was pure Bob Dylan.
|Photo by Jerry Schatzberg|
Dylan showed the major artists of the time that they could break out of the chains of conformity and write and sing about other matters besides teenage love and high school dances. He gave an attitude to songs and lyrics; it showed the Beatles that there was more to writing a song than “Love Me Do”, or the Rolling Stones that they could go further than “Not Fade Away”. The list of those who kicked off their careers by riding on the back of one his songs is long, and many of his works are falsely attributed to other artists. This attitude personified his own characteristics, once his mind was set on a direction the opinions of the press or fans could not sway him; for example, despite the outcry when he went electric, he carried on his chosen path, ignoring all the threats and abuses thrown at him.
There are many labels that have been attached to his name: rebel, protester and loner, to name some. Others accuse him of having a gift for self-hype, and having invented the arrogant posturing that is dominant in rock. I leave it to President Obama to try and explain the phenomenon: “Here’s what I love about Dylan – he was exactly as you’d expect he would be- He wouldn’t come to the rehearsal. He didn’t want to take a picture with me; usually all the talent is dying to take a picture with me and Michelle before the show, but he didn’t show up to that- He played ‘The Times They Are a-Changin’, a beautiful rendition. The guy is so steeped in this stuff he can come up with a new arrangement and the song sounds completely different.- Finishes the song, steps off the stage ... comes up, shakes my hand, sort of tips his head, gives me just a little grin and then leaves. That was our only interaction with him. And I thought; that’s how you want Bob Dylan, right? You don’t want him to be cheesin’ and grinnin’ with you. You want him to be a little skeptical about the enterprise.”
Since 1988 Dylan has been on what is called‚ ’The Never Ending Tour’- and even now as he enters his 71st year Dylan shows no sign of stopping. He seems to be more at home on the move than living in any of his many homes; but there is no drinking a beer with the boys after the show. In true Dylan fashion when he tours, he travels in a gigantic customised bus; his band get their own coach and apart from on stage, he pays them little attention. One veteran music industry executive said: “Bob’s one of the hardest working people I know. He loves being on the road. He’s 70 years old but had a thrill about playing Vietnam for the first time. It really is like he’s still 19. But when he plays, he plays obscure tracks and not the classic songs that everybody loves. It is infuriating for fans but they love him for it.”
Asking what is the role of Dylan in the development of popular music, is similar as asking where does Einstein belong in the philosophy of mathematics? Who is Bob Dylan? The only person who can answer that question is Robert Zimmerman, and he’s not speaking!
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