Bob Dylan

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Bob Dylan
Image:Dylan Cardiff 2006.jpg
Performing in Cardiff, Wales in 2006.
Background information
Birth name Robert Allen Zimmerman
Also known as Elston Gunn, Blind Boy Grunt, Lucky Wilbury/Boo Wilbury, Elmer Johnson, Sergei Petrov, Jack Frost, Jack Fate, Willow Scarlet, Robert Milkwood Thomas.
Born May 24, 1941 (1941-05-24)
Duluth, Minnesota, U.S.
Genre(s) Folk, rock, blues, country
Occupation(s) Singer-songwriter, author, poet, artist, actor, screenwriter, disc jockey
Instrument(s) Vocals, guitar, bass guitar, harmonica, keyboards, accordion, percussion
Years active 1959 – present
Label(s) Columbia, Asylum
Associated acts Paul Butterfield Blues Band, Al Kooper, The Band, Rolling Thunder Revue, Mark Knopfler, Traveling Wilburys, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Van Morrison, Grateful Dead, Joan Baez

Bob Dylan (born Robert Allen Zimmerman, May 24, 1941) is an American singer-songwriter, author, musician, poet, and, of late, disc jockey who has been a major figure in popular music for five decades. Much of Dylan's most celebrated work dates from the 1960s, when he became an informal chronicler and a reluctant figurehead of American unrest. A number of his songs, such as " Blowin' in the Wind" and " The Times They Are a-Changin'", became anthems of the anti-war and civil rights movements. His most recent studio album, Modern Times, released on August 29, 2006, entered the U.S. album charts at #1, making him, at age 65, the oldest living person to top those charts. It was later named Album of the Year by Rolling Stone magazine.

Dylan's early lyrics incorporated politics, social commentary, philosophy and literary influences, defying existing pop music conventions and appealing widely to the counterculture of the time. While expanding and personalizing musical styles, he has shown steadfast devotion to many traditions of American song, from folk and country/ blues to gospel, rock and roll and rockabilly, to English, Scottish and Irish folk music, even jazz and swing.

Dylan performs with the guitar, keyboard and harmonica. Backed by a changing lineup of musicians, he has toured steadily since the late 1980s on what has been dubbed the " Never Ending Tour". He has also performed alongside other major artists, such as The Band, Tom Petty, Joan Baez, George Harrison, The Grateful Dead, Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, Paul Simon, Eric Clapton, Patti Smith, Emmylou Harris, Bruce Springsteen, U2, The Rolling Stones, Joni Mitchell, Jack White, Merle Haggard, Neil Young, Van Morrison, Ringo Starr and Stevie Nicks. Although his accomplishments as performer and recording artist have been central to his career, his songwriting is generally regarded as his greatest contribution.

Over many years, Dylan has been recognized and honored for his songwriting, performing, and recording. His records have earned Grammy, Golden Globe, and Academy Awards, and he has been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame and Songwriters Hall of Fame. In 1999, Dylan was included in TIME Magazine's 100 most influential people of the 20th century, and 2004, he was ranked #2 in Rolling Stone magazine's list of " Greatest Artists of All Time", second only to The Beatles. In January 1990, Dylan was made a Commandeur des Arts et des Lettres by French Minister of Culture Jack Lang; in 2000, he was awarded the Polar Music Prize by the Royal Swedish Academy of Music; and in 2007, Dylan was awarded the Prince of Asturias Award in Arts. He has been nominated several times for the Nobel Prize in Literature.

For a complete list of awards won by Bob Dylan, see List of Bob Dylan awards and accolades.

Life and career

Origins and musical beginnings

Robert Allen Zimmerman (Jewish name: Zushe ben Avraham), was born on May 24, 1941, in Duluth, Minnesota, and raised there and in Hibbing, Minnesota, on the Mesabi Iron Range northwest of Lake Superior. Research by Dylan’s biographers has shown that his paternal grandparents, Zigman and Anna Zimmerman, emigrated from Odessa in Ukraine to the United States after the antisemitic pogroms of 1905. Dylan himself has written (in his 2004 autobiography, Chronicles) that his paternal grandmother's maiden name was Kyrgyz and her family originated from Istanbul, although she grew up in the Kağızman district of Kars in Eastern Turkey. He also wrote that his paternal grandfather was from Trabzon on the Black Sea coast of Turkey. His mother’s grandparents, Benjamin and Lybba Edelstein, were Lithuanian Jews who arrived in America in 1902.

His parents, Abram Zimmerman and Beatrice "Beatty" Stone, were part of the area's small but close-knit Jewish community. Zimmerman lived in Duluth until age seven. When his father was stricken with polio, the family returned to nearby Hibbing, where Zimmerman spent the rest of his childhood. Abram was recalled by one of Bob's childhood friends as strict and unwelcoming, whereas his mother was remembered as warm and friendly.

Zimmerman spent much of his youth listening to the radio — first to the powerful blues and country stations broadcasting from Shreveport, Louisiana and, later, to early rock and roll. He formed several bands in high school: the first, The Shadow Blasters, was short-lived; but his next band, The Golden Chords, lasted longer playing covers of popular songs. Their performance of Danny and the Juniors' "Rock and Roll Is Here to Stay" at their high school talent show was so loud that the principal cut the microphone off. In his 1959 school year book, Robert Zimmerman listed as his ambition "To join Little Richard." The same year, using the name Elston Gunnn, he performed two dates with Bobby Vee, playing piano and providing handclaps.

Zimmerman enrolled at the University of Minnesota in September 1959, moving to Minneapolis. His early focus on rock and roll gave way to an interest in American folk music, typically performed with an acoustic guitar. He has recalled, "The first thing that turned me onto folk singing was Odetta. I heard a record of hers in a record store. Right then and there, I went out and traded my electric guitar and amplifier for an acoustical guitar, a flat-top Gibson." In the sleeve notes to his album Biograph, Dylan explained the attraction folk music exerted: "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." He soon began to perform at the 10 O'clock Scholar, a coffee house a few blocks from campus, and became actively involved in the local Dinkytown folk music circuit, fraternizing with local folk enthusiasts and occasionally "borrowing" many of their albums.

During his Dinkytown days, Zimmerman began introducing himself as "Bob Dylan". In his autobiography, Chronicles (2004), he wrote, "What I was going to do as soon as I left home was just call myself Robert Allen.... It sounded like a Scottish king and I liked it." However, by reading Downbeat magazine, he discovered that there was already a saxophonist called David Allyn. Around the same time, he became acquainted with the poetry of Dylan Thomas. Zimmerman felt he had to choose between Robert Allyn and Robert Dylan. "I couldn't decide — the letter D came on stronger", he explained. He decided on "Bob" because there were several Bobbies in popular music at the time.

Relocation to New York and record deal

Dylan dropped out of college at the end of his freshman year. He stayed in Minneapolis, working the folk circuit there with temporary journeys to Denver, Colorado; Madison, Wisconsin; and Chicago, Illinois. In January 1961, he moved to New York City, to perform there and to visit his ailing musical idol Woody Guthrie, who was then dying in a New Jersey hospital. Guthrie had been a revelation to Dylan and was the biggest influence on his early performances. Dylan would later say of Guthrie's work, "You could listen to his songs and actually learn how to live." In the hospital room, Dylan met Woody's old road-buddy Ramblin' Jack Elliott, who was visiting Guthrie the day after returning from his own trip to Europe. Dylan and Elliott became friends, and much of Guthrie's repertoire was actually channeled through Elliott. Dylan paid tribute to Elliott in Chronicles (2004).

