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Bob Dylan: the Elusive Genius

12 Dec 2016

For the first time in the history, the prestigious Nobel Prize in Literature was awarded to a musician, which took the world by surprise, including the musician himself. In 2016, Bob Dylan is named the holder of the Nobel “for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition”. For two weeks, the press heard nothing but complete silence from Mr. Dylan who, as it became known later, said he would not be present at the ceremony either.

Bob Dylan, always known for his unshakeable views on the subjects of politics, social life and so on, has been one of the brightest figures in the world of music for 5 dozen years already. Today we are gathering a few memorable facts from Bob Dylan’s music, life and career to refresh knowledge/find out more on the man whose contribution has been recognized and rewarded by the Nobel Committee.

Below is a short compilation of the most interesting facts about this outstanding man of music art – the elusive figure of Robert Allen Zimmerman (Bob Dylan’s real name):

  1. Dylan was often referred to as the mouthpiece of his generation, his songs becoming anthems of the time. His early compositions “The Times They Are a-Changin” and “Blowin’ in the Wind” were an important part of the anti-war movement in America, while “Masters of War” remained the most influential protest song for a long time.

    Dylan, however, does not like to be called the voice of the generation, preferring to keep a rather obfuscated identity.

  2. Another powerful song by Bob Dylan, “Like a Rolling Stone”, written in 1965, has come through a lot of editing to date: the original lyrics used to take up to 20 pages.
  3. In school/college times, Dylan used to be much of a rebel. In the 10th grade, he and his band were rejected from a talent show because their performance was considered ‘too shocking’ by the council. He would often scam his friends out of clothes and cigarettes. And finally, he did not come to the graduation party.
  4. Before becoming Bob Dylan, Robert Zimmerman went by the stage name Elston Gunn for some time. He also made music under a couple of other pseudonyms: Bob Landy, Blind Boy Grunt, Robert Milkwood Thomas.
  5. The 20-year-old Bob (which is minor age in the U.S.) got a contract with Columbia Records without his parents’ legally compulsory signature by convincing John H. Hammond he was an orphan. By the way, Hammond was the man who, despite his bosses’ opinions, also signed Aretha Franklin, Bruce Springsteen and Billie Holiday.
  6. Among his biggest lifetime influences, Dylan named Charlie Chaplin. James Dean and Elvis Presley are no doubt on that list too. As for personal inspiration sources, musician’s girlfriend Suze Rotolo served as one for many years: the songs "Ballad in Plain D”, "One Too Many Mornings", "Tomorrow Is a Long Time” are among the compositions that were born thanks to her. She is also on the cover of Dylan’s famous The Freewheelin’ album.
  7. The current Pope, Joseph Ratzinger (Benedict), for some reason strongly disapproved of Dylan’s music and even tried to stop his performance in 1997 when Dylan played for John Paul II. The then-cardinal Ratzinger named the musician ‘the wrong kind of prophet’. What was Dylan playing? "Knockin' on Heaven's Door", "A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall" and "Forever Young".

  8. Dylan tried himself in other spheres of art too. He is actually a very prolific painter (6 books of drawings/paintings), participated in various art exhibitions and wrote the experimental novel “Tarantula” (1971)
  9. A popular bumper sticker reading “World’s Greatest Grandpa” is proudly placed on Dylan’s car: the songwriter has 9 grandchildren.
  10. Dylan became the 1st rock artist to receive a Pulitzer Prize (2008). He was introduced to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame by Bruce Springsteen in 1988.

Bob Dylan is a unique, versatile and prolific artist. He never stops playing music, performing in over a 100 concerts annually, which is a part of his so-called “Never-Ending Tour” that he embarked on back in the 1980ies (by the way, he learnt about the unexpected Nobel Prize while on tour too). Having already explored most of American Song traditions from folk, country and blues to gospel and rock’n’roll, he keeps embracing music. And we wish him to have an even longer journey.

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