About a strange young man called Dylan with a voice like sand and glue
His words of truthful vengeance, they could pin us to the floor
Brought a few more people on and put the fear in a whole lot more"
One of the most influential living songwriters in pop music, and an American cultural icon. Music critics refer to him by last name alone (sometimes even just his first name will suffice), and references to his life and career seem to pop up everywhere. Wikipedia is a great place to learn the particulars, so we'll stick to the tropetacular.
Robert Dylannote (born Robert Allen Zimmerman; May 24, 1941) was born in Duluth, Minnesota to an electrical-supplies shopkeeper and a homemaker. Growing up in Northern Minnesota's small, tight-knit Jewish community (the Zimmermans moved from Duluth to Hibbing, an hour's drive away, in 1947), young Bobby was a somewhat shy boy who showed interest in literature, art, and music. He dropped out of the University of Minnesota at Minneapolis after completing his freshman year in spring 1960, and, at the age of 19, moved to New York City the following January with a guitar, some flannel shirts, and not much else. Adapting his new surname in homage to Dylan Thomas, he performed folk songs in bohemian Greenwich Village coffee shops and bars with an affected accent, inspired by Woody Guthrie, and became a fixture of the local "folk scene"which doubled as a leftist political circle deeply interested in the Civil Rights Movement. Dylan wrote songs specifically for this group, the most famous being "Blowin' In The Wind" and "The Times They Are A-Changin'". Although these two protest songs are still his biggest claim to fame todayhe's the guy who "brought politics" into music, somehowthis "topical" phase of his career lasted little more than twelve months.
In the summer 1965, he took the stage at the Newport Folk Festival with some rock musician buddies and an electric guitar. They plugged in, played very loud rock music with crazy-ass lyrics to some angry college kids, and thereby "went electric." It was not a popular decision at the time. His image from this period is the most enduring — dark sunglasses indoors, a giant dome of frizzy hair, mod wardrobe, and baked as a Belgian waffle.
His most famous song from this "electric" period is "Like A Rolling Stone". Twice as long or loud as anything else on the radio at the time, with snarling lyrics about chrome horses and cat-loving diplomats, the song somehow rose to number two on the U.S. charts (number one was "Eve of Destruction," now widely seen as a knockoff of Dylan's style whose creator ended up as a One-Hit Wonder). It's worth noting here that he has never had a number one hit on the Billboard Hot 100, the chart of record in the United States,note almost certainly making him the most popular and influential songwriter in the entire English language with that distinction.
After a long world tour backed by what would eventually become The Band, full of combative press conferences and booing crowds, Dylan dropped off the radar in 1966, one year prior to the ''Summer of Love", in part to recover from injuries sustained during a minor motorcycle accident (debate goes on to this day as to whether Dylan faked, or at least greatly exaggerated these injuries, or even conjured the incident out of whole cloth as an excuse to disappear from the limelight for awhile). He did not perform at Woodstock (despite - or perhaps because of - the fact that it took place basically down the road from his house), and he did not protest the Vietnam War. Bob Dylan closed out the Sixties via duet with Johnny Cash. He nonetheless remains synonymous with said decade's "turbulence": Jimi Hendrix's cover of "All Along the Watchtower" plays over about 70% of all Sixties montages.
Besides "going electric", the other major moment where he rebooted his career was the "born again phase", which began with his conversion from Judaism to (Evangelical Protestant) Christianitynote in 1979. Attendant to this were some angry, but lyrically intricate, Christian Rock albums, and some audience-baiting tours where he started out only doing his newer material, to reaction that ranged from polite appreciation to outright hostility. He eventually relented and started doing a few older songs again. After a few years he returned to more secular themes, but has never quite abandoned the doomsaying street preacher point of view. On the other hand, in his personal life, he's been seen celebrating the High Holidays at various Chabad Lubavich Hasidic congregations; make of that what you will.
Dylan still records music, which people still don't really "get", and is once again sacrosanct among music critics and record store employees. As ever, this is mostly on the strength of his lyricsDylan won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2016, becoming the first songwriter to receive this honor. Nonetheless, his nasal growl of a singing voice remains a point of contention among listeners. The stock Bob Dylan joke is that nobody can understand a word he says, and he is usually depicted as talking exactly as he sings.
In December 2020, he sold his entire catalog to Universal Music Group in a deal thats estimated to be worth about $300 million, likely the biggest of its kind in history.
In addition to the Nobel Prize, he has won a Best Original Song Oscar for "Things Have Changed," the Presidential Medal Of Freedom, and a Pulitzer Prize Special Award in the Arts. Dylan was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1988 and the Songwriters Hall Of Fame in 1982, and received a Kennedy Center Honors award in 1997.
