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Bob Dylan - A Living Tribute

Updated on September 27, 2021
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John is a movie and music lover. He is especially interested in classic movies, cinema and music and related trivia.

Dylan onstage at Azkena Rock Festival, Spain, June 26, 2010
Dylan onstage at Azkena Rock Festival, Spain, June 26, 2010 | Source

Another Living Tribute

Last year, after the sudden and shocking news of Robin Williams death and all the tributes that have flooded the Internet, social media and television, I stopped to think. "Why do we wait until our favourite stars, celebrities and loved ones pass away before we write tributes to them to say how much they meant to us? Why don't we let them and the world know how important they are and how they make our lives better while they are alive?"

I then decided to begin a series of hub of tributes to living artists and celebrities who have affected our lives for the better. My first hub was a tribute to Australian singer and actor Jon English. I am glad I decided to write a tribute to Jon when I did as within 18 months of me writing it he sadly passed away due to complications after just a routine operation (within months of David Bowie and Prince.) This is my second article in the series "Living Tributes." Hopefully, this isn't putting a Jonah on Bob Dylan.

Dylan, the Spectrum, 2007
Dylan, the Spectrum, 2007 | Source

Which is your favorite Bob Dylan song?

See results
Movie Poster for the Beat Generation
Movie Poster for the Beat Generation | Source

Why Bob Dylan?

Bob Dylan would not normally have been someone I would have considered writing a tribute hub to. His music, and song writing in particular has had an effect on my life but I would never have considered him to be one of my favourite singers.

Actually, when I was in senior high school our English teacher (who was a true Dylan fan) used to play Bob Dylan records for the class and our assignment was to decypher the meaning of the lyrics. This was sometimes easier said than done as he has freely admitted that some songs were written while he was under the influence of drugs.

Recently though, I was approached with a request for me to undertake a challenging writing project. The request was as follows:

"Hi John,

I am currently putting a book of poems together. I have it half complete.

I am looking for say 10 poems of a page and a half each or two pages.

The subjects: 3 Poems about the 'beat' poets of the sixties. Alan Ginsberg etc as an example.

7 Poems about: Jim Morrison / Jimi Hendrix / Kurt Cobain/ Janis Joplin / Amy Winehouse who all died at 27 yrs old.

Or it could be 2 poems about the beat poets of the sixties and 2 each about the other 5 subjects. I would like one on Bob Dylan too if you could put something together also.

I could maybe find you more work in the future. I have writers working for me all
over the place.

Cheers, Ray"

This project sounded challenging but interesting and I thought I would give it a go. Unfortunately I didn't realise how much research would be involved, especially as I wasn't greatly familiar with some of the artists. Bob Dylan was the one I already knew the most about so I decided to try writing a poem about him first. After extensive research on his life and songs I managed to write a poem of about one page in length, not two as required, and that took me three days. Because the gig required me to write at least four poems per week to satisfactorily fill this order I respectfully declined.

I still sent the client the Bob Dylan poem I had written and he was impressed, even urging me to reconsider and offering extended time to do the rest. However, I decided that for the time this would involve, the money offered wasn't sufficient to make it worthwhile. Cutting a long story short, I don't like to waste anything I write, so decided to use the poem and utilize all the research I had done into Bob Dylan and make a hub as a living tribute to him. (I have placed the poem towards the end of this hub)

With Joan Baez during the civil rights "March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom", August 28, 1963
With Joan Baez during the civil rights "March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom", August 28, 1963 | Source
Woody Guthrie with guitar labeled "This machine kills fascists" (1943)
Woody Guthrie with guitar labeled "This machine kills fascists" (1943) | Source

Bob Dylan: a Brief Biography

His Early Inspirations

Folk rock singer-songwriter Bob Dylan was born Robert Allen Zimmerman on May 24, 1941, in Duluth, Minnesota. He was influenced by early rock stars like Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Elvis Presley, as well as country music stars like Hank Williams, and poet and writer Jack Kerouac. While attending the University of Minnesota he began performing folk and country songs at local cafés, taking the name "Bob Dylan," after the late Welsh poet Dylan Thomas.

In 1960, Dylan dropped out of college and moved to New York where his hero, the legendary folk singer, activist and balladeer Woody Guthrie had been hospitalized with a rare hereditary disease of the nervous system, Huntington’s chorea. Dylan visited with Guthrie regularly in his hospital room.

During this time Dylan also became a regular in the folk clubs and coffeehouses of Greenwich Village where he met many other talented musicians; and began writing songs at an incredible rate, including "Song to Woody," a tribute to his ailing idol. In 1961 Dylan signed his first recording contract.

