Bob Dylan 50th Anniversary (1962-2012)
On March 19, 1962, the album Bob Dylan was released by Columbia Records. The striking singer-songwriter behind the effort was at the very beginning of a long, storied career. Fifty years and hundreds of songs later, Bob Dylan is still a prolific social force who eludes easy description. Decried in the mid-60s for abandoning folk, Dylan was the musician the scene needed, but hardly the musician it wanted. Today his work stands on its his own, though it is perhaps just as poorly understood as in decades past.
Dylan was born as Robert Allen Zimmerman on May 24, 1941. He grew up in a middle-class family and, as later interviews would suggest, he never quite felt comfortable during his childhood. He listened to early R&B, Elvis and Little Richard enthusiastically, witness to the birth of a musical genre that almost everyone under 40 takes for granted. He also listened to Johnny Cash and Hank Williams, emerging himself in classic country. In 1961, Dylan seems to have found a new idol, folk stronghold Woody Guthrie.
The release of Bob Dylan was proudly hailed by Columbia and producer John Hammond as the introduction of a new folk star. The record was comprised primarily of covers and two original Dylan songs. Critics would pan some of the cover songs for being so old that they were no longer under copyright. The album sounds just as moody and evocative today as it must have then.
Dylan’s entrance onto the folk scene was quickly followed by his departure from it. Subsequent albums became increasingly rock-oriented, though their folk origins are evident to the learned listener. In the early and mid ‘60s, Dylan wrote the protest songs for which he is still well-known. When he stopped writing protest songs, many of his followers became angry.
They failed to miss the real beauty of Dylan’s music, which lay in the fact that it was expression free of fetters. It was a bold statement of the artist’s unwillingness to be censored by anyone, record label executives and enthusiastic fans included. It was a contribution to rock that has been vastly underestimated and goes largely unacknowledged. Throughout the ‘60s, Dylan proved an enigmatic figure. He frequently made oddball comments during interviews and confused even those closest to him.
In 1965, Dylan married Sara Lownds. The couple had four children before divorcing in 1977. Dylan’s work was received with mixed reviews throughout the ‘70s. Dylan also toured with the successful conglomerate group The Band in 1974. In 1979, he released the Christian album Slow Train Coming, which reached no. 3 on the U.S. Billboard Charts. Subsequent work in the ‘80s signaled a move away from organized religion and a move towards greater critical acceptance.
Dylan has continued to release albums, many critically acclaimed. He has been on a never-ending tour since 1988, performing nearly 100 dates every year. Though he has backed away from any official connection with organized religion, Dylan continues to perform songs from his gospel albums, as well as other religious songs, during shows. He has also eluded to the tour being the result of a bargain he made with the chief commander, a statement many have read as indicative of continued faith.
Dylan gave a complex interview to 60 Minutes in 2004; it was his first television interview in nearly 20 years. By the time it aired, many younger viewers considered Dylan a ghost from the past. They had never seriously considered his music and may never understand the impact he has had on the American music scene. The freedom Dylan introduced to music—the abandon to write what one wanted to write, to sing what one wanted to sing—has been the cornerstone of rock, R&B, rap and hip-hop for well over three decades. Dylan has rarely received credit for the role he has played in modern music.
The angry fans in the ‘60s who accused Dylan of turning his back on protest culture and folk music—like the angry political commentators of today who are incensed at Dylan for performing in China—missed the point. Dylan’s musical efforts, whether folk or rock or something else, aren’t missives in the form of a story. They draw from a much deeper tradition, rooted in the American music of bygone days.
Like the works of folk heroes long ago forgotten, Dylan’s songs testify to the authenticity of the human being. His work is not for or against one political system, for or against one movement. His work proves that music is about everything. We can leave theorists to debate Dylan’s effects on the structure of rock music. What we know is that he made it possible for musicians to sing about those things that seemed important, even mundane, because music is life, and life music.
- Dorothy Burk Vasquez
Bob Dylan 5oth Anniversary Mix
Compiled and mixed by Stacy Stephens
SCV Podcasts Volume 122
50th Anniversary Mix vol. 1
- Bay of Mexico (partial) (Armpit Tapes)
- Best Kind of Music *conversation* (Before Dylan There Was Zimmie Tapes)
- Gotta Travel On (Armpit Tapes)
- Farewell (Whitmark Demos)
- Moonshiner (Gaslight Cafe)
- Girl of the Noth Country (Paranoid Blues)
- Love Minus Zero / No Limit (Bringing It All Back Home Outtakes)
- It’s Alright, Ma (Dimestore Medicine)
- Visions of Johana (Royal Albert Hall Recordings)
- Like A Rolling Stone (Royal Albert Hall Recordings)
- Yea! Heavy and a Bottle of Bread (Basement Tapes)
- I Threw It All Away (New Morning Outtakes)
- Abandoned Love (Live at The Bitter End Cafe ’75)
- 60 Minutes excerpt 2004
- Blind Willie McTell (Infidels outtakes)
- Pretty Boy Floyd (Folkways: A Vision Shared: A Tribute to Woody Guthrie and Leadbelly)
- Mississippi (The Bootleg Series Vol. 8)
- The Love That Faded (The Lost Notebooks of Hank Williams)
50th Anniversary Mix vol. 2
- Mary Ann (Karen Wallace Tapes)
- Sinner Man (Karen Wallace Tapes)
- When I Got Troubles (Bootleg Series Vol. 7)
- I’ll Keep It With Mine (Whitmark Demos)
- Cuckoo is a Pretty Bird (Gaslight Cafe)
- With God on Our Side (In the Pines)
- North Country Blues (Bootleg Series Vol. 7)
- Ballad of a Thin Man (Bootleg Series Vol. 7)
- Converstaion about Johnny Cash (No Direction Home excerpt)
- Big River w/ Johnny Cash (Aces & Diamonds bootlegs)
- Weberman phone calls (excerpt)
- Idiot Wind (Blood on the Tracks NY Sessions)
- Wedding Song (Planet Waves)
- Oh, Sister (Rolling Thunder Revue)
- You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere (Basement Tapes)
- Blood In My Eyes (World Gone Wrong)
- Series of Dreams (Bootleg Series Vol. 3)
- Cold Iron Bounds (Time Out of Mind)
- High Water (For Charley Patton) (Love and Theft)
- Most of the Time (Bootleg Series Vol. 8)
- Born in Time (Bootleg Series Vol. 8)