He was born Robert Allen Zimmerman, in Duluth, Minnesota, the son of second generation Russian Jewish immigrants. He fell in love with music at an early age, and put on his first performance in high school. When the principal shut him down shortly after he started for being too loud and too strange, it only made him more determined. He was one of those rare individuals that knew exactly what he wanted to do right from the beginning, and never wavered from his course. He has never done anything but write and play music.
By the time he was 20, he had moved to New York, and changed his name. Contrary to popular myth, when Robert Zimmerman decided to become Bob Dylan, it had nothing to do with the poet Dylan Thomas. At the time he had never even heard of Dylan Thomas. He just liked the sound of the name, and initially spelled it Dillon. In later years, after becoming a fan of Dylan Thomas, he did not discourage the myth, adding it to the many that now surrounded him, and enhanced his mystique.
He worked hard, devoting all his waking hours to perfecting his craft. He paid his dues, and took his lumps. He gambled with his future, as so many idealistic youth do, but in his case it worked. And the reason it worked was due to three things. First there was his perseverance and determination that kept him going in those early years no matter how many times he was kicked in the teeth. He refused to quit. He knew his destiny.
The second thing that was in his favour was that the musical culture of the time needed someone like him. His timing was perfect.
But perhaps the most important, and yet most enigmatic factor in Bob Dylan's success was his connection with the infinite - that quasi-ethereal place where inspiration lives. Where the words and tunes and thoughts and processess that move men's hearts and minds live. The place where the Muses set up shop. The place that artists constantly strive to find, most obtaining only occasional glimpses that last just long enough for a quick burst of creativity, and it's over. But Dylan was born with a direct connection to that place, so that he was flooded with so much creativity, it was almost too much. Joan Baez, who lived with Dylan for a while, always insisted on driving, when they rode his motorcycle together, because he was too distracted, "always composing at least two or three songs in his head."
When the Cuban Missile Crisis occurred in 1963, many people thought that a nuclear war was imminent, and the destruction of the world was at hand, as well it might have been. Dylan panicked, because he was overflowing with inspiration at the time, and feared he would not have the time to write all the songs that were inside him before the world blew itself up. So, in desperation, he put all his ideas into one song, and called it A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall, one of his most powerful songs.
Dylan was no angel. His success often came at other's expense, as success usually does. He made enemies, and sometimes he hurt people. For all his gifts and powers, he was in the end just another slob on the bus, like you and I. But he was a slob that changed the world. Let there be no mistake about that. There's no telling what kind of insipid commercial crap we'd be listening to right now, if it weren't for Bob Dylan.
As Bob turned 65 last Wednesday, May 24, he was gearing up for yet another European Tour. When most people that age are putting their feet up and talking about the good old days, Bob keeps working, and sharing his music with the world, as he's been doing for the last 44 years. Thanks Bob.