Bob Dylan at 70: What makes him a living legend?

Bob Dylan Bob Dylan's hits include Blowin' in the Wind and Like a Rolling Stone

There's lots of Bob Dylan stuff about to cash in on/celebrate his 70th birthday. Some is eulogistic, some salacious and some critical.

You will have seen and heard plenty by now. But if you missed this short piece from Cerys Matthews on Radio 4's Archive Hour, I think it's worth a listen (about 15 minutes in).

I wonder what the man himself makes of it all? I wonder if he can even remember Robert Zimmerman?

As a young artist, did he realise that once you publish or perform your work it is no longer your own? That it is the public who gets to decide not only the merits of your efforts, but what your work means.

And the public decided in 1960s that Bob Dylan's work meant he was more than a singer-songwriter, that he was something nearing a prophet: a man of uncommon wisdom and insight. Society needs heroes and leaders and had chosen Bob for the job.

Which makes being a singer-songwriter a lot harder. Every song, every utterance; every decision is judged in an altogether different light.

Bob Dylan's drug addiction was revealed in an interview from the 1960s

It must be creatively stifling and personally very annoying. But he has managed. And probably recognises that there is something about him that is very easy for the public to romanticise.

He has a clear and distinct voice - very direct and rhythmic. Read his memoir Chronicles and hear him talk just to you.

The biographic doc No Direction Home consists of little more than a headshot of Dylan speaking and some archive footage but it is compelling.

I think it is because Bob Dylan is able to create an illusion of intimacy in a way few others can. Add to that his remarkable charisma, a slight air of vulnerability and an inclination to stick it to "the Man" and you have an icon of the age who has achieved the unusual status of becoming a living legend.

Will Gompertz Article written by Will Gompertz Will Gompertz Arts editor

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  • rate this

    Comment number 22.

    5 best songs? Surely impossible to pick 5 from such a great canon... however tonight mine are

    MrTambourine Man
    Tangled up in Blue
    Don't Think Twice, It's Alright
    It's All Over Now, Baby Blue
    Chimes of Freedom

    In an hour it will be different because I will be, and he understands that... That;'s why we love him. He knows - with a capital K

  • rate this

    Comment number 21.

    Probably the 5 best studio recordings by Dylan:

    *Blind Willie McTell - 1983 full band version of the 'Infidels' outtake
    Up To Me - 1974 outtake from 'Blood On The Tracks'
    Idiot Wind - 1974 recording on 'Blood On The Tracks'
    *Hurricane - 1975 original version for 'Desire' shelved for legal reasons
    *Caribbean Wind - 1981 early version of the 'Shot of Love' outtake

    * not officially released

  • rate this

    Comment number 20.

    The blonde one was called "Freedom"
    And the dark one was called "Enterprise"

  • rate this

    Comment number 19.

    Things Have Changed
    Lily, Rosemary & The Jack Of Hearts
    Desolation Row
    Most Of The Time
    I'm Not There (1956)

    That's mine for today. Tomorrow it'll be different.

  • rate this

    Comment number 18.

    Top 5 songs ? That's a tough question.

    Idiot Wind
    Series of Dreams
    Sad eyed lady of the lowlands
    Like a rolling stone
    The times they are a changing.

    Could be a list. But it leaves out about 100 songs that also deserve to make the cut. Why no "Lily, Rosemary & the jack of hearts" you might say. No Blowing in the wind ? No Tambourine man. No Jokerman. Should all be there - and more.

  • rate this

    Comment number 17.

    And still they complain about Dylan live.

    Dylan doesn't do a dancing talent show, or costume changes, or fireworks.A concert at the O2 without those things will seem flat-huge venue,band a long long way away.

    That's hardly Dylan's fault though, is it ? He currently suits a venue of ~5,000 but if 18,000 people want to buy tickets then he'll go with it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 16.

    I've loved Bob Dylan since 1963. Kris Kristofferson's show was great. You either understand Bob Dylan or you don't. He is a genius. He has Vision, Sensitivity, Timing, Phrasing. There are no shutters on his mind, no blinkers on his thoughts. As a prophet he is hated and feared. He knows that richness of spirit is far superior to worldly success, but also that poverty and hunger are inadmissible x

  • rate this

    Comment number 15.


    Isn't it more like 'I wasn't alive when the phone was invented, but it's a useful invention, I just don't use one.'

  • rate this

    Comment number 14.

    I went to see him live at the O2 a couple of years back.

    An 'interesting' experience - Seemed to me that he was either having a VERY in joke with his besotted fans or couldn't be bothered.

    He's produced some iconic songs, but he's always been a better writer than performer, imo.

  • rate this

    Comment number 13.

    I wasn't there in the 60s but I love what he does. To me that's the same as saying I wasn't alive when the phone was invented so I don't use one.

  • rate this

    Comment number 12.

    11 DJ

    'sang flat'... That was the point. He wasnt crooning.

  • rate this

    Comment number 11.

    Maybe you had to be there in the 60s to understand Bob Dylan's appeal: to me he just sang flat.

  • rate this

    Comment number 10.

    Happy Birthday Bob

  • rate this

    Comment number 9.

    Ironic to see the BBC using stills taken at Dylan's June 1965 BBC TV shows to illustrate his birthday. I believe the video tapes of this were erased at the insistence of Dylan's manager after the BBC2 repeats and so only off-air audio tapes exist. Yet another great lost artefact and the electronic equivalent of a book-burining!

  • rate this

    Comment number 8.

    BBC radio coverage of BD's place in popular culture has been and continues to be fantastic. Will points out Archive Hour Dylan and Me and this was superb. But why does he signal out Cerys Mathews above all the other excellent contributions? Just to resurrect the plagiarist gossip the goes around? I suggest critics study the history of traditional folk and blues to see how it evolves over time.

  • rate this

    Comment number 7.

    Obviously PaulZM knows nothing of music and Dylan's place in popular culture. I get sick to death of whinging observers who consider their opinion means anything to anybody.

  • rate this

    Comment number 6.

    He is one of the last, if not the last, and a good job too. It's time we grew up, intellectually, in our hero placing endeavours; it's pop music; light entertainment; red nosed men with long feet; the proverbial bladder on a stick. I'm confident he'd be the first to agree.... if not, he's not the man for me.

  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    BD: the biggest example ever of Emperor's New Clothes. Middle class Jewish Boy, Robert Zimmerman, basically pasted Woody Guthrie's sound and personality onto himself. Yes a handful of good songs, but a wealth of dirges. Rubbish, mannered voice. A complete fake. And not that nice a piece of work on top.

  • rate this

    Comment number 4.


  • rate this

    Comment number 3.

    The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan was released the year I was born and even now his early music still carries so much weight. Right the way through to the new stuff he's turning out now (Nettie Moore, Thunder on the Mountain and Working Man's Blues #2) this guy is so the real deal. A absolute genius - if you ever doubted it just listen to "Last Thoughts on Woody Guthrie"


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