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Bob Dylan
Few have had the cultural and musical impact Bob Dylan had in the twentieth century; only Elvis and The Beatles could claim a similar influence. Enigmatic and nearly always unpredictable, his effect on pop culture is often misunderstood, but rarely undervalued. Having sold nearly 100 million albums and performed literally thousands of shows around the world in a career spanning five decades, he’s the world's most popular and acclaimed living songwriter, musician and performer.
It's been a while since Dylan has delivered a record with as many appealing songs as he does with Modern Times, his first effort in five years, proving that his music is just as vibrant and meaningful as it was when he first started out nearly five decades ago.

Bob Dylan: Then
Born Robert Zimmerman, he grew up in Hibbing, a mining town in northern Minnesota where his father ran a hardware store. After a rebellious youth, in late 1960 he arrived in New York's Greenwich Village as Bob Dylan, an aspiring folksinger and songwriter. The nineteen-year old college dropout reconstructed his past to include stints as an orphaned troubadour, a carny roustabout, and a hobo, creating colourful anecdotes to fit in with his friends in the village ~ the poets, artists, singers, songwriters who liked living on the fringes of mainstream society. At the right place at the right time, he was soon a folk star in the village in his own right, and landed himself a contract with Columbia Records.

Modeling himself on his biggest idol, folk singer Woody Guthrie, his first self-titled album was a fairly traditional folk album, with only two original songs. Released in 1962, the album was a commercial flop selling less than five thousand copies. Disillusioned, Dylan spent his time in cafés nursing cups of coffees, or at the apartment of his girlfriend Suze Rotolo, where he listened to new records, read poetry and became increasingly interested in what was going on in the outside world. What came out of that was an amalgam of all those influences that Dylan forged into his second album, The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan. Displaying an instant, astonishing blossoming as a singer and songwriter, songs like Blowin' In The Wind, Masters Of War and Don’t Think Twice put Dylan on the map, striking a chord with the young people everywhere. By the time the third album The Times They Are A-Changin' was released in 1964, he was the fully formed folk prophet who reveled in all forms of worldly excoriations.

Bob Dylan: His Rich Musical Legacy
Dylan’s influence on rock music and world culture was and remains immense. In less than a decade, he went from a kid with a guitar and a passion for singing folk, to a towering performer and songwriter who would influence generations of musicians and listeners. His huge commercial success started an almost immediate wave of change, including a move from groups to soloists, and from professional songwriters to self-penned songs. Before his emergence, it was common for singers to rely on professional songwriters for their material as well as relying heavily on studio musicians for their recordings. Elvis introduced rock and roll to the world, The Beatles perfected its artistic reach, but Dylan gave the music its conscience and the power to change. He broke down barriers that music ought to be separated by style, and in the process invented a new creative medium when he fused his poetical lyrics and rock and roll to form what became known as rock music.

Bob Dylan: Now
Unknowingly, Dylan in the 1960s established himself as the poet laureate for his generation, something that he tried later very hard to get rid off. Most tend to forget that Dylan ditched the social commentary as quickly as he could, and in later years almost exclusively became a personal writer instead of a political one. When he tired of denouncing war and racism, he wrote musical ruminations on relationships that were original in their presentation and revealing in their emotional content. Dylan turned out some supremely heartbreaking songs like Lay Lady Lay, I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight and You’re A Big Girl Now, which dealt with lovers and ex-girlfriends, and have become an important part of his repertoire. By consensus, 1975’s Blood On The Tracks, which is devoted to the personal side of Dylan, is the ideal starting place for any Dylan virgin, the lyrics more explicit and utterly heart-wrenching than anything he did in the 1960s.

Last year the documentary film No Direction Home directed by Martin Scorsese captivated audiences worldwide as it captured Dylan's early career and rise to fame. It also showed that after his brush with mortality (he broke his neck in a motorcycle accident in 1966), he emerged from a self-imposed exile a new man and a different artist. Since then he’s kept his recording career in full swing, releasing more than twenty studio albums and performing at countless concerts, and along the way been inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame and won every honour and award that could be bestowed upon a living being.

You can read the rest of our feature on Bob Dylan in the August 2006 issue of The Record Music Magazine available at your local newsagent.


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