The folk-rock sound of Bob Dylan in the early ’60s inspired society with its emotional and poetic lyrics. These songs initially reflected the tension of the civil rights and anti-war movements. This mixture of folk music, rock ‘n roll and poetry illustrated Dylan as a voice of a generation, a role he admitted to actively resisting over time. Throughout his career, he refused to confine to what was expected from him whether it involved politics, religion, or music. However, when evaluating some of Dylan’s key works, his societal unpleasing claim doesn’t add up.
Dylan’s musical prowess has overpowered many scholars. “He is one of the few artists who will go on forever, like Mozart, like Picasso,” said Tino Markworth, Stanford University professor who was interviewed for a Vancouver Sun article on Dylan in July 2005. But why will his words stay with us forever? Why was Dylan such a social iconic influence?
Dylan’s music, as explained partly from Michael Lydon’s Rock for Sale piece has been described as turmoil-fueled social anthems and reluctant odes that explain the pains of growing up in America. This type of musical delivery had fans idolizing Dylan and his music for generations. With his love of words, he shaped a new approach toward song-writing. One that was personal at its core – and was not affected by its surroundings or so he says. However in a 2005 CBS interview, Dylan seemed uneasy about how he was portrayed. “It was more like [I was] some kind of threat to society in some kind of way.”
One of Dylan’s first song-writing attempts began with The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan in 1963. The album was his second after releasing Bob Dylan in 1962. However, this disc’s tracks reacted to the current events around him. Dylan illustrated his civil rights/anti-war stance in his 1963 hit, “Blowin’ in the Wind.” This song essentially helped his career to take off:
“Yes, ‘n’ how many deaths will it take till he knows
That too many people have died?
The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind,
The answer is blowin’ in the wind.”
Close interpretation of his lyrics (as in the ones above) has always had Dylan uneasy. In a Reuters article, he admits he doesn’t understand the hype in the constant analysis of his writing. “If you examine the songs, I don’t believe you’re going to find anything in there that says that I’m a spokesman for anybody or anything really.”
After people began closely interpreting his lyrics, he made a choice to remain the simple songwriter he wanted to be seen as. Or did he? CBS reports that Dylan admitted that he intentionally made bad records. He continued to tell stories where he would pour whiskey over his head in public and, as a stunt, went to Israel and had his picture taken at the Wailing Wall wearing a skull cap.
This outrageous attitude backfired on Dylan, intriguing young people to name him as their voice. They hoped that he would preach their beliefs to American society. However, during a 1964 interview for The New Yorker at a restaurant in the Village, Dylan responded to his role in this new-found movement with – I’m not part of no Movement. If I was, I wouldn’t be able to do anything else, but be in ‘the Movement.’
Dylan made this claim apparent after his shocking 1964 release Another Side of Bob
Dylan. This was Dylan’s first transformation from protestor to personal musician. The album mostly expressed bitterness towards women especially in “To Ramona.” However, the shocking aspect occurred in “I shall be free No. 10,” where Dylan addressed his growing icon status within American music society :
I’m just average, common too
I’m just like him, the same as you
I’m everybody’s brother and son
I ain’t different from anyone
It ain’t no use a-talking to me
It’s just the same as talking to you.”
Fans felt betrayed with the release of this album as if he was abandoning protests songs for personal experiences. He commented in a 2004 article by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that interpretation of his songs had reached a new level.”I was sick of the way my lyrics had been extrapolated, their meaning subverted into polemics, and that I had been anointed the Big Bubbaof Rebellion, High Priest of Protest…”
His 1965 release Highway 61 Revisited had Dylan reverting back to his well-respected, older style of song-writing with the popular “Like A Rolling Stone,” which became one of the most influential of the time. The song had Dylan singing about sixties youth’s frustrations. Dylan’s role as a spokesman for a generation seems most apparent at this time period, even though in the press he expressed that he wasn’t conforming to his icon status.
“You’ve gone to the finest school all right, Miss Lonely,
but you know you only used to get juiced in it.
And nobody has ever taught you how to live on the street.
And now you find out you’re gonna have to get used to it.
The examples illustrated are just the beginning of many transformations for Bob Dylan. He would later attempt to create both rock and country albums and even declare himself as a born-again Christian. All these stages in Dylan’s career have helped to develop an evolving fan base who always is searching for the interpretive answers of his music. After so much thought of attempting to do his own thing, Dylan has clearly taught society that trying rejecting society’s wants for your career is a hard task to avoid.