Bob Dylan is recognized as one of the greatest rock and roll icons of the 1960s. Whether singing a topical folk song, exploring rock and blues, or delivering one of his more abstract compositions, Dylan has consistently demonstrated the rare ability to reach and affect listeners with thoughtful, sophisticated lyrics. It is safe to say that he has been able to define the mood of his generation through his songs which provide commentary to the restless age of the 60s.
Dylan played the role of a spokesperson for his generation- some even call him a poet, a title to which he would not admit to. “I don’t call myself a poet because I don’t like the word,” he has said. “I’m a trapeze artist” (Bob Dylan Quotes). Robert Allen Zimmerman was born on May 24, 1941 in Duluth, Minnesota. By age 10, he played the harmonica and piano, and he even taught himself the guitar. He was driven by his rock and roll and folk icons, Elvis Presley and Woody Guthrie, and formed a high school band called The Golden Chords.
While attending the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, Zimmerman traded his electric guitar for an acoustic and began playing folk music in local cafes under the name “Bob Dylan” after the late Welsh poet Dylan Thomas (Bob Dylan Biography). In 1960, Dylan dropped out of college and moved to New York City where he continued to perform in cafes and coffeehouses until he signed with Columbia Records in the fall of 1961. It was not until his second album, The Free-Wheelin’ Bob Dylan, that Dylan started to become recognized for his anti-war beliefs.
Through the release of this album, Dylan raised the stakes of rock and roll music by moving from the typical slogans of rock and roll to lyrics that actually meant something. His lyrics were not so much so much a form of entertainment, but a way of making the public aware of what was actually going on in the world and in society. For example, in the song “Masters of War”, Dylan shows how morally wrong he finds war by saying “Even Jesus would never/ Forgive what you do” (eLyrics). “A Hard Rain’s a Gonna’ Fall” captures the concerns of Americans about the nuclear arms race with the Soviet Union.
Bob Dylan expanded the territory of rock and roll and folk music. He enabled artists to write lyrics with deeper messages than those of love, heartbreak and cars. Many bands after Dylan made remakes of his songs such as Peter, Paul and Mary’s remake of Dylan’s song “Blowing in the Wind”. Most of his music was written during the Civil Rights Movement, so many of Dylan’s songs have an undertone of racial equality. The song “The Death of Emmett Till” describes a 1955 incident of a young black boy being beaten to death by white men for saying “bye baby” to a white woman (A Musical Voice).
This is just one of the many songs Dylan wrote to raise awareness of the horridness of racial inequality. Bob Dylan was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1988. His presenter was Bruce Springsteen, who had been greatly influenced by Dylan’s career. “Bob freed your mind the way Elvis freed your body,” said Springsteen, “He invented a new way a pop singer could sound, broke through the limitations of what a recording artist could achieve, and changed the face of rock and roll forever” (Rock and Roll Hall of Fame).
In 1997, Dylan became the first rock star ever to receive Kennedy Center Honors, considered the nation’s highest award for artistic excellence. Dylan once said “A hero is someone who understands the responsibility that comes with his freedom”, and through that quote alone, one may consider him to be a hero of his decade (Bob Dylan Biography). The ways of protest changed with the new ways of writing music that Bob Dylan began. He altered the way people viewed the troubles of society by implementing the issues of violence and corruption into his music. Bob Dylan’s influence on rock and roll has changed and will keep changing music forever.