Gasteiz, Spain in June 2010
Born Robert Allen Zimmerman
May 24, 1941 (age 75)
Duluth, Minnesota, United States
Residence Malibu, California, U.S.
Elston Gunn Blind Boy Grunt Bob Landy Robert Milkwood Thomas Tedham Porterhouse Lucky Wilbury Boo Wilbury Jack Frost Sergei Petrov
Singer-songwriter artist writer
Years active 1959–present
Home town Hibbing, Minnesota, U.S.
Spouse(s) Sara Dylan (m. 1965; div. 1977)
Carolyn Dennis (m. 1986; div. 1992)
Maria Dylan (adopted)
Folk blues rock country gospel
Vocals guitar keyboards harmonica
Joan Baez The Band Johnny Cash Grateful Dead George Harrison Mark Knopfler Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers Traveling Wilburys
Bob Dylan (/ˈdɪlən/; born Robert Allen Zimmerman, May 24, 1941) is an American singer-songwriter, artist and writer. He has been influential in popular music and culture for more than five decades. Much of his most celebrated work dates from the 1960s when his songs chronicled social unrest, although Dylan repudiated suggestions from journalists that he was a spokesman for his generation. Nevertheless, early songs such as “Blowin’ in the Wind” and “The Times They Are a-Changin'” became anthems for the American civil rights and anti-war movements. Leaving behind his initial base in the American folk music revival, his six-minute single “Like a Rolling Stone”, recorded in 1965, enlarged the range of popular music. Dylan’s mid-1960s recordings, backed by rock musicians, reached the top end of the United States music charts while also attracting denunciation and criticism from others in the folk movement.
Dylan’s lyrics have incorporated various political, social, philosophical, and literary influences. They defied existing pop music conventions and appealed to the burgeoning counterculture. Initially inspired by the performances of Little Richard and the songwriting of Woody Guthrie, Robert Johnson, and Hank Williams, Dylan has amplified and personalized musical genres. His recording career, spanning more than 50 years, has explored the traditions in American song—from folk, blues, and country togospel, rock and roll, and rockabilly to English, Scottish, and Irish folk music, embracing even jazz and the Great American Songbook. Dylan performs with guitar, keyboards, and harmonica. Backed by a changing lineup of musicians, he has toured steadily since the late 1980s on what has been dubbed the Never Ending Tour. His accomplishments as a recording artist and performer have been central to his career, but songwriting is considered his greatest contribution.
Since 1994, Dylan has published six books of drawings and paintings, and his work has been exhibited in major art galleries. As a musician, Dylan has sold more than 100 million records, making him one of the best-selling artists of all time. He has also receivednumerous awards including eleven Grammy Awards, a Golden Globe Award, and an Academy Award. Dylan has been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Minnesota Music Hall of Fame, Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame, and Songwriters Hall of Fame. The Pulitzer Prize jury in 2008 awarded him a special citation for “his profound impact on popular music and American culture, marked by lyrical compositions of extraordinary poetic power.” In May 2012, Dylan received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama.
Life and career
Origins and musical beginnings
Zimmerman family home in Hibbing, Minnesota
Bob Dylan was born Robert Allen Zimmerman (Hebrew name שבתאי זיסל בן אברהם [Shabtai Zisl ben Avraham]) in St Mary’s Hospital on May 24, 1941, in Duluth, Minnesota,and raised in Hibbing, Minnesota, on the Mesabi Range west of Lake Superior. He has a younger brother, David. Dylan’s paternal grandparents, Zigman and Anna Zimmerman, emigrated from Odessa, in the Russian Empire (now Ukraine), to the United States following the anti-Semitic pogroms of 1905. His maternal grandparents, Ben and Florence Stone, wereLithuanian Jews who arrived in the United States in 1902. In his autobiography, Chronicles: Volume One, Dylan wrote that his paternal grandmother’s maiden name was Kirghiz and her family originated from Kağızman district of Kars Province in northeastern Turkey.
