Robert Allen Zimmerman was born in Duluth, Minnesota in 1941 and spent most of his childhood in Hibbing. He began playing music at an early age and has strong roots planted in the Minnesota music community. As a college student at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, Zimmerman began identifying himself by his more recognizable pseudonym, Bob Dylan (which he invented on the spot after reading a book of poetry by Dylan Thomas), and became very involved in the Dinkytown folk music circuit. In his 2004 autobiography Chronicles Volume One, Dylan recounts his days spent living on the U of M campus:
"I played morning, noon and night. That's all I did, usually fell asleep with the guitar in my hands. I went through the entire summer that way. In the fall, I was sitting at the lunch counter at Gray's drugstore. Gray's drugstore was in the heart of Dinkytown . . . Above Gray's, the crash pad was no more than an empty storage room with a sink and a window looking into the alley. No closet or anything. Toilet down the hall. I put a mattress on the floor, bought a used dresser, plugged in a hot plate on top of that -- used the outside window ledge as a refrigerator when it got cold."
His studies at the University didn’t last beyond his freshman year, but Dylan remained in Minneapolis for a few years writing songs and performing locally before making a spontaneous move to New York City in 1961. His instincts proved useful to him, as he began receiving media attention shortly after arriving in New York and signed with Columbia Records before the year was over.
Although folk music had been around for centuries, Dylan was the first to introduce the simplified song structure to the popular music genre. His first album, “Bob Dylan,” consisted mostly of covers of folk and blues songs, after which he began merging his own poetic lyrics with the familiar progressions of old folk songs. Hence, a new musical medium was formed, and throngs of anxious teenagers fell silent in concert halls across America listening to his moving words and quiet guitar.
Dylan’s career had exploded by mid-1960’s and he quickly achieved household name status. He was pushed, somewhat reluctantly, into the limelight because of his involvement in the civil rights movement rallies and because of his more politically motivated lyrics on “The Times They Are A-Changin’,” which was chock-full of hippie protest anthems. Dylan’s popularity was evident in the musical community, as his songs were covered by Joan Baez, The Byrds, Sonny and Cher, The Hollies, Manfred Mann and Herman's Hermits.
Responding to the changes in pop music and drawing off of his Beatles influences, Dylan soon began to stray from his folk roots and explored a more electric feel. “Bringing it All Back Home” allowed Dylan to delve into rock and roll, and his shift to the electric guitar surprised critics and dedicated fans. What some saw as an abandonment of his style was actually just the beginning of the long and winding journey of Dylan’s creativity. He began recording and performing with a revolving set of band members, including Robbie Robertson and other members of The Band.
Much of Dylan’s personal life was fiercely defended from the public’s prying curiosities, although it is known that Dylan secretly married Sara Lownds on November 22, 1965, and their first child, Jesse Byron Dylan, was born in January 1966.
Any fans that he lost by straying from the acoustic guitar were gained back two-fold with the 1966 release of “Blonde on Blond,” an album that is still on the top of most music critics’ lists of favorite records. In July of the same year, as pressure was rising for him to perform more and more shows, Dylan was involved in a motorcycle accident and all but fell off the map. The details of the accident and its seriousness have never been fully revealed, and even Dylan’s own autobiography referenced it in passing. Although he continued making music and released the record “John Wesley Harding” in 1967, Dylan was mostly away from the public eye for almost two years.
By 1969 Dylan had regained steam, and although he didn’t play at Woodstock his song “All Along the Watchtower” was infamously adapted by Jimi Hendrix and became another anthem for the revolutionaries of the time.
The 1970’s proved to be Dylan’s most experimental time, culminating with a divorce from his wife and the recording of “Blood on the Tracks.” The album is considered one of the highlights of his career, and despite the short amount of time spent writing and recording the songs it has been widely considered a masterpiece.
Towards the end of the 1970’s and through most of the 1980’s Dylan became very publicly involved with his religion and proclaimed himself as a born-again Christian. Many of his albums released during this time period were explicitly Christian, and many view this period of his music career as a sort of dead period of creativity.
In the mid-1980’s Dylan married his backup singer Carolyn Dennis, and their marriage lasted a little over five years. The couple gave birth to a daughter, Desiree, in early 1986. Little was known about Dylan’s marriage to Carolyn or his marriage to Sara Lownds, and his autobiography only spends a few sentences on either of his wives.
As many of his peers faded away or retired, Dylan has continued to keep up his music career for over 40 years. To this day he still performs over 100 shows per year, a rate much higher than most musicians from the 1960’s. He has been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, won a Grammy Award (Album of the Year for “Time out of Mind”) and an Oscar (Best Song in a Motion Picture for “Things Have Changed”), and has been the subject of two major documentaries (D. A. Pennebaker’s “Don’t Look Back” and the newly released Scorcese film “No Direction Home”).
- ”Modern Times” (2006)
- ”Live at the Gaslight 1962” (2005)
- ”The Bootleg Series, Vol. 7: No Direction Home – The Soundtrack” (2005)
- ”The Bootleg Series, Vol. 6: Bob Dylan Live, 1964: Concert at Philharmonic Hall” (2004)
- ”Masked and Anonymous” (2003)
- ”The Bootleg Series, Vol. 5: Bob Dylan Live, 1975: The Rolling Thunder Review” (2002)
- ”Love and Theft” (2001)
- ”The Bootleg Series, Vol. 4: Bob Dylan Live, 1966: The Royal Albert Hall Concert” (1998)
- ”Time Out of Mind” (1997)
- ”MTV Unplugged” (1995)
- ”Greatest Hits Volume 3” (1994)
- ”The 30th Anniversary Concert Celebration” (1993)
- ”World Gone Wrong” (1993)
- ”Good As I Been To You” (1992)
- ”The Bootleg Series, Vol. 1-3, Rare and Unreleased 1961-1991” (1991)
- ”Under the Red Sky” (1990)
- ”Oh Mercy” (1989)
- ”Dylan and The Dead” (1989)
- ”Down in the Groove” (1988)
- ”Knocked Out Loaded” (1986)
- ”Biograph” (1985)
- ”Empire Burlesque” (1985)
- ”Real Live” (1984)
- ”Infidels” (1983)
- ”Shot of Love” (1981)
- ”Saved” (1980)
- ”At Budokan” (1979)
- ”Slow Train Coming” (1979)
- ”Street Legal” (1978)
- ”Hard Rain” (1976)
- ”Desire” (1976)
- ”The Basement Tapes” (1975)
- ”Blood on the Tracks” (1975)
- ”Before the Flood” (1974)
- ”Planet Waves” (1974)
- ”Dylan” (1973)
- ”Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid” (1973)
- ”More Bob Dylan Greatest Hits” (1972)
- ”New Morning” (1970)
- ”Self Portriat” (1970)
- ”Nashville Skyline” (1969)
- ”John Wesley Harding” (1968)
- ”Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits” (1967)
- ”Blonde on Blonde” (1966)
- ”Highway 61 Revisited” (1965)
- ”Bringing it All Back Home” (1965)
- ”Another Side of Bob Dylan” (1964)
- ”The Times They Are A-Changin’” (1964)
- ”The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan” (1963)
- ”Bob Dylan” (1962)
Related Web sites
- Bob Dylan on wikipedia.org
- Official Site
- Bob Dylan Lyrics
- PBS American Masters: Bob Dylan No Direction Home documentary