Bob Dylan: Master poet and social critic

Bob Dylan

In 2016 American songwriter, singer and writer Bob Dylan received the Nobel Prize in Literature. He was lauded “for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition.” Responses to the announcement ranged from sarcasm to enthusiasm. His accomplishments as a recording artist and performer have been central to his career but it is his song writing that is considered his greatest contribution.

Dylan was born Robert Zimmerman on May 24, 1941 but legally changed his name to Robert Dylan in 1962. He has been influential in popular culture for more than five decades with the main body of his most celebrated work dating from the 1960s when his songs addressed pressing social issues. Between 1964 and 1966 he created a body of work that remains unique.

Early songs such as “Blowin’ in the Wind” and “The Times They Are a-Changin” became anthems for the Civil Rights and anti-war movements in the 1960s. “Like a Rollin Stone”, recorded in 1965. marked Dylan’s departure from acoustic folk and blues music to a more rock based sound and the use of electric instruments for the first time. Over the decades he has explored traditions in song ranging from folk, blues and country to gospel and rock’n’roll.

With Dylan it’s all about the lyrics which incorporate political, social, philosophical and literary influences and appealed to an expanding counter culture. The rough, gravely edge of his singing was unsettling for some but a great attraction to others with his mixture of moral authority and nonconformity probably being the most timely of his attributes.

He’s published Tarantula, a work of prose poetry along with several books of his art. Sales of more than 100 million records make him one of the best selling artists of all time. Dylan’s received numerous awards including eleven Grammys and been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Rolling Stone ranked him at number one in its 2015 list of “The 100 Greatest Songwriters of All time.”

The critical consensus that Dylan’s songwriting was his outstanding creative achievement was articulated by Encyclopaedia Britannica where his entry states: “Hailed as the Shakespeare of his generation, Dylan…set the standard for lyric writing.”

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