- 1962 Bob Dylan
- 1963 The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan
- 1964 The Times They Are A-Changin'
- 1964 Another Side of Bob Dylan
- 1965 Bringing It All Back Home
- 1965 Highway 61 Revisited
- 1966 Blonde on Blonde
- 1967 John Wesley Harding
- 1969 Nashville Skyline
- 1970 Self Portrait
- 1970 New Morning
- 1973 Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid
- 1973 Dylan
- 1974 Planet Waves note
- 1975 Blood on the Tracks
- 1975 The Basement Tapes note
- 1976 Desire
- 1978 Street Legal
- 1979 Slow Train Coming
- 1980 Saved
- 1981 Shot of Love
- 1983 Infidels
- 1985 Empire Burlesque
- 1986 Knocked Out Loaded
- 1988 Down in the Groove
- 1989 Oh Mercy
- 1990 Under the Red Sky
- 1992 Good as I Been to You
- 1993 World Gone Wrong
- 1997 Time Out of Mind
- 2001 Love and Theft
- 2006 Modern Times
- 2009 Together Through Life
- 2009 Christmas in the Heart
- 2012 Tempest
- 2015 Shadows in the Night
- 2016 Fallen Angels
- 2017 Triplicate
- 2020 Rough and Rowdy Ways
- 1971 The Concert for Bangladeshnote
- 1974 Before The Floodnote
- 1976 Hard Rain
- 1979 Bob Dylan at Budokan
- 1984 Real Live
- 1989 Dylan and the Deadnote
- 1993 The 30th Anniversary Concert Celebrationnote
- 1995 MTV Unplugged
- 1985 Biograph
- 1991 The Bootleg Series Vol. 13 - Rare and Unreleased 19611991
- 1998 The Bootleg Series Vol. 4 - Bob Dylan Live 1966, The "Royal Albert Hall" Concert
- 2001 Live 19612000: Thirty-Nine Years of Great Concert Performances
- 2002 The Bootleg Series Vol. 5 - Bob Dylan Live 1975, The Rolling Thunder Revue
- 2004 The Bootleg Series Vol. 6 - Bob Dylan Live 1964, Concert At Philharmonic Hall
- 2005 Live at the Gaslight 1962
- 2005 Live at Carnegie Hall 1963
- 2005 The Bootleg Series Vol. 7 - No Direction Home: The Soundtrack
- 2008 The Bootleg Series Vol. 8 - Tell Tale Signs: Rare and Unreleased 19892006
- 2010 The Bootleg Series Vol. 9 - The Witmark Demos 19621964
- 2011 In Concert - Brandeis University 1963
- 2013 The Bootleg Series Vol. 10 - Another Self Portrait
- 2014 The Bootleg Series Vol. 11 - The Basement Tapes Complete
- 2015 The Bootleg Series Vol. 12 - The Cutting Edge 19651966
- 2016 The 1966 Live Recordings
- 2017 The Bootleg Series Vol. 13 - Trouble No More 19791981
- 2018 The Bootleg Series Vol. 14 - More Blood, More Tracks
- 2019 The Bootleg Series Vol. 15 - Travelin' Thru 1967-1969 (featuring Johnny Cash)
- 2021 - The Bootleg Series Vol. 16 - Springtime In New York 1980-1985
Bob Dylan in film:
- Don't Look Back (1967) (documentary of Dylan's 1965 British tour)
- Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid (1973) (Dylan composed the soundtrack and acted in a supporting role)
- Renaldo and Clara (1978) (Directed by Dylan himself, this is a combination of a concert movie and a fictional narrative. Dylan and his wife Sara play the title roles.)
- The Last Waltz (1978) (Directed by Martin Scorsese, farewell concert of The Band; Dylan makes a memorable appearance near the end.)
- No Direction Home (2005) (a comprehensive, 3 1/2 hour documentary on Dylan's life and career directed by Martin Scorsese).
- I'm Not There (2007) (A very unusual biopic, in which seven different actors play different characters based on Dylan in different parts of his life)
- Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story: Another documentary also directed by Martin Scorsese, produced by Netflix, released in 2019. This one features Scorsese himself interviewing Dylan.
Subterranean Homesick Tropes
- After the End: "Talkin' World War III Blues" from The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan plays it for Black Comedy.
- Ambiguously Christian: While his "born-again" phase is considered a thing of the past, he has dropped some vague hints in interviews that he is still a practicing Christian. The 2012 album Tempest notably contains the most references to Christianity since Shot of Love, the album that concluded his born-again trilogy, with many of them surprisingly Catholic in tone ("I can hear a sweet voice gently calling. Must be the Mother of Our Lord"). For the 2018 Christmas season, he briefly displayed a Nativity scene (an inflatable one) in front of his house.
- Applied Mathematics: "Love Minus Zero/No Limit" from Bringing It All Back Home is an equation. "Love - 0 / ∞"
- Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking: "Shot of Love" from Shot Of Love.Why would I want to, take your life, you've only murdered my father, raped his wife, tattooed my babies with a poisoned pen, mocked my God, humiliated my friend.
- Artist and the Band: He has played with The Band (who served as a backing band) on stage in the mid-sixties and seventies. Their first concerts were billed as Bob Dylan & The Band, and the 1975 album The Basement Tapes was also credited in that manner (with Dylan writing a majority of the songs though you could also call it an album by The Band).
- A Storm Is Coming: So many songs, but most notably "A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall", "All Along The Watchtower", "The Times They Are A-Changin'", "Blowin' In The Wind", "Shelter From The Storm", "When The Ship Comes In" and "Subterranean Homesick Blues".
- As the Good Book Says...: There have been books written about the use of Biblical allusions in his songs. Suffice it to say, between studying with a rabbi for his bar mitzvah when he was 13, to converting to Christianity in his 30s, Dylan knows his Hebrew and Christian Bibles well.
- Awesome McCoolname: Judas Priest from "The Ballad of Frankie Lee and Judas Priest" from John Wesley Harding. So awesome that this one heavy metal band took the name for itself.
- Ballad of X: "Ballad of a Thin Man", "Ballad of Hollis Brown", "Ballad of Frankie Lee and Judas Priest".
- The Band Minus the Face: Dylan's mid-60's touring band would go on to considerable success in their own right as, well, The Band.
- The Beat Generation: Dylan has listed Kerouac among his influences and actually became close friends with Allen Ginsberg.
- Big "NO!": Played for Laughs (probably) in "In Search Of Little Sadie"
- Blackface: He never donned it directly, but rather wore ironic white-face make-up during the Rolling Thunder Revue. He has also been open about the influence of minstrelsy on his music, including naming his album Love and Theft after Eric Lott's academic book Love and Theft: Blackface Minstrelsy and the American Working Class. A minstrel named Oscar Vogel appears in Masked and Anonymous, and he mentions a "blackface singer"in "Murder Most Foul".
- Blasé Boast: Played for Laughs (probably) by the concert introduction he used for years, starting in 2002. It was adapted from a paragraph in an article about him in a Buffalo, New York newspaper. Dylan apparently either found it flattering or thought it was really corny, and turned it into a Running Gag, with his stage manager Al Santos reciting these lines in a flat, rushed manner:Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome: the poet laureate of rock 'n' roll. The voice of the promise of The '60s counterculture. The guy who forced folk into bed with rock. Who donned make-up in The '70s and disappeared into a haze of substance abuse. Who emerged to find Jesus. Who was written off as a has-been by the end of The '80s, and who suddenly shifted gears releasing some of the strongest music of his career beginning in the late Nineties. Ladies and gentlemen - Columbia recording artist Bob Dylan!
- Break the Haughty: "Like A Rolling Stone".
