More than any other performer associated with Rock and Roll, Bob Dylan created a body of work that could be — and has been — analyzed in literary terms. Often referred to as “a poet,” Dylan took popular music’s possibilities to new places. Nominated for a Nobel Prize in Literature, honored by the Kennedy Center, Dylan has been called the “voice of a generation,” a tag he has rejected but never fully escaped, if only because he achieved a kind of influence that supported such a claim.
If as a teenager Dylan was in love with Rock and Roll, by the time he left his home state of Minneapolis for New York City, his interest was Folk music, and his inspiration was Woody Guthrie. Once in New York. ensconced in the Greenwich Village Folk world, Dylan quickly became an important figure on that scene and would remain so even as he followed interests that would lead him into new territories, including the poetry of the French Symbolists and that of the Beats. His most celebrated shift, “going electric,” has been isolated as among the most important moments in Rock and Roll’s history. It came around the time of the release of "Like a Rolling Stone," his highest charting single, and, at over six minutes, an anomaly on commercial radio. But by that time Dylan was an anomaly in more ways than one. Everyone, from the Beatles and Stones to Leonard Cohen and, later, Patti Smith, had their eyes on him.
The lessons in this chapter focus on Dylan's shapeshifting identity, on his songwriting as writing, on that perceived turn from Folk to Rock and Roll, and more. Looked at from several angles, the mystery of Dylan remains, however, along with one of the richest catalogues of song associated with any single artist.