Updated: Mar 23
Nearly six decades after the release of his self-titled debut LP, American singer-songwriter, author, and visual artist Bob Dylan continues to influence pop culture in a variety of ways. With hit songs like ‘Positively Fourth Street’, ‘Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door’, and ‘Like a Rolling Stone', this revered musician did more than just define a generation.
He also served as a symbol of revolution, free speech, and, ultimately, of the many things humans are capable of achieving. For this reason, this article will dive deep into the different ways Bob Dylan has influenced the world through his work.
Melding Politics and Music in the 1960s
If there is one word that can describe the 1960s it would be ‘revolution’ — and Bob Dylan created the anthems for it.
Back then, there were a lot of things happening in the world. This includes abolishing the Jimmy Crow laws, the end of communism in Eastern Europe, and the rise of civil rights movements. Through his works that fearlessly tackled racism, poverty, war, and various forms of social injustice, Dylan became one of the faces (or shall we say, voices) of protest.
Some of his most notable protest songs include ‘Blowin' in the Wind’, ‘The Times They Are a-Changin', and ‘Master of War’. While ‘Blowin’ in the Wind’ posed a series of rhetorical questions regarding peace, freedom, and human rights, ‘Master of War’ reflected Dylan’s feelings towards the Cold War and heavily criticised American leaders and officials. On the other hand, ‘The Times They Are a-Changin' was a message to everyone who chose to ignore the serious issues society was facing back then.
In addition to his songwriting about deeply rooted societal issues, Dylan also zoomed in on specific cases where these problems were manifested. In his song ‘Hurricane’, the folk musician shed light on the story of African-American light heavyweight boxer Rubin “The Hurricane” Carter. Carter was a victim of racial profiling and was wrongfully convicted of murder. His other song 'The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll' recalled the death of 51-year-old black barmaid Hattie Carroll. Caroll was murdered by a rich, young tobacco farmer, who only received six months in jail for the heinous crime.
Going Beyond Music
As someone who refuses to be boxed into a particular category or genre, Bob Dylan’s influence goes well beyond music.
The biggest factor that sets Bob Dylan’s works apart from other rock giants like Eddie Van Halen is his lyricism. So it really isn’t surprising that he has also made a name for himself through his literature. In fact, he even won a award for his literary works before he managed to achieve a Billboard number one.
‘Murder Most Foul’, written and released just last year, finally gave Dylan the spot he has long deserved. Prior to that, he received the highly acclaimed Nobel Prize in Literature in 2016 for his compositions, according to Gala Bingo. Although the well rounded musician — the piano was actually Dylan's first instrument, though he is better known as a guitarist — was unable to personally receive his award, however the organisation happily shared Dylan’s acceptance speech with the public.
In the 27-minute address, Dylan shared how various literary works such as ‘Moby Dick’, ‘All Quiet on the Western Front’ and ‘The Odyssey’ have influenced the way he writes his songs. Aside from the Swedish award-giving body, some of the organisations that also recognised Dylan’s masterful command of the English language include the Ordre daes arts aet daes Lettres, Neustadt International Prise, and Prince of Asturias Award.
Now that more and more people are raising awareness over the sad realities that are happening all around the world, artists like Dylan who use their medium to highlight pressing issues will only continue to influence and help initiate the change this world often needs.