From April to September 1961, he played at various clubs around Greenwich Village. Dylan gained some public recognition after a positive review in The New York Times by critic Robert Shelton of a show he played at Gerde's Folk City in September. Also in September, Dylan was invited to play harmonica by folk singer Carolyn Hester on her third album, entitled Carolyn Hester. This brought Dylan's talents to the attention of John Hammond, who was producing Hester's album for Columbia Records. Hammond signed Dylan to Columbia that October. The performances on his first Columbia album Bob Dylan (1962), consisted of familiar folk, blues and gospel material combined with two of his own songs. Dylan's first album made little impact, selling only 5,000 copies in its first year, just enough to break even. Within Columbia Records some referred to the singer as 'Hammond's Folly' and suggested dropping his contract. Hammond defended Dylan vigorously, and Johnny Cash was also a powerful ally of Dylan at Columbia. While Dylan continued to work for Columbia, he also recorded more than a dozen songs, under the pseudonym Blind Boy Grunt, for Broadside Magazine, a folk music magazine and record label.

Dylan made two important career moves in August 1962. He went to the Supreme Court building in New York and changed his name to Robert Dylan. In the same month, he also signed a management contract with Albert Grossman. Grossman remained Dylan's manager until 1970, and was notable both for his sometimes confrontational personality, and for the fiercely protective loyalty he displayed towards his principal client. In the documentary No Direction Home, Dylan described Grossman thus: "He was kind of like a Colonel Tom Parker could smell him coming."

By the time Dylan's second album, The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan, was released in May 1963, he had begun making his name as both a singer and a songwriter. Many of the songs on this album were labelled protest songs, inspired partly by Guthrie and influenced by Pete Seeger's passion for topical songs. "Oxford Town", for example, was a sardonic account of James Meredith's ordeal as the first black student to risk enrollment at the University of Mississippi.

His most famous song of the time, " Blowin' in the Wind", partially derived its melody from the traditional slave song "No More Auction Block", while its lyrics questioned the social and political status quo. The song was widely recorded and became an international hit for Peter, Paul and Mary, setting a precedent for many other artists who would have hits with Dylan's songs. While Dylan's topical songs solidified his early reputation, Freewheelin' also included a mixture of love songs and jokey, surreal talking blues. Humor was a large part of Dylan's persona, and the range of material on the album impressed many listeners, including The Beatles. George Harrison said, "We just played it, just wore it out. The content of the song lyrics and just the attitude — it was incredibly original and wonderful."

With Joan Baez during the Civil Rights March in Washington, D.C., 1963
With Joan Baez during the Civil Rights March in Washington, D.C., 1963

The Freewheelin' song " A Hard Rain's a-Gonna Fall", built melodically from a loose adaptation of the stanza tune of the folk ballad " Lord Randall", with its veiled references to nuclear apocalypse, gained even more resonance as the Cuban missile crisis developed only a few weeks after Dylan began performing it. Like "Blowin' in the Wind", "A Hard Rain's a-Gonna Fall" marked an important new direction in modern songwriting, blending a stream-of-consciousness, imagist lyrical attack with traditional folk progressions.

The Freewheelin album presented Dylan as a singer accompanying himself on acoustic guiitar. But other tracks recorded at these sessions, with a backing band, showed a willingness to experiment with a rockabilly sound. 'Mixed Up Confusion' was released as a single and then quickly withdrawn. Cameron Crowe described it as "a fascinating look at a folk artist with his mind wandering towards Elvis Presley and Sun Records".

Soon after the release of Freewheelin, Dylan emerged as a dominant figure of the so-called "new folk movement" centered in Greenwich Village. Dylan's singing voice was untrained and had an unusual edge to it, yet it was suited to the interpretation of traditional songs. Robert Shelton described Dylan's vocal style as "a rusty voice suggesting Guthrie's old performances, etched in gravel like Dave Van Ronk's" Many of his most famous early songs first reached the public through other performers' versions that were more immediately palatable. Joan Baez became Dylan's advocate, as well as his lover. Baez was influential in bringing Dylan to national and international prominence, jumpstarting his performance career by inviting him onstage during her own concerts, and recording several of his early songs.

Others who recorded and had hits with Dylan's songs in the early and mid-1960s included The Byrds, Sonny and Cher, The Hollies, Peter, Paul and Mary, Manfred Mann, and The Turtles. Most attempted to impart a pop feel and rhythm to the songs, while Dylan and Baez performed them mostly as sparse folk pieces, keying rhythmically off the vocals. The covers became so ubiquitous that CBS started to promote him with the tag "Nobody Sings Dylan Like Dylan".

Protest and Another Side

Bob Dylan performing at St. Lawrence University in New York, 1963.
Bob Dylan performing at St. Lawrence University in New York, 1963.
Bob Dylan performing at St. Lawrence University in New York, 1963.
Bob Dylan performing at St. Lawrence University in New York, 1963.

By 1963, Dylan and Baez were both prominent in the civil rights movement, singing together at rallies including the March on Washington where Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his " I have a dream" speech. In January, Dylan appeared on British television in the BBC play Madhouse on Castle Street, playing the part of a "hobo guitar-player". On May 12, 1963, Dylan experienced conflict with the media when he walked off the Ed Sullivan Show. Dylan had chosen to perform "Talkin' John Birch Paranoid Blues" but was informed by the 'head of program practices' at CBS Television that this song was potentially libellous to the John Birch Society. Rather than comply with TV censorship, Dylan refused to appear. His next album, The Times They Are a-Changin', reflected a more sophisticated, politicized and cynical Dylan. This bleak material, addressing such subjects as the murder of civil rights worker Medgar Evers and the despair engendered by the breakdown of farming and mining communities ("Ballad of Hollis Brown", " North Country Blues"), was accompanied by two love songs, "Boots of Spanish Leather" and "One Too Many Mornings", and the renunciation of "Restless Farewell". The Brechtian " The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll" describes the true story of a young socialite's ( William Zantzinger) killing of a hotel maid ( Hattie Carroll). Though never explicitly mentioning their respective races, the song leaves no doubt that the killer is white and the victim is black.

By the end of 1963, Dylan felt both manipulated and constrained by the folk and protest movements. Accepting the " Tom Paine Award" from the National Emergency Civil Liberties Committee at a ceremony shortly after the assassination of John F. Kennedy, a drunken, rambling Dylan questioned the role of the committee, insulted its members as old and balding, and claimed to see something of himself (and of every man) in Kennedy's alleged assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald.

His next album, Another Side of Bob Dylan, recorded on a single June evening in 1964, had a lighter mood than its predecessor. The surreal Dylan reemerged on "I Shall Be Free #10" and "Motorpsycho Nightmare", accompanied by a sense of humor that has often reappeared over the years. "Spanish Harlem Incident" and "To Ramona" are, unusually for Dylan at the time, non-ironic love songs, while "I Don't Believe You" suggests the rock and roll soon to dominate Dylan's music. "It Ain't Me Babe", on the surface a song about spurned love, has been described as a thinly disguised rejection of the role his reputation had thrust at him. His newest direction was signaled by two lengthy songs: the impressionistic " Chimes of Freedom", which sets elements of social commentary against a denser metaphorical landscape in a style later characterized by Allen Ginsberg as "chains of flashing images"; and " My Back Pages", which attacks the simplistic and arch seriousness of his own earlier topical songs and seems to predict the backlash he was about to encounter from his former champions as he took a new direction.

