by Tom Stratton

The Ever-Changing Faces of Bob Dylan

Few artists can claim to have evolved so consistently as Bob Dylan:...
The Ever-Changing Faces of Bob Dylan
With a career spanning over 60 years it’s clear that things are going to change in that time. However few artists can claim to have evolved so consistently as Bob Dylan. Both the music and his look has gone through so many incarnations it’s hard to follow. But we’ve done our best to try and pin (most of) them down. 

1962: Folk Singer/Protest Singer

A Woody Guthrie fan through and through, Bob Dylan frequently visited Woody in the hospital before he was famous and played Guthrie’s own songs to him (Guthrie was gravely ill at the time). When he entered the scene himself in 1962 there were many that dismissed him as a Guthrie-alike with his plaid shirts and corduroy caps but he would soon prove them all wrong as a flurry of creativity came over him and he wrote some of the greatest protest songs of the era. Although he would go on to claim he was never a protest singer he did sing his own song - Only a Pawn in Their Game - at the 1963 March on Washington for 200,000 Civil Rights protesters so read into that what you will.    

1965: Dylan Goes Electric!

Newport Folk Festival, 1965: Bob Dylan plays three songs with a band, an electric set no less. The folkies were outraged, booing him off stage, Pete Seeger allegedly tried to axe the speaker cables, and Dylan made history. He went on tour playing with his band and never came back the same again. Within a year he was frazzled, high on speed and whatever else he was writhing around in tight jeans, leather jacket, and sunglasses but it’s undeniable that what he produced in that time is some of the greatest music of his career. 

1967 Reclusive Family Man

It’s hard to believe Dylan is still only around 26 at time of this photo but such was his want for invention and growth that it seemed to go into everything he did. He also retreated from public life in as much as Bob Dylan can. In 1966 he had a motorcycle accident which caused him to hide away with his wife and children at his Woodstock home. The details of the motorcycle crash were vague, some questioning whether it had happened at all, but it was clear Dylan was ready to take the opportunity to be ‘normal’ for a while. 

1974 Bob Dylan & The Band 

By 1974 Dylan was ready to face the world again and recruited The Band to join him on a massive arena tour. Perhaps this was something to do with the breakdown of his marriage but at least even this event helped to bless the world with Blood on the Tracks early in ’75: the greatest breakup album ever written. By the end of 1975 he was rolling around in a caravan with a troupe of other great musicians in theatres around America, The Rolling Thunder Revue was born.

1979 Born Again 

Perhaps it was the breakdown of his marriage, maybe the burnout from touring, nobody is completely sure why, but in 1979 Dylan was born again. He started writing overtly religious songs, announced his faith every chance he got, and wrote three gospel albums: Slow Train Coming, Saved, and Shot of Love. Whatever the reason it’s probably a period best forgotten.

1983 Infidels & The Never Ending Tour

The eighties were a weird time for lots of artists, particularly for one as weird as Dylan. Lots of leather, bad albums, and a terrible performance on Live Aid in 1985 make it one of the stranger points of his career. It is notable though for the fact that, by this point, Bob was still only in his early 40s. Plus you can pretty much be forgiven anything if you wrote Like a Rolling Stone. It was also in the late eighties that Dylan began his Never Ending Tour. Talking to Pete Townshend later, he revealed why he chose to constantly be on the road (and showed he still had the spirit that made him) “I’m a folk singer, a folk singer is only as good as his memory, and my memory is going”.

1997 Another Classic

In classic Dylan fashion, in his mid 50s at this point, Dylan suddenly cracked out what is arguably his greatest album since Blood On The Track. Time Out Of Mind won not only universal acclaim but the 1997 Grammy for Album of the Year. 

00s and Beyond: No Sign of Stopping

Now, at 80 years old, the past 20 years have shown Dylan to have the same drive and need to create that he has always had. He’s released some of his best work as though age and reflection have cemented his genius. Modern Times, Tempest, and most recently Rough and Rowdy Ways all garnered acclaim from critics featuring between them a 17 minute song about the assassination of JFK and a 14 minute epic on the sinking of the Titanic. Oh, and he managed to win the Nobel Prize for Literature in between. Not bad going for a scruffy folkie who can’t sing.