Dylan's father, Abram Zimmerman – an electric-appliance shop owner – and mother, Beatrice "Beatty" Stone, were part of a small, close-knit Jewish community. They lived in Duluth until Dylan was six, when his father had polio and the family returned to his mother's hometown, Hibbing, where they lived for the rest of Dylan's childhood. In his early years he listened to the radio—first to blues and country stations from Shreveport, Louisiana, and later, when he was a teenager, to rock and roll.
The thing about rock'n'roll is that for me anyway it wasn't enough... There were great catch-phrases and driving pulse rhythms... but 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.
Living at the Jewish-centric fraternity Sigma Alpha Mu house, Dylan began to perform at the Ten O'Clock Scholar, a coffeehouse a few blocks from campus, and became involved in the Dinkytownfolk music circuit. During this period, he began introducing himself as "Bob Dylan."[a 1] In his memoir, he said he hit upon using this less common variant for Dillon – a surname he had considered adopting – when he unexpectedly saw poems by Dylan Thomas. Explaining his change of name in a 2004 interview, he said, "You're born, you know, the wrong names, wrong parents. I mean, that happens. You call yourself what you want to call yourself. This is the land of the free."
Relocation to New York and record deal
In May 1960, Dylan dropped out of college at the end of his first year. In January 1961, he traveled to New York City to perform there and visit his musical idol Woody Guthrie, who was seriously ill with Huntington's disease in Greystone Park Psychiatric Hospital. Guthrie had been a revelation to Dylan and influenced his early performances. Describing Guthrie's impact, he wrote: "The songs themselves had the infinite sweep of humanity in them... [He] was the true voice of the American spirit. I said to myself I was going to be Guthrie's greatest disciple." As well as visiting Guthrie in hospital, Dylan befriended Guthrie's protégé Ramblin' Jack Elliott. Much of Guthrie's repertoire was channeled through Elliott, and Dylan paid tribute to Elliott in Chronicles: Volume One.
Dylan's first album, Bob Dylan, released March 19, 1962, consisted of familiar folk, blues and gospel with two original compositions. The album sold only 5,000 copies in its first year, just enough to break even. Within Columbia Records, some referred to Dylan as "Hammond's Folly" and suggested dropping his contract, but Hammond defended him and was supported by songwriter Johnny Cash. In March 1962, Dylan contributed harmonica and backup vocals to the album Three Kings and the Queen, accompanying Victoria Spivey and Big Joe Williams on a recording for Spivey Records. While working for Columbia, Dylan recorded under the pseudonym Blind Boy Grunt for Broadside, a folk magazine and record label. Dylan used the pseudonym Bob Landy to record as a piano player on The Blues Project, a 1964 anthology album by Elektra Records. As Tedham Porterhouse, Dylan played harmonica on Ramblin' Jack Elliott's 1964 album Jack Elliott.
Dylan made two important career moves in August 1962: he legally changed his name to Bob Dylan, and signed a management contract with Albert Grossman. (In June 1961, Dylan had signed an agreement with Roy Silver. In 1962, Grossman paid Silver $10,000 to become sole manager.) Grossman remained Dylan's manager until 1970, and was known for his sometimes confrontational personality and protective loyalty. Dylan said, "He was kind of like a Colonel Tom Parker figure ... you could smell him coming." Tension between Grossman and John Hammond led to the latter suggesting Dylan work with the young African-American jazz producer, Tom Wilson, who produced several tracks for the second album without formal credit. Wilson produced the next three albums Dylan recorded.
Dylan's topical songs led to his being viewed as more than just a songwriter. Janet Maslin wrote in 1980 of Freewheelin': "These were the songs that established [Dylan] as the voice of his generation—someone who implicitly understood how concerned young Americans felt about nuclear disarmament and the growing Civil Rights Movement: his mixture of moral authority and nonconformity was perhaps the most timely of his attributes."[a 3]Freewheelin' also included love songs and surreal talking blues. Humor was an important part of Dylan's persona, and the range of material on the album impressed listeners, including the Beatles. George Harrison said of the album: "We just played it, just wore it out. The content of the song lyrics and just the attitude—it was incredibly original and wonderful."
The rough edge of Dylan's singing was unsettling to some but an attraction to others. Novelist Joyce Carol Oates wrote: "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." Many early songs reached the public through more palatable versions by other performers, such as Joan Baez, who became Dylan's advocate and lover. Baez was influential in bringing Dylan to prominence by recording several of his early songs and inviting him on stage during her concerts. "It didn't take long before people got it, that he was pretty damned special," says Baez.
"Mixed-Up Confusion", recorded during the Freewheelin' sessions with a backing band, was released as a single but quickly withdrawn. In contrast to the mostly solo acoustic performances on the album, the single showed a willingness to experiment with a rockabilly sound. Cameron Crowe described it as "a fascinating look at a folk artist with his mind wandering towards Elvis Presley and Sun Records."
Dylan said of "The Times They Are a-Changin'": "This was definitely a song with a purpose. I wanted to write a big song, some kind of theme song, with short concise verses that piled up on each other in a hypnotic way. The civil rights movement and the folk music movement were pretty close and allied together at that time."
In the latter half of 1964 and into 1965, Dylan moved from folk songwriter to folk-rock pop-music star. His jeans and work shirts were replaced by a Carnaby Street wardrobe, sunglasses day or night, and pointed "Beatle boots." A London reporter wrote: "Hair that would set the teeth of a comb on edge. A loud shirt that would dim the neon lights of Leicester Square. He looks like an undernourished cockatoo." Dylan began to spar with interviewers. Appearing on the Les Crane television show and asked about a movie he planned, he told Crane it would be a cowboy horror movie. Asked if he played the cowboy, Dylan replied, "No, I play my mother."
