Monday, January 24, 2011
Bob Dylan: He Was Young When He Left Home
Fifty years ago today, a cherubic, slightly Chaplinesque 19 year-old vagabond named Robert Zimmerman got out of a car on the George Washington Bridge in the midst of a blizzard and took a subway to Greenwich Village, after hitchhiking his way from Hibbing, Minnesota.
His first night here, he landed a folk-singing gig at the Café Wha. He slept on strangers’ couches. He changed his name to Bob Dylan.
Within months he had established himself as an up-and-comer in the burgeoning folk scene. Within a year he was signed to Columbia Records by famed talent scout John Hammond and played Carnegie Hall.
A year after that, he released his second LP, The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan and changed music with songs like "Blowin in the Wind," "Don’t Think Twice It's All Right," "Masters of War" and "A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall."
His archetype of the visionary singer-songwriiter killed the Tin Pan Alley style of song production and caught the attention of The Beatles, who would start to add more gravitas to their music. Dylan in turn, incorporated some of the Beatles’ musical inventiveness and playfulness into his own work.
Dylan’s arrival in NY wasn’t celebrated like The Beatles' 1964 arrival in NYC – or even noticed for that matter – but its impact over time was just as massive. His hitchhiking trip into NYC is a central part the Dylan legend, the American dream lived large. The power of an individual to forge their own destiny with their own voice on their own terms.
The best accounts of his early years can be found in his must-read memoir Chronicles Vol. 1 and the Martin Scorcese documentary documentary No Direction Home.
And for 47 musical documents of his early years, check out the ninth, most recent volume of the Bootleg Series: The Witmark Demos 1962-64.
Thanks, Bob - glad you made the trip.
Buy the Witmark Demos and other Dylan goodies here: