Bob Dylan was born Robert Allen Zimmerman in 1941, Duluth Minnesota.
He came from a close-knit Jewish family who had emigrated from Ukraine at the turn of the century.
Always interested in music from an early age, Bob Dylan initially explored popular rock n roll in the late 1950s. However, he also became interested in American folk music. He fused elements of both but developed a distinctive style favouring downbeat, reflective pieces which engaged with serious themes. He was particularly inspired by the music of folk legend Woody Guthrie. Although though highly regarded as a musical performer on vocals, guitar and harmonica, it is as a songwriter that Bob Dylan became best known. To Bob Dylan music was more than just entertainment it was about life; music could also be a vehicle for expressing social protest.
”Gonna change my way of thinking, make my self a different set of rules. Gonna put my good foot forward and stop being influenced by fools.”
– Bob Dylan
In 1961 he met the popular folk singer Joan Baez. She loved his songwriting and began covering his music. This led to a greater awareness of Dylan’s musical talent. They were romantically involved for a few years until the mid-1960s.
During the 1960s Dylan’s musical talent and protest songs led him to became an iconic figure in the counterculture movement. He composed two memorable songs “Blowing in the Wind” and “The Times they are Changing”. These two songs epitomised the new 60s generation of the counterculture that swept America. It became the unofficial anthems of the anti-Vietnam war and civil rights movement of the 1960s.
Despite his reputation as a leader of the counterculture, he converted to a form of born-again Christianity in the 1970s. He recorded many Gospel songs and rejected some of his earlier secular work. However, in later interviews he played down his Christianity, saying his greatest religious experiences came from his music:
“Here’s the thing with me and the religious thing. This is the flat-out truth: I find the religiosity and philosophy in the music. I don’t find it anywhere else. Songs like “Let Me Rest on a Peaceful Mountain” or “I Saw the Light”—that’s my religion. I don’t adhere to rabbis, preachers, evangelists, all of that. I’ve learned more from the songs than I’ve learned from any of this kind of entity. The songs are my lexicon. I believe the songs.”
– Bob Dylan, Newsweek, 1997
For the past couple of decades, Bob Dylan has undertaken a relentless touring schedule, in what he calls – “The Never Ending Tour.”
He continues to record and write new songs from a variety of musical styles. Many such as Andrew Motion, feel that Bob Dylan’s lyrical poetry deserve to be studied in school. In 2008, he 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.”