In 1965, headlining the Newport Folk Festival, Dylan performed his first electric set since high school with a pickup group featuring Mike Bloomfield on guitar and Al Kooper on organ. Dylan had appeared at Newport in 1963 and 1964, but in 1965 met with cheering and booing and left the stage after three songs. One version has it that the boos were from folk fans whom Dylan had alienated by appearing, unexpectedly, with an electric guitar. Murray Lerner, who filmed the performance, said: "I absolutely think that they were booing Dylan going electric." An alternative account claims audience members were upset by poor sound and a short set. This account is supported by Kooper and one of the directors of the festival, who reports his recording proves the only boos were in reaction to the MC's announcement that there was only enough time for a short set.
Nevertheless, Dylan's performance provoked a hostile response from the folk music establishment. In the September issue of Sing Out!, Ewan MacColl wrote: "Our traditional songs and ballads are the creations of extraordinarily talented artists working inside disciplines formulated over time ...'But what of Bobby Dylan?' scream the outraged teenagers ... Only a completely non-critical audience, nourished on the watery pap of pop music, could have fallen for such tenth-rate drivel." On July 29, four days after Newport, Dylan was back in the studio in New York, recording "Positively 4th Street." The lyrics contained images of vengeance and paranoia, and it has been interpreted as Dylan's put-down of former friends from the folk community—friends he had known in clubs along West 4th Street.
In July 1965, Dylan's six-minute single "Like a Rolling Stone" peaked at number two in the U.S. chart. In 2004 and in 2011, Rolling Stone listed it as number one of "The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time." Commenting on both the length of the song and its unconventional theme, Rolling Stone wrote: "No other pop song has so thoroughly challenged and transformed the commercial laws and artistic conventions of its time, for all time." Bruce Springsteen, in his speech for Dylan's inauguration into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, said that on first hearing the single, "that snare shot sounded like somebody'd kicked open the door to your mind." The song opened Dylan's next album, Highway 61 Revisited, named after the road that led from Dylan's Minnesota to the musical hotbed of New Orleans. The songs were in the same vein as the hit single, flavored by Mike Bloomfield's blues guitar and Al Kooper's organ riffs. "Desolation Row", backed by acoustic guitar and understated bass, offers the sole exception, with Dylan alluding to figures in Western culture in a song described by Andy Gill as "an 11-minute epic of entropy, which takes the form of a Fellini-esque parade of grotesques and oddities featuring a huge cast of celebrated characters, some historical (Einstein, Nero), some biblical (Noah, Cain and Abel), some fictional (Ophelia, Romeo, Cinderella), some literary (T. S. Eliot and Ezra Pound), and some who fit into none of the above categories, notably Dr. Filth and his dubious nurse."
From September 24, 1965, in Austin, Texas, Dylan toured the U.S. and Canada for six months, backed by the five musicians from the Hawks who became known as the Band. While Dylan and the Hawks met increasingly receptive audiences, their studio efforts floundered. Producer Bob Johnston persuaded Dylan to record in Nashville in February 1966, and surrounded him with top-notch session men. At Dylan's insistence, Robertson and Kooper came from New York City to play on the sessions. The Nashville sessions produced the double album Blonde on Blonde (1966), featuring what Dylan called "that thin wild mercury sound." Kooper described it as "taking two cultures and smashing them together with a huge explosion": the musical world of Nashville and the world of the "quintessential New York hipster" Bob Dylan.
On November 22, 1965, Dylan secretly married 25-year-old former model Sara Lownds. Robertson writes in his memoir about receiving a phone call that morning to accompany the couple to the court, and then later to a reception hosted by Al Grossman at the Algonquin Hotel. Some of Dylan's friends, including Ramblin' Jack Elliott, say that, immediately after the event, Dylan denied he was married. Journalist Nora Ephron made the news public in the New York Post in February 1966 with the headline "Hush! Bob Dylan is wed."
Dylan toured Australia and Europe in April and May 1966. Each show was split in two. Dylan performed solo during the first half, accompanying himself on acoustic guitar and harmonica. In the second, backed by the Hawks, he played electrically amplified music. This contrast provoked many fans, who jeered and slow handclapped. The tour culminated in a raucous confrontation between Dylan and his audience at the Manchester Free Trade Hall in England on May 17, 1966. A recording of this concert was released in 1998: The Bootleg Series Vol. 4: Bob Dylan Live 1966. At the climax of the evening, a member of the audience, angered by Dylan's electric backing, shouted: "Judas!" to which Dylan responded, "I don't believe you ... You're a liar!" Dylan turned to his band and said, "Play it fucking loud!" as they launched into the final song of the night—"Like a Rolling Stone."
During his 1966 tour, Dylan was described as exhausted and acting "as if on a death trip."D. A. Pennebaker, the film maker accompanying the tour, described Dylan as "taking a lot of amphetamine and who-knows-what-else." In a 1969 interview with Jann Wenner, Dylan said, "I was on the road for almost five years. It wore me down. I was on drugs, a lot of things ... just to keep going, you know?" In 2011, BBC Radio 4 reported that, in an interview that Robert Shelton taped in 1966, Dylan said he had kicked heroin in New York City: "I got very, very strung out for a while ... I had about a $25-a-day habit and I kicked it." Some journalists questioned the validity of this confession, pointing out that Dylan had "been telling journalists wild lies about his past since the earliest days of his career."
Motorcycle accident and reclusion
After his tour, Dylan returned to New York, but the pressures increased. ABC Television had paid an advance for a TV show. His publisher, Macmillan, was demanding a manuscript of the poem/novel Tarantula. Manager Albert Grossman had scheduled a concert tour for the latter part of the year.