During 1964 and 1965, Dylan’s appearance changed rapidly, as he made his move from leading contemporary song-writer of the folk scene to rock’n’roll star. His scruffy jeans and work shirts were replaced by a Carnaby Street wardrobe. 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 also began to play with frequently hapless interviewers in increasingly cruel and surreal ways. Appearing on the Les Crane TV show and asked about a movie he was planning to make, he told Crane it would be a cowboy horror movie. Asked if he played the cowboy, Dylan replied. “No, I play my mother.”

"Going electric"

His March 1965 album Bringing It All Back Home was yet another stylistic leap. The album featured his first recordings made with electric instruments. The first single, " Subterranean Homesick Blues", owed much to Chuck Berry's "Too Much Monkey Business" and was provided with an early music video courtesy of D. A. Pennebaker's cinéma vérité presentation of Dylan's 1965 tour of England, Dont Look Back. Its free association lyrics both harked back to the manic energy of Beat poetry and were a forerunner of rap and hip-hop. In 1969, the militant Weatherman group took their name from a line in "Subterranean Homesick Blues." ("You don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.")

The B side of the album was a different matter. It included four lengthy acoustic songs whose undogmatic political, social, and personal concerns are illuminated with the semi-mystical imagery that became another Dylan trademark. One of these tracks, " Mr. Tambourine Man", which would become one of his best known songs, had already been a hit for The Byrds; while "Gates of Eden", " It's All Over Now Baby Blue", and " It's Alright Ma (I'm Only Bleeding)" have been fixtures in Dylan's live performances for most of his career.

That summer Dylan made history by performing his first electric set (since his high school days) with a pickup group drawn mostly from the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, featuring Mike Bloomfield (guitar), Sam Lay (drums), Jerome Arnold (bass), plus Al Kooper (organ) and Barry Goldberg (piano), while headlining at the Newport Folk Festival (see The electric Dylan controversy). Dylan had appeared at Newport twice before, in 1963 and 1964, and two wildly divergent accounts of the crowd's response in 1965 emerged. The settled fact is that Dylan, met with a mix of cheering and booing, left the stage after only three songs. As one version of the legend has it, the boos were from the outraged folk fans whom Dylan had alienated by his electric guitar. An alternative account claims audience members were merely upset by poor sound quality and a surprisingly short set. Whatever sparked the crowd's disfavor, Dylan soon reemerged and sang two much better received solo acoustic numbers, "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue" and "Mr. Tambourine Man." His choice of the former has often been described as a carefully selected death knell for the kind of consciously sociopolitical, purely acoustic music that the cat-callers were demanding of him, with "New Folk" in the role of "Baby Blue".

Dylan's 1965 Newport performance provoked an outraged response from the folk music establishment. Ewan MacColl wrote in Sing Out!, "Our traditional songs and ballads are the creations of extraordinarily talented artists working inside traditions formulated over time... But what of Bobby Dylan?... Only a non-critical audience, nourished on the watery pap of pop music could have fallen for such tenth-rate drivel." On July 29, just four days after his controversial performance at Newport, Dylan was back into the studio in New York and recorded "Positively 4th Street." The song teemed with images of paranoia and revenge. ("I know the reason/That you talk behind my back/I used to be among the crowd/You're in with.") It was widely interpreted as Dylan's put-down of former friends from the folk community — friends he had known in the clubs along West 4th Street.

Many in the folk revival had embraced the idea that life equaled art, that a certain kind of life defined by suffering and social exclusion in fact replaced art. Folksong collectors and singers often presented folk music as an innocent characteristic of lives lived without reflection or the false consciousness of capitalism. This philosophy, both genteel and paternalistic, was ultimately what Dylan had run afoul of by 1965. But at an Austin press conference in September of that year, on the day of his first performance with Levon and the Hawks, he described his music not as a pop charts-bound break with the past, but as “historical-traditional music.” Dylan later told interviewer Nat Hentoff: “What folk music is... is based on myths and the Bible and plague and famine and all kinds of things like that which are nothing but mystery and you can see it in all the songs….All these songs about roses growing out of people’s brains and lovers who are really geese and swans that turn into angels…and seven years of this and eight years of that and it’s all really something that nobody can touch.... (the songs) are not going to die.” It was this mystical, living tradition of songs that served as the palette for Bringing It All Back Home, but in a nod to changing times first openly displayed at Newport, electrically amplified instruments would now become part of the mix.

After the crash: the Woodstock years and reclusion

After his European tour, Dylan returned to New York, but the pressures on him continued to increase. ABC Television had paid an advance for a TV show they could screen. His publisher, Macmillan, was demanding a finished manuscript of the poem/novel Tarantula. Manager Albert Grossman had already scheduled an extensive concert tour for that summer and fall. On July 29, 1966, while Dylan rode his Triumph 500 motorcycle in Woodstock, New York, its brakes locked, throwing him to the ground. Though the extent of his injuries was never fully disclosed, Dylan said that he broke several vertebrae in his neck. In commenting on the significance of the crash, Dylan made it plain that he had felt exploited at that time: “When I had that motorcycle accident ... I woke up and caught my senses, I realized that I was just workin' for all these leeches. And I didn't want to do that. Plus, I had a family and I just wanted to see my kids. "

A sense of mystery still surrounds the circumstances of the accident and the seriousness of Dylan's injuries. Howard Sounes's biography, Down the Highway: The Life Of Bob Dylan, points out that no ambulance was called to the scene of the accident, and that Dylan was not taken to a hospital. Sounes concludes that the crash offered Dylan the much-needed chance to escape from the pressures that had built up around him, and that it initiated a period of withdrawal from the public gaze lasting for 18 months.

Once Dylan was well enough to resume creative work, he began editing film footage of his 1966 tour for Eat the Document, a rarely exhibited follow-up to Dont Look Back. A rough-cut was shown to ABC Television and was promptly rejected as incomprehensible to a mainstream audience. In 1967 he began recording music with the Hawks at his home and in the basement of the Hawks' nearby house, called "Big Pink". The relaxed atmosphere yielded renditions of many of Dylan's favored old and new songs and some newly written pieces. These songs, initially compiled as demos for other artists to record, provided hit singles for Julie Driscoll (" This Wheel's on Fire"), The Byrds ("You Ain't Goin' Nowhere", "Nothing Was Delivered"), and Manfred Mann (" Quinn the Eskimo (The Mighty Quinn)"). Columbia belatedly released selections from them in 1975 as The Basement Tapes. Over the years, more and more of the songs recorded by Dylan and his band in 1967 appeared on various bootleg recordings, culminating in a five-CD bootleg set titled The Genuine Basement Tapes, containing 107 songs and alternate takes. Later in 1967, the Hawks re-named themselves The Band, and independently recorded the album Music from Big Pink, thus beginning a long and successful recording and performing career of their own.

In 1997, the critic Greil Marcus published an influential study of The Basement Tapes, entitled Invisible Republic. Marcus quoted Robbie Robertson’s memories of recording the songs: “(Dylan) would pull these songs out of nowhere. We didn’t know if he wrote them or if he remembered them. When he sang them, you couldn’t tell.” Marcus called these songs “palavers with a community of ghosts” He suggests that “these ghosts were not abstractions. As native sons and daughters they were a community. And they were once gathered in a single place: on the Anthology of American Folk Music, a work produced by a twenty-nine year old of no fixed address named Harry Smith.” Marcus argued Dylan’s basement songs were a resurrection of the spirit of Smith’s Anthology, originally published by Folkways Records in 1952, a collection of blues and country songs recorded in the 1920s and 1930s, which proved very influential in the folk music revival of the 1950s and the 1960s. (The book was re-published in 2001 under the title The Old, Weird America.)

