The best artists are those who successfully merge word and sound to create a unique expression of the human soul, whether that be with lyrics, the strum of a guitar, or a beat on a drum. And few have done it as successfully as the great American folk artist Bob Dylan. With a stories career that dates back to 1959, the maturity of Dylan's music parallels America's/ His stories range from attempting to explain the complexity of human nature to protesting inequalities and injustices worldwide during the 20th century. Truly the developer of the singer/songwriter genre.
Moreover, Dylan's music is an excellent example of poetry in action. He was never ashamed to tell his life story in raw, unfiltered language; his creativity and mastery of language, coupled with catchy guitar and harmonica notes, captivated audiences. The world loved and respected him for it. Poetry was an inspiration for him, and his thoughtful writing distinguished him from other artists. Here are some facts about Bob Dylan that might inspire you on your own poetic journey.
- Who is Robert Allen Zimmerman? That's right. Bob Dylan was born Robert Allen Zimmerman on May 24, 1941 in Duluth, Minnesota. During his upbrininging, Zimmerman learned how to play the guitar and harmonica at an early age and he formed the rock and roll band Golden Chords when he was in high school. The name Bob Dylan surfaced while he was a student at the University of Minnesota-Minneapolis, and he took the name Bob Dylan when he started performing folk songs at coffee shops on campus. Dylan loved to read and write poetry and the poet Dylan Thomas served as the inspiration for the stage name Bob Dylan.
- Why Must the Good...Sign Young? In January of 1961, Dylan traded Minneapolis for New York City to pursue his dream: to become a professional musician. That fall, he attracted attention from The New York Time and Columbia Records. When the record company wanted to sign him, the budding star was only 20 years old — a minor — meaning a parent would be needed for proper signing of the contract. So, he had John Hammond, the representative from Columbia who discovered Dylan say that he was an orphan so parental signatures were not necessary for the contract to be valid.
- More than Music. Dylan is hailed as one of the best poets of the modern age. His words struck a chord during the 1960s, a tumultuous time in American history, War, Jim Crow, a rampant drug epidemic, and heinous crime plagued the streets of America. Dylan released tracks "Masters of War," "Blowing in the Wind," and "Like a Rolling Stone" that voiced the opinions of may Americans protesting the government's responses or involvement in these civil issues. Bob Dylan cared deeply about social justice and wanted his music to reflect his social consciousness. His poetry really shows its prowess as he sings, "Yes, 'n' how many years can a mountain exist / Before it's washed to the sea? / Yes, 'n' how many years can some people exist / Before they're allowed to be free? / Yes 'n' how many times can a man turn his head / And pretend that he doesn't see?" His poetry challenged contemporary American society, earning him a spot with folk artist Joan Baez on one of his biggest stages at the March on Washington on August 28, 1963.
- Close but no Cigar. Even after winning 10 Grammy Awards, Bob Dylan has never has a #1 hit dong on the Billboard Top Charts. The closest he came to having a #1 song was "Like a Rolling Stone" and "Rainy Day Women #12 and 35," which both came in second in 1965 and 1966 respectively. A cover of one of his songs by the band The Byrds did, however, reach the top spot. This proves his songs were for him, not they money. Always remember to create your art for yourself, no one else. His songs remain great examples of how to practice free verse, couplets, or stanzas in music.
- What Doesn't Kill You Makes You Stronger. Following his British tour in July of 1966 Dylan suffered a serious accident on his motorcycle outside of his home in Woodstock, NY and suffered serious injuries. This proved to be a turning point in Dylan's career, as he secluded himself away from the public eye. During this chapter of his life, Dylan and his band, The Band, recorded hundreds of songs and demos that were called "The Basement Tapes." They recorded everything from folk to rock to country to blues. Columbia Records did not officially release these recordings until 1975. The songs indicated Dylan's writing had undergone a metamorphosis and he became more direct with his language. An important lesson we can learn from this is that sometimes our lives present us with troubling circumstances, and writing about our experiences in a poetic style can help with healing.
- It Takes Time. In 1965, Dylan performed at the Newport Music Festival. His loyal fans were used to his unique sound on the acoustic guitar. However, at this performance, Dylan debuted his electric guitar. His fans booed him off the stage. This was one of the only times in Dylan's career that the fans unanimously disapproved with his style of sound. Similarly, you may be uncomfortable trying new things with your poetry or sharing your work. Be like Bob and don't be afraid to push yourself to explore new heights with your work. If at first you don't succeed, keep trying.
- Down in the Blues. As a student in college (he was only there one year), Dylan listened to blues greats like Muddy Waters. He attributes the blues sound he developed later on in his career to the musical influences he had early on in his college days. Other musical influences included Howlin' Wolf, Hank Williams, Woody Guthrie, and Chuck Berry. Similarly, his poetic influences are many. He loved the writing of French Symbolist Arthur Rimbaud who helped Dylan master his "vision poetry" — songs that provide imaginative landscapes by breaking traditional forms of storytelling. With practice, we can each adopt this way of thinking.
- Thanks for the Memories, Even Though They Weren't So Great. Suze Rotolo, Dylan's love from 1961 to 1964 was actually the person responsible for many of his songs about love, anger, and self-reflection. His song "Don't Think Twice, It's Alright" is the clearest example of Rotolo's influence on his music. It sounds like she is in the studio with Dylan as he recorded this song. Urging her not to fret about decisions made in the past, Dylan is emotionally honest in this piece: "It ain't no use in turning on your light, babe / A light I never knowed / An' it ain't no use in turning on your light babe / I'm on the dark side of the road." The song concludes with an observation from Dylan no partner would want to hear: "I ain't saying that you treated me unkind / You could've done better, but I don't mind / You just kinda wasted my precious time / But don't think twice, it's alright." Here, Dylan was inspired by heartbreak, and he chose to use his poetry to say things he might not have felt comfortable bringing up in other settings.
- Man of Many Trades. Since 1944 Dylan has sold more than 100 million records, making him one of the most successful musical artists of all time. In addition to his Grammy Awards, he has a Golden Globe and an Academy Award in his arsenal of accomplishments. He has also written a book entitled Tarantula, originally published in 1971. In it, Dylan recounts what his music meant to him in trying to mold the world into a better place. "Your problem is that you wanna better word for world," he mentioned, expressing his discontent with the reporters of his day trying to twist his words — something that happens too often in spaces of artistic expression.
- Open My Eyes. In 1979 Dylan announced he was a born again Christian. His platinum album "Slow Train Coming" reflects some of the ideals he was studying and practicing. It's always important to remember that everyone is on a different journey, and we should never criticize someone based on their religious beliefs. Rather, we should seek to understand one another's reasoning and find each other's truths in our writing. "Don't criticize what you can't understand."
- Voice of a Generation. Bob Dylan won the Pulitzer Prize for "his profound impact on popular music and American culture. marked by lyrical compositions of extraordinary poetic power" on April 7, 2009. Then, on February 3, 2015, Dylan released his 36th studio album "Shadows in the Night." And on October 13, 2016 he was awarded the Noble Prize in Literature. Artists across all genres. including literary critics, agree that Dylan exemplified what it means to tell your story, tell it well, and tell it often. He created a legacy of using poetry to impact the world and the entire music industry. He looked inside of himself, found his passion, and created beauty by putting his pen to paper and music. "He not being busy born is busy dying." Let Dylan serve as an example to let your poetry be an agent of change. Whether for yourself, your community, or the world, know that someone can and will benefit from you sharing your story and truths.