On July 29, 1966, Dylan crashed his 500cc Triumph Tiger 100 motorcycle near his home in Woodstock, New York, and was thrown to the ground. Though the extent of his injuries was never disclosed, Dylan said that he broke several vertebrae in his neck. Mystery still surrounds the circumstances of the accident since no ambulance was called to the scene and Dylan was not hospitalized. Dylan's biographers have written that the crash offered Dylan the chance to escape the pressures around him. Dylan confirmed this interpretation in his autobiography: "I had been in a motorcycle accident and I'd been hurt, but I recovered. Truth was that I wanted to get out of the rat race." Dylan withdrew from public and, apart from a few appearances, did not tour again for almost eight years.
Dylan's next release, Nashville Skyline (1969), was mainstream country featuring Nashville musicians, a mellow-voiced Dylan, a duet with Johnny Cash, and the hit single "Lay Lady Lay."Variety wrote, "Dylan is definitely doing something that can be called singing. Somehow he has managed to add an octave to his range." During one recording session, Dylan and Cash recorded a series of duets but only their version of Dylan's "Girl from the North Country" was released on the album.
Also in 1972, Dylan protested the move to deport John Lennon and Yoko Ono, who had been convicted of possessing cannabis, by sending a letter to the U.S. Immigration Service, in part: "Hurray for John & Yoko. Let them stay and live here and breathe. The country's got plenty of room and space. Let John and Yoko stay!"
Dylan began 1973 by signing with a new label, David Geffen's Asylum Records (and Island in the UK), when his contract with Columbia Records expired. On his next album, Planet Waves, he used the Band as backing group, while rehearsing for a tour. The album included two versions of "Forever Young", which became one of his most popular songs. As one critic described it, the song projected "something hymnal and heartfelt that spoke of the father in Dylan", and Dylan himself commented: "I wrote it thinking about one of my boys and not wanting to be too sentimental."
Columbia Records simultaneously released Dylan, a collection of studio outtakes (almost exclusively covers), widely interpreted as a churlish response to Dylan's signing with a rival record label. In January 1974, Dylan returned to touring after seven years; backed by the Band, he embarked on a North American tour of 40 concerts. A live double album, Before the Flood, was on Asylum Records. Soon, according to Clive Davis, Columbia Records sent word they "will spare nothing to bring Dylan back into the fold." Dylan had second thoughts about Asylum, miffed that while there had been millions of unfulfilled ticket requests for the 1974 tour, Geffen had sold only 700,000 copies of Planet Waves. Dylan returned to Columbia Records, which reissued his two Asylum albums.
Dylan said of the opening song from Blood on the Tracks: "I was trying to deal with the concept of time, and the way the characters change from the first person to the third person, and you're never sure if the first person is talking or the third person. But as you look at the whole thing it really doesn't matter."
After the tour, Dylan and his wife became estranged. He filled a small red notebook with songs about relationships and ruptures, and recorded an album entitled Blood on the Tracks in September 1974. Dylan delayed the release and re-recorded half the songs at Sound 80 Studios in Minneapolis with production assistance from his brother, David Zimmerman.
Released in early 1975, Blood on the Tracks received mixed reviews. In the NME, Nick Kent described "the accompaniments [as] often so trashy they sound like mere practice takes." In Rolling Stone, Jon Landau wrote that "the record has been made with typical shoddiness." Over the years critics came to see it as one of Dylan's greatest achievements. For the Salon website, journalist Bill Wyman wrote: "Blood on the Tracks is his only flawless album and his best produced; the songs, each of them, are constructed in disciplined fashion. It is his kindest album and most dismayed, and seems in hindsight to have achieved a sublime balance between the logorrhea-plagued excesses of his mid-1960s output and the self-consciously simple compositions of his post-accident years." Novelist Rick Moody called it "the truest, most honest account of a love affair from tip to stern ever put down on magnetic tape."
Running through late 1975 and again through early 1976, the tour encompassed the release of the album Desire, with many of Dylan's new songs featuring a travelogue-like narrative style, showing the influence of his new collaborator, playwright Jacques Levy. The 1976 half of the tour was documented by a TV concert special, Hard Rain, and the LP Hard Rain; no concert album from the better-received and better-known opening half of the tour was released until 2002's Live 1975.
A documentary of the 1975 leg of the Rolling Thunder Revue, Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story by Martin Scorsese was released by Netflix on June 12, 2019, with a fourteen-CD box set of rehearsals and five complete recordings of Dylan's performances from the Revue released on June 7, 2019, as The Rolling Thunder Revue: The 1975 Live Recordings. The documentary features participants interviewed by Jeff Rosen over decades and it was assembled by Martin Scorsese and editor David Tedeschi.
Dylan performing in the Feyenoord Football Club Stadium, Rotterdam, June 23, 1978
The 1975 tour with the Revue provided the backdrop to Dylan's nearly four-hour film Renaldo and Clara, a sprawling narrative mixed with concert footage and reminiscences. Released in 1978, the movie received poor, sometimes scathing, reviews. Later in that year, a two-hour edit, dominated by the concert performances, was more widely released.
In 1978, Dylan embarked on a year-long world tour, performing 114 shows in Japan, the Far East, Europe and the US, to a total audience of two million. Dylan assembled an eight-piece band and three backing singers. Concerts in Tokyo in February and March were released as the live double album, Bob Dylan At Budokan. Reviews were mixed. Robert Christgau awarded the album a C+ rating, giving the album a derisory review, while Janet Maslin defended it in Rolling Stone, writing: "These latest live versions of his old songs have the effect of liberating Bob Dylan from the originals." When Dylan brought the tour to the U.S. in September 1978, the press described the look and sound as a 'Las Vegas Tour'. The 1978 tour grossed more than $20 million, and Dylan told the Los Angeles Times that he had debts because "I had a couple of bad years. I put a lot of money into the movie, built a big house ... and it costs a lot to get divorced in California."
