Happy 77th Birthday to Bob Dylan!
Bob Dylan is an icon. A musical giant. A truth seeker that had the eyes and ears of the world. Once upon a time, he was a young man with a guitar that roamed the streets of New York City. He eventually became one of the biggest artists in the history of music, but it didn’t happen overnight.
Dylan’s dream to play rock n’ roll was born during his teenage years in his home state of Minnesota. He formed a few bands in high school, and even performed in the talent show. He was always looking for something more. In 1960, he dropped out of college in Minneapolis – it was only his freshman year. The following year he traveled to New York City to meet his musical idol Woody Guthrie. Dylan once stated, “I said to myself I was going to be Guthrie’s greatest disciple.” He wasn’t far off. The trip impacted his life in a way that ended up influencing the course of rock n’ roll.
It was post-WW2 America and New York City was thriving. The beat generation began to change the way that baby boomers expressed themselves. Folk music had become a channel that promoted dialogue about current events and social issues. Dylan performed alongside singer-songwriters in and around Greenwich Village, befriending many of them. The more he performed, the more his talent got recognized. He eventually got signed to Columbia Records and released his debut album, Bob Dylan, in March of 1962. Still, he hadn’t quite found his voice. The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan was the album that began to establish him as the next voice of his generation. The album contained a wide range of material that was both raw and well-thought. Still, it was only the beginning.
Once 1963 came around, the world saw a more politicized Bob Dylan. He became a prominent voice in the civil rights movement after singing at the March on Washington. The Times They Are a Changin’ was his third album and encapsulates how Dylan felt during the time period. In the years that followed, his style began to drift from the folk movement. His songs became more folk-rock and pop oriented. 1965 brought Dylan’s first recordings with electric instruments which was met with disapproval from the folk community. He pushed on, listening to his intuition rather than what the critics had to say.
New York had become home for Bob Dylan and everything that came with it, came out in the music. Highway 61 Revisited was the album that changed it all. Like a Rolling Stone is regarded as one of the best songs ever written. The album went on to inspire countless musicians that grew up listening to him, including the likes of Bruce Springsteen. When he hit the road after its release, his backing band included musicians that would go on to be members of The Band. He needed a break from the city after his fame became too much, so he moved to Woodstock. By all accounts, he loved living in Woodstock during the mid-sixties. After suffering a motorcycle crash near his home in 1966, he withdrew himself from the public and didn’t tour for almost eight years. Many wondered about the details of the accident, he later admitted that he needed a break from the spotlight.
Woodstock was the musical hub for Dylan and The Band over the next decade. In the years that led up to the famous Woodstock Festival, they recorded countless songs in the basement of Big Pink. Big Pink was the house that The Band lived in and wrote most of their songs. In 1969, Dylan traveled to England to headline at Isle of Wight instead of playing Woodstock which shocked a lot of people. They ended up releasing those recordings as The Basement Tapes in 1975.
He returned to touring during the mid-seventies, again backed by The Band. After releasing a few albums, he was searching for his next big song, and that came with Hurricane. It was a ballad that proclaimed the innocence of professional boxer Rubin “The Hurricane” Carter. He had been charged with a triple-homicide and sent to Rahway State Prison. The song was performed at every single date of Dylan’s 1975 tour, The Rolling Thunder Revue. In 1985, Carter was released from prison by a federal judge.
Bob Dylan continued to release music in the 80’s and 90’s, collaborating with a number of musicians. He went on to win multiple grammys during the time period. He received the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1991. It was well deserved as his body of work was unmatched by most singer-songwriters his age. The man even won an Oscar for his song, Things Have Changed in the 2001 film Wonder Boys. Those awards are the highest honors for artists, they represent the pinnacle of everything that they've worked for in life. There’s only one award that is bigger. Dylan received the Nobel Peace Prize in literature in 2016.
New York gave Bob Dylan something that is intangible and priceless. He knew that the city was a hotbed for creativity and individualism, so he took full advantage of everything that it had to offer. Who knows where his life would’ve taken him if he never left Minnesota to seek out Woody Guthrie in 1961. But it wasn’t only the city, Woodstock gave Dylan something that he was missing during his early years. His relationship with The Band flourished in upstate New York and resulted in years of great shows.
Throughout musical history there are certain moments that line up in a way that is either extremely coincidental or unquestionably meant to be. The perfect storm of Bob Dylan in New York was one of the two, you can decide. Whatever it was, it will be etched in rock n’ roll history forever.
Happy 77th Birthday Bob!