In October and November 1967, Dylan returned to Nashville. Back in the recording studio after a 19 months break, he was accompanied only by Charlie McCoy on bass, Kenny Buttrey on drums, and Pete Drake on steel guitar. At the end of the year, Dylan released John Wesley Harding, his first album since the motorcycle crash. It was a quiet, contemplative record of shorter songs, set in a landscape that drew on both the American West and the Bible. The sparse structure and instrumentation, coupled with lyrics that took the Judeo-Christian tradition seriously, marked a departure not only from Dylan's own work but from the escalating psychedelic fervor of the 1960s musical culture. It included " All Along the Watchtower", with lyrics derived from the Book of Isaiah (21:5–9). The song was later recorded by Jimi Hendrix, whose celebrated version Dylan himself acknowledged as definitive in the liner notes to Biograph. As proof, since 1974 Dylan and his bands have performed arrangements much closer to Hendrix's than to the John Wesley Harding version.

Woody Guthrie died on October 3, 1967, and Dylan made his first live appearance in twenty months at a Guthrie memorial concert held at Carnegie Hall on January 20, 1968.

Dylan's next release, Nashville Skyline (1969), was virtually a mainstream country record featuring instrumental backing by Nashville musicians, a mellow-voiced, contented Dylan, a duet with Johnny Cash, and the hit single " Lay Lady Lay", which had been originally written for the Midnight Cowboy soundtrack, but was not submitted in time to make the final cut. . In May 1969, Dylan appeared on the first episode of Johnny Cash's new television show, duetting with Cash on " Girl from the North Country", " It Ain't Me Babe" and "Living the Blues". Dylan next travelled to England to top the bill at the Isle of Wight rock festival on August 31, 1969, after rejecting overtures to appear at the Woodstock Festival far closer to his home.

In the early 1970s critics charged Dylan's output was of varied and unpredictable quality. Rolling Stone magazine writer and Dylan loyalist Greil Marcus notoriously asked "What is this shit?" upon first listening to 1970's Self Portrait. In general, Self Portrait, a double LP including few original songs, was poorly received. Later that year, Dylan released New Morning, which some considered a return to form. In the same year Dylan co-wrote "I'd Have You Anytime" with George Harrison, which appeared as the opening track on the ex-Beatle's album All Things Must Pass (which also included a cover of Dylan's "If Not For You"). His unannounced appearance at Harrison's 1971 Concert for Bangladesh was widely praised, particularly a snarling version of "A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall". However, reports of a new album, a television special, and a return to touring came to nothing.

Between March 16th and 19th, 1971, Dylan reserved three days at Blue Rock Studios, a small studio in New York's Greenwich Village. The sessions resulted in three singles ("Watching The River Flow", "When I Paint My Masterpiece" and "George Jackson"), but no album. The only long-player released by Dylan in either '71 or '72 was his second greatest hits compilation, " Bob Dylan's Greatest Hits Vol. II", which included a number of re-workings of as-then unreleased Basement Tapes tracks, such as "I Shall Be Released" and "You Ain't Goin' Nowhere" with Happy Traum on backup. In November of 1971 Dylan recorded a series of as-yet-unreleased sessions with Beat poet Allen Ginsberg at the Record Plant in New York, intended for Ginsberg's "Holy Soul Jelly Roll" album. The sessions resulted in tracks such as the Dylan/Ginsberg compositions "Vomit Express", "September On Jessore Road" and "Jimmy Berman", as well as a number of Ginsberg originals and William Blake poems set to music. Ginsberg sang lead on most songs, with Dylan playing guitar and harmonica and providing backing vocals . It is unknown at this time if the sessions will ever be released officially, however there are a number of bootlegs in circulation.

In 1972 Dylan signed onto Sam Peckinpah's film Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid, providing the songs (see Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid (album)) and taking a role as "Alias", a minor member of Billy's gang. Despite the film's failure at the box office, the song " Knockin' on Heaven's Door" has proven its durability, having been covered by over 150 recording artists.

"On the Road Again"

Dylan started 1973 by contributing his own composition, " Wallflower", to Doug Sahm's "Doug Sahm and Band" album released on Atlantic Records, as well as sharing lead vocal and playing guitar on the track. (Dylan's own version of the song would later be released on The Bootleg Series Volumes 1-3.) Dylan also signed with David Geffen's new Asylum label when his contract with Columbia Records expired in 1973, and he recorded Planet Waves with The Band while rehearsing for a major tour. The album included two versions of "Forever Young". Christopher Ricks has connected the chorus of this song with John Keats's Ode on a Grecian Urn, ("For ever panting, and for ever young"), and Dylan has recalled writing the song for one of his own children: “I wrote it thinking about one of my boys and not wanting to be too sentimental”. It has remained one of the most frequently performed of his songs, and one critic described it as “something hymnal and heartfelt that spoke of the father in Dylan.” Columbia Records simultaneously released Dylan, a haphazard collection of studio outtakes (almost exclusively cover songs), which was widely interpreted as a churlish response to Dylan's signing with a rival record label. In January 1974 Dylan and The Band embarked on their high-profile, coast-to-coast Bob Dylan and The Band 1974 Tour of North America; promoter Bill Graham claimed he received more ticket purchase requests than for any prior tour by any artist. A live double album of the tour, Before the Flood which included Dylan with The Band, was released on Asylum Records. Later in the mid 70s Before the Flood was released by Columbia records.

After the tour, Dylan and his wife became publicly estranged. He filled a small red notebook with songs about his marital problems, and quickly recorded a new album entitled Blood on the Tracks in September 1974. Word of Dylan's efforts soon leaked out, and expectations were high. But Dylan delayed the album's release, and then, by years end he had re-recorded half of the songs at Sound 80 Studios in Minneapolis with production assistance from his brother David Zimmerman. During this time, Dylan returned to Columbia Records which eventually reissued his Asylum albums.

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 practise takes." In Rolling Stone, reviewer Jon Landau wrote that "the record has been made with typical shoddiness". However, over the years critics have come to see it as one of Dylan's greatest achievements, perhaps the only serious rival to his great mid 60s trilogy of albums. In, 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-'60s output and the self-consciously simple compositions of his post-accident years." The songs have been described as Dylan's most intimate and direct. A year later, Dylan recorded a duet of the song "Buckets of Rain" with Bette Midler on her Songs for the New Depression album. When Dylan was initially approached to do a duet with Midler, he wanted to record a version of "Friends." While they rehearsed this song, it was the "Blood on the Tracks" closer which was eventually released.

That summer Dylan wrote his first successful "protest" song in twelve years, championing the cause of boxer Rubin "Hurricane" Carter whom he believed had been wrongfully imprisoned for a triple murder in Paterson, New Jersey. After visiting Carter in jail, Dylan wrote " Hurricane", presenting the case for Carter's innocence. Despite its 8:32 minute length, the song was released as a single, peaking at #33 on the U.S. Billboard Chart, and performed at every 1975 date of Dylan's next tour, the Rolling Thunder Revue. The tour was a varied evening of entertainment featuring many performers drawn mostly from the resurgent Greenwich Village folk scene, including T-Bone Burnett; Allen Ginsberg; Ramblin' Jack Elliott; Steven Soles; David Mansfield; former Byrds frontman Roger McGuinn; British guitarist Mick Ronson; Scarlet Rivera, a violin player Dylan discovered while she was walking down the street to a rehearsal, her violin case hanging on her back; and Joan Baez (the tour marked Baez and Dylan's first joint performance in more than a decade). Joni Mitchell added herself to the Revue in November, and poet Allen Ginsberg accompanied the troupe, staging scenes for the film Dylan was simultaneously shooting. Sam Shepard was initially hired as the writer for this film, but ended up accompanying the tour as informal chronicler.

