News Column

The freewheelin' Bob Dylan

May 24, 2013

YellowBrix

Nepal, May 24 -- Bob Dylan 's influence on popular music is incalculable. As a songwriter, he pioneered several different schools of pop songwriting, from confessional singer/songwriter to winding, hallucinatory, stream-of-consciousness narratives. As a vocalist, he broke down the notion that a singer must have a conventionally good voice in order to perform, thereby redefining the vocalist's role in popular music. As a musician, he sparked several genres of pop music, including electrified folk-rock and country-rock. And that just touches on the tip of his achievements. Dylan's force was evident during his height of popularity in the '60s-the Beatles' shift toward introspective songwriting in the mid- '60s never would have happened without him-but his influence echoed throughout several subsequent generations, as many of his songs became popular standards and his best albums became undisputed classics of the rock & roll canon. Dylan's influence throughout folk music was equally powerful, and he marks a pivotal turning point in its 20th century evolution, signifying when the genre moved away from traditional songs and toward personal songwriting. Even when his sales declined in the '80s and '90s, Dylan's presence rarely lagged, and his commercial revival in the 2000s proved his staying power. For a figure of such substantial influence, Dylan came from humble beginnings. Born in Duluth, Minnesota, Bob Dylan (born Robert Allen Zimmerman, May 24, 1941) was raised in Hibbing, Minnesota, from the age of six. As a child he learned how to play guitar and harmonica, forming a rock & roll band called the Golden Chords when he was in high school. Following his graduation in 1959, he began studying art at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis. While at college, he began performing folk songs at coffeehouses under the name Bob Dylan , taking his last name from the poet Dylan Thomas.

Dylan made his way to New York City in January of 1961, immediately making a substantial impression on the folk community of Greenwich Village. He began performing in coffeehouses, and his rough charisma won him a significant following. In September that year, he performed a concert at Gerde's Folk City, which was reviewed positively by Robert Shelton in The New York Times. Columbia A&R man John Hammond sought out Dylan on the strength of the review, and signed the songwriter in the fall of 1961. Hammond produced Dylan's eponymous debut album (released in March 1962). Over the course of 1962, Dylan began to write a large batch of original songs, many of which were political protest songs in the vein of his Greenwich contemporaries. These songs were showcased on his second album, The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan . Comprised entirely of original songs, the album made a huge impact in the US folk community, and many performers began covering songs from the album.

By the time The Times They Are A-Changin' was released in early 1964, Dylan's songwriting had developed far beyond that of his New York peers. Heavily inspired by poets like Arthur Rimbaud and John Keats, his writing took on a more literate and evocative quality. Around the same time, he began to expand his musical boundaries, adding more blues and R&B influences to his songs. Released in the summer of 1964, Another Side of Bob Dylan made these changes evident.

Inspired by the British Invasion, particularly the Animals' version of House of the Rising Sun, Dylan recorded a set of original songs backed by a loud rock & roll band for his next album. While Bringing It All Back Home (March 1965) still had a side of acoustic material, it made clear that Dylan had turned his back on folk music. Dylan made his breakthrough to the pop audience in the summer of 1965, when Like a Rolling Stone became a number two hit. Driven by a circular organ riff and a steady beat, the six-minute single broke the barrier of the three-minute pop single.

On July 29, 1966, Dylan was injured in a motorcycle accident outside of his home in Woodstock, New York, suffering injuries to his neck vertebrae and a concussion. After the accident, Dylan became a recluse, disappearing into his home in Woodstock and raising his family with his wife, Sara.

While Dylan was in seclusion, rock & roll had become heavier and artier in the wake of the psychedelic revolution. When Dylan returned with John Wesley Harding in December of 1967, its quiet, country ambience was a surprise to the general public, but it was a significant hit. Dylan followed his country inclinations on his next album, 1969's Nashville Skyline. While the album was a hit, it was criticised in some quarters for uneven material. The mixed reception was the beginning of a full-blown backlash that arrived with the double-album Self Portrait. Dylan followed the album quickly with New Morning, which was hailed as a comeback.

Following the release of New Morning, Dylan moved back to Greenwich Village. It was around this time that he moved to David Geffen's fledging Asylum Records. His soundtrack for the 1973 film Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid was the final record released under his Columbia contract. Dylan only recorded two albums-including 1974's Planet Waves, coincidentally his first number one album- before he moved back to Columbia.

Dylan's 1974 tour was the beginning of a comeback culminating with 1975's Blood on the Tracks. Largely inspired by the disintegration of his marriage, Blood on the Tracks was hailed as a return to form by critics and it became his second number one album. Early in 1978, Dylan set out on another extensive tour at the conclusion of which, in late 1978, Dylan announced that he was a born-again Christian, and he launched a series of Christian albums that following summer with Slow Train Coming. He returned to secular recording with 1983's Infidels.

Dylan returned to performing in 1984, releasing the live album Real Live at the end of the year. Empire Burlesque followed in 1985, but its odd mix of dance tracks and rock & roll won few fans. However, the five-album/triple-disc retrospective box set Biograph appeared that same year to great acclaim. In 1988, Dylan appeared on The Traveling Wilburys, Vol 1-by the supergroup also featuring George Harrison, Roy Orbison, Tom Petty, and Jeff Lynne-and released his own Down in the Groove, an album largely comprised of covers.

For the remainder of the '90s, Dylan divided his time between live concerts, painting, and studio projects. He returned to recording in 1992 with Good as I Been to You. It was followed in 1993 by another folk record, World Gone Wrong, which won the Grammy for Best Traditional Folk Album. Dylan released Time Out of Mind, his first album of original material in seven years, in the fall of 1997. It won him three Grammy Awards-Album of the Year, Best Contemporary Folk Album, and Best Male Rock Vocal.

Another album of original material, Love and Theft, followed in 2001 and went gold. Soon after its release, Dylan announced that he was making his own film, to star Jeff Bridges, Penelope Cruz, John Goodman, Val Kilmer, and many more. The accompanying soundtrack, Masked and Anonymous, was released in July 2003. Dylan opted to self- produce his new studio album, Modern Times, which topped the Billboard charts and went platinum in both America and the UK. It was Dylan's third consecutive album to receive praise from critics and support from consumers, and it was followed three years later in 2009 by Together Through Life, another self-produced effort (as Jack Frost) that also featured contributions from David Hidalgo of Los Lobos and Mike Campbell of Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers. He capped off the year with an old-fashioned holiday effort, Christmas in the Heart. Proceeds from the album were donated to various charities around the world. Dylan released the self-produced (again as Jack Frost) Tempest on September 11, 2012.

Source: allmusic.com

Published by HT Syndication with permission from EKantipur.com.

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