Dylan’s parents, Abram Zimmerman and Beatrice “Beatty” Stone, were part of a small, close-knit Jewish community. They lived in Duluth until Robert was six, when his father had polio and the family returned to his mother’s hometown, Hibbing, where they lived for the rest of Robert’s childhood. In his early years he listened to the radio—first to blues and country stations from Shreveport, Louisiana and later, when he was a teenager, to rock and roll. He formed several bands while attending Hibbing High School. In the Golden Chords, he performed covers of songs by Little Richard and Elvis Presley. Their performance of Danny & the Juniors’ “Rock and Roll Is Here to Stay” at their high school talent show was so loud that the principal cut the microphone. In 1959, his high school yearbook carried the caption “Robert Zimmerman: to join ‘Little Richard’.” The same year, as Elston Gunnn [sic], he performed two dates with Bobby Vee, playing piano and clapping.
Zimmerman moved to Minneapolis in September 1959 and enrolled at the University of Minnesota. His focus on rock and roll gave way to American folk music. In 1985, he said:
He began to perform at the Ten O’Clock Scholar, a coffeehouse a few blocks from campus, and became involved in the Dinkytown folk music circuit.
During his Dinkytown days, Zimmerman began introducing himself as “Bob Dylan”.In his memoir, Dylan acknowledged that he had been influenced by the poetry of Dylan Thomas. Explaining his change of name in a 2004 interview, Dylan remarked, “You’re born, you know, the wrong names, wrong parents. I mean, that happens. You call yourself what you want to call yourself. This is the land of the free.”
Dylan married Sara Lownds on November 22, 1965. Their first child, Jesse Byron Dylan, was born on January 6, 1966, and they had three more children: Anna Lea (born July 11, 1967), Samuel Isaac Abram (born July 30, 1968), and Jakob Luke (born December 9, 1969). Dylan also adopted Sara’s daughter from a prior marriage, Maria Lownds (later Dylan, born October 21, 1961). Bob and Sara Dylan were divorced on June 29, 1977. Maria married musician Peter Himmelman in 1988. In the 1990s, Dylan’s son Jakob became well known as the lead singer of the band The Wallflowers. Jesse Dylan is a film director and a successful businessman.
Desiree Gabrielle Dennis-Dylan, Dylan’s daughter with his backup singer Carolyn Dennis (often professionally known as Carol Dennis), was born on January 31, 1986, and Dylan married Carolyn Dennis on June 4, 1986.The couple divorced in October 1992. Their marriage and child remained a closely guarded secret until the publication of Howard Sounes’ Dylan biography, Down the Highway: The Life Of Bob Dylan in 2001.
When not touring, Dylan is believed to live primarily in Point Dume, a promontory on the coast of Malibu, California, though he also owns property around the world.
Growing up in Hibbing, Minnesota, Dylan and his family were part of the area’s small but close-knit Jewish community, and in May 1954 Dylan had his Bar Mitzvah. Around the time of his 30th birthday, in 1971, Dylan visited Israel, and also met Rabbi Meir Kahane, founder of the New York-based Jewish Defense League. Time magazine quoted him saying about Kahane, “He’s a really sincere guy. He’s really put it all together.” Subsequently, Dylan downplayed the extent of his contact with Kahane.
Dylan performs in Ahoy Rotterdam, the Netherlands, June 4, 1984
During the late 1970s and early 1980s, Dylan converted to Christianity. From January to April 1979, he participated in Bible study classes at theVineyard School of Discipleship in Reseda, California. Pastor Kenn Gulliksen has recalled: “Larry Myers and Paul Emond went over to Bob’s house and ministered to him. He responded by saying, ‘Yes he did in fact want Christ in his life.’ And he prayed that day and received the Lord.”