Running through late 1975 and again through early 1976, the tour encompassed the release of the album Desire (1976), with many of Dylan's new songs featuring an almost travelogue-like narrative style, showing the influence of his new collaborator, playwright Jacques Levy. The spring 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, when Live 1975 appeared as the fifth volume in Dylan's official Bootleg Series.

The fall 1975 tour with the Revue also provided the backdrop to Dylan's nearly four-hour film Renaldo and Clara, a sprawling and improvised narrative mixed with concert footage and reminiscences. Released in 1978, the movie received generally poor, sometimes scathing, reviews and had a very brief theatrical run. Later in that year, Dylan allowed a two-hour edit, dominated by the concert performances, to be more widely released.

In November 1976 Dylan appeared at The Band's "farewell" concert, along with other guests including Joni Mitchell, Muddy Waters, Van Morrison and Neil Young. Martin Scorsese's acclaimed cinematic chronicle of this show, The Last Waltz, was released in 1978 and included about half of Dylan's set. In this year Dylan also wrote and duetted on the song "Sign Language" for Eric Clapton's " No Reason To Cry" album - no other versions of the song apart from the one which appears on this album have ever been released. In 1977 he also contributed backing vocals to Leonard Cohen's Phil Spector-produced album " Death of a Ladies' Man".

Dylan's 1978 album Street Legal was lyrically one of his more complex and cohesive; it suffered, however, from a poor sound mix (attributed to his studio recording practices), submerging much of its instrumentation in the sonic equivalent of cotton wadding until its remastered CD release nearly a quarter century later.

Born Again

In the late 1970s, Dylan became a born-again Christian. From January to April 1979, Dylan participated in Bible study classes at the Vineyard School of Discipleship in Reseda, Southern California. Pastor Kenn Gulliksen has recalled: “Larry Myers and Paul Emond went over to Bob’s house and ministered to him. He responded by saying, Yes he did in fact want Christ in His life. And he prayed that day and received the Lord.” Dylan released two albums of Christian gospel music. Slow Train Coming (1979) is generally regarded as the more accomplished of these albums, winning him the Grammy Award as "Best Male Vocalist" for the song " Gotta Serve Somebody". The second evangelical album, Saved (1980), received mixed reviews, although Kurt Loder in Rolling Stone declared the album was far superior, musically, to its predecessor. When touring from the fall of 1979 through the spring of 1980, Dylan would not play any of his older, secular works, and he delivered declarations of his faith from the stage, such as:

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.

Robert Hilburn interviewed Dylan about the new direction in his music for the Los Angeles Times. Hilburn’s article, published November 23, 1980, began:

Bob Dylan has finally confirmed in an interview what he’s been saying in his music for 18 months: He’s a born-again Christian. Dylan said he accepted Jesus Christ in his heart in 1978 after “a vision and feeling” during which the room moved: “There was a presence in the room that couldn’t have been anybody but Jesus.”

Dylan's embrace of Christianity was unpopular with some of his fans and fellow musicians. Shortly before his December 1980 shooting, John Lennon recorded "Serve Yourself" in response to Dylan's "Gotta Serve Somebody". By 1981, while Dylan's Christian faith was obvious, his "iconoclastic temperament" had not changed, as Stephen Holden wrote in the New York Times:

Mr. Dylan showed that neither age (he's now 40) nor his much-publicized conversion to born-again Christianity has altered his essentially iconoclastic temperament.

Rolling Stone editor Jann Wenner, writing in his review for Slow Train Coming, commented:

Slow Train Coming is pure, true Dylan, probably the purest and truest Dylan ever. The religious symbolism is a logical progression of Dylan's Manichaean vision of life and his pain-filled struggle with good and evil... since politics, economics and war have failed to make us feel any better – as individuals or as a nation – and we look back at long years of disrepair, then maybe the time for religion has come again, and rather too suddenly – "like a thief in the night."

Since the early 1980s Dylan's personal religious beliefs have been the subject of debate among fans and critics. He has seemingly supported the Chabad Lubavitch movement and participated in many Jewish rituals. More recently, it has been reported that Dylan has "shown up" a few times at various High Holiday services at various Chabad synagogues. He attended a Woodbury, New York synagogue in 2005, and attended Congregation Beth Tefillah, in Atlanta, Georgia on September 22, 2007 (Yom Kippur), where he was called to the Torah for the sixth aliyah.

In 1997 he told David Gates of Newsweek:

Here's the thing with me and the religious thing. This is the flat-out truth: I find the religiosity and philosophy in the music. I don't find it anywhere else. Songs like "Let Me Rest on a Peaceful Mountain" or " I Saw the Light" – that's my religion. I don't adhere to rabbis, preachers, evangelists, all of that. I've learned more from the songs than I've learned from any of this kind of entity. The songs are my lexicon. I believe the songs."

In an interview published in The New York Times on September 28, 1997, journalist Jon Pareles reported that "Dylan says he now subscribes to no organized religion."

1980s: Trust Yourself

In the fall of 1980 Dylan briefly resumed touring, restoring several of his most popular 1960s songs to his repertoire, for a series of concerts billed as "A Musical Retrospective". Shot of Love, recorded the next spring, featured Dylan's first secular compositions in more than two years, mixed with explicitly Christian songs. The haunting " Every Grain of Sand" reminded some critics of William Blake’s verses.

In the 1980s the quality of Dylan's recorded work varied, from the well-regarded Infidels in 1983 to the panned Down in the Groove in 1988. Critics such as Michael Gray condemned Dylan's 1980s albums both for showing an extraordinary carelessness in the studio and for failing to release his best songs.

The Infidels recording sessions produced several notable outtakes, and many have questioned Dylan's judgment in leaving them off the album. Most well-regarded of these were " Blind Willie McTell" (which was both a tribute to the dead blues singer and an extraordinary evocation of African American history reaching back to "the ghosts of slavery ships"), "Foot of Pride" and "Lord Protect My Child"; these songs were later released on the boxed set The Bootleg Series Volumes 1-3 (Rare & Unreleased) 1961-1991. An earlier version of Infidels, prepared by producer/guitarist Mark Knopfler, contained different arrangements and song selections than what appeared on the final product.

Dylan contributed vocals to USA for Africa's famine relief fundraising single " We Are the World". On 13 July 1985, he appeared at the climax of the Live Aid concert at JFK Stadium, Philadelphia. Backed by Keith Richards and Ron Wood, Dylan performed a ragged version of "Hollis Brown", his ballad of rural poverty, and then said to a 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 criticised as inappropriate, but they did inspire Willie Nelson to organise a series of events, Farm Aid, to benefit debt-ridden American farmers.

In 1986 Dylan made a foray into the world of rap music, appearing on Kurtis Blow's Kingdom Blow album. In an arrangement set up, in part, by Debra Byrd (one of Dylan's back-up singers) and Wayne K. Garfield (an associate of Blow's), Dylan contributed vocals to the track "Street Rock." In his memoir, Chronicles, Dylan writes, "Blow familiarized me with that stuff, Ice-T, Public Enemy, N.W.A., Run-D.M.C.. These guys definitely weren't standing around bullshitting. They were all poets and knew what was going on." Dylan's opening rap for "Street Rock" goes, "I've indulged in higher knowledge through scan of encyclopedia / keep in constant research of our report and news media / kids starve in Ethiopia and we are getting greedier / the rich are getting richer and the needy's getting needier."

