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COOL Archives: Bob Dylan


Posted on Monday, September 25 @ 21:27:00 UTC by wyldwynd

BD2
Bob Dylan (born Robert Allen Zimmerman on May 24, 1941) is an American singer-songwriter, author, musician and poet who has been a major figure in popular music for five decades. Much of Dylan's best known work is from the 1960s when he became an informal documentarian and reluctant figurehead of American unrest. Some of his songs, such as "Blowin' in the Wind" and "The Times They Are a-Changin", became anthems of the anti-war and civil rights movements. Forty years later, his 2001 album "Love and Theft", reached the top five on the charts in the U.S. and the UK. His latest studio album, Modern Times, released on August 29, 2006, became his first US #1 album in thirty years, making him the oldest living chart topper in history at the age of 65.

Dylan's early lyrics incorporated politics, social commentary, philosophy and literary influences, defying existing pop music conventions and appealing widely to the counterculture of the time. While expanding and personalizing musical styles, he has shown steadfast devotion to many traditions of American song, from folk and country/blues to rock 'n' roll and rockabilly, to Celtic balladry, even jazz, swing and Broadway.

Dylan performs with the guitar, keyboard 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. He has also recently performed alongside other major artists, such as Paul Simon, Joni Mitchell, Tom Petty, Jack White, Eric Clapton and Mark Knopfler. Although his contributions as performer and recording artist have been central to his career, his songwriting is generally held as his highest accomplishment.

His career accomplishments have been recognized with the Polar Music Prize, the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, Kennedy Center Honors, and induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Nashville Songwriters and Songwriters Hall of Fame. He was listed as one of TIME Magazine's 100 most influential people of the 20th century.



Beginnings

Bob Dylan was born in Duluth, Minnesota and was raised there and in Hibbing, Minnesota, on the Mesabi Iron Range northwest of Lake Superior. His grandparents were Jewish immigrants from Lithuania, Russia, and Ukraine, and his parents, Abraham Zimmerman and Beatrice Stone (Beatty), were part of the area's small but close-knit Jewish community. He lived in Duluth until age seven, when his father was stricken with polio. The family returned to nearby Hibbing, Beatty's hometown, where Robert Zimmerman spent the rest of his childhood.

Zimmerman spent much of his youth listening to the radio—first to the powerful blues and country stations broadcasting from Shreveport and later, to early rock and roll. He formed several bands while at high school: the first, The Shadow Blasters, was short-lived; the second, The Golden Chords, lasted longer and played covers including "Rock and Roll Is Here to Stay" at their high school talent show. In his 1959 school year book, Robert Zimmerman listed his ambition as "To join Little Richard." The same year, he performed two dates under the name of Elston Gunn with Bobby Vee, playing piano and providing handclaps.

Robert Zimmerman enrolled at the University of Minnesota in September 1959 and moved to Minneapolis. His musical focus on rock and roll gave way to an interest in subtler, Gaelic-inflected American folk music, typically performed with an acoustic guitar. He soon became actively involved in the local Dinkytown folk music circuit, fraternizing with local folk enthusiasts and occasionally "borrowing" many of their albums. During his Dinkytown days, Zimmerman began introducing himself as "Bob Dylan". In his autobiography, Chronicles (2005), Dylan wrote: "What I was going to do as soon as I left home was just call myself Robert Allen.... It sounded like a Scottish king and I liked it." However, by reading Downbeat magazine, he discovered that there was already a saxophonist called David Allyn. A little later he became acquainted with the work of writer Dylan Thomas and made a choice between Robert Allyn and Robert Dylan: "I couldn't decide—the letter D came on stronger" he explained. He decided on "Bob" because there were several Bobbies in popular music at the time.

Dylan quit college at the end of his freshman year, but stayed in Minneapolis, working the folk circuit there with temporary sojourns in Denver, Colorado, and Chicago, Illinois.

In January 1961, he headed for New York City to perform and to visit his ailing musical idol Woody Guthrie in a New Jersey hospital. Guthrie had been a huge revelation to Dylan and was a major influence. In the hospital room, Dylan also met Woody's old road-buddy Ramblin' Jack Elliott visiting Guthrie the day after returning from his trip to Europe. Bob and Jack became friends and much of Guthrie's repertoire was actually channeled through Elliott. Dylan paid a fulsome tribute to Elliott in Chronicles (2005).

After initially playing mostly in small "basket" clubs for little pay, he gained some public recognition after a positive review in The New York Times by critic Robert Shelton. Shelton's review and word-of-mouth around Greenwich Village led to legendary music business figure John Hammond's signing Dylan to Columbia Records that October.

His performances, like his first Columbia album Bob Dylan (1962), consisted of familiar folk, blues and gospel material combined with some of his own songs. As he continued to record for Columbia, he recorded more than a dozen songs for Broadside Magazine a folk music magazine and record label, under the pseudonym Blind Boy Grunt. In August 1962, Robert Allen Zimmerman went to the Supreme Court building in New York and changed his name to Robert Dylan.