In April and May 1978, Dylan took the same band and vocalists into Rundown Studios in Santa Monica, California, to record an album of new material: Street-Legal. It was described by Michael Gray as, "after Blood On The Tracks, arguably Dylan's best record of the 1970s: a crucial album documenting a crucial period in Dylan's own life." However, it had poor sound and mixing (attributed to Dylan's studio practices), muddying the instrumental detail until a remastered CD release in 1999 restored some of the songs' strengths.
Dylan took five months off at the beginning of 1979 to attend Bible school. His subsequent album Slow Train Coming reached No. 3 on the U.S. Billboard 200 chart and included this Grammy-winning song.
Years ago they ... said I was a prophet. I used to say, "No I'm not a prophet" they say "Yes you are, you're a prophet." I said, "No it's not me." They used to say "You sure are a prophet." They used to convince me I was a prophet. Now I come out and say Jesus Christ is the answer. They say, "Bob Dylan's no prophet." They just can't handle it.
Dylan's Christianity was unpopular with some fans and musicians. Shortly before his murder, John Lennon recorded "Serve Yourself" in response to Dylan's "Gotta Serve Somebody." By 1981, Stephen Holden wrote in The New York Times that "neither age (he's now 40) nor his much-publicized conversion to born-again Christianity has altered his essentially iconoclastic temperament."
Dylan in Toronto April 18, 1980
In late 1980, Dylan briefly played concerts billed as "A Musical Retrospective", restoring popular 1960s songs to the repertoire. Shot of Love, recorded early the next year, featured his first secular compositions in more than two years, mixed with Christian songs. "Every Grain of Sand" reminded some of William Blake's verses.
In 1985 Dylan sang on USA for Africa's famine relief single "We Are the World." He also joined Artists United Against Apartheid providing vocals for their single "Sun City." On July 13, 1985, he appeared at the climax at the Live Aid concert at JFK Stadium, Philadelphia. Backed by Keith Richards and Ronnie Wood, he performed a ragged version of "Hollis Brown", his ballad of rural poverty, and then said to the worldwide audience exceeding one billion people: "I hope that some of the money ... maybe they can just take a little bit of it, maybe ... one or two million, maybe ... and use it to pay the mortgages on some of the farms and, the farmers here, owe to the banks." His remarks were widely criticized as inappropriate, but they did inspire Willie Nelson to organize a series of events, Farm Aid, to benefit debt-ridden American farmers.
In April 1986, Dylan made a foray into rap music when he added vocals to the opening verse of "Street Rock", featured on Kurtis Blow's album Kingdom Blow. Dylan's next studio album, Knocked Out Loaded, in July 1986 contained three covers (by Little Junior Parker, Kris Kristofferson and the gospel hymn "Precious Memories"), plus three collaborations (with Tom Petty, Sam Shepard and Carole Bayer Sager), and two solo compositions by Dylan. One reviewer commented that "the record follows too many detours to be consistently compelling, and some of those detours wind down roads that are indisputably dead ends. By 1986, such uneven records weren't entirely unexpected by Dylan, but that didn't make them any less frustrating." It was the first Dylan album since Freewheelin' (1963) to fail to make the Top 50. Since then, some critics have called the 11-minute epic that Dylan co-wrote with Sam Shepard, "Brownsville Girl", a work of genius.
In 1986 and 1987, Dylan toured with Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, sharing vocals with Petty on several songs each night. Dylan also toured with the Grateful Dead in 1987, resulting in a live album Dylan & The Dead. This received negative reviews; AllMusic said it was "Quite possibly the worst album by either Bob Dylan or the Grateful Dead." Dylan then initiated what came to be called the Never Ending Tour on June 7, 1988, performing with a back-up band featuring guitarist G. E. Smith. Dylan continued to tour with a small, evolving band for the next 20 years.
Dylan in Barcelona, Spain, 1984
In 1987, Dylan starred in Richard Marquand's movie Hearts of Fire, in which he played Billy Parker, a washed-up rock star turned chicken farmer whose teenage lover (Fiona) leaves him for a jaded English synth-pop sensation played by Rupert Everett. Dylan also contributed two original songs to the soundtrack—"Night After Night", and "I Had a Dream About You, Baby", as well as a cover of John Hiatt's "The Usual." The film was a critical and commercial flop.
Dylan was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in January 1988, with Bruce Springsteen's introduction declaring, "Bob freed your mind the way Elvis freed your body. He showed us that just because music was innately physical did not mean that it was anti-intellectual."
The album Down in the Groove in May 1988 sold even more unsuccessfully than his previous studio album. Michael Gray wrote: "The very title undercuts any idea that inspired work may lie within. Here was a further devaluing of the notion of a new Bob Dylan album as something significant." The critical and commercial disappointment of that album was swiftly followed by the success of the Traveling Wilburys. Dylan co-founded the band with George Harrison, Jeff Lynne, Roy Orbison, and Tom Petty, and in late 1988 their multi-platinum Traveling Wilburys Vol. 1 reached three on the US album chart, featuring songs that were described as Dylan's most accessible compositions in years. Despite Orbison's death in December 1988, the remaining four recorded a second album in May 1990 with the title Traveling Wilburys Vol. 3.
Dylan finished the decade on a critical high note with Oh Mercy produced by Daniel Lanois. Michael Gray wrote that the album was: "Attentively written, vocally distinctive, musically warm, and uncompromisingly professional, this cohesive whole is the nearest thing to a great Bob Dylan album in the 1980s." The track "Most of the Time", a lost love composition, was later prominently featured in the film High Fidelity, while "What Was It You Wanted?" has been interpreted both as a catechism and a wry comment on the expectations of critics and fans. The religious imagery of "Ring Them Bells" struck some critics as a re-affirmation of faith.