- Breaking the Fourth Wall: After a whole long list of song titles in its lyrics, "Murder Most Foul" ends by referencing itself.Play "The Blood-Stained Banner", play "Murder Most Foul"
- Breather Song: On The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan, the comical "Bob Dylan's Blues" and "I Shall Be Free" are there to help offset the album's heavier songs. While not quite as comical, the lyrically wry and up-tempo "You're Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go" serves a similar role on Blood on the Tracks.
- Brick Joke: Responsible for possibly the longest brick joke ever. In 1964, when asked by a reporter what what product might entice him to sell out, Dylan replied, "Ladies' undergarments." Forty years later in 2004, he appeared in a Victoria's Secret ad.
- B-Side: Generally his singles just had album tracks on the flip side, sometimes even tracks from previous albums. But once in a while he'd slip in a rare song on a B-side that wouldn't get released anywhere else, like a version of "Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues" recorded live in England (on the flip of "I Want You" in 1966), and a version of the cowboy song "Spanish Is the Loving Tongue", where he accompanied himself on piano (on the flip of "Watching the River Flow" in 1971). "George Jackson" was unique because both sides of the single had the same song, but in different arrangements. There was the "acoustic version" (Dylan with just acoustic guitar and harmonica), and the "big band version" (Dylan again on acoustic guitar and harmonica, along with a bass, a piano, a steel guitar, drums, and backing vocalists).
- Butt-Monkey: The narrator of "Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues".
I told you "The Times They Are A-Changin' " and they did! I said the answer was "Blowin In the Wind" and it was! And I'm saying to you now, Jesus is coming back.
- He quotes the opening line of "Positively 4th Street" ("You've got a lot of nerve to say you are my friend") at the end of its follow-up single, "Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window?"
- "Stayin' up for days in the Chelsea Hotel/Writing 'Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands' for you" ("Sara")
- The first track on Street Legal (1978), "Changing of the Guards", opens with the lines "Sixteen years/Sixteen banners united over the field". The album was his sixteenth studio albumnote , released sixteen years after his 1962 debut.
- During a 1979 concert on his first "Christian" tour:
- "Po' Boy" from 2001 may be one to "Motorpsycho Nitemare":
- Canon Discontinuity: For a while after his conversion to Christianity, he refused to play any of his pre-Gospel songs.
- The 1973 album Dylan, released by Columbia after he left the label, and filled with questionable-quality outtakes, basically was treated as though it never really existed by both Dylan and the label when he returned to Columbia after two albums.
- Chekhov's Gunman: "Brownsville Girl". The narrator and his girlfriend stop at the house of someone named Henry Porter, only to find out he's gone out for a while. Later in the song this trope gets thoroughly averted and Lampshaded: "The only thing we knew for sure about Henry Porter was that his name wasn't Henry Porter", and Porter is never mentioned again.
- Chekhov's Volcano: "Black Diamond Bay".
- Christmas Songs: Dylan's 2009 release, Christmas in the Heart, consists of various Christmas songs from Dylan's formative years, played straight.
- Cloudcuckoolander: In interviews he can come off as this, but how much of that is genuine and how much is an elaborate put-on is one of the eternal debates in his career.
- Cool Hat: The feathered white fedora he dons in The Last Waltz certainly qualifies.
- Cool Old Guy: Undeniably, considering that he's still creating high-quality work nearing his 80s, as the reviews of Rough and Rowdy Ways prove.
- Cool Shades: Was rarely seen without his shades as part of his new rock star image in the mid-60's.
- Also featured in the cover photo for Infidels in 1983.
- Corpsing: At the start of "Bob Dylan's 115th Dream" because the rest of the band missed their cue.
- Cover Album: A bunch. Good as I Been to You and World Gone Wrong consist of solo acoustic performances of old folk standards. Dylan is an album of cover version out-takes. Christmas in the Heart has him covering Christmas Songs. His three most recent albums, Shadows In The Night, Fallen Angels and Triplicate, are covers of Tin Pan Alley standards (many of which are associated with Frank Sinatra). Also, Bob Dylan, Self Portrait and Down In The Groove have more covers than original material.
- The Cover Changes the Gender: He famously averted this in his take on "The House of the Rising Sun". He also retained the female perspective of the original when he covered the British folk song "Young But Daily Growing" during The Basement Tapes sessions.
- The Cover Changes the Meaning: Ray Price's 1968 country hit "Take Me As I Am (Or Let Me Go)" is addressed to a lover who the narrator thinks is trying to make him "a stand-in for an old love." When he covered it on Self Portrait two years later, the subtext of Dylan sending a message to listeners who believed that He Changed, Now He Sucks was glaring almost to the point of Anviliciousness:Why must you always try to make me over?Take me as I am or let me go...You're trying to reshape me in a mold...In the image of someone you used to know
- Cover Version: For an artist often praised more for his songwriting than his performances, Dylan loves doing other people's material - ranging from folk and blues songs to Frank Sinatra and The Clash. After Warren Zevon announced he had cancer, Dylan started playing 2-3 Warren Zevon covers at every show for an entire tour.
- Crapsack World: Many of his songs, especially from the early 80's onwards. For instance, "Blind Willie McTell" from "The Bootleg Series".Well, God is in his heavenAnd we all want what's HisBut power and greedAnd corruptible seedSeems to be all that there is
- Pretty much the entirety of 1997's Time Out of Mind might be counted under this trope: Dylan sounds so depressed and sick of life on the album that some people expressed mild surprise that after recording it he didn't just go and jump off a bridge somewhere.
- The Darkness Before Death: "Knocking on Heaven's Door" is about a man who knows he is about to die ("I feel I'm knocking on Heaven's door"); he also notes "it's getting dark, too dark to see". The song was written for the soundtrack of Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid (1973), where it plays while a lawman who has been mortally wounded in a gunfight is dying.
- Deadpan Snarker: Often in interviews, especially in his younger days.Reporter: How many, would you say, could be classified as protest singers today?Bob Dylan: Uh... how many?Reporter: Yes. Are there many?Bob Dylan: I think there's about... 136?
- The Diss Track: He specialized in songs that sneeringly excoriate various unnamed individuals. Four particularly memorable examples are listed.
- "Positively 4th Street" takes pointed potshots at a two-faced "friend."Yes, I wish that for just one time you could stand inside my shoes,You'd know what a drag it is to see you.
