Bob Dylan is not only one of the greatest musicians in rock history, he also stands for a constant questioning of his own role and position like no other. As an artist, he hides his true self behind constantly changing masks, not only trying out musical styles like clothes, but also constantly searching for a new identity to present to his audience as "Bob Dylan". On the occasion of his 80th birthday, eclipsed decided not to write another comprehensive tribute to a great career, but to go into the most important phases of his creative period one by one, because only in this way is it possible to understand this mysterious artist - who says himself in one of his most recent songs that a multitude of personalities unite in him - and his multi-layered work. In addition, we asked some great musicians, companions and a representative of the new generation of songwriters for their opinion of the jubilarian.
When Bob Dylan was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2016 - a decision that was quite controversial among experts - it not only amounted to an accolade for one of the most important musicians in rock history, it could also be seen as the crowning achievement of his life's work. Born Robert Zimmerman on 24 May 1941 in Duluth, Minnesota, he was the first artist in the 1960s to bridge the gap between popular music and modern poetry.
He began his career as a folk singer in New York's Greenwich Village artists' quarter, but the corset of the socio-political song soon seemed too tightly knit; many of his folk songs already had complex metaphors, which he owed to his intensive reading of the French Symbolists around Mallarmé, Verlaine and Rimbaud, the poems of Brecht questioning popular culture, or the classics he loved throughout his life, such as Homer. When, to the dismay of the folk scene, he then entered the stages of this world in the mid-60s with an electric guitar and an accompanying band - which, not entirely coincidentally, would shortly afterwards bear the name "The Band" - this was not simply a shift towards electrified, affect-laden music. Dylan was aware of striking a chord with youth with this sound, and unlike his contemporaries, he addressed them with encapsulated, allusive literary lyrics. This connection was unique; it equally inspired the Beatles to make a revolutionary change in their sound and established pop and rock music as a serious cultural vehicle
An artist with countless masks
Dylan himself became a superstar who tried to avoid fame by moving to the country - the town of Woodstock, soon to be famous for other reasons, seemed to offer him a good home. In the summer of 1966, he had a myth-enshrouded motorcycle accident that took him out of the picture for a year - half an eternity in the hectic '60s. After his return, in the three or four years that followed, he was first a Bible-thumping folkie, then a country singer, then a rock star again. If Dylan had caused astonishment in the 60s with that spectacular change from folk singer to rock musician, his constant image changes were suddenly the order of the day. More and more often, he was now described as an elusive artist who, before his works and actions could be properly interpreted, quickly tore the mask off his face and put on a new one. There were many masks that his audience got to see since the late 60s, and not all of them suited him well. Retrospectively, his work has been divided into periods: There was, for example, the Woodstock phase, when he played music softly in the cosy family circle in the early 70s, the much-vaunted religious phase, in which Dylan suddenly became a "born-again Christian" in 1979 after a life crisis, recorded three religiously tinged albums and toured the country with a gospel choir, or the "confused" 80s, when he barely managed to record a halfway passable album
After releasing only two simply produced records with folk traditionals and cover versions in the first half of the 90s, many already believed Bob Dylan was history. But then, in 1997, with "Time Out Of Mind", the much-vaunted late phase began, which has now lasted for over 23 years. Their creative output is in its qualitative consistency at best comparable to that of the 60s, even if in between strange seeming releases like a weirdly sung Christmas album or three albums with Great American Songbook standards tested the patience of the fans ...