Bob Dylan, the American songwriter, author, and artist, has been an influential figure in pop music along with culture for more than five decades. A man who used to go by the name of Elston Gunn, changes the popular music forever. With Dylan’s twist to lyrics, by adding poetry, audiences receive a fresh and exciting new way to listen to music; and not just new ways to listen, but Dylan was effective in providing present-day songwriters with new content.
Bob Dylan’s life was interesting from the word go.
As usual, most families in history struggle with many different things we do today. Swirling downhill was an option many young people experimented within that time. Howard Sounes, in the captivatingly written book Down The Highway: The Life Of Bob Dylan, he states, took the Second World War, and President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s new deal, to pull America out of the great Depression21). This is when Dylan was born. This is the life Dylan was forced to live.
The great depression was a deep and dark time filled with tremendous misery. Even though it was harder to be an adult at the time, kids did not get to grow up as normal kids.
To give some background on Dylan’s family would be beneficial. Bob’s father, Abe Zimmerman, was a son of Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe. His father grew up in even harder times when Czar Nicholas II faltered and blamed the Jews for the problems in the Russian empire.
This began a bloody battle on the streets where many Jews were killed. Zimmerman then migrated to a place similar to Odessa called Duluth, Minnesota, which is where Dylan’s life begins. Abe was very musically talented. He played the violin in his band he created with some of his friends. Bob’s mother, Beatrice Stone(Betty), was born in 1915. Just like the Zimmermans, the Stones were musically talented. Betty was the most talented on the piano. Abe and Betty married in the prime of the Great Depression when life was still very heavy. Abe was forced as a young man at age 11 to begin fending for himself selling newspapers on the street. Abe knew how to live for himself at a very young age, which many of us today have not had the chance to do. Providing the importance of the families, history plays into the life Dylan was about to begin. He lived through the tough times with a musical background from his family. Music is what he used as a distraction when the times got rough.
Betty’s mother Florence was a very hardworking lady herself. She grew up a Lithuanian Jew. Florence married Ben Stone who she ran a clothing store with. This clothing store provided mainly to other immigrants at the time. Betty being born in 1915, had three other siblings, who were also part of the musical family. Once Betty and Abe married, times surely did not begin to get easier. The country was still gripped by the Depression. Sharecroppers from the Midwest were still on the move to California. The crime was among them. Howard Sounes says They knew they needed six years before they could start their family, so meanwhile, they lived with Abe’s mother in Duluth(21). Abe began to move up in his department working for Standard Oil and he and Betty could make their next move to live in their own place.
Beginning to move into Dylan’s life, Howard Sounes in his book talks about Duluth itself. The central hillside of Duluth was predominantly Jewish and Polish, with a synagogue at the end of the road(Sounes 21). There was always a lingering fresh ocean smell with fog constantly framing the town. Dylan grew up in Duluth and this will be known as the town who produced someone so inspiring and magnificent, Bob Dylan.
Bob Dylan enrolled in elementary school in 1946, a year after the war ended. During this year he was encouraged by the school, along with other students to perform for the adult’s entertainment. At age four, Dylan sang specifically for his grandmother Some Sunday Morning. In February 1946, Dylan was joined with his baby brother, Benjamin. Just shortly after this, an unfortunate event occurred which took the Zimmerman family for a spin. Abe was diagnosed with polio which was at an all-time high for diagnosing. Due to this terrifying experience, Abe lost his job at Standard Oil. With no money, the Zimmerman moved to Hibbing, where Betty’s family lived and where two of Abe’s brothers ran their business. Hibbing wasn’t exactly the best place to be moving to, but this was all the Zimmerman’s had. There was no other choice.
I bring all of this into my research paper to demonstrate the work ethic Dylan watches and then demonstrates later on. During all these rough times, Abe and Betty slowly saw their kid’s lives taking a turn downhill at too much of a young age. This is actually when Bob was introduced to music. Abe and Betty bought a Gulbranson Spinet Piano in which they hoped their boys would take interest in. Before moving to his favorite instrument, acoustic guitar, Bob tries the trumpet and saxophone. Bob’s patience and frustration were tested by his cousins who picked on him, but Bob later thanked them. The push to be the best came from his family and his heart. When Bob wasn’t the absolute best at something, nothing could stop him in his way to become the best.