- "Like a Rolling Stone" sharply criticizes a former privileged and haughty woman who has fallen down on her luck.You used to laugh aboutEverybody that was hanging out,Now you don't talk so loud,Now you don't seem so proudAbout having to be scrounging your next meal.
- "Don't Think Twice, It's All Right" is a cutting indictment of a former lover.Goodbye's too good a word, babe,So I'll just say fare thee well.I ain't saying you treated me unkind,You could have done better but I don't mind,You just kinda wasted all of my precious time,But don't think twice, it's all right.
- "Ballad of a Thin Man" is a snarling indictment of a pseudo-intellectual who dislikes Dylan's music.Well, you walk into the room like a camel, and then you frown.You put your eyes in your pocket and your nose on the ground.There ought to be a law against you comin' around.You should be made to wear earphones.'Cause something is happening and you don't know what it is,Do you, Mr. Jones?
- "Positively 4th Street" takes pointed potshots at a two-faced "friend."
- Distinct Double Album: Biograph was a 5-LP set in its original release, and each side seemed to have a rough theme: 1—Silly Love Songs; 2—Protest Songs; 3—Rock & Roll; 4—Poetic Songs; 5—Genre Roulette; 6—Torch Songs; 7—Author Filibuster; 8—Intercourse with You; 9—"I Want" Songs; 10—Christian Rock / Not Christian Rock.note
- Documentary of Lies: Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story gleefully mixes fact, fuzzy memories, and outright fiction. Here's a list of the things that are obviously made up.Old!Dylan: If someone's wearing a mask, he's gonna tell you the truth. If he's not wearing a mask, it's highly unlikely.
- Do Not Call Me "Paul": You apparently have to get special permission to mention the name "Zimmerman" in his presence.note Some people (including, if Rolling Stone is to be believed, Barack Obama) do get permission.
- Dying Town: "North Country Blues" from The Times They Are A-Changin'
- Early-Bird Cameo: The earliest-known mention of him in the national press was, most curiously, a syndicated 1961 newspaper article aimed at parents looking for toys to buy their kids for Christmas, printed a few weeks after he recorded his debut album, but before it was released."Any parent who thinks it's easy to get music out of a harmonica ought to try it himself" says noted harmonica virtuoso Bob Dylan.
- Emergency Broadcast: He mentions CONELRAD in "Talkin' World War III Blues".
- Epic Rocking: He's basically the guy who invented the notion that rock songs could be really long. "Desolation Row", "Highlands", "Sad-Eyed Lady Of The Lowlands", "Joey", "Brownsville Girl" and "Tempest" are all longer than ten minutes!
- And "Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts" isn't far off at just under nine.
- 2020's "Murder Most Foul" takes the crown at an impressive 16:56.
- Every Scar Has a Story: "Where Are You Tonight (Journey Through Dark Heat)" from Street Legal.If you don't believe there's a price for this sweet paradiseJust remind me to show you the scars
- Everybody Must Get Stoned: Trope Namer, from the chorus of "Rainy Day Woman # 12 & 35"
- Which is a non-sexual Double Entendre. In the verses, "they'll stone you" refers to the kind of persecution symbolized by Biblical stoning. The chorus plays up the drug associations of the word.
- "Stoned" was originally a slang term for being drunk on alcohol, only later was it reserved for marijuana intoxication. Ray Charles had a hit that same year with the song "Let's Go Get Stoned".
- Face Death with Dignity: "Let Me Die in My Footsteps".
- Fading into the Next Song: On Desire, "Romance In Durango" cross-fades into "Black Diamond Bay".
- On The Bootleg Series: Vol. 3, "When The Night Comes Falling From The Sky" cross-fades into "Series Of Dreams".
- Le Film Artistique: Renaldo and Clara.
- And Masked and Anonymous.
- Eat the Document.
- Forever Young Song: The Trope Codifier, featured in two different versions on Planet Waves.
- Frame-Up: The principle accusation of "Hurricane" - that Rubin Carter was set up for "something that he never done."To see him obviously framed,Couldn't help but make me feel ashamed to live in a landWhere justice is a game.
- Frankenstein's Monster: "My Own Version of You" uses it as a metaphor for... fittingly, quite a few things.
- Full-Name Ultimatum: At least two other artistsnote have used the name "Zimmerman" to express their disillusionment with him. The Byrds, on the other hand, used it as a joking retort to Dylan's joking Take That! in "You Ain't Going Nowhere" ("Zimmerman" fit the melody and rhyme better than "Dylan").
- Garden of Eden: The singer of "The Gates of Eden" views the concept of Eden very cynically, ironically comparing it to his own life and the state of the world.
- Gay Paree: Mentioned in "Not Dark Yet".
- Gratuitous Latin: In the most bizarre moment on Christmas in the Heart (which is saying a lot), he opens "O Come All Ye Faithful" with the original "Adeste Fideles" verse. His pronunciation isn't bad, but it's still Bob Dylan singing Latin.
- Greatest Hits Album: Several, with many of them helping to codify different approaches to this trope. 1967's Bob Dylan's Greatest Hits is still many listeners' gateway into his work and also gave "Positively 4th Street" its first album appearance. The double album Greatest Hits Volume II (1971) was probably the Trope Maker for the now-almost universal practice of including newly-recorded bonus songs on a Greatest Hits Album. It's also notable because Dylan chose the songs and did the track sequence. 1985's Biograph was a 5-record (and 3-CD) mix of hits, studio out-takes and live cuts that helped lay the groundwork for the CD box set boom. For a while those were it, but starting in the mid-90s there have been numerous career-spanning sets released.
- Hanging Judge: In "Seven Curses" and "Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts".
- Have a Gay Old Time: "Standing in the Doorway"—"I'm strumming on my gay guitar." But since it was written and recorded in 1997 it's a case of Dylan purposely using the old meaning to convey anachronism.
- A deliberate Double Entendre in "Caribbean Wind", where the line "as the gay night wore on" is immediately followed by "where men bathed in perfume."
- "Rainy Day Women #12 & 35", noted for its "Everybody must get stoned" chorus, where he decided to write the song about being physically stoned to death, rather than getting high, with such lyrics as "Theyll stone you and then say you are brave, Theyll stone you when you are set down in your grave" and "They'll stone ya when youre tryin to keep your seat". He announced, when performing at the Royal Albert Hall, London: "I never have and never will write a drug song." Nevertheless, some commentators labeled it a drug song due to its "Everybody must get stoned" line.
