Master poet, caustic social
critic and intrepid, guiding spirit of the counterculture generation
BY JAY COCKS
was born with a snake above his fist while a hurricane was blowing.
You must know that. Know the fact, or the music, or the truth
inside the mythology, spun from roots by his rough magic into cloth
of gold, into songs that are the shifting, stormy center of American
popular music in the second part of the very century when the music
Bob Dylan couldn't wait for the music to change. He couldn't be
only part of the change. He was the change itself. The snake and the
hurricane. And you do know that. If you've been listening only in
passing, you know, among other things, that the answer's blowin' in
the wind, the times they are achangin', everybody must get stoned,
they're selling postcards of the hanging, and that to live outside
the law you must be honest. Later, listening more closely, you found
out that we're goin' all the way till the wheels fall off and burn,
that dignity's never been photographed, and that no one plays the
blues like Blind Willie McTell.
Those are legends and home truths, passed along in song, that
became part of a cultural vocabulary and an ongoing American myth.
Hundreds of songs; more than 500 and counting. Forty-three albums;
more than 57 million copies sold. A series of dreams about America
as it once and never was. It was folk music, deep within its core,
from the mountains and the delta and the blacktop of Highway 61.
Rhythm and blues, too, and juke-joint rock 'n' roll, and hymns from
backwoods churches and gospel shouts from riverside baptisms. He put
all that together, and found words to match it.