Is Bob Dylan a poet or a song-writer? Did he re-name himself after Dylan Thomas? Did he nearly die in a 1966 motorcycle accident? What do his lyrics mean? There are more questions than answers about the enigmatic Mr. Zimmerman, but the only things that do matter, are his music and his lyrics. He doesn’t care for labels like the “voice of a generation” and accolades like the Nobel prize for literature, but there is no doubt that Bob Dylan had a monumental impact on the struggle for Civil Rights and the Anti-War movement of the 1960s. Journey with us from Duluth Minnesota, down Highway 61 and to Greenwich Village and Newport and we’ll explore the life and music of “His Bobness”.
Week 1: January 15, 2024 - “The Life and Times of Bob Dylan” - Lecturer - John Mitchell
After the Great War or the “War To End All Wars”, America’s industry and economy were booming, and we entered the roaring 20s. Everyone working, money flowing and good times for all until October 29, 1929 when it all came crashing down and the US and the world tipped into the great depression. Then in1934, came the The Dust Bowl which was a period of severe dust storms that greatly damaged the ecology and agriculture of the American prairies. It was also the largest migration in American history. Out of all of this came a folk music that had a social conscience.
Robert Allen Zimmerman was born to Abe and Beatty Zimmerman in Duluth Minnesota in 1941. Both his parents were musical and he grew up in a very musical household. In 1960, Bob dropped out of the University of Minnesota and moved to New York, where his idol, the legendary folk singer Woody Guthrie, was hospitalized with Huntington’s disease. He became a regular in the folk clubs and coffeehouses of Greenwich Village; met a host of top folk musicians; and began writing songs at an astonishing pace, including "Song to Woody," a tribute to his ailing hero.
Week 3: Civil Rights
The Civil Rights movement that had begun in the late 40s when black service men returned from war and could not drink from the same water fountain as the white men that they had fought beside, culminated in the March on Washington in 1963, at which Bob Dylan performed, and the Civil Rights act of 1964. In 1963, he performs “Only a Pawn in Their Game,” at a civil rights rally in Greenwood, Mississippi, a freshly-penned song about the slaying of civil rights leader Medgar Evers that occurred weeks earlier. 6 months later he releases “The Times They Are A-Changin’”, which becomes an anthem for the Civil Rights Movement.
Week 4: Dylan goes Electric
On July 25, 1965, Bob Dylan the pre-eminent folk artist, hero of the coffee houses, writer of Civil Rights anthems and the conscience of youth in America, does something unforgivable, he goes on stage and plays the electric guitar with a band!!!!!The crowd booed, Pete Seeger tried to cut the power with an axe, some were crying, and he left the stage after 3 songs. Dylan at Newport is remembered as a pioneering artist defying the rules and damn the consequences. It was a complex choice by a complex artist in a complex time and many didn’t understand that the times were a changing and in his words, “he not being born is busy dying”. It was a defining moment in his music, but continued his constant challenging of the establishment, not matter the form.
Week 5 - Anti-War
In 1965, the United States government began bombing North Vietnam and Bob Dylan’s anti-war anthems made him the face of protest against a war that continues to haunt a generation of Americans. He releases his fifth and sixth albums, “Bringing It All Back Home” and “Highway 61 Revisited,” with electric backing instruments, and folk music would never be the same.The song, "Like a Rolling Stone" completed the transformation of Dylan's image from folk singer to rock star, and is considered one of the most influential compositions in postwar popular music. He continues to tour with the band and continues to get booed, but releases “Blonde on Blonde” which becomes his seminal 60’s album along with John Wesley Harding. After a serious motorcycle accident, Dylan cuts short his tour to convalesce at his house in Woodstock, NY. Dylan refuses to tour for the next eight years.
The 60’s may have been over, but Bob Dylan isn’t. His 1975 Album, “Blood on the Tracks” ignites much critical praise, and Dylan embarks on the Rolling Thunder Revue tour. Still recording and touring today, Bob Dylan has released 38 studio albums, 91 singles, 40 music videos, 13 live albums, 19 compilation albums, 13 box sets, and 7 soundtracks. He has been the subject of 5 documentaries, 8 additional films and 10 home videos.He has written and published lyrics, artwork and memoirs in 11 books and of course awarded the 2016 Nobel Prize in Literature. In the end, Bob Dylan is just a man with a guitar singing with a voice entirely his own. The feeling that it is not a song but a story that he's telling you. With Dylan it's not about the ears, it's about the soul. And in the end, that's what good music is all about, touching your soul. Probably that is why his appeal transcends generations.