His album,The Times They Are A-Changin', firmly established Dylan as the definitive songwriter of the 60s protest movement, a reputation that only increased after he became romantically involved with one of the movement's established icons, Joan Baez, in 1963. While his relationship with Baez lasted only two years, it benefited both performers immensely in terms of their music careers—Dylan wrote some of Baez's best-known material, and Baez introduced him to thousands of fans through her concerts. By 1964 Dylan was playing 200 concerts annually.

During this time Dylan also met the poet and founder of the 'Beat Generation' Allen Ginsberg, and the two formed a life-long friendship that resulted in a number of collaborations. They mutually referred to their relationship as like a father and son, but in fact Ginsberg was only 15 years Dylan's senior so they were probably more like brothers. They also disagreed as to which of them inspired the other. Dylan said he was inspired by the poetry of Ginsberg and the other 'beat' poets, but Ginsberg stated that much of his poetry was inspired by Dylan's songs.

"Like a Rolling Stone" (Number Two, 1965) became Dylan's first major hit as a performer.

Bob Dylan with Allen Ginsberg on the Rolling Thunder Revue in 1975.
Bob Dylan with Allen Ginsberg on the Rolling Thunder Revue in 1975. | Source

Desolation Row - by Bob Dylan - Lyrics of 1st Two Verses

"They’re selling postcards of the hanging
They’re painting the passports brown
The beauty parlor is filled with sailors
The circus is in town
Here comes the blind commissioner
They’ve got him in a trance
One hand is tied to the tight-rope walker
The other is in his pants
And the riot squad they’re restless
They need somewhere to go
As Lady and I look out tonight
From Desolation Row

Cinderella, she seems so easy
“It takes one to know one,” she smiles
And puts her hands in her back pockets
Bette Davis style
And in comes Romeo, he’s moaning
“You Belong to Me I Believe”
And someone says, “You’re in the wrong place my friend
You better leave”
And the only sound that’s left
After the ambulances go
Is Cinderella sweeping up
On Desolation Row"

Life and Times

Always unpredictable, Dylan has been both praised and vilified for his shifts of musical interest, however whole schools of musicians have taken up his ideas. His lyrics were the first in rock to be seriously regarded as literature, and a closer look at his lyrics will convince you of what an accomplished poet he is.

Dylan personalizing folk songs, and subsequently reinvented the singer-songwriter genre. By performing his emotive, poetic songs in his nasal, spontaneous vocal style with an electric band, he increased pop music's range and vocabulary.

On July 29, 1966, Dylan smashed up his Triumph 55 motorcycle while riding near his Woodstock, New York, home. With several broken neck vertebrae, a concussion, and lacerations of the face and scalp, he was in critical condition for a week and bedridden for a month, with after effects including amnesia and mild paralysis. He spent nine months in seclusion.

In 1968 Dylan made his public re-entry with the album John Wesley Harding which contained such folkish ballads as "All Along the Watchtower" (later covered, and redefined, by Jimi Hendrix) and returned to the stage performing three songs at a Woody Guthrie memorial concert.

Dylan performing in the Feyenoord Football Club Stadium, Rotterdam, June 23, 1978
Dylan performing in the Feyenoord Football Club Stadium, Rotterdam, June 23, 1978 | Source

The 70s proved eventful, both good and bad. In 1973, Dylan appeared in the feature film Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid. He also wrote the film's soundtrack, which became a hit and included the classic song, "Knockin' on Heaven's Door."

In 1974, he began his first full-scale tour since his accident, embarking on a sold-out nationwide tour with his longtime backup band, the Band. An album he recorded with the Band, Planet Waves, became his first ever No. 1 album. He followed these successes with the 1975 album Blood on the Tracks,and Desire in 1976, each of which also hit No.1. Desire included the song "Hurricane," which Dylan wrote about the boxer Rubin "Hurricane" Carter, then serving life in prison for what many felt was an wrongful conviction of triple homicide in 1967. Dylan helped popularise Carter's cause, which lead to a retrial in 1976, however, he was again convicted.

In 1976 Dylan appeared in the Band's farewell concert, The Last Waltz, which was filmed by Martin Scorsese. Dylan's wife, Sara Lowndes, filed for divorce in March 1977 and subsequently received custody of their five children

In 1979 Dylan announced that he was a born-again Christian. He released the evangelical Slow Train Coming which proved to be a commercial hit, and won him his first Grammy Award. However, the tour and albums that followed were less successful, and Dylan's religious beliefs soon became less evident in his music.

By collaborating and recording with Nashville veterans, he helped invent Seventies country-rock. His career seemed to flounder a little during the1980s and early 1990s, however he still had the ability to influence, challenge, and surprise—then in the late 1990s and 2000s, he reinvented himself and recorded some of the greatest music of his career.

