Happy Birthday to Bob Dylan, the voice of his generation, who celebrates his 80th birthday today (May 24th)!!! Dylan made history this year when sold his entire music publishing catalogue to Universal Music Publishing Group (UMPG) for an estimated $400 million. The catalogue of over 600 songs spans a full 60 years up through Dylan’s most recent album, 2020’s Rough And Rowdy Ways.
Dylan’s artwork will have its first U.S. exhibition, titled Retrospectrum, beginning on November 30th at Florida International University. The university’s Patricia & Phillip Frost Art Museum “will feature more than 120 of Dylan’s paintings, drawings, and sculptures spanning six decades. The exhibit will be on view through April 17th, 2022.”
Rolling Stone reported: “During the exhibit’s opening week, the Wolfsonian Public Humanities Lab, FIU’s humanities and arts hub, will present DYLAN@FIU, a symposium exploring Bob Dylan’s career and cultural influence, timed to coincide with Miami Art Week.”
Dylan’s previous exhibition, The Drawn Blank Series, opened in 2007 in Chemnitz, Germany. Retrospectrum was initially created for its premiere showing in 2019 at Shanghai, China’s Modern Art Museum.
Last year saw the release of the copyright release The Bob Dylan — 50th Anniversary Collection 1970. The triple-disc set features material recorded during and around Dylan’s legendary New Morning album — including his heavily bootlegged May 1st, 1970 session with George Harrison on lead guitar.
Each year, Dylan — and several other major artists — bypass European copyright law by laying claim on the recordings as they fall out of copyright. The copyright law was amended in 2011 from 50 years to 70 years, protecting recordings issued post-1963 until 2033.
Back in November, collection of Dylan’s unpublished song lyrics and other items were sold at auction. The collection was owned by late-American blues artist Tony Glover, who died in 2018 and was a close friend of Bob Dylan’s. Items were sold as individual lots, with a majority of the key pieces going to an unidentified bidder.
Included were Dylan’s musings of anti-Semitism as well as Glover’s 1971 interviews with Dylan and letters the two exchanged. The interviews reveal that Dylan had anti-Semitism on his mind when he changed his name from Robert Zimmerman, and that he wrote “Lay Lady Lay” for Barbra Streisand.
Glover and Dylan broke into music in the same Minneapolis coffeehouse scene. Glover’s widow, Cynthia Nadler, put the documents up for auction online and they sold for $495,000.
In June 2020, Dylan released his 39th studio set — and first new album in eight years — titled Rough And Rowdy Ways.
During a chat with 60 Minutes, Bob Dylan tried to explain how his early songs were constructed: “My stuff were songs, y’know, they weren’t sermons. They came out of the folk music realm, but it’s also done with a rhythm and a certain type of poetic nuance that I don’t know how I derived that.”
Dylan has been self-producing his albums for over a two decades. He told us that after years of working with assorted producers, he feels that they all simply found it too difficult separating his new music from the legend of “Dylan”: “Well, usually when it come to me, whoever is operating the controls is just thinking ‘This is a ‘Bob Dylan’ record, this is a ‘Bob Dylan’ song.’ So, they’re not thinking about what I particularly sound like. And one person who was working with me earlier on did a whole entire record with me and realized that he used the wrong mics on me, and for a variety of reasons.”
Bob Dylan, who still dips heavily into his backlog of 1960’s and ’70s tunes during his shows, was asked about the composition of his groundbreaking work across his first two decades as a songwriter: “There’s a magic to that and it’s not Siegfried & Roy-kinda magic, y’know, and it’s a different kind of a penetrating magic. And, y’know, I did it. . . I did it at one time.”
Rolling Stone magazine’s Austin Scaggs — the son of Boz Scaggs — says that the constantly touring Dylan is just as mysterious today as he was 60 years ago: “I don’t think he travels with family. I think he has that bus all to himself. I think inside the bus, I think he has books, he has a typewriter, he has some sort of outlet to listen to music. I think he’s constantly listening to new music, or old music. But who knows? What does he do all day? Does he work on the next volume of his book? Does he write new songs?”
Peter Yarrow of Peter, Paul & Mary says that in 1964, when Dylan abandoned political subjects to write relationship-based material, he did so with the blessing of most of the folk scene: “We had our own feelings about it, certainly. But an artist must do what he must do or she must do, and Bobby Dylan of course is famous for his continuing to change his perspective.”