- Harsh Vocals: A trademark, though his voice didn't get really guttural until around Under the Red Sky in 1990, and it wasn't until Time Out of Mind that he went full-Tom Waits with it.
- He Also Did: Dabbled in acting, most notably a supporting part in 1973 film Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid, for which Dylan also composed the soundtrack. (This included Breakaway Pop Hit "Knockin' on Heaven's Door".) He's also an avid painter with several exhibitions under his belt, though fans' mileage very much varies on whether he's actually any good at it.
- Heel Realization: "What Good Am I?" from Oh Mercy
- Hilarious Outtakes:
- The false start to "Bob Dylan's 115th Dream", complete with producer Tom Wilson's helpless laughter.
- "Suze (The Cough Song)", an instrumental that ends abruptly when Dylan starts coughing into his harmonica and claims it's supposed to fade out right there.
- Hyperlink Story: "Lily, Rosemary & The Jack of Hearts", "Black Diamond Bay".
- I Know You Know I Know: "Tell Me, Momma".
- Intercourse with You: "Lay Lady Lay".
It ain't that I'm askin' anything you never gave beforeIt's just that I'll be sleepin' soon, it'll be too dark for you to find the door
- Actually, most of Nashville Skyline is made of this. And even before, there was "I'll Be your Baby Tonight" from John Wesley Harding.
- Subverted in the unreleased "If You Gotta Go, Go Now (Or Else You've Got to Stay All Night)".
- "On a Night Like This" and "One More Weekend" are about Marital Intercourse With You.
- Is Nothing Sacred?: "It's Alright, Ma (I'm Only Bleeding)" from Bringing It All Back HomeDisillusioned words like bullets barkAs human gods aim for their markMake everything from toy guns that sparkTo flesh-coloured Christs that glow in the darkIts easy to see without looking too farThat not much is really sacred
- It Will Never Catch On:
- After Columbia Records executive John Hammond signed Dylan and produced his debut album, the album only sold 5,000 copies in its initial release. Other Columbia executives started calling Dylan "Hammond's Folly".
- A 1965 review of "Like a Rolling Stone" in Melody Maker by Bob Dawbarn was headlined "Thank Goodness We Won't Get This Six-Minute Bob Dylan Single in Britain." In reporting that CBS Records hadn't announced plans to release the song, Dawbarn was merciless in his criticism of it, bemoaning the "monotonous melody" and "Dylan's expressionless intoning", while also noting that "Mick Jagger fans will also be distressed to learn that the song title refers to a rolling stone and not a Rolling Stone," and ultimately dismissing it as "sub-standard Dylan." Not only was the review quickly discredited, but the song did indeed get released in the UK and hit #4 on the charts.
- On October 6, 2016, Alex Shephard wrote in The New Republic "Bob Dylan 100 percent is not going to win. Stop saying Bob Dylan should win the Nobel Prize." October 13: he's awarded the Nobel Prize. To his credit, Shephard thinks it's Actually Pretty Funny.note
- Jerkass: He comes across as a major one in Don't Look Back, as Roger Ebert notes in his review of the film's 20th anniversary reissue (though Ebert made it clear elsewhere that he wasn't much of a fan of Dylan, and the question of whether Dylan took on an exaggerated persona for the cameras has long been a big point of debate regarding the film):What a jerk Bob Dylan was in 1965. What an immature, self-important, inflated, cruel, shallow little creature, lacking in empathy and contemptuous of anyone who was not himself or his lackey. Did we actually once take this twirp as our folk god?
- Just Like Robin Hood: The title character in "John Wesley Harding", though the real life John Wesley Hardin didn't fit the role at all.
- Karma Houdini: "The Lonesome Death Of Hattie Carroll" tells the story of an upper-class white man who kills a poor black woman. This being Baltimore in the 60's, he receives only a six-month sentence.
- Very much inverted in "Percy's Song" from "Biograph", in which the singer relates the story of a friend who was in a car accident that killed four people, and got a 99-year prison sentence for manslaughter.
- The Knights Who Say "Squee!": How a lot of fans, and apparently a lot of other artists tend to react to meeting him in person.
- "Knock Knock" Joke: He somehow manages to slip one into "Po' Boy".Knockin' on the door, I say "Who is it, where you from?"Man says "Freddie", I say "Freddie who?" He says "Freddie or not, here I come!"
- Large Ham: On some of his 60's and 70's tours his stage persona leaned in this direction. Even now, he'll ham it up a bit on some songs ("Ballad of a Thin Man" in particular).
- Leaning on the Fourth Wall:
- "Hey Woody Guthrie, I wrote you a song..."
- "Changing Of The Guards", as noted under Call-Back above.
- "North Country Blues" has the (female) narrator talk of having to "marry John Thomas, a miner." The song is indeed in A minor.
- The early song "Eternal Circle" is a song about trying to flirt with a girl in the audience while playing a song... which gets so long that by the time he finally stops singing about trying to finish the song so he can talk to her, the girl has left.
- Long Title: "(Stuck Inside Of Mobile With The) Memphis Blues Again" and "Most Likely You Go Your Way (And I'll Go Mine)". Incidentally, both of these are off of Blonde on Blonde.
- Loveable Rogue: The Jack of Hearts in "Lily, Rosemary And The Jack Of Hearts" from Blood on the Tracks.
- Lyrical Cold Open: "Mixed-Up Confusion" from "Biograph", "Winterlude" from "New Morning", "Idiot Wind" from Blood on the Tracks.
- Lyrical Dissonance: "Positively 4th Street" and "Like A Rolling Stone" (bright, happy music accompanied by bitter words).
- "Oxford Town" from The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan is a jolly-sounding up-tempo song (in the liner notes Dylan calls it "a banjo tune I play on the guitar") about the riots at the University of Mississippi when James Meredith enrolled there.
- The Basement Tapes-era tune "Get Your Rocks Off" pairs slow, bluesy music with silly, slightly off-colour lyrics. The absurdity of that pairing leads Dylan to start corpsing midway through the song
- MadonnaWhore Complex: "The Groom's Still Waiting at the Altar".What can I say about Claudette?
