Modesty is a rare thing to experience in today’s day of age. But, with poise and grace, singer/songwriter, Bob Dylan, continues to treat fans to purity and peace, amid a time where most of us find ourselves in chaotic noise. The renowned rock star performed, live, Oct. 13th, at the Chelsea theater at The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas. Earlier, that same day, he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature.
“…for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition.”
Without speaking a word in detail about the award, he took to his night’s work and lept on a stage amid an eagerly awaiting audience. In between his Desert Trip shows, he gallantly swung through Las Vegas to show a bit of love to a city who’s always said, “Welcome home, Bob.” True to his art, he performed legendary hits, Like a Rolling Stone, Masters of War, Highway 61 Revisited, and Rainy Day Women #12 and 35. Some of these classics haven’t been heard by him live in almost three years. He even brought the Fender Stratocaster out from retirement. At age 75, his sandpapery, blues and folk filled voice, brought melody and life to emotion once more. His Las Vegas show concluded with a cover of Frank Sinatra’s, Why try to change me now. His year will be continue with a fall tour, starting this Sunday night, Oct. 16th, 2016, at the Phoenix Comerica Theater.
The Nobel Prize for Literature award, given to the famed rock star, Bob Dylan, has never been awarded to a musician. This is the first time in history. Likewise, this is the first time the prize has been awarded to an American, since, 1993, when it was awarded to novelist, Toni Morrison.
Who is Bob Dylan? Who is the man capable of crossing boundaries while humbly approaching a dusty stage with mind and voice? Where and how did he grow up? Do Millennials know the name of this musical genius? Which of the greats performing today idolized Bob Dylan as their musical mind of the time? Endless questions, and too many to approach…
Bob Dylan began his musical pursuits during the early years of his life.
Dylan, born Robert Allen Zimmerman, was influenced by the greats, Elvis Presley and Little Richard. Music was an early interest. To understand the soul of the man as he is today, one only needs to read one of his early college essays:
“The thing about rock ‘n ‘roll is that for me anyway it wasn’t enough… the songs weren’t serious or didn’t reflect life in a realistic way. I knew that when I got into folk music, it was more of a serious type of thing. The songs are filled with more despair, more sadness, more triumph, more faith in the supernatural, much deeper feelings.”
Robert Allen Zimmerman, was soon to form into the powerhouse and influencer as he is known today. While studying his musical predecessors, Zimmerman began another relationship; that, with the literary works of Dylan Thomas. Students would flock to a coffeehouse near campus, just to listen to a young voice struggling for strength singing under the alias: Bob Dylan. It was a name that would eventually teach millions of peace, triumph, and sorrow.
Bob Dylan’s early musical career began in NYC, shortly after dropping out of college.
Dylan took to NYC during his last year of studies. Choosing to dropout, he set up residency in Greenwich Village and began performing full-time. Some of the more notable names he openly performed with include artists: Dave Van Ronk, Fred Neil, Odetta, the New Lost City Ramblers, The Clancy Brothers, and Tommy Makem. Bob Dylan was quickly signed to a contract with Columbia records under the producer, John Hammond, October, 1961. This choice was met with a bit of criticism. People began to laugh at Hammond’s decision to hire the young voice, even referring to Dylan as, “Hammond’s Folly.” This was partly to do with Bob Dylan’s first album cover, Bob Dylan, released in March, 1962, only selling 5,000 copies its first year.
Within a year, Dylan took to hiring new management. After legally changing his name to Robert Dylan, he signed on with Albert Grossman. It was a partnership to last eight years. With this new relationship, Hammond was quickly replaced by the new and uprising producer, Tom Wilson.
Still young and inexperienced as a singer, Dylan accompanied other artists; primarily, by playing instruments on their record labels. While helping one artist, he accompanied on the piano under another name: Bob Landy. It wasn’t until the release of his second album, The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, that he began to make his stride as a singer. The record was created under heavy influences, Guthrie and Pete Seeger. Most of the record was labeled as “protest songs,” with this gem tucked in first place: Blowin’ in the wind. This piece was created with melodies extending from a traditional slave song: No More Auction Block.
Below is the second verse of the song, Blowin’ in the wind, from Bob Dylan’s second album, Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan.
“Yes, and how many years can a mountain exist
Before it’s washed to the sea?
Yes, and how many years can some people exist
Before they’re allowed to be free?
Yes, and how many times can a man turn his head
And pretend that he just doesn’t see?
The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind
The answer is blowin’ in the wind.”
Perhaps, one of the best quotes issued by another well-known of the time, speaking on the topic of Dylan’s second album, came from novelist Joyce Carol Oates. This what she had to say about the man behind the voice:
“When we first heard this raw, very young, and seemingly untrained voice, frankly nasal, as if sandpaper could sing, the effect was dramatic and electrifying.”
With his second album, Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, Bob Dylan took his seat at the table of musical giants.
Political and social protests were paramount in making Bob Dylan into the man he is today.