Slow Train Coming ..Bob Dylan/Buster Keaton

Ode to Bob Dylan

Born as Robert Zimmerman

Bob Dylan better known,

His talent as a songwriter

Has around the world-renown.

An American folk-singer,

Woody Guthrie inspired.

Protestor, artist, activist,

‘Beat’ Generation admired.

Inscrutable and unpredictable

Allusive poetic words.

Literary masterpieces,

Hit songs for The Byrds.

Songs like Chimes of Freedom,

All I Really Want to Do,

Mr Tambourine Man,

It’s All Over Now Baby Blue.

Music that has meaning,

Songs for the common man,

That fight against injustice,

And for freedom take a stand.

Allen Ginsberg’s howling,

And Kerouac’s on the road.

Woody Guthrie why, oh why,

On Desolation Row.

Contemporaries respect him,

The lesser come and go,

But Dylan’s music never dies,

I forgot more than you’ll ever know.

Bob Dylan and the Band touring in Chicago, 1974
Bob Dylan and the Band touring in Chicago, 1974 | Source


Dylan's lyrics have incorporated various political, social, philosophical, and literary influences. His recording career, spanning over 50 years, has explored the various genres of music from folk, blues, and country, to gospel, rock and roll, rockabilly, and jazz. He has even experimented with English, Scottish, and Irish folk music. Dylan performs with guitar, keyboards, and harmonica, and alongside James Brown, and Elvis Presley is one of the most influential American musicians rock & roll has ever produced.

He has toured steadily (with the backing of an ever changing group of musicians) 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 his greatest contribution is considered his songwriting. He has written hit songs for the likes of The Byrds, Peter, Paul and Mary, Sonny and Cher, Manfred Mann, and by 1966 more than 150 other groups or artists across a wide range of genres had recorded at least one of his songs.

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 received numerous awards including Grammy, Golden Globe, and Academy Award, and 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.

In 2008 he was awarded a special citation by The Pulitzer Prize committee for "his profound impact on popular music and American culture, marked by lyrical compositions of extraordinary poetic power." In May 2012, President Barack Obama presented Dylan with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

(sources: Rolling Stone Magazine;;; Wikipedia)

President Barack Obama presents American musician Bob Dylan with a Medal of Freedom
President Barack Obama presents American musician Bob Dylan with a Medal of Freedom | Source

Top 40 Countdown

Songs Written and Released by Bob Dylan

40: Unbelievable (1990) from Under the Red Sky

39: Thunder On The Mountain (2006) from Modern Times

38: Tin Angel (2012) from Tempest

37: Quinn the Eskimo (the Mighty Quinn) (1967) from Biograph

36: Chimes of Freedom (1964) from Another Side of Bob Dylan

35: Ballad of Hollis Brown (1963) from The Times They Are A-Changin’

34: Mr Tambourine Man (1965) from Bringing It All Back Home

33: Desolation Row (1965) from Highway 61 Revisited

32: All Over Now, Baby Blue (1965) from Bringing It All Back Home

31: The Times They Are A-Changin’ (1963) from Album of Same Name

30: Subterranean Homesick Blues (1965) from Bringing It All Back Home

29. You're Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go (1974)

28. Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues (1965) from Highway 61 Revisited

27. Ring Them Bells (1989) from Oh, Mercy

26. Scarlet Town (2012) from Tempest

25. Every Grain Of Sand (1981) from Shot Of Love

23. Make You Feel My Love (1997) from Time Out Of Mind

22. Isis (1975) from Desire

21. Ain't Talkin (2006) from Modern Times

20. The Lonesome Death of Hattie Caroll (1964) from The Times They Are A-Changin'

19. Cold Irons Bound (1997) from Time Out Of Mind

17. Shelter From The Storm (1974) from Blood On The Tracks

16. Lay, Lady, Lay (1969) from Nashville Skyline

15. All Along the Watchtower (1968) from John Wesley Harding

14. Blind Willie McTell (1983) first released on Biograph Box Set

13. Senor (Tales of Yankee Power) (1978) from Street Legal

12. Don't Think Twice, It's Alright (1963) from the Freewheelin' Bob Dylan

11. Masters Of War (1963) from The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan

10. Knockin' On Heaven’s Door (1973) from Pat Garrett & Billy The Kid

9. Ballad Of A Thin Man (1965) from Highway 61 Revisited

8. Hurricane (1975) from Desire

7: Sign on the Window (1970) from New Morning

6. Like A Rolling Stone (1965) from Highway 61 Revisited

5. Simple Twist Of Fate (1974) from Blood On The Tracks

4. Jokerman (1983) from Infidels

3. A Hard Rain's A Gonna Fall (1963) from The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan

2. Blowin' In The Wind (1962) from The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan

1. Tangled Up In Blue (1974) from Blood on the Tracks

© 2015 John Hansen


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