In the mid-’60s, Dylan cut three of rock n’ roll’s most important albums: 1965’s Bringing It All Back Home and Highway 61 Revisited, and 1966’s Blonde On Blonde. These albums, which comprise his “electric period,” built upon his romantic songs, added blues backing, and featured lyrics that were far beyond the norm in popular music, blending images and telling stories in abstract detail.
In the 1995 Beatles Anthology series, the group discussed Dylan, who went from being a major influence to a personal friend: “(Paul McCartney): He was our idol. (Ringo Starr) Bob was. . . Bob was our hero. (George Harrison): Not an idol, but we just heard his record, as I said, we listened to his album and it really gave us a buzz and we played it constantly, over and over and over again. (Ringo Starr): I mean, I heard of Bob through John. (George Harrison): I think it was Freewheelin.‘ (John Lennon) We love Bob Dylan.”
Although John Lennon was the first Beatle to dabble in marijuana back in the band’s early days in Hamburg, Germany, Dylan holds the distinction for properly turning the “Fab Four” on to pot on upon their meeting on August 28th, 1964 at Manhattan’s Delmonico Hotel. The summit followed the Beatles’ first proper New York City concert at the Forest Hills Tennis Stadium. Paul McCartney still considers the meeting among the most important of his life: “We had a crazy party the night we met. I went around — I thought I got the meaning of life that night. I went around trying to find our roadie — ‘Mal! Mal! Get a pencil and a paper! I’ve got it! I’ve got it!’ And Mal, of course was a bit out of it, he couldn’t fond a pencil and a paper anywhere — but eventually at the end of the evening he found it and I wrote down my message for the universe. And I said, ‘Now keep that! Keep that in your pocket!’ And Mal did (laughs) and the next morning, he said, ‘Hey Paul, you wanna see that?’ I said, ‘What?’ He said, ‘That bit of paper.’ I said, ‘Oh, yeah!’ And I’d written — ‘There are seven levels.’”
George Harrison, who went on to become Bob Dylan’s bandmate in the Traveling Wilburys, caught Bob Dylan’s May 26th, 1966 show at London’s Royal Albert Hall along with the rest of the “Fab Four,” and he recalled the scene that night: “The show was in two halves and the first half, he came out and did his usual thing with the guitar and the harmonica. And then, on the second half, he came out with the Band. Now, we knew this was gonna happen anyway, but most of the audience in the Albert Hall were. . . they were kind of disturbed. Y’know, a lot of them were, like, really uptight, ’cause they were, like, ‘Hey, he’s forsaken the folk. . .’ — y’know? But Bob just came out and said, ‘Well, y’all may know this song, um, remember how it goes? Well, it here’s how it goes now!‘ (Laughs) And they just went off wailing. Y’know, it was good. It was a great show — I mean, ragged, but, y’know, that is the nature of Bob.”
Although Bruce Springsteen was aware of Bob Dylan through covers of his songs by the Byrds, Sonny & Cher, Peter, Paul, & Mary, and the Turtles — he didn’t personally hear Dylan until he went electric: “I didn’t hear all the early Bob Dylan records. I first heard Bob when he was on Top 40 radio — so, that must’ve been 1964, ’65. And it was ‘Like A Rolling Stone,’ so that, that changed my life.”
The Band‘s Robbie Robertson talked in-depth to us about the group’s two-month, 40-date 1974 North American tour with Bob Dylan. He told us that both the Band and Dylan never forgot that the same fans clamoring for tickets had originally labeled Dylan a traitor for abandoning acoustic folk music during their first go-’round together back in 1965 and ’66: “Bob hadn’t been out there touring, or anything in eight years, and we had something in mind. There was an irony that the last time we had played together on a tour, people booed us everywhere we played. It was just part of the ritual, almost. Now, we get together again a few years later, we go out and play and everybody’s — ‘Yeah! It’s great. I knew it all along.’ And I’m thinking to myself: No, no, no, no — that’s not what happened.”
Elvis Costello first saw Bob Dylan play live in June 1978 in Los Angeles, and remembers being impressed that he was playing yet-to-be released music alongside his well known material: “The Street Legal tour — that’s the first time I ever saw him perform. I saw him two nights and the show was largely the same, which it never is now. He was reinventing some of the songs but he had a huge band, which was a shock. I loved it because he was also playing a lot of unreleased songs. He was playing all of the Street Legal songs before the record was on the street. So that’s always a thrilling thing, I think, when the artist has the confidence to do that. You don’t hear it so much in the modern day, mainly because of the Internet — that’s one of the down sides of the Internet’s existence. I think it’s discouraged a lot of recording artists from ever playing new material until its ever available on record, because they feel it’s going to get (laughs) stolen away from them.”