By the time his next record, The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan, was released in 1963, he had begun to make his name as both singer and songwriter. Many of the songs on this album were labeled protest songs, inspired partly by Woody Guthrie and influenced by Pete Seeger's passion for topical songs. "Oxford Town" was a sardonic account of James Meredith's ordeal as the first black student to risk enrollment at the University of Mississippi.

His most famous song of the time, "Blowin' in the Wind", partially derived its melody from the traditional slave song "No More Auction Block", and coupled this to Dylan's lyrics questioning the social and political status quo. The song was widely recorded and became an international hit for Peter, Paul and Mary, setting a precedent for other artists. While Dylan's topical songs solidified his early reputation, Freewheelin' also included a mixture of love songs and jokey, frequently surreal talking blues. Humor was a large part of Dylan's persona, and the range of material on the album impressed many listeners including the Beatles. George Harrison said, "We just played it, just wore it out. The content of the song lyrics and just the attitude - it was incredibly original and wonderful."

The Freewheelin' song "A Hard Rain's a-Gonna Fall", built melodically from a loose adaptation of the stanza tune of the folk ballad Lord Randall, with its veiled references to nuclear apocalypse, gained even more resonance as the Cuban missile crisis developed only a few weeks after Dylan began performing it. Like "Blowin' in the Wind", "A Hard Rain's a-Gonna Fall" marked an important new direction in modern songwriting, blending a stream-of-consciousness, imagist lyrical attack with traditional folk progressions to create a sound and sense that struck listeners as somehow new and ancient simultaneously. Soon after the release of Freewheelin, Dylan emerged as a dominant figure of the so-called "new folk movement" headquartered in Lower Manhattan's Greenwich Village.

While an interpreter of traditional songs, Dylan's singing voice was unusual and untrained and his phrasing as a vocalist was eccentric. He sang his songs in a style that hearkened back to the folk-singers of the 1920s and 30s, which was almost unheard-of in the music industry of the time. Many of his most famous early songs first reached the public through versions by other performing musicians who were more immediately palatable. Joan Baez, celebrated as the queen of the folk movement, became Dylan's advocate as well as his lover. In addition to jumpstarting Dylan's performance career by inviting him onstage during her concerts, she recorded several of his early songs and was influential in bringing Dylan to national and international prominence.

Others who recorded and released his songs around this time included The Byrds, Sonny and Cher, The Hollies, Manfred Mann, The Brothers Four, Judy Collins and Herman's Hermits, most attempting to impart more of a pop feel and rhythm to the songs where Dylan and Baez performed them mostly as sparse folk pieces keying rhythmically off the vocals. These covers were so ubiquitous by the mid-1960s that CBS started to promote him with the tag "Nobody Sings Dylan Like Dylan".


Protest and another side

By 1963, Dylan was becoming increasingly prominent in the civil rights movement, singing at rallies including the March on Washington where Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his "I have a dream" speech. In January, he appeared on British television in the BBC play Madhouse on Castle Street, playing the part of a "hobo guitar-player". Dylan's next album, The Times They Are a-Changin', reflected a more sophisticated, politicized and cynical Dylan. This bleak material, concerned with such subjects as the murder of civil rights worker Medgar Evers and the despair engendered by the breakdown of farming and mining communities ("Ballad of Hollis Brown", "North Country Blues"), was accompanied by two love songs, "Boots of Spanish Leather" and "One Too Many Mornings", and the renunciation of "Restless Farewell". The Brechtian-influenced "The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll" describes a young socialite's killing of a hotel maid. The song never explicitly mentions race, but many sources wrote it leaves no doubt that the killer is white, the victim black.

By the end of 1963, Dylan felt both manipulated and constrained by the folk-protest movement. Accepting the "Tom Paine Award" from the National Emergency Civil Liberties Committee at a ceremony shortly after the assassination of John F. Kennedy, a drunken, rambling Dylan questioned the role of the committee, insulted its members as old and balding, and claimed to see something of himself (and of every man) in assassin Lee Harvey Oswald.

His next album, Another Side of Bob Dylan, recorded on a single June evening in 1964, had a lighter mood than its predecessor. The surreal Dylan reemerged on "I Shall Be Free #10" and "Motorpsycho Nightmare", accompanied by a sense of humor that has often reappeared over the years. "Spanish Harlem Incident" and "To Ramona" were love songs, "I Don't Believe You" a rock and roll song played on acoustic guitar, and "It Ain't Me Babe" a rejection of the role his reputation thrust at him. His newest direction was signaled by three lengthy songs: the impressionistic "Chimes of Freedom" sets elements of social commentary against a denser metaphorical landscape in a style later characterized by Allen Ginsberg as "chains of flashing images"; "My Back Pages" attacks the simplistic and arch seriousness of his own earlier topical songs; and "Mr. Tambourine Man", written before many songs included on Another Side but held back for Dylan's next release.