In 1991, Dylan received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award from American actor Jack Nicholson. The event coincided with the start of the Gulf War against Saddam Hussein, and Dylan performed "Masters of War." Dylan then made a short speech, saying "My daddy once said to me, he said, 'Son, it is possible for you to become so defiled in this world that your own mother and father will abandon you. If that happens, God will believe in your ability to mend your own ways.'" This sentiment was subsequently revealed to be a quote from 19th-century German Jewish intellectual, Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch.
Over the next few years Dylan returned to his roots with two albums covering folk and blues numbers: Good as I Been to You (1992) and World Gone Wrong (1993), featuring interpretations and acoustic guitar work. Many critics and fans commented on the quiet beauty of the song "Lone Pilgrim", written by a 19th-century teacher. In November 1994 Dylan recorded two live shows for MTV Unplugged. He said his wish to perform traditional songs was overruled by Sony executives who insisted on hits. The album from it, MTV Unplugged, included "John Brown", an unreleased 1962 song of how enthusiasm for war ends in mutilation and disillusionment.
Dylan performs during the 1996 Lida Festival in Stockholm
With a collection of songs reportedly written while snowed in on his Minnesota ranch, Dylan booked recording time with Daniel Lanois at Miami's Criteria Studios in January 1997. The subsequent recording sessions were, by some accounts, fraught with musical tension. Before the album's release Dylan was hospitalized with a life-threatening heart infection, pericarditis, brought on by histoplasmosis. His scheduled European tour was cancelled, but Dylan made a speedy recovery and left the hospital saying, "I really thought I'd be seeing Elvis soon." He was back on the road by mid-year, and performed before Pope John Paul II at the World Eucharistic Conference in Bologna, Italy. The Pope treated the audience of 200,000 people to a homily based on Dylan's lyric "Blowin' in the Wind."
In September Dylan released the new Lanois-produced album, Time Out of Mind. With its bitter assessment of love and morbid ruminations, Dylan's first collection of original songs in seven years was highly acclaimed. One critic wrote: "the songs themselves are uniformly powerful, adding up to Dylan's best overall collection in years." This collection of complex songs won him his first solo "Album of the Year" Grammy Award.
In December 1997, U.S. President Bill Clinton presented Dylan with a Kennedy Center Honor in the East Room of the White House, paying this tribute: "He probably had more impact on people of my generation than any other creative artist. His voice and lyrics haven't always been easy on the ear, but throughout his career Bob Dylan has never aimed to please. He's disturbed the peace and discomforted the powerful."
In 1999, Dylan embarked on a North American tour with Paul Simon, where each alternated as headline act with a "middle" section where they performed together, starting on the first of June and ending September 18. The collaboration was generally well received.
"Love and Theft" was released on September 11, 2001. Recorded with his touring band, Dylan produced the album himself under the pseudonym Jack Frost. The album was critically well received and earned nominations for several Grammy awards. Critics noted that Dylan was widening his musical palette to include rockabilly, Western swing, jazz, and even lounge ballads."Love and Theft" generated controversy when The Wall Street Journal pointed out similarities between the album's lyrics and Japanese author Junichi Saga's book Confessions of a Yakuza.
In October 2004, Dylan published the first part of his autobiography, Chronicles: Volume One. Confounding expectations, Dylan devoted three chapters to his first year in New York City in 1961–1962, virtually ignoring the mid-1960s when his fame was at its height. He also devoted chapters to the albums New Morning (1970) and Oh Mercy (1989). The book reached number two on The New York Times' Hardcover Non-Fiction best seller list in December 2004 and was nominated for a National Book Award.
May 3, 2006, was the premiere of Dylan's radio presenting career, hosting a weekly radio program, Theme Time Radio Hour, for XM Satellite Radio, with song selections revolving around a chosen theme. Dylan played classic and obscure records from the 1930s to the present day, including contemporary artists as diverse as Blur, Prince, L.L. Cool J and the Streets. The show was praised by fans and critics as "great radio," as Dylan told stories and made eclectic references with his sardonic humor, while achieving a thematic beauty with his musical choices. In April 2009, Dylan broadcast the 100th show in his radio series; the theme was "Goodbye" and the final record played was Woody Guthrie's "So Long, It's Been Good to Know Yuh." This led to speculation that Dylan's radio excursion had ended.
Dylan, the Spectrum, 2007
On August 29, 2006, Dylan released his Modern Times album. Despite some coarsening of Dylan's voice (a critic for The Guardian characterised his singing on the album as "a catarrhal death rattle") most reviewers praised the album, and many described it as the final installment of a successful trilogy, embracing Time Out of Mind and "Love and Theft".Modern Times entered the U.S. charts at number one, making it Dylan's first album to reach that position since 1976's Desire.The New York Times published an article exploring similarities between some of Dylan's lyrics in Modern Times and the work of the Civil War poet Henry Timrod.
Bob Dylan performs at Air Canada Centre, Toronto, November 7, 2006
On October 1, 2007, Columbia Records released the triple CD retrospective album Dylan, anthologising his entire career under the Dylan 07 logo. As part of this campaign, Mark Ronson produced a re-mix of Dylan's 1966 tune "Most Likely You Go Your Way and I'll Go Mine", which was released as a maxi-single. This was the first time Dylan had sanctioned a re-mix of one of his classic recordings.
