He has inspired musicians and songwriters, politicians and protesters, presidents and popes. In commemoration of Bob Dylan's 70th birthday on May 24, 2011 we asked a gallery of famous friends and admirers to share what he has meant to them — and to the world.
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.
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.
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.
bob dylan is a wave.
he's a moving body of energy built of melodies, words, rhythms, ideas, and attitudes that have swept over the world since the year of my birth.
like jazz music he is an American invention. one of the best representatives we've ever had.
thank goodness for every person, place, thing, or animal that ever inspired bob to write music.
if a man is measured by the amount of suffering he eases and the amount of joy he gives the world, then bob has more than done his job.
bringing the intellect and the emotion together in song that sounds like no one else is a rare form of expression.
bob dylan is a rare artist. they don't make them likehim anymore.
When we met in 1964 I was just 17, and Bob was a few years older. He had written something for me, but I was pregnant and just about to get married, so I didn't want to go to bed with him, and he got cross. There went whatever he was writing: He tore it up in front of me.
Bob had a big influence on the Rolling Stones. I got ahold of The Basement Tapes and went on holiday with Mick and took it with me, and I played it ad nauseam. When we got back, Mick gave it to Keith: I think it affected their writing and moved them into the golden period. "Gimme Shelter" and "Street Fighting Man" and "Sympathy for the Devil" — those are all about big subjects, and what Bob was writing about all during the '60s was big subjects.
So, I give Bob all my love and congratulations, and "Well done, man."
Bob is unique unto himself, a one-of-a-kind kind of artist. He's controversial and commercial and underground and all those things at the same time. Bob tells it like he feels it, and he's been like that for his entire career. He's never ever pulled any punches or tried to clean it up for the public or censored himself, and that's the thing I love about him.
I want to say "Happy Birthday" to you, Bob. I'm proud to know you.
I was a junior in high school. Earlier, I had heard Peter, Paul and Mary doing "Blowin' in the Wind" and "The Times They Are A-Changin'," and I had heard a bit about this guy who wrote them, so I was loaded and primed to hear this guy's real voice. I was thunderstruck. Compared with anything I had heard to that point, this was raw. He sang in tune and played well, but there was a notable lack of finesse to it. In its place was a gut punch. I was changed: If this guy can be so uncompromising, so direct, why can't I?
After that, I was no longer interested in being polished or accessible. I was interested only in finding something worth expressing, and doing so with clarity, animation, and color.
Dylan's a poet, at times an oracle, and a musician. The first two I won't address. As a musician, he more than gets the job done. I've played with him, and he rocked my socks. I'm gonna want to hear what Dylan has to say as long as he wants to say it.
Larry "Ratso" Sloman is the author of On the Road With Bob Dylan and The Secret Life of Houdini.