Once the Zimmerman family finally was able to catch a break, Bob wrote a father’s day poem. The poem went like this:
Father of night, Father of day
Father, who taketh the darkness away
Father, who teacheth the bird to fly
Builder of rainbows up in the sky
Father of loneliness and pain
Father of love and Father of rain
Father of day, Father of night
Father of black, Father of white
Father, who build the mountain so high
Who shaped the cloud up in the sky
Father of time, Father of dreams
Father, who turneth the rivers and streams
Father of grain, Father of wheat
Father of cold and Father of heat
Father of air and Father of trees
Who dwells in our hearts and our memories
Father of minutes, Father of days
Father of whom we most solemnly praise
Not only is this such an advanced piece of poetry, but the words were so sentimental to he and Bob’s relationship. Abe was a very quiet man who did not show much emotion. Howard sounds in his book writes constantly about the relationship between Bob and his Father. The feeling of a young son like Bob, writing such an advanced and exceptional piece to his father is so heartwarming, but also eye-opening. What more can this young man do, might have been a question many had. There are so many ways to express feelings and emotions. Music was Bob’s way. Bob found how he could express his affection to his family without having the feeling of not being accepted. Bob looked at the ways his family was making money as a sad and depressing way to live. He saw his family struggling to put food on the tables at night and looking miserable to go to work the next day. The struggles got harder and harder every day. Bob was a step ahead and ready to find his way in life and that wasn’t the way his family had shown. He was determined to do what he liked to do, what he strived to be the best at. His life was about to belong to music, and he was ready for that. He was prepared for this life.
Woody Guthrie in the book Once upon a time: The lives of Bob Dylan states, A picture- you can’t buy it once, and it bothers you for forty years; but with a song, you sing it out, and it soaks in the people’s ears and they all jump up and down and sing it with you, and when you quit singing it, it’s gone, and you get a job signing it again. On top of that, you can sing out what you think.(Bell 27). Late in the year of 1961, in New York, Bob Dylan drops out of college at age twenty and begins to make a life for himself as a young performer. Raw talent in the music industry is one thing, but it is also a job for the producers. The job consists of marketing, managing, and of course producing. Dylan Needed one of these guys in order to move forward with his career. Dylan was first signed with John Hammond who helped him produce his first album in 1962. Bob Dylan started his music career with an album that included: folk, blues, and gospel.
Ian Bell in his book writes, His first album, Bob Dylan, was recorded in a matter of hours and flopped horribly, totally. Most accounts put the dismal sales figure for the first year at fewer than 5,000(35). It is said that even though Dylan’s disc was worthy enough, it failed to represent the artist’s repertoire and did not follow through with his gifts. This first album was done with such impatience. The sound, the words, the melodies, all wrong. Not enough albums were sold to say this man was the best. Dylan takes a start on his album making with the attitude of folk tradition, artistic ownership, originality, love, and theft. Hammond saw this as effective if it were done in the right way. He moves onto arranging Man of Constant Sorrow, Gospel Plow, and In my Time of Dying. His success with these records comes from the blues take. He provides his listeners with a natural, effortless attack on the songs. Released on May 27th,1963, Bob comes out with another album called The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan. This is Bob Dylan’s first masterpiece. Bob creates a very original, creative album in which he recorded by himself. He uses political, social, philosophical, and literary influences to give consumers a new outlook on music. This is mainly when Dylan begins to incorporate not just musical settings into his songs, but poetry. Dylan allows young people of this time to hear positive, encouraging stories through his music. Dylan is also known as a storyteller. His music is so powerful and full of information about our world, kids’ lives, future, and even past accomplishments. As a literature teacher from a university state in Music Lyrics Poetry Language: A Conversation about Bob Dylan and His Nobel Prize, Poetry is literature( Music 0:11:42).
Bob Dylan wrote his own book from his own perspective on his Nobel Prize-winning in the year 2016 and how he believes he got there. He starts with Buddy Holly who Bob sees himself in. He died when Bob was eighteen, but Bob saw a resemblance within them two. Buddy played country-western, rock n roll, and rhythm and blues. Yes, these are three separate strands of music, but somehow, someway, Buddy intertwined all three into one. Bob looked up to Buddy as this poetic master. He realized Buddy wrote his own songs and saw his chance to be the next Holly. Bob speaks about his understanding of the rhetoric sounds. He understood how to use these in his lyrics before anything else. This was perhaps his biggest gift. The folk vocabulary was actually all Bob knew to write, so he stuck with that. Just like Bob was inspired to write his lyrics with such poetry, he too inspires many young songwriters today. Bob Dylan really referred back to his grammar school learnings in his book The Nobel Lecture. He states Don Quixote, Ivanhoe, Robinson Crusoe, Gulliver’s Travel, all the rest- typical grammar school reading that gave you a way of looking at life, an understanding of human nature, and a standard to measure things by(6). Bob reflects back to a hard, devastating chapter of his life to incorporate something not many know how to do in their music and that is poetry. Poetry is literary work in which special intensity is given to the expression of feelings and ideas by the use of distinctive style and rhythm; poems collectively or as a genre of literature. Along with his poetic take on his folk music he also incorporates electric instruments into his music for the first time in 1965 for his album Bringing It All Back Home. So now, with his electronic instruments and poetic lyrics, we have a new Bob Dylan.
