Date of Degree
Bob Dylan, poet, singer, song writer, blues music, rock music
Bob Dylan’s catalogue of songs has been labeled the most important and influential in the pantheon of rock music history by many significant literary scholars, cultural journalists, music critics, and rock musicians the world over. Even Pope John Paul II wanted to hear "the voice of a generation" and invited Bob Dylan to perform at the twenty-third World Eucharistic Congress in Bologna, Italy in 1997 before an estimated crowd of three hundred thousand (Sounes 425).
The over-arching objective of this writing is to construct a framework for the originally written and composed songs by Bob Dylan and define them as belonging in twelve different, distinct, chronological artistic periods that span the nearly sixty years of his songwriting. This concept was borne from a perceived gap between the decades of his music and the context of his songs. The aim is to create a framework for clarity to newcomers, who might be tangled up in Bob, so they can better orient themselves in the relationship between song, culture, and his artistic evolution. This model will be helpful in extrapolating an additional aspect of the meaning from a given song, once located within a given time period. Also, the establishment of Bob Dylan’s artistic periods will offer clarity and balance on the chronology of all his albums (compilations, bootlegs, and live albums are excluded from this examination, see appendix).
My interest in Bob Dylan is due primarily to the fact that I simply enjoy his songs and how they connect to my own views and experiences. In keeping pace with the singer/songwriter, I began to notice his growing influence in our culture, musically, aesthetically, socially, and politically. Ultimately it can be said, he brought the counterculture into the main-stream culture. It’s Bob Dylan I have to thank for expanding to some degree, my ability to see behind some of the curtains of life. I particularly appreciated his "finger pointin'" songs which will be explained later.
In this thesis I plan to prove how his over five hundred original songs on board the thirty-seven associated album collections can be defined into artistic periods.The structure of the periods are based on the official chronological release order of his albums, with the exception of his eighth album The Basement Tapes which will be included based on it’s recording dates in circa summer 1967, versus its official commercial release on June 26, 1975. The reason for this is because its periodic placement helps explain a significant stylistic gap in the artistic conceptions of the two albums that surround The Basement Tapes which are Blonde On Blonde (May 16, 1966) and John Wesley Harding (Dec. 27, 1967). Aside from the chronological basis for periodic identification, musical stylings, lyrical stylings, cultural relevance, artistic aesthetics, and an album’s relationship to the artist’s body of work will also be considered for defining the albums periodic location.
Vital to this thesis is the not so well known fact that Bob Dylan is a devoted fan and practitioner in the sport of boxing. For all intents and purposes Bob Dylan can be said to be a "pugilist," which means he has trained with professionals and knows what he's doing when sparring in the ring. Ergo, the twelve creative periods of Bob Dylan’s songs will be expressed in “Rounds,” for the purpose of uniqueness of thesis presentation and for providing some creative opportunity and levity to an otherwise dry and academic examination into the work of a pioneering poet/singer/songwriter. In this narrative device of a fictional boxing match, even the reader may occasionally be referred to as one of the opponents Bob Dylan will face in the ring.
Round One is called “Musical Expeditionary Period” because that’s what Bob Dylan called himself in an on camera interview in the Martin Scorsese documentary No Direction Home. A question arose about possibly of Dylan pilfering some of Folk Music Scholar Paul Nelson’s record collection while a student at the University of Minnesota, to which Dylan said, “well someone like myself who was a musical expeditionary, you have to immerse yourself in [records]” (Scorsese 30:25). So Dylan did lift some of Nelson’s records and ultimately it’s not known if he returned them. Musical expeditionary is what he considered himself to be during his earliest days of learning to play guitar, harmonica and piano before coming to New York.
Fast-forward to his second creative period, the “Solo Acoustic Period” beginning in Mar.1962 and it is named as such because during the creation of the three albums and live concerts, “solo acoustic” was the singular performance mode for all his musical stylings during the period, what you got were his songs, his voice, his acoustic guitar, and his harmonica.
These are only two brief examples of how the periods in Bob Dylan’s chronological order of albums get there names. There are a total of twelve rounds to be defined in detail as laid out in the forth-coming chapters. So lace up your gloves (so to speak) and prepare to meet the pugilist/poet in the center of the ring, as he prepares to face you and the world with his words, guitar strings, microphone and harmonica. “Standing in the blue corner to my right...Bob Dylan.”
Westlein, Richard, "Twelve Rounds with Bob Dylan: Pugilist/Poet" (2019). CUNY Academic Works.