Ain't seen her since January
She could be respectably married
Or running a whorehouse in Buenos Aires
- The Mafia: "Joey" is about gangster Joey "Crazy Joe" Gallo.
- Messy Hair: Especially during the late 60's. He's the page picture.
- Mind Screw: "Desolation Row" from Highway 61 Revisited
- Just "Desolation Row"? The same album also has "Tombstone Blues" which averages three mind screws per verse, and "Ballad of a Thin Man" which might as well be the trope namer.
- The second verse of "Bob Dylan's 115th Dream" from Bringing It All Back Home especially, where what is believed to be a newly discovered America is revealed to be already populated by its crazier twentieth century inhabitants.
- His "experimental prose poetry collection" Tarantula.
- Miscarriage of Justice: "Percy's Song" from Biograph, "The Lonesome Death Of Hattie Carroll" from The Times They Are A-Changin', "Hurricane" from Desire.
- Morality Ballad: Too many to list. Most notable are probably "Like A Rolling Stone" from Highway 61 Revisited and "Hurricane" from Desire
- The Movie Buff: He's a considerable cinephile, especially of the movies from The '50s and is surprisingly articulate about cinema about that time. His song "The Mighty Quinn" was based on the little-known Nicholas Ray film The Savage Innocents and in Chronicles he discusses the influences films by Federico Fellini and others had on him, as well as The Girl Can't Help It (aka every rock musician's favorite film).
- Multilingual Song: "Romance in Durango" on Desire has several untranslated Spanish lines in its chorus.No Ilores, mi querida (don't cry, my dear)Dios nos vigila (God watches over us)Soon the horse will take us to DurangoAgarrame, mi vida (grab hold of me, my life)Soon the desert will be goneSoon you will be dancing the fandango
- Murder Ballad:
- My Friends... and Zoidberg: "Bob Dylan's 115th Dream" from Bringing It All Back HomeWell, by this time I was fed upAt tryin to make a stabAt bringin back any helpFor my friends and Captain Arab
- Never Accepted in His Hometown: Hibbing, Minnesota, where he spent most of his youth, has had a complicated relationship with him. Locals barely even acknowledged him during his meteoric rise to fame in The '60s. The attitude softened considerably once the Baby Boom generation rose to leadership positions in the town. They starting holding a Dylan Days festival around his birthday, and renamed the street he grew up on as Bob Dylan Drive. But as the economy in Hibbing started failing, the much larger city of Duluth, where he was born, has taken on a bigger role in honoring him. Some recent developments in Hibbing include a proposed monument and a fan who purchased his childhood home, with plans to restore it and turn it into a museum.
- New Sound Album: Several. Bringing It All Back Home definitely qualifies, marking his transition to electric (which, as noted above, pissed off a substantial portion of his fan base). Prior to that, Another Side of Bob Dylan marked his transition from protest songs to impressionistic, expressive lyrics (which, as noted above, also pissed off a substantial portion of his fan base). Then there was the late 60's John Wesley Harding, which took a step back from the heavy pop instrumentation of the previous three albums and went for a much more sparse and acoustic country vibe - followed by Nashville Skyline, which was pretty much full-on country with very straight-forward, unambiguous lyrics (which didn't as much piss off as mystify a substantial portion of his fan base: the albums were part of Dylan's plan to rid himself of said gigantic fan base, as he was getting quite annoyed with it). Significantly, the late 70's Slow Train Coming marked Dylan's short-lived venture into gospel and Christian rock (which both pissed off and mystified a substantial portion of his fan base). 1997's Time Out of Mind saw Dylan shift towards a more blues folk style that has to some extent characterized all his output for the past 15 years.
- No Time to Think: "No Time To Think". from Street Legal
- Non-Actor Vehicle: His attempts at acting in Hearts Of Fire, Flashback and Masked And Anonymous.
- Not Christian Rock: Although Dylan frequently incorporates religious imagery in his work.
- Not Staying for Breakfast: "Simple Twist Of Fate" from Blood on the Tracks
- One-Man Song: "Blind Willie McTell", "Don't Ya Tell Henry", "George Jackson", "Joey", "John Wesley Harding", "Lenny Bruce", "Silvio", "Song To Woody", "Temporary Like Achilles", "Mr. Tambourine Man".
- One-Woman Song: "Absolutely Sweet Marie", "Angelina", "Farewell Angelina", "Hazel", "Isis", "Jolene", "Maggie's Farm", "Nettie Moore", "Peggy Day", "Queen Jane Approximately", "Rita May", "Sara", "To Ramona", "Visions of Johanna", "Winterlude" (yes, that's the name of the woman in the song).
- Ontological Mystery: Experienced by the title character in "Drifter's Escape".
- Pater Familicide: "Ballad Of Hollis Brown" from The Times They Are A-Changin'
- Pop-Cultural Osmosis Failure: He was at the receiving end of this once, as he was almost arrested in 2009 for loitering in New Jersey. At the time he wasn't carrying ID and the officers that accosted him had never heard his name before.
- Precision F-Strike: "Hurricane" from Desire and the 1971 single "George Jackson" both include "shit" in the lyrics.
- Also from the live version of "Like a Rolling Stone" in Manchester, 1966. Don't call Dylan "Judas"."I don't believe you... You're a liar! PLAY IT FUCKING LOUD!"note
- Also from the live version of "Like a Rolling Stone" in Manchester, 1966. Don't call Dylan "Judas".
- Pretender Diss: The Rockumentary Don't Look Back of Dylan making more-or-less friendly fun of Donovan.
- Pride Before a Fall: "Foot of Pride" from "The Bootleg Series".
- Princess in Rags: "Like a Rolling Stone" from Highway 61 Revisited. The trope could have almost been named "Napoleon In Rags", this song is one of the most iconic portrayals of that trope.
- Production Foreshadowing:
- In 1963, two years before switching from folk to rock, he released two songs where he was backed by a band: "Corrina Corrina" and "Mixed-Up Confusion".
- Parts of the Daniel Lanois-produced Oh Mercy sound like an early preview of the Daniel Lanois-produced Time Out of Mind.
- His cover of "Blue Moon" on Self Portrait can now be seen as an early precursor to his current standards albums.