By 1984, Dylan was distancing himself from the “born again” label. He told Kurt Loder of Rolling Stone magazine: “I’ve never said I’m born again. That’s just a media term. I don’t think I’ve been an agnostic. I’ve always thought there’s a superior power, that this is not the real world and that there’s a world to come.” In response to Loder’s asking whether he belonged to any church or synagogue, Dylan laughingly replied, “Not really. Uh, the Church of the Poison Mind.” In 1997 he told David Gates of Newsweek:
In an interview published in The New York Times on September 28, 1997, journalist Jon Pareles reported that “Dylan says he now subscribes to no organized religion.”
Dylan has been a supporter of the Chabad Lubavitch movement in the last 20 years,and has privately participated in Jewish religious events, including the Bar Mitzvahs of his sons and attending Hadar Hatorah, a Chabad Lubavitch yeshiva. In September 1989 and September 1991, he appeared on the Chabadtelethon. Dylan reportedly visits Chabad synagogues; on Yom Kippur in 2007 he attended Congregation Beth Tefillah, in Atlanta, Georgia, where he was called to the Torahfor the sixth aliyah.
Dylan has continued to perform songs from his gospel albums in concert, occasionally covering traditional religious songs. He has also made passing references to his religious faith—such as in a 2004 interview with 60 Minutes, when he told Ed Bradley that “the only person you have to think twice about lying to is either yourself or to God.” He also explained his constant touring schedule as part of a bargain he made a long time ago with the “chief commander—in this earth and in the world we can’t see.”
In a 2009 interview with Bill Flanagan promoting Dylan’s Christmas LP, Christmas in the Heart, Flanagan commented on the “heroic performance” Dylan gave of “O Little Town of Bethlehem” and that he “delivered the song like a true believer”. Dylan replied: “Well, I am a true believer.”
Dylan has been described as one of the most influential figures of the 20th century, musically and culturally. He was included in the Time 100: The Most Important People of the Century where he was called “master poet, caustic social critic and intrepid, guiding spirit of the counterculture generation”. In 2008, The Pulitzer Prize jury awarded him a special citation for “his profound impact on popular music and American culture, marked by lyrical compositions of extraordinary poetic power.” President Barack Obama said of Dylan in 2012, “There is not a bigger giant in the history of American music.” In their 2008 assessment of the “100 Greatest Singers”, Rolling Stone magazine ranked him at number seven. Rolling Stone then ranked Dylan at number two in its 2011 list of “100 Greatest Artists” of all time, while “Like A Rolling Stone” was listed as the “Greatest Song of all Time.”In 2008, it was estimated that Dylan had sold about 120 million albums worldwide.
Initially modeling his writing style on the songs of Woody Guthrie, the blues of Robert Johnson, and what he termed the “architectural forms” of Hank Williams songs,Dylan added increasingly sophisticated lyrical techniques to the folk music of the early 1960s, infusing it “with the intellectualism of classic literature and poetry”. Paul Simonsuggested that Dylan’s early compositions virtually took over the folk genre: “[Dylan’s] early songs were very rich … with strong melodies. ‘Blowin’ in the Wind’ has a really strong melody. He so enlarged himself through the folk background that he incorporated it for a while. He defined the genre for a while.”
When Dylan made his move from acoustic folk and blues music to a rock backing, the mix became more complex. For many critics, his greatest achievement was the cultural synthesis exemplified by his mid-1960s trilogy of albums—Bringing It All Back Home, Highway 61 Revisited and Blonde on Blonde. In Mike Marqusee’s words:
Dylan’s lyrics began to receive detailed scrutiny from academics and poets. Literary critic Christopher Ricks published a 500-page analysis of Dylan’s work, placing him in the context of Eliot, Keats and Tennyson,claiming that Dylan was a poet worthy of the same close analysis. Former British poet laureate Sir Andrew Motion argued that his lyrics should be studied in schools. Since 1996, academics have lobbied the Swedish Academy to award Dylan the Nobel Prize in Literature.