Bringing all thanks to Buddy Holly, Bob Dylan shows his audience a new perspective on lyrics. Bob uses a book that has stuck with him throughout his life called Moby Dick to explain his reasoning for poetry in his lyrics. The book uses lots of dramatic dialogue. The use of poetry creates a song on Dylan’s lyrics by explaining experience and how it can be different for everyone. Not all of Dylan’s songs may make sense to you, but indeed to someone else they do. Working with poetry makes it easy for Bob to move in everyone’s lives. One person hears it one way and the next hears the words a different way reflecting their life in a much different manner. As spoken about in the article Bob Dylan, the author states, Dylan added increasingly sophisticated lyrical techniques to the folk music of the early 60s, infusing it “with the intellectualism of classic literature and poetry(Bob 10). A couple of examples of some of his most poetic lyrics would be: Blowin in the wind, The times they are a-changing, It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding), and Desolation Row (1965). In blowing in the wind he sings about the anti-war movements. In times they are A-changing, he sings strictly in protest to the ones who look down on the way the youngs are living. His protesting lyrics hold lots of poetry containing lots of rhythms. His song It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding) is also a protest song. Lastly, Desolation Row is a song containing lyrics about his hometown. This is an epic eleven-minute song about his hometown’s strengths and weaknesses; where he came from. From his first work of poetry in his father’s day gift to his dad to his albums containing poetry in all songs, he continues to work up to his fame. Dylan’s music began to show on movie soundtracks. To start the new millennium, He wins an oscar for Times are changing.
The poetic lyrics didn’t just give Bob fame but also gave the people listening to a new and inspiring way to hear music. Examples of some poetic lyrics are Cinderella, she seems so easy. It takes one to know one, she smiles
And puts her hands in her back pockets
Bette Davis style
And in comes Romeo, he’s moaning
You Belong to Me I Believe
And someone says You’re in the wrong place my friend
You better leave
And the only sound that’s left
After the ambulances go
Is Cinderella sweeping up
On Desolation Row. For this, he used long rhymes in groupings of twos. Most people listen to music, not the actual words. Although, once poetry and meaningful words are added into the mix we begin to listen. Bob Dylan understood this at a very young age and knew exactly how to incorporate what the people wanted to hear. From such a young age, Bob performs such an advanced technique. All of his fame in using his poetry learned from elementary readings leads up to a very important part of his life. In 2016 Bob was the Nobel Prize for literature. We can trace this achievement back to his beginning years when John Hammond takes him under his wings. After creating his first flunk album, he didn’t give up. Bob notices a deficiency in lyrics from other songwriters where he knows he can produce something new and exciting, so he does it.
In the article Bob Dylan, the author includes many achievements from his career. The biggest impact Bob had on Rock n Roll music was his ability to include an entire story with poetic lyrics from past literature into a matter of four minutes. He influenced many artists like Jimi Hendrix. In his song All Along the Watchtower, he uses expressive lyrics. He is known as a very important figure in Rock history not only for his poetic, meaningful lyrics but for the actual meaning behind the songs. He took a desperate time and made it encouraging to his audience. Through the tough life he lived, in a time of hardship, he preaches in his songs about living in the moment and taking life day by day. Bob even influences young kids by singing about living how you want to live, not how our family believes we should. Bob really reached out to the younger, more rebellious crowds.
Though Bob Dylan goes through a rougher, tougher life in his beginning years, an outstanding producer picks him up to create a star. Bob’s home life with his musically talented family background, opens the gate to an incredible light for Bob’s future. His poetic lyrics show a new perspective on how to take a story within itself to meet the different needs of different people. His talent started from a young age and escalated to a dream of his. He saw the struggles every day his family went through to provide for their family and took action to make his life much more accommodating to his life and maybe his future life.
Bob Dylan today is seventy-seven years old with seven children. Melancholy is one of Bob’s newest songs, composed in 2016. With his impact on rock music, we can call him the inventor of Folk-Rock. With Dylan’s twist to lyrics, by adding poetry, audiences receive a fresh and exciting new way to listen to music; and not just new ways to listen, but Dylan was effective in encouraging young songwriters with new content.