In 1964-65 Dylan’s appearance changed rapidly as he made his move from leading contemporary song-writer of the folk scene to rock’n’roll star. His scruffy jeans and work shirts were replaced by a Carnaby Street wardrobe. A London reporter wrote: “Hair that would set the teeth of a comb on edge. A loud shirt that would dim the neon lights of Leicester Square. He looks like an undernourished cockatoo.” Dylan also began to play with interviewers in increasingly cruel and surreal ways. Appearing on the Les Crane TV show and asked about a movie he was planning to make, he told Crane it would be a cowboy horror movie. Asked if he played the cowboy, Dylan replied. “No, I play my mother.”

His March 1965 album Bringing It All Back Home was a huge stylistic leap. Influenced by The Animals (whose recording of "House of the Rising Sun" was racing up the US charts), and the rock and roll of his youth, the album featured his first significant up-tempo rock songs. The first single, "Subterranean Homesick Blues", owed much to Chuck Berry's "Too Much Monkey Business" and was provided with an early music video courtesy of D. A. Pennebaker's cinéma vérité presentation of Dylan's 1965 tour, Dont Look Back. Its free association lyrics both harked back to the manic energy of Beat poetry and were a forerunner of rap and hip-hop. In 1969, the militant Weatherman group took their name from a line in "Subterranean Homesick Blues" ("You don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows").

The second side of the album was a different matter, including four lengthy acoustic songs whose undogmatic political, social and personal concerns are illuminated with the poetic imagery that became another trademark. One of these songs, "Mr. Tambourine Man", had already been a hit for The Byrds, albeit in a truncated form, while "Gates of Eden", "It's All over Now Baby Blue", and "It's Alright Ma (I'm Only Bleeding)" have been fixtures in Dylan's live performances for most of his career.

That summer Bob Dylan made history by performing his first electric set (since his high school days) with a pickup group drawn mostly from the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, i.e. Mike Bloomfield, guitar, Sam Lay, drums, Jerome Arnold, bass, plus Al Kooper, organ and Barry Goldberg, piano, at the Newport Folk Festival. Dylan had appeared at Newport twice before in 1963 and 1964, and two wildly divergent accounts of the crowd's response in 1965 emerged. The settled fact is that Dylan, met with a mix of cheering and booing, left the stage after only three songs. As one version of the legend has it, the boos were from the outraged folk fans Dylan alienated with his electric guitar. An alternative account has it that audience members were upset by poor sound quality and a surprisingly short set. Whatever sparked the crowd's disfavor, Dylan soon reemerged and sang two much better received solo acoustic numbers, "It's All over Now, Baby Blue" and "Mr. Tambourine Man".

The significance of Dylan's 1965 Newport performance was that he outraged the folk music establishment. Ewan MacColl wrote in Sing Out!: "Our traditional songs and ballads are the creations of extraordinarily talented artists working inside traditions formulated over time... But what of Bobby Dylan?... Only a non-critical audience, nourished on the watery pap of pop music could have fallen for such tenth-rate drivel." Dylan wrote in the sleeve notes for Bringing It All Back Home, "i accept chaos. i am not sure whether it accepts me."



Creative height, motorcycle crash

The single "Like a Rolling Stone" was a U.S. and UK hit, and at over six minutes and devoid of a bridge, it helped to expand the limits of hit radio. In 2004, Rolling Stone listed it at number one on its list of the five hundred greatest songs of all time. Its signature sound, with a full, jangling band and an organ riff, characterized his next album, Highway 61 Revisited (titled after the road that led from his native Minnesota to the musical hotbed of New Orleans, passing through the birthplace of blues, the Mississippi Delta, and referencing any number of blues songs. For example, Mississippi Fred McDowell's "61 Highway"). The songs were in the same vein as the hit single, surreal litanies of the grotesque flavored by Mike Bloomfield's blues guitar, a rhythm section and Dylan's obvious enjoyment of the sessions. The closing song, "Desolation Row", is an apocalyptic vision with references to many figures of Western culture.

In support of the record, Dylan was booked for two U.S. concerts and set about assembling a band. Mike Bloomfield was unwilling to leave the Butterfield Band, so Dylan mixed Al Kooper and Harvey Brooks from his studio crew with bar-band stalwarts Robbie Robertson and Levon Helm, best known for backing Ronnie Hawkins. In August 1965 at Forest Hills Tennis Stadium, the group was heckled by an audience who, Newport notwithstanding, still demanded the acoustic troubadour of previous years; their reception on September 3 at the Hollywood Bowl was more uniformly favorable.

Neither Kooper nor Brooks wanted to tour with Dylan, and he was unable to lure his preferred band, a crew of west coast musicians best known for backing Johnny Rivers, featuring guitarist James Burton and drummer Mickey Jones, away from their regular commitments. Dylan then hired Robertson and Helm's full band, The Hawks, for his tour group, and began a string of studio sessions with them in an effort to record the follow-up to Highway 61 Revisited.