Dylan’s voice also received critical attention. New York Times critic Robert Shelton described his early vocal style as “a rusty voice suggesting Guthrie’s old performances, etched in gravel like Dave Van Ronk’s.” David Bowie, in his tribute, “Song for Bob Dylan”, described Dylan’s singing as “a voice like sand and glue”. His voice continued to develop as he began to work with rock’n’roll backing bands; critic Michael Gray described the sound of Dylan’s vocal work on “Like a Rolling Stone” as “at once young and jeeringly cynical”. As Dylan’s voice aged during the 1980s, for some critics, it became more expressive. Christophe Lebold writes in the journal Oral Tradition, “Dylan’s more recent broken voice enables him to present a world view at the sonic surface of the songs—this voice carries us across the landscape of a broken, fallen world. The anatomy of a broken world in “Everything is Broken” (on the album Oh Mercy) is but an example of how the thematic concern with all things broken is grounded in a concrete sonic reality.”
Dylan is considered a seminal influence on several musical genres, especially folk rock, country rock and Christian rock. As Edna Gundersen stated in USA Today: “Dylan’s musical DNA has informed nearly every simple twist of pop since 1962.” Punk musician Joe Strummer praised Dylan for having “laid down the template for lyric, tune, seriousness, spirituality, depth of rock music.” Other major musicians who acknowledged Dylan’s importance include Johnny Cash,Jerry Garcia, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Pete Townshend, Neil Young, Bruce Springsteen, David Bowie, Bryan Ferry, Nick Cave, Patti Smith, Syd Barrett Joni Mitchell,and Tom Waits. Dylan significantly contributed to the initial success of both the Byrds and the Band: the Byrds achieved chart success with their version of “Mr. Tambourine Man” and the subsequent album, while the Band were Dylan’s backing band on his 1966 tour, recorded The Basement Tapes with him in 1967, and featured three previously unreleased Dylan songs on their debut album.
Some critics have dissented from the view of Dylan as a visionary figure in popular music. In his book Awopbopaloobop Alopbamboom, Nik Cohn objected: “I can’t take the vision of Dylan as seer, as teenage messiah, as everything else he’s been worshipped as. The way I see him, he’s a minor talent with a major gift for self-hype.” Australian critic Jack Marx credited Dylan with changing the persona of the rock star: “What cannot be disputed is that Dylan invented the arrogant, faux-cerebral posturing that has been the dominant style in rock since, with everyone from Mick Jagger to Eminem educating themselves from the Dylan handbook.”
Fellow musicians also presented dissenting views. Joni Mitchell described Dylan as a “plagiarist” and his voice as “fake” in a 2010 interview in the Los Angeles Times, in response to a suggestion that she and Dylan were similar since they had both created personas. Mitchell’s comment led to discussions of Dylan’s use of other people’s material, both supporting and criticizing him. In 2013 Mitchell told the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) in an interview that her remarks in the Los Angeles Times had been taken “completely out of context”, and that the interviewer was a “moron”. Mitchell added: “I like a lot of Bob’s songs. Musically he’s not very gifted. He’s borrowed his voice from old hillbillies. He’s got a lot of borrowed things. He’s not a great guitar player. He’s invented a character to deliver his songs.”
Talking to Mikal Gilmore in Rolling Stone in 2012, Dylan responded to the allegation of plagiarism, including his use of Henry Timrod’s verse in his album Modern Times, by saying that it was “part of the tradition”.
If Dylan’s work in the 1960s was seen as bringing intellectual ambition to popular music,critics in the 21st century described him as a figure who had greatly expanded the folk culture from which he initially emerged. Following the release of Todd Haynes’ Dylan biopic I’m Not There, J. Hoberman wrote in his 2007 Village Voice review:
Prior to the June 2014 sale of the original lyrics of “Like a Rolling Stone”, written on four sheets of hotel stationery by Dylan in 1965, Richard Austin, of Sotheby’s, New York, said: “Before the release of Like a Rolling Stone, music charts were overrun with short and sweet love songs, many clocking in at three minutes or less. By defying convention with six and a half minutes of dark, brooding poetry, Dylan rewrote the rules for pop music.”