Celebrating the King of Folk

14 May

A poet, musician and social critic who’s evolved with the a’ changing times.

Bob Dylan, born ‘Robert Allen Zimmerman’ borrowed his name from poet ‘Dylan Thomas’; a trend of reinventing himself which he’s continued after 40 years in the lime light.

Whilst many get caught up in the politics of Dylan’s work, he played contrary to the notion, telling the New York Times: “I’m trying to go up without thinking about anything trivial such as politics.” His words may have some truth; whilst many believe that his arguably most well-known song Blowin’ in the Wind was in retaliation to the war in Vietnam, it’s hauntingly ambiguous.

Yet Dylan can’t escape the fact that along with Joan Baez and Janis Joplin, his songs were anthems for the US civil rights and anti-war movements. Documentary maker, Mavis Staples, couldn’t believe how “a young white man could write something which captured the frustration and aspirations of black people so powerfully.”

He has often infuriated his fans by refusing to replicate his songs on stage. Folky’s dismissed him as a “sell-out” when he turned his back on the protest songs of the sixties and shook hands with ‘rock’; a friend he stuck with for many years. In an interview for the LA Times magazine he even accused people of “living off the table scraps of the sixties”; the decade that launched him to superstardom. Fans responded menacingly, including one Glaswegian waiter who branded Dylan a “traitor” at knifepoint; the sort of thing that happens in one of his mashed-up musical mutterings.

Yet Dylan declared that he didn’t care for the fame. Looking back on his career in 2005 in an interview with CBS, he claimed that he never wanted to be described as the “voice of a generation.” He said he’d yearn for a “9-5 existence”, which seems a strange statement when his choice of hang-out spot was Andy Warhol’s infamous Factory in the sixties, famously saying to a Newsweek audience “chaos is a friend of mine”. It is here that Dylan allegedly had an affair with Edie Sedgwick, whom he is thought to have written Just Like a Woman, whilst married to Playgirl Sara Lowndes.

In contrast to this rock and roll lifestyle, Dylan spent much of his time in hiding, describing fame as a ‘burden’. In an interview with Melody Maker he once said: “Jesus got himself crucified because he got himself noticed. So I disappear a lot.” It’s not the first time Dylan’s name has been quoted in the same sentence as the holy one. In a recent interview for Uncut magazine, Luke Pritchard of indie band The Kooks said that Dylan should be worshiped in the same way as Jesus: “I put on one of his songs, and it makes me feel big. It makes me feel I can change things.”

Perhaps Dylan’s ever changing persona could be attributed to his drug habit, which he claimed to fear had rotted his memory bank. Fortunately he managed to rekindle some lost moments, writing in his autobiography, “I was surprised myself with how much came back.”

We were lucky it did come back; his aptly named Never Ending Tour which began in the 1980’s is still going strong with around 100 sell out gigs a year, proving that Dylan truly is “On the road again.”

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