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Bob Dylan, American Idol

On the legendary singer's 70th birthday, a collection of famous friends pay him tribute

Bob Dylan 70th Birthday Tribute

As Bob Dylan celebrates his 70th birthday, a star-studded collection of cultural influencers reflects on his indelible impact. — Collage by Erika Simmons

For 50 years, he has inspired musicians and songwriters, politicians and protesters, presidents and popes. To celebrate Bob Dylan's 70th birthday on May 24, we asked a gallery of famous friends and admirers to share what he has meant to them — and to the world.

To read the full tributes, click on the names below. Scroll through the video playlist at the bottom of the page to see memorable performances by Dylan and by artists covering his classic songs (and a bonus trio of movie trailers for movies starring or inspired by him).

Bono: "jagged around the edges"

Bono — Illustration by Andy Friedman

When I was 13, Bob Dylan started whispering in my ear… it was a hoarse whisper, jagged around the edges, not-too-plain truths…ideas blowing in the wind about how the world could be a better place if we could just get it out of the hands of the hypocrites.

When I was 16, Bob Dylan whispered in my ear about how the real enemy was not flesh and blood, but of a spiritual nature.

At 21, with the slow train of faith having picked up a little too much speed, I stood at a religious crossroads and heard "Every Grain of Sand" stop time.

When I got married at 22, Bob Dylan was whispering in my ear about love and infidelity.

When I had my first child at 29, Bob Dylan wrote "Ring Them Bells" and "What Good Am I?"

When I ran out of gas in the late '90s, I had Time Out of Mind to hold on to.

When the world crumbled around two shining towers, and New York had its two front teeth knocked out, I had Love and Theft to hang on to.

Now, having faced 50, I'm realizing I knew much more then than I do now. I'm returning to the brutal truth that "The Times They Are A-Changin' " — but you don't have to let them change you.

In short, all my life, Bob Dylan has been there for me.

Judy Collins: "He was our higher education"

Judy Collins — Illustration by Andy Friedman

I met Bob when he was still Robert Zimmerman, playing in Colorado in 1959. We met up later in the Village when he was playing Gerde's Folk City, singing old Woody Guthrie songs — not very well, quite frankly. But he was charming — very nice — and we got drunk a few times together. And then he just blew my mind when he started writing those songs. I read "Blowin' in the Wind" for the first time when it was published in Sing Out! magazine, and it was unbelievable. I couldn't believe that anybody could have written that song, but for it to come from him?I wrote him a fan letter after I read that issue.

We wanted so much to change the world; we all wanted to stop the war; we wanted to stop social injustice. They were good causes because they had an innocence about them. But there was something about what Dylan was doing, a certain sophistication, that deepened our understanding of what's really going on here. Bob dragged us from literary immaturity and made us grow up emotionally. He dragged us into the world of alliteration and metaphor in a way that nobody else could do. He was our higher education.

Bruce Springsteen: "Father of My Country"

Bruce Springsteen — Illustration by Andy Friedman

Bob Dylan is the father of my country.

Martin Scorsese: "beating down new paths"

Martin Scorsese — Illustration by Andy Friedman

Bob is ageless because he keeps turning new corners, beating down new paths, redefining himself and his art as he goes. "Someone had to reach for the rising star, I guess it was up to me," he once sang. That sums it up pretty well. He's still reaching — and encouraging us to do the same.

Mavis Staples: "Little curly-haired guy"

Mavis Staples — Illustration by Andy Friedman

I met Bob when he was a little skinny kid back in the early '60s. We were all doing a television show together and his manager said, "I want to introduce you to the Staple Singers," and he said, "I've been listening to the Staple Singers since I was 12 years old."

And he proposed to me the same day we met! We all had to stand in line for lunch that day. Our family was way up in the front of the line and Dylan was way in the back, and all of a sudden you heard somebody say, "Pops, I want to marry Mavis." And everybody laughed, and Pops yelled back, "Well, don't tell me, tell Mavis." So that was the beginning of our little romance. We were glad to be on folk festivals because that's when we would see each other. He was the cutest little curly-haired guy. I often think about that, if Bobby and I had gotten married and had children, we would have had us a family of singers now. We would have had the Dylan Staples family.

Bobby, 70 is the new 60. It's the best time of our lives, whatever age we are. I'm the happiest old girl in the world, and I'm sure you will be just as happy.

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