- Professional Gambler: The title character of "Ramblin' Gamblin' Willie", who gets killed after he gets the Dead Man's Hand in a poker game.
- Protest Song: Again, too many to list. Though the most famous would have to be "Hurricane", "The Times They Are A-Changin", and "Masters Of War". Many critics believe "Only a Pawn in Their Game" to be this trope's stand-out example. Dylan eventually became disillusioned with protest songs, and distanced himself from them in "My Back Pages":Half-wracked prejudice leaped forth
Rip down all hate, I screamed
Lies that life is black and white
Spoke from my skull. I dreamed
Romantic facts of musketeers
Foundationed deep, somehow
Ah, but I was so much older then
Im younger than that now.
- Ragtag Bunch of Misfits:
- His band for the Rolling Thunder Revue in 1975-76 had this flavour. There was David Bowie's ex-guitarist (Mick Ronson), a guitarist who had previously written a couple songs for The Monkees (Steve Soles), a tall skinny guy from Texas (T-Bone Burnett), the guy who played bass on Don McLean's "American Pie" (Rob Stoner), a boyish-looking guy who'd previously been in a band called Quacky Duck & His Barnyard Friends (David Mansfield), a Latin violinist who Dylan had hired after he saw her walking down the street (Scarlet Rivera), and Andrew Wyeth's nephew (Howie Wyeth) on drums, among others.
- Raised Lighter Tribute: The cover of his 1974 live album Before the Flood depicts an early example. Dylan later claimed that he didn't understand the significance of it at first and thought the fans were mad at him and were going to set the arena on fire.
- Rearrange the Song / Evolving Music: Constantly, throughout his entire career. Being a folk musician at heart, Dylan sees every new performance of a song as a new interpretation of it. It's been said that he never plays a song the same way twice; that's a slight exaggeration, but not by much.This is called "I Don't Believe You." It used to be like that, now it goes like this.
- The same applies to lyrics, especially to songs that (presumably) carry a lot of personal meaning for him. For instance, compare "If You See Her, Say Hello" before and after his divorce. And "Knockin' On Heaven's Door" has at least a few dozen verses by now.
- As illustrated here, "Tangled Up In Blue" is probably his most tinkered-with song lyrically.
- "The Reason You Suck" Speech: "Positively 4th Street", "Idiot Wind", though it is important to note that the latter of these turns into a "The Reason We Suck" Speech by the end.
- Red Scare: Satirized in "Talkin' John Birch Paranoid Blues".I discovered - RED STRIPES ON THE AMERICAN FLAG!
- Refrain from Assuming: The song is not "Everybody Must Get Stoned," it's "Rainy Day Women # 12 & 35".
- Religion Rant Song:
- "With God On Our Side" condemns the manipulation of religious belief to support warfare.
- One of the several interpretations of "Jokerman" is that it's a Deconstructive Parody of The Bible. However, given that the song is coming right off the coattails of Dylan's "born again" phase, there are many who believe that the true meaning of the lyrics is more subtle and nuanced.
- Ripped from the Headlines: "Hurricane" and "The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll", most prominently.
- Rock-Star Song: "Like A Rolling Stone" from Highway 61 Revisited.
- Rockumentary: D A Pennebaker's Don't Look Back [sic] from Dylan's 1965 tour of the UK is one of the earliest examples. Dylan followed it up with the slightly less coherent Eat the Document, filmed during the 1966 tour, which remains unreleased (though bootleg copies circulate). There's also Martin Scorsese's documentaries No Direction Home (2005) and Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story (2019—which mixes in some Mockumentary elements).
- Sarcastic Title: "With God On Our Side" from The Times They Are A-Changin'.
- Saw "Star Wars" 27 Times: "Murder Most Foul"Zapruder's film, I've seen that before
Seen it thirty-three times, maybe more
- Scare Quotes: The title of his 2001 album is shown as "Love And Theft" on the cover, which has led to some confusion over whether the quotes are officially part of the title and, if so, why they're there. (Not exactly Word of God, but bobdylan.com includes the quote marks in its listing for the album).
- Second-Person Narration: "Like A Rolling Stone", "Ballad Of A Thin Man", and "Queen Jane Approximately", all of them from one album (Highway 61 Revisited).
- Done to disturbing effect in "Ballad Of Hollis Brown" from The Times They Are A-Changin'.
- Seduction Lyric: Lay, Lady, Lay is at the romantic end of the "Why wait?" class of seduction.Lay, lady, lay
Lay across my big brass bed
Whatever colors you have in your mind
I'll show them to you and you'll see them shine...
- Self-Backing Vocalist: His cover of Simon & Garfunkel's "The Boxer" (from the Self Portrait album) employs this.
- Self-Parody: His early song "Talkin' Hava Negeilah Blues" from "The Bootleg Series" was a parody of his Woody Guthrie-influenced style during that phase of his career and his Jewish background (which he was still covering up). He introduces "Hava Nagila" as "a foreign song I learned in Utah."
- Self-Titled Album: His debut release. The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan and Another Side of Bob Dylan are semi-examples.
- Shout-Out: Hundreds, ranging from biblical figures to Alicia Keys. No, she doesn't know why either.
- Dylan himself has received various shout-outs by other artists too. We've got an entire page for that: Referenced By: Bob Dylan
- Shout-Out: To Shakespeare: Frequently.Othello told Desdemona,By the way, what happened to that poisoned wine?"She said, "I gave it to you, you drank it...?"
Now Ophelia, she's 'neath the windowFor her I feel so afraidOn her twenty-second birthdayShe already is an old maidTo her, death is quite romanticShe wears an iron vestHer profession's her religionHer sin is her lifelessnessAnd though her eyes are fixed uponShe spends her time peekingInto Desolation Row.
- There's also the one from "Desolation Row":
- Silly Love Songs: A few scattered here and there throughout his career, especially on Nashville Skyline, New Morning and Planet Waves.
- Singing Voice Dissonance: He's suprisingly soft-spoken when he talks. His speaking voice is also less throaty.
- Smoking Is Cool: Exhibit A.
- Something Blues: "Subterranean Homesick Blues", "Workingman's Blues # 2", "Talkin' John Birch Paranoid Blues", "North Country Blues", "Black Crow Blues", "Outlaw Blues", "Tombstone Blues", "Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues"...