The sophistication of the Dylan 07 marketing campaign was a reminder that Dylan's commercial profile had risen considerably since the 1990s. This first became evident in 2004, when Dylan appeared in a TV advertisement for Victoria's Secret lingerie. Three years later, in October 2007, he participated in a multi-media campaign for the 2008 Cadillac Escalade. Then, in 2009, he gave the highest profile endorsement of his career, appearing with rapper will.i.am in a Pepsi ad that debuted during the telecast of Super Bowl XLIII. The ad, broadcast to a record audience of 98 million viewers, opened with Dylan singing the first verse of "Forever Young" followed by will.i.am doing a hip hop version of the song's third and final verse.
In October 2008, Columbia released The Bootleg Series Vol. 8 – Tell Tale Signs as both a two-CD set and a three-CD version with a 150-page hardcover book. The set contains live performances and outtakes from selected studio albums from Oh Mercy to Modern Times, as well as soundtrack contributions and collaborations with David Bromberg and Ralph Stanley. The pricing of the album—the two-CD set went on sale for $18.99 and the three-CD version for $129.99—led to complaints about "rip-off packaging" from some fans and commentators. The release was widely acclaimed by critics. The abundance of alternative takes and unreleased material suggested to one reviewer that this volume of old outtakes "feels like a new Bob Dylan record, not only for the astonishing freshness of the material, but also for the incredible sound quality and organic feeling of everything here."
Together Through Life and Christmas in the Heart
Bob Dylan released his album Together Through Life on April 28, 2009. In a conversation with music journalist Bill Flanagan, published on Dylan's website, Dylan explained that the genesis of the record was when French film director Olivier Dahan asked him to supply a song for his new road movie, My Own Love Song; initially only intending to record a single track, "Life Is Hard," "the record sort of took its own direction." Nine of the ten songs on the album are credited as co-written by Bob Dylan and Robert Hunter.
The album received largely favorable reviews, although several critics described it as a minor addition to Dylan's canon of work. Andy Gill wrote in The Independent that the record "features Dylan in fairly relaxed, spontaneous mood, content to grab such grooves and sentiments as flit momentarily across his radar. So while it may not contain too many landmark tracks, it's one of the most naturally enjoyable albums you'll hear all year."
In its first week of release, the album reached number one in the Billboard 200 chart in the U.S., making Bob Dylan (67 years of age) the oldest artist to ever debut at number one on that chart. It also reached number one on the UK album chart, 39 years after Dylan's previous UK album chart topper New Morning. This meant that Dylan currently holds the record for the longest gap between solo number one albums in the UK chart.
The album received generally favorable reviews.The New Yorker commented that Dylan had welded a pre-rock musical sound to "some of his croakiest vocals in a while", and speculated that Dylan's intentions might be ironic: "Dylan has a long and highly publicized history with Christianity; to claim there's not a wink in the childish optimism of 'Here Comes Santa Claus' or 'Winter Wonderland' is to ignore a half-century of biting satire." In USA Today, Edna Gundersen pointed out that Dylan was "revisiting yuletide styles popularized by Nat King Cole, Mel Tormé, and the Ray Conniff Singers." Gundersen concluded that Dylan "couldn't sound more sentimental or sincere."
In an interview published in The Big Issue, journalist Bill Flanagan asked Dylan why he had performed the songs in a straightforward style, and Dylan responded: "There wasn't any other way to play it. These songs are part of my life, just like folk songs. You have to play them straight too."
On October 18, 2010, Dylan released Volume 9 of his Bootleg Series, The Witmark Demos. This comprised 47 demo recordings of songs taped between 1962 and 1964 for Dylan's earliest music publishers: Leeds Music in 1962, and Witmark Music from 1962 to 1964. One reviewer described the set as "a hearty glimpse of young Bob Dylan changing the music business, and the world, one note at a time." The critical aggregator website Metacritic awarded the album a Metascore of 86, indicating "universal acclaim." In the same week, Sony Legacy released Bob Dylan: The Original Mono Recordings, a box set that for the first time presented Dylan's eight earliest albums, from Bob Dylan (1962) to John Wesley Harding (1967), in their original mono mix in the CD format. The CDs were housed in miniature facsimiles of the original album covers, replete with original liner notes. The set was accompanied by a booklet featuring an essay by music critic Greil Marcus.
The extent to which his work was studied at an academic level was demonstrated on Dylan's 70th birthday on May 24, 2011, when three universities organized symposia on his work. The University of Mainz, the University of Vienna, and the University of Bristol invited literary critics and cultural historians to give papers on aspects of Dylan's work. Other events, including tribute bands, discussions and simple singalongs, took place around the world, as reported in The Guardian: "From Moscow to Madrid, Norway to Northampton and Malaysia to his home state of Minnesota, self-confessed 'Bobcats' will gather today to celebrate the 70th birthday of a giant of popular music."
On May 29, 2012, U.S. President Barack Obama awarded Dylan a Presidential Medal of Freedom in the White House. At the ceremony, Obama praised Dylan's voice for its "unique gravelly power that redefined not just what music sounded like but the message it carried and how it made people feel."
On September 11, 2012, Dylan released his 35th studio album, Tempest. The album features a tribute to John Lennon, "Roll On John", and the title track is a 14-minute song about the sinking of the Titanic. Reviewing Tempest for Rolling Stone, Will Hermes gave the album five out of five stars, writing: "Lyrically, Dylan is at the top of his game, joking around, dropping wordplay and allegories that evade pat readings and quoting other folks' words like a freestyle rapper on fire." Hermes called Tempest "one of [Dylan's] weirdest albums ever", and opined, "It may also be the single darkest record in Dylan's catalog." The critical aggregator website Metacritic awarded the album a score of 83 out of 100, indicating "universal acclaim."