Dylan secretly married Sara Lownds on November 22, 1965; their first child, Jesse Byron Dylan, was born on January 6, 1966. Dylan and Lownds had four children in total: Jesse, Anna, Samuel, and Jakob (born December 9, 1969). Dylan also adopted Sara Lownds' first daughter Maria Lownds (born October 21, 1961) from a prior marriage. In the 1990s the youngest of the pair's children, Jakob Dylan, became well known as the lead singer of the band The Wallflowers. Jesse Dylan is a film director and a successful businessman.

While Dylan and the Hawks met increasingly receptive audiences on tour, their studio efforts floundered. Producer Bob Johnston had been trying to persuade Dylan to record in Nashville for some time. In February 1966 Dylan agreed and Johnston surrounded him with a cadre of top-notch session men. At Dylan's insistence, Robertson and Kooper came down from New York City to play on the sessions. The Nashville sessions created what Dylan later called "that thin wild mercury sound" - Blonde on Blonde (1966). Al Kooper said the record was a masterpiece because it was "taking two cultures and smashing them together with a huge explosion": the musical world of Nashville, and the world of the "quintessential New York hipster" Bob Dylan.

For many critics, Dylan's mid-'60s trilogy of albums – Bringing It All Back Home, Highway 61 Revisited and Blonde on Blonde – represents one of the great cultural achievements of the 20th century. In Mike Marqusee's words: "Between late 1964 and the summer of 1966, Dylan created a body of work that remains unique. Drawing on folk, blues, country, R&B, rock’n’roll, gospel, British beat, symbolist, modernist and Beat poetry, surrealism and Dada, advertising jargon and social commentary, Fellini and Mad magazine, he forged a coherent and original artistic voice and vision. The beauty of these albums retains the power to shock and console."

Dylan undertook a "world tour" of Australia and Europe in the spring of 1966. Each show was split into two parts: in the first half Dylan performed solo, accompanying himself on acoustic guitar and harmonica; in the second half, backed by the Hawks, he played high voltage electric music. This contrast provoked many fans, who jeered and slowly handclapped. The tour culminated in a famously raucous confrontation with his audience at the Manchester Free Trade Hall in England (officially released on CD in 1998 as The Bootleg Series Vol. 4: Bob Dylan Live 1966, The "Royal Albert Hall" Concert). At the climax of the concert, one fan, angry with Dylan's electric sound, shouted: "Judas!" and Dylan responded, "I don't believe you. You're a liar!" before turning to the band and exhorting them to "Play fuckin' loud!" as they launched into the last song of the night — "Like a Rolling Stone".

After his European tour, Dylan returned to New York, but the pressures on him continued to increase: his publisher was demanding a finished manuscript of the poem/novel Tarantula and manager Albert Grossman had already scheduled an extensive summer/fall concert tour. On July 29, 1966, while Dylan rode his Triumph 500 motorcycle in Woodstock, New York, its brakes locked, throwing him to the ground. Though the extent of his injuries were never fully disclosed, it was confirmed that he indeed broke his neck. Dylan used an extended convalescence to escape the pressures of stardom: "When I had that motorcycle accident ... I woke up and caught my senses, I realized that I was just workin' for all these leeches. And I really didn't want to do that."

Once Dylan was well enough to resume creative work, he began editing footage of his 1966 tour into Eat the Document, a rarely exhibited follow-up to Don't Look Back. In 1967 he began recording music with the Hawks at his home and the basement of the Hawks' nearby "Big Pink". The relaxed atmosphere yielded renditions of many of Dylan's favored old and new songs and some newly written pieces. These songs, initially compiled as demos for other artists to record, provided hit singles for Julie Driscoll, The Byrds, and Manfred Mann. Columbia belatedly released selections from them in 1975 as The Basement Tapes. Later in 1967, the Hawks (soon to be rechristened as The Band) independently recorded the album Music from Big Pink, thus beginning a long and successful recording and performing career of their own.

In December 1967 Dylan released John Wesley Harding, his first album since the motorcycle crash. It was a quiet, contemplative record of shorter songs, set in a landscape which drew on both the American West and the Old Testament. The sparse structure and instrumentation, coupled with lyrics which took the Judeo-Christian tradition seriously, marked a departure not only from Dylan's own work but from the escalating psychedelic fervor of the 1960s musical culture. It included "All Along the Watchtower", with lyrics derived from the Book of Isaiah (21:5–9). The song was later recorded by Jimi Hendrix, whose celebrated version Dylan himself acknowledged as definitive in the liner notes to Biograph. Dylan live has performed Hendrix's arrangement since 1974.

Woody Guthrie died in October 1967, and Dylan made his first public appearances in eighteen months at a pair of Guthrie memorial concerts the following January.