- Spiders Are Scary: Probably the effect he was going for in naming his experimental novel Tarantula.
- The Stars Are Going Out: "Brownsville Girl"Seems like a long time ago, long before the stars were torn down
- Stay in the Kitchen: Hinted rather unsubtly in "Sweetheart Like You."
- Stealth Insult: "Like A Rolling Stone". Don't believe us? Just look here.
- Supergroup: The Traveling Wilburys, with George Harrison, Tom Petty, Jeff Lynne and Roy Orbison.
- Sudden Downer Ending: Planet Waves and Empire Burlesque are musically bright albums that are heavy on love songs, but they both end with Dylan, accompanying himself on acoustic guitar and harmonica, performing a personal, serious song ("Wedding Song", "Dark Eyes").
- Take That!: "Maggie's Farm" (written long before the Iron Lady's time, although the later covers by The Specials and Rage Against the Machine did not overlook the coincidence)
- "Positively 4th Street"
- "Ballad of a Thin Man"
- "Just Like a Woman"
- A more light-hearted one occurs in "You Ain't Goin' Nowhere": The Byrds released their cover of the song in 1968, during which Roger McGuinn accidentally switched one of the original lines around and sang "Pack up your money, pick up your tent". Dylan re-recorded the song in 1971 for a greatest hits compilation, rendering the lyric as "Pack up your money, put up your tent, McGuinn, you ain't goin' nowhere". McGuinn in turn responded on a 1989 cover of the song with the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, singing "Pack up your money, pick up your tent, Zimmerman".
- Take That, Critics!: From a 2012 interview, when asked about accusations that he's borrowed lines from others.Wussies and pussies complain about that stuff. It's an old thing it's part of the tradition. It goes way back. These are the same people that tried to pin the name Judas on me. Judas, the most hated name in human history! If you think you've been called a bad name, try to work your way out from under that. Yeah, and for what? For playing an electric guitar? As if that is in some kind of way equitable to betraying our Lord and delivering him up to be crucified. All those evil motherfuckers can rot in hell.
- Tarot Motifs: The card for The Empress is on the back cover of Desire, and Street-Legal is loaded with tarot references (especially "Changing of The Guards").
- Textless Album Cover: Blonde on Blonde, Nashville Skyline, Self Portrait, New Morning.
- "The Villain Sucks" Song: "Jokerman" (Infidels) and "Handy Dandy" (Under the Red Sky) are both rather verbose portrayals of powerful, dishonorable men, but in the end the subjects seem more like a Magnificent Bastard than anything else. There's lots of Wild Mass Guessing on who the subjects of the two songs are. Since "Handy Dandy" has a girlfriend named Nancy, some people think it's about Ronald Reagan.
- Three Chords and the Truth: His older songs, especially.
- Title-Only Chorus: "Angelina"
- "I Want You" comes close. The only other words besides the title phrase are "so bad" and "honey".
- Too Many Cooks Spoil the Soup: His reason for the failure of the album "Under the Red Sky."
- Truck Driver's Gear Change: The modulation before the last verse of "When I Paint My Masterpiece" on Greatest Hits Volume II is a rare example in his catalogue. "In Search of Little Sadie" does it a few times per verse for no clear reason.
- 12-Bar Blues: One of the basic ingredients of his song-writing. Many of his songs can be classified as having tweaked blues structures. Probably the straightest examples of Twelve Bar Blues in his work are "Down The Highway", "Outlaw Blues" and "Meet Me In The Morning".
- The Unintelligible: Not the songs themselves, for the most part, but guaranteed that any parody of him will be this.
- Somewhat subverted with "Weird Al" Yankovic's parody "Bob", which features lyrics composed entirely of well-enunciated (if twangy) palindromes.
- This trope is the reason he was so often Covered — other artists' versions were just more marketable because they were easier to understand.
- Vocal Evolution: While he has more-or-less always had the famous nasal gruffness, there have been some subtle changes over the years. On his first two albums he has a Woody Guthrie-influenced drawl. On his other pre-electric albums he almost shouts a lot of the lyrics. On his first two electric albums he went with a plain but forceful way of singing, emphasizing certain syllables. On Blonde on Blonde (1966) he exaggerates that style almost to the point of Self-Parody. On John Wesley Harding (recorded late 1967) his timbre begins to sound like that which pervaded his 70's work: a sharpness in his louder sections, a hoarseness in quieter ones. A major departure from that was his crooning voice on Nashville Skyline from 1969. Bootleg tapes confirm that this was very similar to the voice he used when he first started playing folk clubs in his Minnesota college days, so it was a deliberate change on Dylan's part. Dylan went so far as to hang a Lampshade on this with his version of "The Boxer" on Self Portrait, done as a duet between Classic Dylan and Skyline Dylan. The close of the 70's gave us a wavering, sneering quality to his singing voice, raspy as ever. Starting in the late 80s he developed a strange slurring style that led to all the jokes about him needing a translator. Since Time Out of Mind in 1997 his voice is more noticeably hoarse, so he's adopted a softer style of singing to compensate.
- The Voice of a Generation: Dylan is usually labeled as "the voice of his generation", being his lyrics represented what happened in The '60s and becoming an inspiration to many people and a major reference for a lot of future artists until today, even having a documentary of the same name.
- We Used to Be Friends: He's a notoriously fickle guy, so numerous friendships have waxed and waned over the years, but the major example of this is his manager Albert Grossman. They had a close mentor-protégé relationship up until his 1966 motorcycle crash, when Dylan concluded that Grossman was using him as a Cash Cow and letting him almost kill himself in the process. Within a couple years they weren't even speaking to each other.
- What's an X Like You Doing in a Y Like This?: The refrain of "Sweetheart Like You": "What's a sweetheart like you doing in a dump like this?"
- Who Shot JFK?: "Murder Most Foul" is about the JFK assassination and its place in American culture, with a few allusions to the conspiracy theories, starting with the title, which is a Shout-Out to Murder Most Foul!: The Conspiracy That Murdered President Kennedy, an obscure 1967 self-published tome by Stanley J. Marks (well, and Hamlet too).
- Word Salad Lyrics: "Desolation Row" is about a lynching. All of it. Really.
- "When I'm Gone" Song: Knockin' on Heaven's Door is a Type 3.