|BOB DYLAN - BIOGRAPHY|
The grandchild of Jewish-Russian immigrants, Dylan was born Robert Allen Zimmerman, on May 24, 1941, in Duluth, Minnesota. In 1947, the Zimmerman family moved to the small town of Hibbing, where an unexceptional childhood did little to hint at the brilliance to come. Robert started writing poems around the age of ten, and taught himself rudimentary piano and guitar in his early teens. Falling under the spell of Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, and other early rock stars, he started forming his own bands, including the Golden Chords and Elston Gunn and His Rock Boppers. According to the 1959 Hibbing high school yearbook, his goal was "to join Little Richard."
The young Zimmerman left Hibbing for Minneapolis and the University of Minnesota in the fall of 1959. The sights and sounds of the big city opened new vistas for him, and he began to trace contemporary rock and roll back to its roots, listening to the work of country, rock, and folk pioneers like Hank Williams, Robert Johnson, and Woody Guthrie.He began to perform solo at local nightspots like the Ten O'Clock Scholar cafe and St. Paul's Purple Onion Pizza Parlor, honing his guitar and harmonica work and developing the expressive nasal voice that would become the nucleus of his trademark sound. It was around this time, too, that he adopted the stage name Bob Dylan, presumably in honor of the late Welsh poet Dylan Thomas, though this is an origin he has continued to deny throughout his career.
The following year, he dropped out of college and went to New York with two things on his mind: to become a part of Greenwich Village's burgeoning folk-music scene, and to meet Guthrie, who was hospitalized in New Jersey with a rare, hereditary disease of the nervous system. He succeeded on both counts, becoming a fixture in the Village's folk clubs and coffee houses and at Guthrie's hospital bedside, where he would perform the folk legend's own songs for an audience of one. He also began writing songs at a remarkable pace, including a tribute to his hero entitled "Song to Woody."
In the fall of 1961, Dylan's legend began to spread beyond folk circles and into the world at large after critic Robert Shelton saw him perform at Gerde's Folk City and raved in the New York Times that he was "bursting at the seams with talent." A month later, Columbia Records executive John Hammond signed Dylan to a recording contract, and the young singer-songwriter began selecting material for his eponymous debut album. Not yet fully confident in his own songwriting abilities, he cut only two original numbers, rounding out the collection with traditional folk tunes and songs by blues singers like Blind Lemon Jefferson and Bukka White. The result was an often haunting, death-obsessed record that, culminating in Dylan's gravel-voiced reading of "See That My Grave Is Kept Clean," sounded as much like the work of an aging black blues man as a twenty-one-year-old Jewish folksinger from Minnesota.
The most revealing song on Another Side was "Ballad in Plain D," which painted a harsh, one-sided, blow-by-blow picture of Dylan's breakup with his longtime girlfriend Suze Rotolo, who can be seen on his arm in happier days on the Freewheelin' album cover. Shortly after his split with Rotolo, he became involved with the world's most famous folk diva, Joan Baez. The relationship proved beneficial for them both, as Baez raided Dylan's unreleased material for her albums and introduced him to thousands of fans at her concerts.
Early in 1965, he went into the studio with a nine piece band and recorded Bringing It All Back Home, a half-electric, half-acoustic album of complex, incisive, biting songs like "Subterranean Homesick Blues" , "Mr. Tambourine Man," and "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue." In the meantime, he recorded and released the album Highway 61 Revisited, which contained the monumental single "Like a Rolling Stone." Next up was Blonde on Blonde, a two-record set recorded in Nashville in early 1966. From the raucous party rock of "Rainy Day Women #12 & 35" to the rambling, hallucinogenic folk 'n' blues of "Stuck Inside of Mobile With the Memphis Blues Again" to the poignant, apocalyptic balladry of "Visions of Johanna" and "Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands".
By this time, Dylan was routinely being hailed as the most important voice of his generation, but he was reaching a breaking point; he was, after all, only twenty-five years old.
Nashville Skyline, his next album, seemed to revel in disappointing fans' expectations: it was a straight country record, and despite some lovely songs (especially "I Threw It All Away") and a hit single ("Lay Lady Lay") it was seen as Dylan's first real artistic misstep.
Dylan's confusion, pain, and anger over marriage split infused the songs he was writing with a rare passion. The result was Blood on the Tracks, perhaps the most mature, moving, and profound examination of love and loss ever committed to record.
Later that year, a truncated version of The Basement Tapes was finally released, and was hailed as a found masterpiece. Another tour soon followed--the ragtag Rolling Thunder Revue, which featured old friends like Joan Baez and Roger McGuinn. Mid-tour, Dylan released Desire, which was his third consecutive No. 1 album; it featured the single "Hurricane," dedicated to the wrongly imprisoned boxer Rubin "Hurricane" Carter.
Dylan's first post-divorce album, Street Legal, did not bode well for the future. At thirty-seven, Dylan seemed, both personally and professionally, at loose ends. Even so,he released the overtly born-again album Slow Train Coming. Much to the surprise of his critics, the record was a commercial success.
The tour that followed was a fire and brimstone affair that managed to alienate many of Dylan's longtime fans, and his next album, Saved, failed to crack the Top 20. For the faithful, though, his next record, Shot of Love offered signs of hope: "Every Grain of Sand" was a gorgeous, philosophical ballad that took a far more forgiving tone than his past two albums, while "The Groom's Still Waiting at the Alter" (the non-LP B-side to the single "Heart of Mine") was a barn-burning rocker that would have fit nicely on Highway 61 Revisited.
While Dylan had toured regularly since returning to the stage with the Band in 1974, beginning in the mid-eighties he hit the road full-time, first with all-star cronies Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers and the Grateful Dead, then, starting in 1988, with a small rock combo led by guitarist and Saturday Night Live musical director G.E. Smith. Shows on the so-called Never Ending Tour were generally sloppy, and Dylan tended to mumble his songs and glower at his audiences, but he stuck with it--nine years later, he's hardly spent a month off the road.
The original work he's released over the last decade has continued to contain flashes of genius, but only the Daniel Lanois-produced Oh Mercy worked to any sustained effect. Check out the wild, twelve-minute Dylan-Sam Shepard road song "Brownsville Girl" (from 1987's Knocked Out Loaded) or the hallucinatory Oh Mercy outtake "Series of Dreams" (from the revelatory, career-spanning three-CD set The Bootleg Series) to hear the best of the latter-day Dylan.
Then there are the two fast and funny Traveling Wilburys albums, which catch Dylan--along with superstar pals George Harrison, Tom Petty, Jeff Lynne, and (on the first record) Roy Orbison--in an uncommonly lighthearted mood.
Early in 1997, though, those who lived in hope of an artistically born-again Dylan had cause for optimism: musician Jim Dickinson told a Memphis newspaper that he had played on some recent, Daniel Lanois-produced Dylan sessions featuring new material Dylan had composed while stuck at home in Minnesota during a blizzard. According to Dickinson, one cut was seventeen minutes long, and overall the material was "so good, I can't imagine he won't use it."
The seventeen-minute song turned out to be "Highlands," the closing cut on the critically acclaimed Time Out of Mind, which was released in September and became Dylan's first gold record of the decade.