Dylan's next release, Nashville Skyline (1969), was virtually a mainstream country record featuring instrumental backing by Nashville musicians, a mellow-voiced, contented Dylan, a duet with Johnny Cash, and the hit single "Lay Lady Lay". In 1969 Dylan appeared on the first episode of Cash's new television show and then gave a high-profile performance at the Isle of Wight rock festival (after rejecting overtures to appear at the Woodstock Festival far closer to his home).


1970's

In the early 1970s critics charged Dylan's output was of varied and unpredictable quality. "What is this shit?" Rolling Stone magazine writer and Dylan loyalist Greil Marcus notoriously asked, upon first listening to 1970's Self Portrait. In general, Self Portrait, a double LP including few original songs, was poorly received. Later that year, Dylan released New Morning, which some considered a return to form. His unannounced appearance at George Harrison's 1971 Concert for Bangladesh was widely praised, but reports of a new album, a television special, and a return to touring came to nothing.

In 1972 Dylan signed onto Sam Peckinpah's film Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid, providing the songs (see Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid (album) and taking a role as "Alias", a minor member of Billy's gang. The most memorable song, "Knockin' on Heaven's Door", has proved its durability, having been covered by over 150 recording artists.

Dylan signed with David Geffen's new Asylum label when his contract with Columbia Records expired in 1973, and he recorded Planet Waves with The Band while rehearsing for a major tour. The album included two versions of "Forever Young". The phrase may have been lifted from John Keats's Ode on a Grecian Urn ("For ever panting, and for ever young") but Dylan turned it into an emotional work which has become one of his most popular concert songs. Columbia Records simultaneously released Dylan, a haphazard collection of studio outtakes (almost exclusively cover songs), which was widely interpreted as a churlish response to Dylan's signing with a rival record label. In January 1974 Dylan and The Band embarked on a high-profile, coast-to-coast tour of North America; promoter Bill Graham claimed he received more ticket purchase requests than for any prior tour by any artist. A live double album of the tour, Before the Flood, was released on Asylum Records.

After the tour, Dylan and his wife became publicly estranged. He filled a small red notebook with songs about his marital problems, and quickly recorded a new album entitled Blood on the Tracks in September 1974. Word of Dylan's efforts soon leaked out, and expectations were high. But Dylan delayed the album's release, and then re-recorded half of the songs in Minneapolis by year's end.

Released in early 1975, Blood on the Tracks received mixed reviews. In the NME, Nick Kent described "the accompaniments [as] often so trashy they sound like mere practice takes." In Rolling Stone, reviewer Jon Landau wrote that "the record has been made with typical shoddiness". Over the years critics have come to see it as one of Dylan's greatest achievements, perhaps the only serious rival to his great mid 60s trilogy of albums. In Salon.com, Bill Wyman wrote: "Blood on the Tracks is his only flawless album and his best produced; the songs, each of them, are constructed in disciplined fashion. It is his kindest album and most dismayed, and seems in hindsight to have achieved a sublime balance between the logorrhea-plagued excesses of his mid-'60s output and the self-consciously simple compositions of his post-accident years." The songs have been described as Dylan's most intimate and direct.

That summer Dylan wrote his first successful "protest" song in twelve years, championing the cause of boxer Rubin "Hurricane" Carter who he believed had been wrongfully imprisoned for a triple homicide in Paterson, New Jersey (an eponymous 1971 tribute to George Jackson, a Black Panther who was killed in prison, sank almost unnoticed). After visiting Carter in jail, Dylan wrote "Hurricane", presenting the case for Carter's innocence. Despite its 8½ minute length, the song was released as a single, peaking within the top forty on the U.S. Billboard Chart, and performed at every 1975 date of Dylan's next tour, the Rolling Thunder Revue. The tour was a varied evening of entertainment featuring many performers drawn mostly from the resurgent Greenwich Village folk scene, including T-Bone Burnett; Allen Ginsberg; Ramblin' Jack Elliott; Steven Soles; David Mansfield; former Byrds frontman Roger McGuinn; Scarlet Rivera, a violin player Dylan discovered while she was walking down the street to a rehearsal, her violin case hanging on her back; and a reunion with Joan Baez (the tour marked Baez and Dylan's first joint performance in more than a decade). Joni Mitchell added herself to the Revue in November, and poet Allen Ginsberg accompanied the troupe, staging scenes for the film Dylan was simultaneously shooting. Sam Shepard was initially hired as the writer for this film, but ended up accompanying the tour as informal chronicler.

Running through late 1975 and again through early 1976, the tour encompassed the release of the album Desire (1976), with many of Dylan's new songs featuring an almost travelogue-like narrative style, showing the influence of his new collaborator, playwright Jacques Levy. The spring 1976 half of the tour was documented by a TV concert special, Hard Rain, and the LP Hard Rain; no concert album from the better-received and better-known opening half of the tour was released until 2002, when Live 1975 appeared as the fifth volume in Dylan's official Bootleg Series.