On August 27, 2013, Columbia Records released Volume 10 of Dylan's Bootleg Series, Another Self Portrait (1969–1971). The album contained 35 previously unreleased tracks, including alternative takes and demos from Dylan's 1969–1971 recording sessions during the making of the Self Portrait and New Morning albums. The box set also included a live recording of Dylan's performance with the Band at the Isle of Wight Festival in 1969. Another Self Portrait received favorable reviews, earning a score of 81 on the critical aggregator, Metacritic, indicating "universal acclaim."AllMusic critic Thom Jurek wrote, "For fans, this is more than a curiosity, it's an indispensable addition to the catalog."
On November 4, 2013, Columbia Records released Bob Dylan: Complete Album Collection: Vol. One, a boxed set containing all 35 of Dylan's studio albums, six albums of live recordings, and a collection, entitled Sidetracks, of singles, songs from films and non-album material. The box includes new album-by-album liner notes written by Clinton Heylin with an introduction by Bill Flanagan. On the same date, Columbia released a compilation, The Very Best of Bob Dylan, which is available in both single CD and double CD formats. To publicize the 35 album box set, an innovative video of the song "Like a Rolling Stone" was released on Dylan's website. The interactive video, created by director Vania Heymann, allowed viewers to switch between 16 simulated TV channels, all featuring characters who are lip-synching the lyrics of the 48-year-old song.
On February 2, 2014, Dylan appeared in a commercial for the Chrysler 200 car which was screened during the 2014 Super Bowl American football game. At the end of the commercial, Dylan says: "So let Germany brew your beer, let Switzerland make your watch, let Asia assemble your phone. We will build your car." Dylan's Super Bowl commercial generated controversy and op-ed pieces discussing the protectionist implications of his words, and whether the singer had "sold out" to corporate interests.
In 2013 and 2014, auction house sales demonstrated the high cultural value attached to Dylan's mid-1960s work, and the record prices that collectors were willing to pay for artefacts from this period. In December 2013, the Fender Stratocaster which Dylan had played at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival fetched $965,000, the second highest price paid for a guitar. In June 2014, Dylan's hand-written lyrics of "Like a Rolling Stone", his 1965 hit single, fetched $2 million dollars at auction, a record for a popular music manuscript.
On October 28, 2014, Simon & Schuster published a massive 960 page, thirteen and a half pound edition of Dylan's lyrics, The Lyrics: Since 1962. The book was edited by literary critic Christopher Ricks, Julie Nemrow and Lisa Nemrow, to offer variant versions of Dylan's songs, sourced from out-takes and live performances. A limited edition of 50 books, signed by Dylan, was priced at $5,000. "It's the biggest, most expensive book we've ever published, as far as I know," said Jonathan Karp, Simon & Schuster's president and publisher.
Shadows in the Night, Fallen Angels and Triplicate
On February 3, 2015, Dylan released Shadows in the Night, featuring ten songs written between 1923 and 1963, which have been described as part of the Great American Songbook. All the songs on the album were recorded by Frank Sinatra but both critics and Dylan himself cautioned against seeing the record as a collection of "Sinatra covers." Dylan explained, "I don't see myself as covering these songs in any way. They've been covered enough. Buried, as a matter a fact. What me and my band are basically doing is uncovering them. Lifting them out of the grave and bringing them into the light of day." In an interview, Dylan said he had been thinking about making this record since hearing Willie Nelson's 1978 album Stardust. Dylan's first foray into this material was in 2001 when he recorded Dean Martin's "Return to Me" for the third season of The Sopranos.
Shadows In the Night received favorable reviews, scoring 82 on the critical aggregator Metacritic, which indicates "universal acclaim." Critics praised the restrained instrumental backings and Dylan's singing, saying that the material had elicited his best vocal performances in recent years. Bill Prince in GQ commented: "A performer who's had to hear his influence in virtually every white pop recording made since he debuted his own self-titled album back in 1962 imagines himself into the songs of his pre-rock'n'roll early youth." In The Independent, Andy Gill wrote that the recordings "have a lingering, languid charm, which... help to liberate the material from the rusting manacles of big-band and cabaret mannerisms." The album debuted at number one in the UK Albums Chart in its first week of release.
On October 5, 2015, IBM launched a marketing campaign for its Watson computer system which featured Dylan. Dylan is seen conversing with the computer which says it has read all his lyrics and reports: "My analysis shows that your major themes are that time passes and love fades." Dylan replies: "That sounds about right."
On November 6, 2015, Sony Music released The Bootleg Series Vol. 12: The Cutting Edge 1965–1966. This work consists of previously unreleased material from the three albums Dylan recorded between January 1965 and March 1966: Bringing It All Back Home, Highway 61 Revisited and Blonde on Blonde. The records have been released in three formats: a 2-CD "Best Of" version, a 6-CD "Deluxe edition", and an 18-CD "Collector's Edition" in a limited edition of 5,000 units. On Dylan's website the "Collector's Edition" was described as containing "every single note recorded by Bob Dylan in the studio in 1965/1966." The critical aggregator website Metacritic awarded Cutting Edge a score of 99, indicating universal acclaim.The Best of the Cutting Edge entered the Billboard Top Rock Albums chart at number one on November 18, based on its first-week sales.
On March 2, 2016, it was announced that Dylan had sold an extensive archive of about 6,000 items to the George Kaiser Family Foundation and the University of Tulsa. It was reported that the sale price was "an estimated $15 million to $20 million", and the archive comprises notebooks, drafts of Dylan lyrics, recordings, and correspondence. Filmed material in the collection includes 30 hours of outtakes from the 1965 tour documentary Dont Look Back, 30 hours of footage shot on Dylan's legendary 1966 electric tour, and 50 hours shot on the 1975 Rolling Thunder Revue. The archive will be housed at Helmerich Center for American Research, a facility at the Gilcrease Museum.