Bob Dylan was one of Jackson Browne‘s primary childhood influences, with his early folk era having a major effect on his life and art: “When I first heard Bob Dylan, I was walking through my living room and I was probably about 12. And there was this goofy guy sitting there on the edge of a stage singing. . . and a couple of years later I really got into him. But I was looking at him, it was this afternoon TV program that my dad. . . and I stood there and said, ‘Wow, what’s that?’ And he said, ‘That is the real deal. That right there — I knew guys in the army that sounded just like that. Whoever he is, that’s like really genuine. All kinds of people in this country sing just like he’s singing right now.’”
John Mellencamp told us that opening for Bob Dylan on tour back in 2009 left an indelible mark on him and the way in which he goes about touring these days: “Y’know, it’s pretty loose. It’s not really a ‘rock show’ — y’know what I’m saying? It’s about songwriting and it’s a lot looser than shows I had done in the past when it was me in an arena, or me in a shed where it’s, like, people expect a performance. I’ve learned a lot by doing so many shows with Dylan, because Bob is pretty much. . . he’s really in the moment.”
Byrds co-founder Roger McGuinn has recorded and performed numerous times with Dylan over the years and told us that above all else, he rates Dylan as one of rock’s greatest poets: “I’ve always admired Bob’s work, and we’ve gotten along well over the years. I think Bob’s most admirable quality is his sense of songwriting ability, his lyrics. I’ve compared him to Shakespeare.”
Yes‘ Steve Howe recalled the moment that Bob Dylan’s music first became a part of his life: “I heard the album The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, and that, to me, was. . . I heard his singing and his playing and I suppose it was ‘Blowin’ In The Wind,’ I think that’s the first track on the album. From that moment onwards until now. . . I find his music, I just go back to it at different times.”
Chrissie Hynde of the Pretenders just released her Dylan covers collection, Standing In The Doorway: Chrissie Hynde Sings Bob Dylan. She told us that even today, Bob Dylan remains peerless: “Dylan, he’s just the greatest songwriter of all time, I think. You could do album after album of his songs. I mean, there’s so many of his songs that I’d like to do. I could just keep doing them.”
Pete Townshend explained that it was Bob Dylan’s work during the first half of the 1960’s that changed all his preconceived notions of songwriting upon first listen: “I suddenly realized after listening to Bob Dylan, that the song that I had written, which was ‘I can’t explain,’ y’know, to the prettiest girl in the class — ‘I love you, but I can’t explain, ‘cause I’m too shy’ — that this song was actually about being inarticulate. It was a song about being unable to explain what you felt. And he was the guy that changed the way that we used the pop lyric. He was the guy that really said, ‘You can write a song about nuclear fallout — and it can still be fun. Y’know, it’s a bizarre notion. That’s basically what happened.”
Among Bob Dylan’s legion of die-hard fans is Who frontman, Roger Daltrey, who’s game for whatever direction Dylan chooses to take: “I’m a Bob Dylan fanatic. He never ceases to surprise, and he matures with such grace and dignity.”
It’s been nearly 35 years since Bob Dylan joined the Grateful Dead for a string of summer stadium gigs back in 1987. Dead drummer Mickey Hart remembers that it also took a while for Dylan to warm up to the band on a social level: “Dylan — he was a wonderful fella, I really like him. At first he was very quiet, he didn’t say much in rehearsal. Jerry (Garcia) said, ‘Leave him alone, y’know, let him be. He’ll come around.’ And then one day he sat down by me on a couch while I was watching a baseball game and we just started talking sports or something. And once he felt non-threatened and at ease, he was a bright charming wonderful person to be around.”
Bob Dylan’s youngest son, musician Jakob Dylan, told us that he was incredibly impressed with the way his dad went about telling his story in his 2004 memoir, Chronicles: “He kind of invented, it seemed to me, like a whole new — I mean, I guess it technically is an autobiography, but it’s not one of those typical books where it goes from some guy talking about how his mother treated him when he was little and then the fallout, and then the drugs. He was able to find a way to not make it that kind of book, which, kind of a bizarre genre I think he kind of invented that caught people off guard.”