The fall 1975 tour with the Revue also provided the backdrop to Dylan's nearly four-hour film Renaldo and Clara, a sprawling and improvised narrative mixed with concert footage and reminiscences. Released in 1978, the movie received generally poor, sometimes scathing, reviews and had a very brief theatrical run. Later in that year, Dylan allowed a two-hour edit, dominated by the concert performances, to be more widely released.

In November 1976 Dylan appeared at The Band's "farewell" concert, along with other guests including Joni Mitchell, Muddy Waters, Van Morrison, and Neil Young. Martin Scorsese's acclaimed cinematic chronicle of this show, The Last Waltz, was released in 1978 and included about half of Dylan's set.

Dylan and Lownds were divorced on June 29, 1977, though they reportedly remained in regular contact for many years and, by some accounts, even to the present day.

Dylan's 1978 album Street Legal was lyrically one of his more complex and cohesive; it suffered, however, from a poor sound mix (attributed to his studio recording practices), submerging much of its instrumentation in the sonic equivalent of cotton wadding until its remastered CD release nearly a quarter century later.

Dylan's work in the late 1970s and early 1980s was dominated by his becoming, in 1979, a born-again Christian. He released two albums of exclusively religious material and a third that seemed mostly so; of these, the first, Slow Train Coming (1979), is generally regarded as the more accomplished, winning him a Grammy Award for "Best Male Vocalist". The second album, Saved (1980), was not so well-received. When touring from the fall of 1979 through the spring of 1980 Dylan refused to play secular music and delivered sermonettes on stage, such as:

Years ago they used ..., said I was a prophet. I used to say, "No I'm not a prophet" they say "Yes you are, you're a prophet." I said, "No it's not me." They used to say "You sure are a prophet." They used to convince me I was a prophet. Now I come out and say Jesus Christ is the answer. They say, "Bob Dylan's no prophet." They just can't handle it.

Dylan's religious conversion was met with distrust by some fans and fellow artists. Shortly before his December 1980 shooting, John Lennon, for example, recorded "Serve Yourself", in negative response to Dylan's "Gotta Serve Somebody". But for Rolling Stone editor Jann Wenner, writing in his review for Slow Train Coming, Dylan had not "sold out" totally to born-again Christianity so much as he had simply shifted focus. According to him, Dylan was still Dylan, and the same intensity and passion had been present in Dylan's protest songs of the 1960s. Wenner commented:

"Slow Train Coming is pure, true Dylan, probably the purest and truest Dylan ever. The religious symbolism is a logical progression of Dylan's Manichaean vision of life and his pain-filled struggle with good and evil. "I don't go to church or to a synagogue. I don't kneel beside my bed at night. I don't think I will. I have yet to face the terror I read about in all the great literature. But, since politics, economics and war have failed to make us feel any better—as individuals or as a nation—and we look back at long years of disrepair, then maybe the time for religion has come again, and rather too suddenly—'like a thief in the night.'


Later Career

1980's
In the fall of 1980 Dylan briefly resumed touring, restoring several of his most popular 1960s songs to his repertoire, for a series of concerts billed as "A Musical Retrospective". Shot of Love, recorded the next spring, featured Dylan's first secular compositions in more than two years, mixed with explicitly Christian songs. The haunting "Every Grain of Sand" reminded some critics of William Blake’s verses.

In the 1980s the quality of Dylan's recorded work varied, from the well-regarded Infidels in 1983 to the panned Down in the Groove in 1988. Critics such as Michael Gray condemned Dylan's 1980s albums both for showing an extraordinary carelessness in the studio and for failing to release his best songs.

The Infidels recording sessions produced several notable outtakes, and many have questioned Dylan's judgment in leaving them off the album. Most well-regarded of these were "Blind Willie McTell" (which was both a tribute to the dead blues singer and an extraordinary evocation of African American history reaching back to "the ghosts of slavery ships"), "Foot of Pride" and "Lord Protect My Child"; these songs were later released on the boxed set The Bootleg Series Volumes 1-3 (Rare & Unreleased) 1961-1991. An earlier version of Infidels, prepared by producer/guitarist Mark Knopfler, contained different arrangements and song selections than what appeared on the final product.

Dylan contributed vocals to USA for Africa's famine relief fundraising single "We Are the World". On 13 July 1985, he appeared at the climax of the Live Aid concert at JFK Stadium, Philadelphia. Backed by Keith Richards and Ron Wood, Dylan performed a ragged version of "Hollis Brown", his ballad of rural poverty, and then said to a worldwide audience exceeding one billion people: "I hope that some of the money ... maybe they can just take a little bit of it, maybe ... one or two million, maybe ... and use it to pay the mortgages on some of the farms and, the farmers here, owe to the banks." His remarks were widely criticised as inappropriate, but they did inspire Willie Nelson to organize a series of events, Farm Aid, to benefit debt-ridden American farmers.