In 1986 and 1987, Dylan toured extensively with Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers, sharing vocals with Petty on several songs each night. The tour was filmed for the documentary Hard to Handle, directed by Gillian Armstrong. Dylan also toured with The Grateful Dead in 1987, resulting in a live album Dylan & The Dead. This album received some negative reviews. After performing with these different musical permutations, Dylan initiated what came to be called The Never Ending Tour on June 7, 1988, performing with a tight back-up band featuring guitarist G. E. Smith. Dylan would keep on touring with this small but constantly evolving band for the next 19 years.

In 1987 Dylan starred in Richard Marquand's movie Hearts of Fire, in which he played a washed-up-rock-star-turned-chicken farmer called "Billy Parker", whose teenage lover ( Fiona) leaves him for a jaded English synth-pop sensation ( Rupert Everett). Dylan also contributed three original songs to the soundtrack - "The Usual", "Night After Night", and 'I Had a Dream About You, Baby". The film was a critical and commercial flop.

Dylan was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in January 1988. Bruce Springsteen made the induction speech, 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." Later that spring, Dylan joined Roy Orbison, Jeff Lynne, Tom Petty, and George Harrison to create a lighthearted, well-selling album as the Traveling Wilburys. Despite Orbison's death in December 1988, the remaining four recorded a second album in May 1990, which they released with the unexpected title Traveling Wilburys Vol. 3.

Dylan finished the decade on a critical high note with the Daniel Lanois-produced Oh Mercy (1989). Lanois's influence is audible throughout Oh Mercy. 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 dense religious imagery of 'Ring Them Bells' struck some critics as a re-affirmation of faith. Scott Marshall wrote: "When Dylan sings that 'The sun is going down upon the sacred cow', it's safe to assume that the sacred cow here is the biblical metaphor for all false gods. For Dylan, the world will eventually know that there is only one God." Dylan also made a number of music videos during this period, but only "Political World" found any regular airtime on MTV.

1990s: Not Dark Yet

Dylan performs at a 1996 concert in Stockholm.
Dylan performs at a 1996 concert in Stockholm.

Dylan's 1990s began with Under the Red Sky (1990), an about-face from the serious Oh Mercy. The album was dedicated to "Gabby Goo Goo", and contained several apparently simple songs, including "Under the Red Sky" and "Wiggle Wiggle". The "Gabby Goo Goo" dedication was later explained as a nickname for Dylan's four-year-old daughter. Sidemen on the album included George Harrison, Slash from Guns N' Roses, David Crosby, Bruce Hornsby, Stevie Ray Vaughan, and Elton John. Despite the stellar line-up, the record received bad reviews and sold poorly. Dylan would not make another studio album of new songs for seven years.

In 1991 Bob Dylan was inducted into the Minnesota Music Hall of Fame and in 1992 Dylan performed a brief tour with Santana.

The next few years saw Dylan returning to his roots with two albums covering old 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", penned by a 19th century teacher and sung by Dylan with a haunting reverence. An exception to this rootsy mood came in Dylan's 1991 songwriting collaboration with Michael Bolton; the resulting song "Steel Bars", was released on Bolton's album Time, Love & Tenderness. Twenty-five years after famously failing to perform at the Woodstock Festival, Dylan appeared at the commemorative event entitled Woodstock 94. In 1995 Dylan recorded a live show for MTV Unplugged. He claimed his wish to perform a set of traditional songs for the show was overruled by Sony executives who insisted on a greatest hits package. The album produced from it (see MTV Unplugged (Bob Dylan album)) included " John Brown", an unreleased 1963 song detailing the ravages of both war and jingoism.

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. Late that spring, 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 midsummer, and in early fall 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 sermon based on Dylan's lyric " Blowin' in the Wind".

September saw the release of 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 became highly acclaimed. It also achieved an unforeseen popularity among young listeners, particularly the opening song, "Love Sick". This collection of complex songs won him his first solo "Album of the Year" Grammy Award (he was one of numerous performers on The Concert for Bangladesh, the 1972 winner). The love song " Make You Feel My Love" was covered by both Garth Brooks and Billy Joel.

In December 1997 U.S. President Bill Clinton presented Dylan with a Kennedy Center Honour 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 1998 Dylan appeared on Ralph Stanley's album "Clinch Mountain Country", duetting with the bluegrass legend on "The Lonesome River." .Between June and September, 1999, Dylan toured with Paul Simon. They performed a couple of songs together at each show, including " I Walk the Line" and " Blue Moon Of Kentucky". ( Simon & Garfunkel had recorded " The Times They Are a-Changin'" on their debut album, Wednesday Morning, 3AM, and Dylan had covered The Boxer on his Self Portrait album.) Dylan ended the nineties by returning to the big screen after a break of ten years in the role of Alfred the Chaffeur alongside Ben Gazzara and Karen Black in Robert Clapsaddle's Paradise Cove.

2000 and beyond: Things Have Changed

In 2000 his song " Things Have Changed", penned for the film Wonder Boys, won a Golden Globe Award for Best Original Song and an Academy Award for Best Song. For reasons unannounced, the Oscar (by some reports a facsimile) tours with him, presiding over shows perched atop an amplifier.

"Love and Theft" was released on September 11, 2001. Dylan produced the album himself under the pseudonym Jack Frost, and its distinctive sound owes much to the accompanists. Tony Garnier, bassist and bandleader, had played with Dylan for 12 years, longer than any other musician. Larry Campbell, one of the most accomplished American guitarists of the last two decades, played on the road with Dylan from 1997 through 2004. Guitarist Charlie Sexton and drummer David Kemper had also toured with Dylan for years. Keyboard player Augie Meyers, the only musician not part of Dylan's touring band, had also played on Time Out of Mind. The album was critically well-received and nominated for several Grammy awards. Critics noted that at this late stage in his career, Dylan was deliberately widening his musical palette. The styles referenced in this album included rockabilly, Western swing, jazz, and even lounge ballads.

"Love and Theft" generated controversy when some similarities between the lyrics of the album to Japanese writer Junichi Saga's book Confessions of a Yakuza were pointed out. It is unclear if Dylan intentionally lifted any material. Dylan's publicist had no comment.

Between "Love and Theft" and Dylan's next studio album (to be released five years later) he recorded songs - both originals and covers - for a number of different projects, as well as working on a number of film projects. "I Can't Get You Off of My Mind", Dylan's contribution to the Hank Williams tribute album "Timeless" was released in September 2001, and a year later he contributed a cover of "Train Of Love" for a similar Johnny Cash tribute album called " Kindred Spirits". In 2002 Solomon Burke recorded a version of the rare Dylan composition "Stepchild" for his Don't Give Up on Me album. While the song has never surfaced as a studio recording, there are a number of bootlegs in circulation of Dylan playing the track at soundchecks in the late 70's . In February 2003, the 8-minute long epic ballad "Cross The Green Mountain", written and recorded by Dylan, was released as the closing song on the soundtrack to the Civil War movie Gods and Generals, and later appeared as one of the 42 rare tracks on the iTunes Music Store release of Bob Dylan: The Collection. A music video for the song was also produced in promotion of the motion picture.

2003 also saw the release of the film Masked & Anonymous, a creative collaboration with television producer Larry Charles, featuring many well-known actors. Dylan and Charles cowrote the film under the pseudonyms Rene Fontaine and Sergei Petrov. As difficult to decipher as some of his songs, Masked & Anonymous had a limited run in theaters, and was panned by many major critics. A few treasured it as Dylan's bringing a dark and mysterious vision of the USA as a war-torn banana republic to the screen.

