Inspiring Purpose

Bob Dylan

Bob Dylan was born in Duluth, Minnesota. He was instrumental in the popular revival of the folk tradition in the early 1960s, when his work, with its overt social and political concerns, was greatly influenced by the pioneering folk-singer and songwriter Woody Guthrie. His unconventional vocal style was immediately influential, and many of his songs, notably 'Blowing in the Wind' and 'The Times They are a-Changin' were widely performed and imitated. Quickly tiring of his unsought role as spokesman for his generation, he turned in 1965 to rock and roll music with the group which later became The Band. The use of amplified instruments alienated many of his early admirers, initially at the Newport Folk Festival in 1965, and then on the infamous world tour of 1966, when he was accused of being Judas by a fan in England during a widely bootlegged concert.

Dylan soon reached a much wider rock audience, however, while songs like 'Mr Tambourine Man', 'Desolation Row', 'Subterranean Homesick Blues' and 'Like a Rolling Stone' had a profound influence. Self-consciously literary and often the product of his experiments with hallucinogenic drugs, they helped raise the latter form to new heights, and were treated by many critics as poetry, although his only novel, Tarantula (1971), was a reminder that songs were his forte. After a motorcycle accident in 1966 he briefly retired from public view, emerging to record more personal songs in a country-influenced style. The early 1970s saw a creative lull, but he returned to form in his records of the mid-1970s, which contain some of his most lasting work.

His subsequent conversion to evangelical Christianity (he was born into the Jewish faith) again alienated some of his audience, a controversy which obscured the quality of some of the music in his albums of the late 1970s and early 1980s, notably in songs like 'Precious Angel' and 'Every Grain of Sand'. He returned to Judaism in the 1980s, and while there was a slackening in his productivity, he remains one of the seminal influences on popular song writing. He has issued records and toured at regular intervals into the mid-1990s, often reworking old songs in radical ways alongside new material on stage, although his records of the period have not achieved the kind of unanimity of approval bestowed on his indubitably classic works of the previous decades. His collaboration with four other big-name musicians (including George Harrison and Roy Orbison) as The Traveling Wilburys (1988-91) was largely disappointing, and certainly did not achieve the sum of its parts. Numerous live albums, both legitimate and bootlegged, have been issued, and he appeared in or directed a number of films, including the celebrated documentary Don't Look Back (1967), the concert film Hard Rain (1976), and the sprawling Renaldo and Clara(1978).

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