In June 1986 Dylan married his longtime backup singer Carolyn Dennis (often professionally known as Carol Dennis). Their daughter, Desiree Gabrielle Dennis-Dylan, was born on January 31, 1986. The couple divorced in October 1992.

In 1987 Dylan starred in Richard Marquand's movie Hearts of Fire, in which he played a washed-up-rock-star-turned-chicken farmer called "Billy Parker", whose teenage lover (Fiona) leaves him for a jaded English synth-pop sensation (Rupert Everett). The film was a critical and commercial flop. Dylan was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1988. Later that spring he took part in the first Traveling Wilburys album, working with Roy Orbison, Jeff Lynne, Tom Petty, and his good friend George Harrison on lighthearted, well-selling fare. Despite Orbison's death, the other four Wilburys issued a sequel in 1990.

Dylan finished the decade on a critical high note with the Daniel Lanois-produced Oh Mercy(1989). Lanois's influence is audible throughout Oh Mercy. "Ring Them Bells" seems to call for Christians to maintain a visible presence in the world. The track "Most of the Time", a lost love composition, was later prominently featured in the film High Fidelity, while "What Was It You Wanted?" has been interpreted both as a catechism and a wry comment on the expectations of critics and fans. Dylan made a number of music videos during this period, but only "Political World" found any regular airtime on MTV.


1990's

Dylan's 1990s began with Under the Red Sky (1990), an about-face from the serious Oh Mercy. The album was dedicated to "Gabby Goo Goo", and contained several apparently simple songs, including "Under the Red Sky" and "Wiggle Wiggle". The "Gabby Goo Goo" dedication was later explained as a nickname for Dylan's four-year-old daughter. Sidemen on the album included George Harrison, Slash from Guns N' Roses, David Crosby, Bruce Hornsby, Stevie Ray Vaughan, and Elton John. Despite the stellar line-up, the record received bad reviews and sold so poorly that Dylan would not make another studio album of new songs for seven years.

The next few years saw Dylan returning to his roots with two albums covering old folk and blues numbers: Good as I Been to You (1992) and World Gone Wrong (1993), featuring interpretations and acoustic guitar work. Many critics and fans commented on the quiet beauty of the song "Lone Pilgrim", penned by a 19th century teacher and sung by Dylan with a haunting reverence. An exception to this rootsy mood came in Dylan's 1991 songwriting collaboration with Michael Bolton; the resulting song "Steel Bars", was released on Bolton's album Time, Love & Tenderness. In 1995 Dylan recorded a live show for MTV Unplugged. He claimed his wish to perform a set of traditional songs for the show was overruled by Sony executives who insisted on a greatest hits package. The album culled from it (see MTV Unplugged (Bob Dylan album) included "John Brown", an unreleased 1963 song detailing the ravages of both war and jingoism.

With a collection of songs reportedly written while snowed-in on his Minnesota ranch, Dylan returned to the recording studio with Lanois in January 1997. Late that spring, before the album's release, he was hospitalized with a life-threatening heart infection, pericarditis, brought on by histoplasmosis. His scheduled European tour was cancelled, but Dylan made a speedy recovery and left the hospital saying, "I really thought I'd be seeing Elvis soon." He was back on the road by midsummer, and in early fall performed before Pope John Paul II at the World Eucharistic Conference in Bologna, Italy. The Pope treated the audience of 200,000 people to a sermon based on Dylan's lyric "Blowin' in the Wind."

September saw the release of the new Lanois-produced album, Dylan's first collection of original songs in seven years. Time out of Mind, with its bitter assessment of love and morbid ruminations, was highly acclaimed and achieved an unforeseen popularity among young listeners, particularly the song "Love Sick". This collection of complex songs won him his first solo "Album of the Year" Grammy Award (he was one of numerous performers on The Concert for Bangladesh, the 1972 winner). The love song "To Make You Feel My Love" was covered by both Garth Brooks and Billy Joel.

In December 1997 President Clinton presented Dylan with a Kennedy Center Honor in the East Room of the White House, paying this tribute: "He probably had more impact on people of my generation than any other creative artist. His voice and lyrics haven't always been easy on the ear, but throughout his career Bob Dylan has never aimed to please. He's disturbed the peace and discomforted the powerful."


2000 and beyond

In 2000 his song "Things Have Changed", penned for the film Wonder Boys, won a Golden Globe Award for Best Original Song and an Academy Award for Best Song. For reasons unannounced, the Oscar (by some reports a facsimile) tours with him, presiding over shows perched atop an amplifier.

"Love and Theft" was released on September 11, 2001. Dylan produced the album himself under the pseudonym Jack Frost, and its distinctive sound owes much to the accompanists. Tony Garnier, bassist and bandleader, had played with Dylan for 12 years, longer than any other musician. Larry Campbell, one of the most accomplished American guitarists of the last two decades, played on the road with Dylan from 1997 through 2004. Guitarist Charlie Sexton and drummer David Kemper had also toured with Dylan for years. Keyboard player Augie Meyers, the only musician not part of Dylan's touring band, had also played on Time out of Mind. The album was critically well-received and nominated for several Grammy awards. Critics noted that at this late stage in his career, Dylan was deliberately widening his musical palette. The styles referenced in this album included rockabilly, Western swing, jazz, and even lounge ballads.