On Wednesday 23 June 2004, Dylan was awarded an honorary degree by the University of St. Andrews and made a "Doctor of Music." Professor Neil Corcoran, of the university's school of English department, and author of the collection of academic essays on Dylan entitled Do You Mr Jones: Bob Dylan with the Poets and the Professors, declared in his presentation speech that "For many of us, Bob Dylan has been an extension of our consciousness and part of our growing up." This is only the second time that Dylan has accepted an honorary degree, the other being an honorary doctorate in music conferred on him by Princeton University in 1970.

Dylan performing in Bologna in November 2005.
Dylan performing in Bologna in November 2005.

Martin Scorsese's film biography No Direction Home was shown on September 26 and September 27, 2005 on BBC Two in the United Kingdom and PBS in the United States. The documentary concentrates of the years between Dylan's arrival in New York in 1961 and the 1966 motorbike crash, featuring interviews with Suze Rotolo, Liam Clancy, Joan Baez, Allen Ginsberg, Dave Van Ronk, Bob Neuwirth and many others. The film received a Peabody Award in April 2006, and a Columbia-duPont Award in January 2007. An accompanying soundtrack was released in August 2005, which contained much previously unavailable early Dylan material.

Dylan himself returned to the recording studio at some point in 2005, where he recorded "Tell Ol' Bill" for the motion picture North Country. The song is an original composition, not a cover of the similarly titled traditional folk song. The melody is based on "I Never Loved But One" by the Carter Family.

In February 2006, Dylan recorded tracks in New York City that were to result in the album Modern Times, released on August 29, 2006. In a well-publicized interview to promote the album, Dylan criticised the quality of modern sound recordings and claimed that his new songs "probably sounded ten times better in the studio when we recorded 'em".

Despite some coarsening of Dylan’s voice ( The Guardian critic characterised his singing on the album as “a catarrhal death rattle”) most reviewers gave the album high marks and many described it as the final installment of a successful trilogy, embracing Time Out of Mind and "Love and Theft". Among the tracks most frequently singled out for praise were "Workingman's Blues #2" (the title was a nod to Merle Haggard's song of that name), and the final song “Ain’t Talkin’”, a nine minute talking blues in which Dylan appeared to be walking “through all-enveloping darkness, before finally disappearing into the murk”. Modern Times made news by entering the U.S. charts at #1, making it Dylan's first album to reach that position since 1976's Desire, 30 years prior. At 65, Dylan became the oldest living musician to top the Billboard albums chart. The record also reached number one in Australia, Canada, Denmark, Ireland, New Zealand, Norway and Switzerland.

Nominated for three Grammy Awards, Modern Times won Best Contemporary Folk/Americana Album and Bob Dylan also won Best Solo Rock Vocal Performance for "Someday Baby." Modern Times was ranked as the Album of the Year, 2006, by Rolling Stone Magazine, and by Uncut in the UK.

On the same day that "Modern Times" was released the iTunes Music Store released Bob Dylan: The Collection, a digital box set containing all of his studio and live albums (773 tracks in total), along with 42 rare & unreleased tracks and a 100 page booklet. To promote the digital box set and the new album (on iTunes), Apple released a 30 second TV spot featuring Dylan, in full country & western regalia, lip-synching to "Someday Baby" against a striking white background.

In September 2006 Scott Warmuth, an Albuquerque, N.M.-based disc jockey, noted similarities between Dylan's lyrics in the album, Modern Times and the poetry of Henry Timrod, the 'Poet Laureate of the Confederacy'. A wider debate developed in The New York Times and other journals about the nature of "borrowing" within the folk process and in literature.

May 3, 2006, was the premiere of Dylan's DJ career, hosting a weekly radio program, Theme Time Radio Hour, for XM Satellite Radio. Each one hour show revolved around a theme such as 'Flowers' 'Tears', 'The Bible', 'Rich man/Poor man'; the'Baseball'-themed show was even selected for inclusion in the National Baseball Hall of Fame in June 2006.. Among the classic and obscure records played on his show from the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s, Dylan has also played tracks by Blur, Prince, Billy Bragg & Wilco, Mary Gauthier and even L.L. Cool J and The Streets. Each show was introduced with a few sentences spoken in a sultry voice by the actress Ellen Barkin. BBC Radio 2 commenced transmission of Dylan's radio show in the UK on December 23, 2006, and BBC 6 Music started carrying it in January 2007. The show won praise from fans and critics for the way that Dylan conveyed his eclectic musical taste with panache and eccentric humor. Music author Peter Guralnick commented: "With this show, Dylan is tapping into his deep love – and I would say his belief in – a musical world without borders. I feel like the commentary often reflects the same surrealistic appreciation for the human comedy that suffuses his music." After 50 successful shows, a second season of Theme Time Radio Hour was commissioned to begin in September 2007.

2007 saw the release of a new original Dylan song, "Huck's Tune", written and recorded for the soundtrack to the film Lucky You on April 24. August 2007 saw the unveiling of the award-winning film I'm Not There written and directed by Todd Haynes - bearing the tagline "inspired by the music and many lives of Bob Dylan". (The title of the film was taken from a particularly obscure song on Dylan's The Basement Tapes.) The movie makes use of seven distinct characters to represent different aspects of Dylan's life, played by six different actors (Christian Bale, Cate Blanchett, Marcus Carl Franklin, Richard Gere, Heath Ledger and Ben Whishaw). Also released was the original soundtrack for the film containing covers of Dylan’s songs, specially recorded for the movie by a wide variety of artists, including Stephen Malkmus, Jeff Tweedy, Willie Nelson, Cat Power, and Tom Verlaine.

In a comment on Dylan's identity, and why six actors were employed to portray different facets of Dylan's personality, Haynes wrote:

The minute you try to grab hold of Dylan, he's no longer where he was. He's like a flame: If you try to hold him in your hand you'll surely get burned. Dylan's life of change and constant disappearances and constant transformations makes you yearn to hold him, and to nail him down. And that's why his fan base is so obsessive, so desirous of finding the truth and the absolutes and the answers to him - things that Dylan will never provide and will only frustrate.... Dylan is difficult and mysterious and evasive and frustrating, and it only makes you identify with him all the more as he skirts identity.

On October 1, Columbia Records released a triple CD retrospective album entitled Dylan, anthologising his entire career. As part of the marketing campaign for this album, using the Dylan 07 logo, British record producer Mark Ronson was asked to produce a re-mix of "Most Likely You Go Your Way (And I'll Go Mine)", originally released on Blonde on Blonde in 1966. This was the first time Dylan had sanctioned a re-mix of one of his classic recordings. Ronson's re-mix was released as a maxi-single in October but not included in the Dylan triple album.

The sophistication of the Dylan 07 marketing campaign was a reminder that Dylan’s commercial profile was far higher in the first decade of the new millennium than it had been in the 1990s. In 2004, much publicity surrounded Dylan’s agreeing to appear in a TV advertisement for Victoria’s Secret lingerie. In October 2007, Dylan appeared in a multi-media campaign to promote the 2008 Cadillac Escalade. He also devoted an hour of his Theme Time Radio Hour to the theme of the Cadillac.

