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The East German Secret Police described him as “one of the so-called old masters of rock,” whose music has “no particular relevance for today’s youth.”[2] Yet fifty years after the January 13, 1964, release of “The Times They Are a-Changin’,” Bob Dylan [1] is still going strong.

The album was created at the height of the Civil Rights Movement, for which Dylan intended the title song as a kind of anthem. Recording sessions began on August 8, 1963. Later that month, Dylan performed with Joan Baez at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. By the time the album was released, Kennedy had been assassinated, and the Civil Rights Act was stalled in Congress.

By January 1964, Dylan had moved on, musically. He was actively transitioning from folk to rock and roll. Inspired by the Beatles, he rented his first electric guitar. But he changed too quickly for some of his fans, who didn’t want the solo folk singer to “go electric” or perform with a back-up band. Dylan’s fans would soon catch up with him, however, as other artists echoed his musical call.

It is not hyperbole to say that Bob Dylan has left his mark on the major political events of the past 50 years.

In September 1987, three months after President Reagan compelled Mr. Gorbachev to “tear down this wall,” Dylan became the first American rocker to perform in East Berlin. His historic performance behind the fraying Iron Curtain paved the way for the 1988 Springsteen concert that some believe contributed to the fall of the Berlin Wall.[3]

Fourteen years after East Berlin, Dylan’s album “Love and Theft” was – by sheer coincidence – released on the day of the September 11th terrorist attacks. Once again, Dylan’s innate understanding of pain and suffering resonated with listeners around the world, as we struggled to make sense of a new reality.[4] “Love and Theft” would become the most popular album of post-9/11 Europe. “Rolling Stone” would proclaim it “album of the year.”[5]

Fast forward to 2013. Fifty years after the March on Washington, the first African-American President of the United States is into his second term of office.

Barack Obama, by the way, is a fan of Bob Dylan. In May 2012 he presented Dylan with the Presidential Medal of Freedom,[6] adding to the numerous awards with which Dylan has been honored over the years, most recently the French Legion of Honor Award.[7] Further evidence that, while the times may have changed, Dylan’s influence remains constant.

In a culture obsessed with novelty, youth, and beauty, Dylan’s staying power across more than five decades is a testament to his brilliance. The crinkles in his perpetually questioning brow have become permanent. And his voice? Writer Joyce Carol Oates has described it as “if sandpaper can sing.”[8] Enough said.

Yet something about this weathered Renaissance man keeps us coming back for more. Like all true genius, Dylan’s creativity is limited only by his imagination. He is at once philosopher, poet, musician, writer, social and political commentator, and visual artist. When Dylan lets his talent out to play, there’s no telling where it will take him – or us.

Bob Dylan is now inspiring new generations, as they discover him through new music distribution channels. In the age of immediate gratification, we have instant access to him via MP3 downloads. We can watch excerpts from his concerts on We can take him with us wherever we go.

Want to know more about Bob Dylan and his legacy? Take a stroll through ProQuest's International Index to Music Periodicals and discover what may inspire you!




[1] ALBUM REVIEWS. (1964, Feb 29). Billboard (Archive: 1963-2000), 76, 21-22, 41, 45.


[3] Kirschbaum, E. (2008, Jul 17). How the boss brought down the wall; berliners recall landmark concert 20 years later. Calgary Herald.

[4] Fricke, D. (2001, Oct 25). Shelter from the storm. Rolling Stone, 119-120.

[5] Gilmore, M. (2001, Dec). Bob dylan: An oscar, a sixtieth birthday and the year's best album. Rolling Stone, 115-116.

[6] Duncan, I. (2012, May 30). High praise from obama; the president awards the medal of freedom to singer bob dylan, labor leader dolores huerta and 10 others. Los Angeles Times.

[7] Kozinn, A. (2013, Nov 16). France honors dylan. New York Times.

[8] MacDonald, H. (2005, Jan 01). The blurb. The Herald.


Thank you to Sandra Hahn, Sr. Editor - Content Operations, ProQuest, for this article. 


14 Jan 2014 | Posted by Shannon Janeczek

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