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Ryan McMaster Ultius Music Research Paper
18 April 2014
Bob Dylan - A Rich American Legacy
Bob Dylan's influence on American popular music has proven unquestionable since he emerged in the 1960s. As arguably the most noteworthy singer-songwriter of his generation, he wrote timeless songs touching upon the consciousness of the era. After feeling misinterpreted in intent by his audience as a voice of political protest and turbulence of the times, Dylan pursued other musical paths and eventually received a series of music lifetime achievement awards.
Bob Dylan was raised in Hibbing, Minnesota, before relocating to New York City in the early '60s to perform. He had been inspired by folk artists such as Woody Guthrie, who he befriended before his passing. His own talent soon became evident with tracks like "Blowin' in the Wind" from his second album, The Freewheelin'. Dylan became a fixture of the folk scene, playing Greenwich Village clubs and gaining support from contemporaries like Pete Seeger.
However, Bob Dylan soon became interested in taking his folk songs to a rock format with a full band. His decision to "go electric" as it has been called, cost him the favor of more staunch folk purists, but won him popularity with forward-thinking young liberals who defined the spirit of the times. This era saw him reach new peaks of popularity, including the song "Like a Rolling Stone" and the double album considered by many to be his magnum opus, Blonde on Blonde. Unfortunately, he soon after suffered a motorcycle accident, leaving him in recovery.
Dylan recuperated into 1967, recording with a music group, The Band, at a basement in West Saugerties, New York. While The Summer of Love flourished with psychedelic excess, selections of Bob Dylan and The Band's recordings later saw release as The Basement Tapes, which influenced the Americana genre of rock music. He then returned formally with his next album, John Wesley Harding, which indicated a much simpler and stripped down alternative to current trends. The artist had become uncomfortable with massive fame and the expectations of his generation. "I was sick of the way my lyrics had been extrapolated, their meanings subverted into polemics and that I had been anointed as the Big Bubba of Rebellion," the singer said, referencing themes of protest seen in his music. He instead took a laidback country rock direction, as heard on the albums Nashville Skyline and the controversial Self Portrait.
As the 70's progressed, Bob Dylan continued to offer different and other mature albums of work, with Blood on the Tracks and Desire considered highlights. The former was an album concerning troubled relationships, as his was failing at the time. His career continued into the '80s and '90s when, starting with Time Out of Mind, he began receiving yet more critical and commercial acclaim for his work. He continues to this day, as with his latest album, Tempest.
Bob Dylan's signature style includes his distinctive lyrics, which many have interpreted as poetry. Many songs contain numerous verses, as opposed to the pop standard of two or three. Other hallmarks of his music include his trademark harmonica playing and his low voice, which is considered by some to be an acquired taste. He is a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, having earned 11 Grammy Awards and has sold over 100 million albums worldwide. Today, his solid legacy has many finding it hard to imagine the national music scene without him. In 2012, President Barack Obama awarded Dylan the Presidential Medal of Freedom. The president said of him, "There is not a bigger giant in the history of American music."
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