Bob Dylan: a living legend


Bob Dylan is considered to be one of the biggest and most important artist in American History. Because of his value for American music culture he was rewarded with a Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2012. He received the medal from current president Barack Obama.

Dylan was born as Robert Allen Zimmerman on 24 May in Duluth, Minnesota. When Robert was five he and his parents moved to Hibbing, where he grew up to become a music minded teenager. As a young boy he would listen to as many radio stations as he could, growing up in south of America this meant he listened to a lot of blues and country music. Due to his brilliant memory for lyrics and melody he developed an amazing knowledge of music.

When Dylan reached the age of 20 he decided to move to New York, where he would play for his idol Woody Guthrie on his sickbed. Woody Guthrie was a famous and influential artist in the time Dylan grew up, writing songs about the struggle of the working class during the international financial crisis in the 1930’s. Dylan later stated that Woody was his inspiration to become a political and people orientated artist.

Although he was inspired by Woody, when Dylan arrived in New York he had no stance on the issues. It was his girlfriend Suze Rotolo that nudged him down the road as an activist singer. Suze was the daughter of union organizers and a volunteer for the Congress of Racial Equality. This would be later viewed as the start of Dylan’s period of writing protest songs. At a February 1962 CORE benefit he performed his first protest song called: “The Death of Emmit Till”. A song about the horrible racial murder of the Afro-American teenager Emmit Till in 1955.

On Friday the 29th of September 1971 Robert Shelton published a laudatory article on the still unknown talent Bob Dylan. This led to a signing with Colombia Records. Dylan became the prodigy of John Hammond, famous for being able to discover great musical talents.

In 1963 Dylan released his second album: “The freewheelin’ Bob Dylan. In contrast to his first album, Dylan’s second album contained many of his own compositions. With “Blowin’ in the Wind” being the most important song. This was the song that later became one of the anthems of the 1960’s. The success of his second album was in the same period the Civil Rights Movement began to become more popular and influential. Because they both shared the same political view they decided to join forces to fight for equal rights.

Lyrics “Blowin’ in the wind”:

How many roads most a man walk down
Before you call him a man ?
How many seas must a white dove sail
Before she sleeps in the sand ?
Yes, how many times must the cannon balls fly
Before they’re forever banned ?
The answer my friend is blowin’ in the wind
The answer is blowin’ in the wind.

Yes, how many years can a mountain exist
Before it’s washed to the sea ?
Yes, how many years can some people exist
Before they’re allowed to be free ?
Yes, how many times can a man turn his head
Pretending he just doesn’t see ?
The answer my friend is blowin’ in the wind
The answer is blowin’ in the wind.

Yes, how many times must a man look up
Before he can see the sky ?
Yes, how many ears must one man have
Before he can hear people cry ?
Yes, how many deaths will it take till he knows
That too many people have died ?
The answer my friend is blowin’ in the wind
The answer is blowin’ in the wind.

The new forged alliance led to Dylan playing at the March on Washington, where Martin Luther King jr. held his legendary speech: “I Have a Dream”. Seen by many as one of the most important events in the battle for equality. Dylan became a living symbol for the movement. He strongly believed that his music could play a significant role.

Not long after Dylan’s legendary performance at the March on Washington signs of a break between him and the movement started to show. Dylan felt he was being taking hostage by the movement and a lot of liberal young people from his generation. He disliked the pressure of being the spokesmen of his generation.

When Dylan came back in New York after a tour he discovered that his manager already planned a new tour for the summer. This continues pressure from outside on his person as well on his working career led to Dylan having a motorcycle accident in the summer of 1966’.

Experts say this was a turning point in Dylan’s career. In the following albums Dylan released his music was less political orientated. It seemed that he finally freed himself of being the spokesmen of his generation. During this period of his career he was a more family orientated person, spending more time with his wife and kids then before.

Also during this period, Dylan started to read more from the bible. This reflected on his way of playing, he would use a simple structure for his music and only make use of acoustic instruments. People believe this was a protest against the upcoming psychedelic pop music. This would be the trend for the albums to come, up to today.

Whoever wants to see this living legend play can still admire him today. Although Dylan is 62 years old he is still active as a performer, currently touring through the United States. Critics may say his voice and songs are not at the same level as before, which could lead to disappointment because it’s not the Dylan you remember from back in the days. I strongly feel that it’s still a great honour to see Dylan perform. As he played such an important role in American history.


1.      Dylan, B. Chronicles Volume 1(2004). New York, NY: Simon and Chuster.

2.      Roberts, J. Bob Dylan: Voice of a Generation(2005). Minneapolis: Lerner Publications company.

3.      Yaffe, D. Bob Dylan: Like a complete unknown(2011). Dexter, Michigan: Integrated Publishing Solutions.

Written by Pieter Klinkhamer

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