"Love and Theft" was controversial due to some similarities between the lyrics of the song "Floater" to Japanese writer Junichi Saga's book Confessions of a Yakuza. It is unclear if Dylan intentionally lifted any material. Dylan's publicist had no comment.

2003 saw the release of the film Masked & Anonymous, a creative collaboration with television producer Larry Charles, featured many well-known actors. Dylan and Charles cowrote the film under the pseudonyms Rene Fontaine and Sergei Petrov. As difficult to decipher as some of his songs, Masked & Anonymous was panned by most major critics and had a limited run in theaters.

In 2005 preproduction began on a film entitled I'm Not There: Suppositions on a Film Concerning Dylan. The movie makes use of seven characters to represent the different aspects of Dylan's life. The movie is to be directed by Todd Haynes, and the cast currently includes Cate Blanchett, Heath Ledger, Christian Bale and Richard Gere.

Martin Scorsese's film biography No Direction Home was shown on September 26 and September 27, 2005 on BBC Two in the United Kingdom and PBS in the United States. An accompanying soundtrack was released in August 2005, which contained much previously unavailable early Dylan material. The documentary received a Peabody Award in April 2006.

Dylan himself returned to recording studio at some point in 2005. He recorded at least one song, "Tell Ol' Bill", for the motion picture North Country. The song is an original composition, not the similarly titled traditional folk song.

In February 2006, Dylan recorded tracks for a new album in New York City that resulted in the album Modern Times, released on August 29, 2006. This date also included the iTunes Music Store release of Bob Dylan: The Collection, a digital box set containing all of his studio and live albums (773 tracks in total), along with 42 rare & unreleased tracks and a 100 page booklet. To promote the digital box set and the new album (on iTunes), Apple released a 30 second TV spot featuring Dylan, in full country & western regalia, lip-synching to "Someday Baby" against a striking white background. In a well-publicized interview to promote the album, Dylan criticized the quality of modern sound recordings and claimed that his new songs "probably sounded ten times better in the studio when we recorded 'em".

Despite some coarsening of Dylan’s voice (The Guardian critic characterized his singing on the album as “a catarrhal death rattle”) most reviewers gave the album high marks and many described it as the final installment of a successful trilogy, embracing Time Out of Mind and Love and Theft. The track most frequently singled out for praise was the final song “Ain’t Talkin’”, a nine minute talking blues in which Dylan appeared to be walking “through all-enveloping darkness, before finally disappearing into the murk”. Modern Times made news by entering the US charts at #1, making it Dylan's first album to reach that position since 1976's Desire. At 65, Dylan became the oldest, still-living musician to top the Billboard albums chart. The record also shot to number one in Australia, Canada, Denmark, Ireland, New Zealand, Norway and Switzerland.

In September 2006 an article for The New York Times noted similarities between Dylan's lyrics in the album, Modern Times and the poetry of Henry Timrod, the 'Poet Laureate of the Confederacy'. A wider debate developed in The Times as to the nature of "borrowing" within the folk tradition and in literature.

May 3, 2006, was the premiere of Dylan's DJ career, hosting a weekly radio program, Theme Time Radio Hour, for XM Satellite Radio. Amongst the classic and obscure records played on his show from the 30s, 40s and 50s, Dylan has also played tracks by Blur, Prince, Billy Bragg & Wilco, Mary Gauthier and even L.L. Cool J and The Streets. In the fall, 2006, Dylan announced the next installment of his "Never Ending Tour", commencing in Vancouver and ending in Philadelphia.


The never-ending tour

Dylan has played roughly 100 dates a year for the entirety of the 1990s and the 2000s, a heavier schedule than most performers who started out in the 1960s. The "Never Ending Tour" continues, anchored by longtime bassist Tony Garnier and filled out with talented musicians better known to their peers than to their audiences. To the dismay of some fans, Dylan refuses to be a nostalgia act; his reworked arrangements, evolving bands and experimental vocal approaches keep the music unpredictable night after night.

Dylan, once known as a guitar player, has not been playing guitar in live performance since 2002 (with very rare exceptions). Instead he chooses to play on the keyboard, with increasingly frequent harmonica solos. Various rumors have circulated as to why Dylan gave up his guitar, none terribly reliable. According to David Gates, a Newsweek reporter who interviewed Dylan in 2004, "...it has to do with his guitar not giving him quite the fullness of sound he was wanting at the bottom... He's thought of hiring a keyboard player so he doesn't have to do it himself, but hasn't been able to figure out who."

Dylan chooses songs from throughout his 40-year career, seldom playing the same set twice.




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