On May 20, Dylan released Fallen Angels, which was described as "a direct continuation of the work of 'uncovering' the Great Songbook that he began on last year's Shadows In the Night." The album contained twelve songs by classic songwriters such as Harold Arlen, Sammy Cahn and Johnny Mercer, eleven of which had been recorded by Sinatra. Jim Farber wrote in Entertainment Weekly: "Tellingly, [Dylan] delivers these songs of love lost and cherished not with a burning passion but with the wistfulness of experience. They're memory songs now, intoned with a present sense of commitment. Released just four days ahead of his 75th birthday, they couldn't be more age-appropriate." The album received a score of 79 on critical aggregator website Metacritic, denoting "generally favorable reviews."
On October 13, the Nobel Prize committee announced it had awarded Dylan the Nobel Prize in Literature "for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition."
On November 11, 2016, Legacy Recordings released a 36-CD set, The 1966 Live Recordings, including every known recording of Bob Dylan's 1966 concert tour. Legacy Recordings President Adam Block said: "While doing the archival research for The Cutting Edge 1965–1966, last year's box set of Dylan's mid-'60s studio sessions, we were continually struck by how great his 1966 live recordings really are." The recordings commence with the concert in White Plains New York on February 5, 1966, and end with the Royal Albert Hall concert in London on May 27, whilst sequencing them differently in the CD package. The liner notes for the set are by Clinton Heylin, author of the book, Judas!: From Forest Hills to the Free Trade Hall: A Historical View of Dylan's Big Boo, a study of the 1966 tour.The New York Times reported most of the concerts had "never been heard in any form", and described the set as "a monumental addition to the corpus."
On March 31, 2017, Dylan released his triple album, Triplicate, comprising 30 new recordings of classic American songs, including "As Time Goes By" by Herman Hupfeld and "Stormy Weather" by Harold Arlen and Ted Koehler. Dylan's 38th studio album was recorded in Hollywood's Capitol Studios and features his touring band. Dylan posted a long interview on his website to promote the album, and was asked if this material was an exercise in nostalgia. "Nostalgic? No I wouldn't say that. It's not taking a trip down memory lane or longing and yearning for the good old days or fond memories of what's no more. A song like "Sentimental Journey" is not a way back when song, it doesn't emulate the past, it's attainable and down to earth, it's in the here and now." The album was awarded a score of 84 on critical aggregator website Metacritic, signifying "universal acclaim." Critics praised the thoroughness of Dylan's exploration of the great American songbook, though, in the opinion of Uncut: "For all its easy charms, Triplicate labours its point to the brink of overkill. After five albums' worth of croon toons, this feels like a fat full stop on a fascinating chapter."
Conor McPherson's play Girl from the North Country, where dramatic action is broken up by 20 Dylan songs, opened in London's The Old Vic on July 26, 2017. The project began when Dylan's office approached McPherson and suggested creating a play using Dylan songs. The drama received favorable reviews.
On November 3, Sony Music released The Bootleg Series Vol. 13: Trouble No More 1979–1981, comprising 8 CDs and 1 DVD.Trouble No More documents what Rolling Stone described as Dylan's "Born Again Christian period of 1979 to 1981 – an intense, wildly controversial time that produced three albums and some of the most confrontational concerts of his long career." Reviewing the box set in The New York Times, Jon Pareles wrote, "Decades later, what comes through these recordings above all is Mr. Dylan's unmistakable fervor, his sense of mission. The studio albums are subdued, even tentative, compared with what the songs became on the road. Mr. Dylan's voice is clear, cutting and ever improvisational; working the crowds, he was emphatic, committed, sometimes teasingly combative. And the band tears into the music."Trouble No More includes a DVD of a film directed by Jennifer Lebeau consisting of live footage of Dylan's gospel performances interspersed with sermons delivered by actor Michael Shannon. The box set album received an aggregate score of 84 on the critical website Metacritic, indicating "universal acclaim."
Also in April 2018, The New York Times announced that Dylan was launching Heaven's Door, a range of three whiskeys: a straight rye, a straight bourbon and a "double-barreled" whiskey. Dylan has been involved in both the creation and the marketing of the range. The Times described the venture as "Mr. Dylan's entry into the booming celebrity-branded spirits market, the latest career twist for an artist who has spent five decades confounding expectations."
On November 2, 2018, Dylan released More Blood, More Tracks as Volume 14 in the Bootleg Series. The set comprises all Dylan's recordings for his 1975 album Blood On the Tracks, and was issued as a single CD and also as a six-CD Deluxe Edition. The box set album received an aggregate score of 93 on the critical website Metacritic, indicating "universal acclaim."
On June 12, 2019, Netflix released "Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story by Martin Scorsese, describing the film as "Part documentary, part concert film, part fever dream." The documentary was released on Netflix with concurrent extended theatrical schedules in Los Angeles and New York so that the film will qualify for award consideration. The Scorsese film received an aggregate score of 88 on critical website Metacritic, indicating "universal acclaim." The film sparked controversy because of the way it deliberately mixed documentary footage filmed during the Rolling Thunder Revue in the fall of 1975 with fictitious characters and invented stories.
Coinciding with the film release, a box set of 14 CDs, The Rolling Thunder Revue: The 1975 Live Recordings, was released by Columbia Records on June 7. The set comprises five full Dylan performances from the tour and recently discovered tapes from Dylan's tour rehearsals. The box set received an aggregate score of 89 on the critical website Metacritic, indicating "universal acclaim."
In September 2019, Columbia Records announced the release of Bob Dylan (featuring Johnny Cash) – Travelin’ Thru, 1967 – 1969: The Bootleg Series Vol. 15 on November 1. The 3-CD set will comprise outtakes from Dylan's albums John Wesley Harding and Nashville Skyline, and unreleased songs that Dylan recorded with Johnny Cash in Nashville in 1969.