The greatest songwriter of them all, for five decades Bob Dylan has been astonishing us with his music, his poetry and his ability to reinvent himself. Born in Hibbing, Minnesota in 1941, like so many of his generation he grew up mesmerised by Elvis Presley. But he was also a boyhood fan of Hank Williams and in his teens discovered Woody Guthrie. He emerged in the early ’60s, as the new king of folk music, penning such protest songs as “Blowin’ In The Wind” and “The Times They Are A’Changin'”. Then, in 1965, he went electric, creating a revolutionary new sound, which reached its peak the following year with one of the most explosive tours in rock’n’roll history.
But with the counter-culture gathering pace and looking to Dylan for leadership, he chose to abdicate and retreated into rural seclusion in Woodstock. His albums took on a less challenging, bucolic flavour and he abandoned touring for eight years. He returned to the road in the mid-’70s and was restored to critical favour with 1975’s Blood On The Tracks.
Towards the end of the decade he become a born-again Christian and, although his new faith led to some powerful music, it angered and alienated many of his old fans.
By the mid-’80s he appeared to have lost his creative energy. But in 1988, he embarked on The Never Ending Tour, a road odyssey that has seen him averaging more than 100 live dates a year and which continues to this day. The prolific songwriting has slowed down. But 1997’s Time Out Of Mind was hailed as his strongest collection of songs since the mid-’70s and he followed equally strongly with 2001’s Love & Theft.
In 2004, he published Chronicles, the first volume in a planned three-part autobiography that found his prose style being compared by critics to the likes of Bellow and Hemingway.