THE EARLY YEARS: BRINGING A ROCK AND ROLL ATTITUDE TO FOLK
How did Bob Dylan’s early experiences with Folk and Rock and Roll music influence his songwriting?
Artists from the Beatles to Bruce Springsteen have cited Bob Dylan as one of the most important influences on their music making and songwriting, noting that Dylan helped them see the possibilities of a different kind of lyric writing that was more intimate, personal, and autobiographical than what they found in early Rock and Roll songs.
Much of what Dylan was doing stemmed from his early experiences with the Folk music scene in New York City and as a self-styled disciple of the legendary Folk singer Woody Guthrie. But it is often forgotten that Dylan’s first forays into popular music came as a member of several Rock and Roll bands in high school in Minnesota, where his yearbook picture noted that his dream was “to join Little Richard.” If Dylan is known as an artist who injected lyrical complexity and seriousness of purpose into mainstream Rock and Roll, his early career also reflects the injection of a Rock and Roll sensibility into the Folk idiom.
In this lesson, students explore how Dylan’s early musical experiences reflect an artist with an uncanny ability to create something new out of what had come before, and how he sowed the seeds of a Folk/Rock and Roll hybrid that would have enormous influence on American popular music.
Video pages: Steven Van Zandt - Bob Dylan's Early Years | Dion DiMucci - Bob Dylan's Influence on Rock and Roll | Bob Dylan - Like a Rolling Stone (1965) | Bob Dylan - Talkin' New York (1962) | Woody Guthrie - This Land is Your Land (1944) | Little Richard - Tutti Frutti (1957)
Upon completion of this lesson, students will:
1. Distribute Handout 1: Early Bob Dylan Timeline, and discuss:
2. Why do you think Dylan might have been drawn to this music in high school? Why might he have wanted to become another Little Richard?
3. Distribute Handout 2: Excerpts of Lyrics for Songs in This Lesson. Play the clip of Little Richard performing "Tutti Frutti" for the class. Discuss:
4. Display the quote from Bob Dylan below, from the liner notes of his 1985 compilation Biograph, and discuss the questions that follow:
“The thing about Rock and Roll is that for me, anyway, it wasn't enough... There were great catch phrases and driving pulse rhythms... but the songs weren't serious or didn't reflect life in a realistic way. I knew that when I got into folk music, it was more of a serious type of thing. The songs are filled with more despair, more sadness, more triumph, more faith in the supernatural, much deeper feelings.”
In light of these photographs, consider the quotes from Dylan below – the first from Dylan's memoir, Chronicle, the second from an interview with journalist Robert Hillburn – and discuss:
6. Refer students to the excerpt of the lyrics for Dylan's song “Talkin’ New York” (on Handout 2), which appeared on his first album, released in 1962. Play the clip of “Talkin’ New York” and discuss:
7. Play the video clip of musician Steven Van Zandt discussing Dylan’s early years, and discuss:
8. Divide students into pairs. Refer students to the excerpt from the lyrics to "Like a Rolling Stone" (on Handout 2), which appeared on Dylan’s sixth album, Highway 61 Revisited, released in 1965. Play a clip from the song. Ask each pair to discuss the following questions:
If Rock and Roll influenced the kind of Folk music that Dylan wrote and performed, how in turn did Dylan’s style of Folk music influence Rock and Roll?
Have students read Bob Dylan's first interview, which appears on the Dylan chapter homepage. Ask them to write a short response to the interview, addressing these questions: What kind of impression does Dylan make? How does it change your impressions of Dylan to know that he's fabricating many of his answers -- saying, for example, that he'd lived in New Mexico and traveled with a carnival? Why might he have invented such answers? What does this suggest about a figure who'd become known for cultivating an aura of mystery and for a shifting public persona?
College and Career Readiness Reading Anchor Standards for Grades 6-12 for Literature and Informational Text
College and Career Readiness Writing Anchor Standards for Grades 6-12 in English Language Arts and Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science and Technical Subjects
College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Speaking and Listening for Grades 6-12
College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Language for Grades 6-12
Core Music Standard: Responding
Analyze: Analyze how the structure and context of varied musical works inform the response.
Interpret: Support interpretations of musical works that reflect creators' and/or performers' expressive intent.
Evaluate: Support evaluations of musical works and performances based on analysis, interpretation, and established criteria.
Core Music Standard: Connecting
Connecting 11: Relate musical ideas and works to varied contexts and daily life to deepen understanding.