Also released in October, the DVD The Other Side of the Mirror: Bob Dylan Live at the Newport Folk Festival 1963-1965 featured previously unseen footage, chronicling the changes in Dylan’s style when he appeared at Newport in three successive years. This film was broadcast by BBC Four on October 14, 2007. Director Murray Lerner commented: “Over the course of three Newport gigs, Dylan becomes more conscious of his power. His charisma is startling. With electricity and radio, he did what Yeats, Lorca, T. S. Eliot and Ezra Pound never achieved. He reached a mass audience with poetry."

Random House had published a book of Dylan's drawings and paintings, Drawn Blank, in 1994. German art gallery director Ingrid Mössinger approached Dylan to suggest an exhibition of his work. The result was the October 2007 opening of the first public exhibition of Dylan's paintings, The Drawn Blank Series at the Kunstsammlungen in Chemnitz, Germany, showcasing 170 watercolours and gouaches. The publisher, Prestel Verlag, simultaneously published a catalog of the exhibition.

Dylan is currently curating a project to set some of Hank Williams's "lost" lyrics to music, similar to the one undertaken by Billy Bragg and Wilco with Woody Guthrie's unaccompanied lyrics on " Mermaid Avenue". Steppin' in It bassist Dominic Suchyta, who is involved in the project, has suggested that Dylan is overseeing contributions by Jack White, Willie Nelson and Norah Jones, who will put the lyrics to music. The project started when Dylan acquired the lyrics that were in Wiliams's briefcase on the night he died.. Dylan has also recorded a new version of " A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall" exclusively for the water-themed Expo Zaragoza 2008 world fair, as well as having chosen local-band Amaral to record a version of the song in Spanish. Dylan's version ends with a few spoken words about his "being proud to be a part of the mission to make water safe and clean for every human being living in this world.".

Recent live performances and the Never Ending Tour

Bob Dylan (right on keyboards) at the Roskilde Festival, 2006.
Bob Dylan (right on keyboards) at the Roskilde Festival, 2006.

Dylan has played roughly 100 dates a year for the entirety of the 1990s and the 2000s, a heavier schedule than most performers who started out in the 1960s. The " Never Ending Tour" continues, anchored by longtime bassist Tony Garnier and filled out with talented musicians better known to their peers than to their audiences. To the dismay of some fans, Dylan refuses to be a nostalgia act; his reworked arrangements, evolving bands and experimental vocal approaches keep the music unpredictable night after night. Some fans have complained that, as Dylan's vocal range has diminished, he has resorted to a technique they have labelled 'upsinging'. One critic described the technique as Dylan's "dismantling melodies by delivering phrases in a monotone and ending them an octave higher".

For a two and a half year period, between 2003 and 2006, Dylan ceased playing guitar, and stuck to the keyboard during concerts. Various rumors circulated as to why Dylan gave up guitar during this period, none very reliable. According to David Gates, a Newsweek reporter who interviewed Dylan in 2004, "...basically it has to do with his guitar not giving him quite the fullness of sound he was wanting at the bottom. (Six strings on a guitar, ten fingers on a piano.) He's thought of hiring a keyboard player so he doesn't have to do it himself, but hasn't been able to figure out who. Most keyboard players, he says, like to be soloists, and he wants a very basic sound." Dylan's touring band has two guitarists along with a multi-instrumentalist who plays steel guitar, mandolin, banjo and fiddle. From 2002 to 2005, Dylan's keyboard had a piano sound. In 2006, this was changed to an organ sound. At the start of his Spring 2007 tour in Europe, Dylan played the first half of the set on electric guitar and switched to keyboard for the second half. At the beginning of 2008, unconfirmed reports suggested that Dylan's next installment of his " Never Ending Tour" would see concert dates in Mexico, Chile and Brazil in February and March.

Personal life

Dylan married Sara Lownds on November 22, 1965; their first child, Jesse Byron Dylan, was born on January 6, 1966. Dylan and Lownds had four children: Jesse Byron, Anna Lea, Samuel Isaac Abraham, and Jakob Luke (born December 9, 1969). Dylan also adopted Sara Lownds' daughter from a prior marriage, Maria Lownds (later Dylan), (born October 21, 1961 now married to musician Peter Himmelman). In the 1990s the youngest of his children, Jakob Dylan, became well known as the lead singer of the band The Wallflowers. Jesse Dylan is a film director and a successful businessman. Bob and Sara Dylan were divorced on June 29, 1977,.

In June 1986, Dylan married his longtime backup singer Carolyn Dennis (often professionally known as Carol Dennis). Their daughter, Desiree Gabrielle Dennis-Dylan, was born on January 31, 1986. The couple divorced in October 1992. Their marriage and child remained a closely guarded secret until the publication of Howard Sounes' Dylan biography, Down the Highway: The Life Of Bob Dylan in 2001.

Fan base

Bob Dylan's large and vocal fan base writes books, essays, ' zines, etc. at a furious rate. They also maintain a massive Internet presence with daily Dylan news: a site which documents every song he has ever played in concert; one that documents bootlegs that have been released; and one where visitors bet on what songs he will play on upcoming tours; along with hundreds of other Dylan-themed sites. Within minutes of the end of concerts, set lists and reviews are posted by his loyal following.

The Dylan Pool, created in 2001 has been featured on CNN, CBC, BBC, and the Associated Press. The Associated Press reported: "The pool reflects both the obsessive interest Dylan still draws 45 years into his career and the way this road warrior has structured his career." It allows interaction between fans while adding a level of competition through the unique online Bob Dylan fantasy game. In the summer of 2007 the Dylan Pool went offline but some fans, having anticipated this eventuality, launched a new website: The neverending pool.

The poet laureate of England, Andrew Motion, is a vocal supporter of Dylan's work, as are musicians Lou Reed, Bono, Neil Young, Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty, The Go-Betweens, David Bowie, Bryan Ferry, Mike Watt, Roger Waters, Ian Hunter, Paul Simon, David Gilmour, Nick Cave, Keith Richards, Patti Smith, Iggy Pop, Jack White, Noel Gallagher, Ronnie Wood, Trip Lucid, Glen Hansard, Robyn Hitchcock and Tom Waits .

ISIS Magazine was founded in 1985 and is the longest running publication about Bob Dylan. Edited since its inception by Derek Barker, the magazine, which is published bimonthly, has subscribers in 32 countries.

Chronicles: Volume One

After a lengthy delay, October 2004 saw the publishing of Dylan's autobiography Chronicles: Volume One, with which he once again confounded expectations. Dylan wrote three chapters about the year between his arrival in New York City in 1961 and recording his first album. Dylan focused on the brief period before he was a household name, while virtually ignoring the mid-1960s when his fame was at its height. Details about his motorcycle accident are limited to a few words in a single sentence. He also devoted chapters to two lesser-known albums, New Morning (1970) and Oh Mercy (1989), which contained insights into his collaborations with poet Archibald MacLeish and producer Daniel Lanois. In the New Morning chapter, Dylan expresses distaste for the "spokesman of a generation" label bestowed upon him, and evinces disgust with his more fanatical followers.

Another section features Dylan's account of a guitar-playing style in mathematical detail that he claimed was the key to his renaissance in the 1990s. Despite the opacity of some passages, there is an overall clarity in voice that is generally missing in Dylan's other prose writings, and a noticeable generosity towards friends and lovers of his early years. At the end of the book, Dylan describes with great passion the moment when he listened to the Brecht/ Weill song " Pirate Jenny", and the moment when he first heard Robert Johnson’s recordings. In these passages, Dylan suggested the process which ignited his own song writing.

Chronicles: Volume One 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. Simultaneously, and Barnes & Noble reported the book as their number two best-seller among all categories. Chronicles: Volume One is the first of three planned volumes.

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