Dylan was singing political and civil protests at the March on Washington on August 28th, 1963. At this same time, while engaged in showcasing his interest in civil rights and movements, he took to creating his third album. It came with a focus on the entrenched unrest witnessed in daily events. One such song, Only a pawn in their game, discussed the murder of civil rights worker Medgar Evers. Another, The lonesome death of Hattie Carroll, brought focus to the clear injustice of a black hotel barstaff, Hattie Carroll, by a white socialite William Zantzinger. Dylan’s ending lyrics of the fourth verse, describe the embodiment of his musical soul sounding loudly on microphones.
“In the courtroom of honor, the judge pounded his gavel
To show that all’s equal and that the courts are on the level
And that the strings in the books ain’t pulled and persuaded
And that even the nobles get properly handled
Once that the cops have chased after and caught ’em
And that the ladder of law has no top and no bottom
Stared at the person who killed for no reason
Who just happened to be feelin’ that way without warnin’
And he spoke through his cloak, most deep and distinguished
And handed out strongly, for penalty and repentance
William Zanzinger with a six-month sentence
Oh, but you who philosophize disgrace and criticize all fears
Bury the rag deep in your face
For now’s the time for your tears”
By the year 1965, Bob Dylan became electric.
His style of musical prose utilized the force of the electric guitar when The Byrds took to performing a cover version of his song, Mr. Tambourine Man, off the newest album, Bringing it all back home. Dylan’s style eased the message of his compositions; he continued to perform with acoustic guitar and harmonica. But, because of the success of the electrical instruments, Dylan took to a stage for the Newport Folk Festival with an embraced “rock ‘n ‘roll” flair. He was quickly booed off stage.
It didn’t deter the man. That same year, hits, Like a Rolling Stone and Highway 61 Revisited, became legend. Fans were still slow to accept the flip flop between folk and rock. Change was certain in the air of his musical notes. Some noticed the man was spiraling on what was referred to as a, “death trip.” During an interview in 1969 with Jann Wenner, Dylan can be heard confessing, “I was on the road for almost five years. It wore me down. I was on drugs, a lot of things…”
The next year, 1966, amid a quickly rising reputation, five-year tour, first marriage, Bob Dylan crashed. Hard. It forced him into isolation and quiet.
While driving his 500cc Triumph Tiger 100 motorcycle in Woodstock, NY, Dylan suffered traumatic injuries to several vertebrae. Dylan refused hospitalization. It took him eight years before he would stand on stage to perform again.
Listed as one of Dylan’s Top 10 Greatest Bob Dylan Songs by the RollingStones.com, Dylan released the influential, I shall be released. This song was to keep singer/song writer David Crosby company in the mid-Eighties while holed up in a jail cell for nine months serving time for drug and weapon possession. The lyrics possibly continue to line that Texas cell: “Any day now, any day now, I shall be released.”
It seemed at the time of this song’s composition, Dylan himself was in the middle of being “released,” from societal shackles, from clouded images of conveying the right messages… No one knows to be sure. But, his messages became clearer; simpler; succinct. By 1975, the song, Tangled up in blue, hit the charts, reaching #31 on the Billboard Hot 100.
“[Tangled up in blue] took me 10 years to live, and two years to write,” Dylan recalled. 1975 was a year of heartache and pain. The marriage was failing, the sixties were gone… nostalgia pulled Dylan’s attention away from the present days. The changes were evident in younger years, 1972 to give an exact reference, by the release of, Knocking on Heaven’s door.
“Mama, take this badge off of me
I can’t use it anymore
It’s gettin’ dark, too dark to see
I feel like I’m knockin’ on heaven’s door.”
By 1978, Dylan signed up for a one-year, worldwide tour, performing in 114 shows. The tour grossed a total of $20 million. When brought to American soil to perform, the tour was labeled has having a “Las Vegas Tour” look and sound by the press.
By the Eighties, Dylan was being asked to become a bit more “contemporary” by Arthur Baker, who had engineered the sound and style of Bruce Springsteen and Cyndi Lauper. Not only was the music taking a new shape, but his career was veering. The Never Ending Tour had begun June 7th, 1988; but, also, Dylan starred as a lead character for the motion film, Hearts of fire. The movie was deemed a box office dud. Dylan, however, was pulled back into the praise of the music scene by his induction into the Rock and Rock Hall of Fame in the year 1988.
During the Nineties and Two-thousands, Dylan has continued to break into newer and ever growing challenging ventures. In 1994, Random House Publishing published the book Drawn Blank. Within, are over 200 pictures drawn by Dylan. His artistic success didn’t stop there, galleries and galas have showcased replicas of his photos and drawings in watercolor and a variety of mixed mediums. In total, Dylan has published six books of paintings and drawings.
Unfortunately, this post doesn’t do the justice even half-deserved by Mr. Bob Dylan. But, we here at TheVegas7, hope to bring light and vitality to a man still very vibrant and expressive as his early years show him to be. We’ll leave you with this last bit of nostalgia written by an aware mind that is Bob Dylan.
“Come gather ’round people where ever you roam
And admit that the waters around you have grown
And accept it that soon you’ll be drenched to the bone
If your time to you is worth savin’
Then you better start swimmin’ or you’ll sink like a stone,
For the times they are a’ changin’!”