It’s the birthday of Bob Dylan (books by this author), born Robert Zimmerman in Duluth, Minnesota (1941). He grew up in the declining mining town of Hibbing, Minnesota. He was a quiet kid, raised by Jewish parents, who loved listening to the Grand Ole Opry. But after he heard Little Richard on the radio he wanted to play rock and roll, so his dad bought him an electric guitar and he formed a rock band at his high school, The Golden Chords. Then he went to the University of Minnesota, and as soon as he got to Minneapolis, and heard a record by the folk singer Odetta, he went and traded in his electric guitar for an acoustic one. Then a friend gave him Woody Guthrie’s autobiography and he was so inspired that he started learning all the folk songs he could and trying to sing like Woody. He performed in coffee shops around the university, and then in 1961, when he heard that Woody Guthrie was dying of Huntington’s disease in New York City, he left for the East Coast to meet his hero and become a musician.
And he did both those things. He went to Greystone Hospital and found Woody Guthrie and he played him songs, and visited him over and over. Later Dylan said, “You could listen to his songs and actually learn how to live.”
He started performing in Greenwich Village clubs and coffeehouses, using the name Bob Dylan (he denies that he took his name from Dylan Thomas). He released his first album, Bob Dylan, in 1962. Within a space of just four years, the kid from Minnesota with the strange voice became a folk music sensation. In those years he released Bob Dylan, The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, The Times They Are A-Changin’, Another Side of Bob Dylan, and Bringing It All Back Home. He became a symbol of the protest movement and civil rights and stood on stage with Joan Baez while Martin Luther King Jr. performed his “I Have a Dream” speech and he moved from old ballads to writing his own folk songs all the way to “Like A Rolling Stone,” which caused him to get booed at the Newport Folk Festival when he plugged in his electric guitar.
Bob Dylan has been called one of the greatest songwriters of all time and even one of the greatest poets of all time. He won a Nobel Prize in literature in 2016.
Dedicated to Richard Dalrymple