Bob Dylan does not sell as many albums as one might think. His reputation and influence are what give him cultural impact.
In terms of sales Michael Bolton, Maria Carey, Gorillaz and many other popular pop music acts outsell him consistently. While most of his records are Gold he only has a handful of multi-platinum albums, he is no Michael Jackson. But then Dylan wouldn’t cross the street to have his photo taken with any big music act of the day while everyone named in this paragraph would kill to get their photo with him, to somehow get a sign of Dylan’s approval or to be considered as important as His Bobness.
Dylan hasn’t had a hit single in decades. Unlike The Beatles and Elvis he never made the successful transition into motion pictures. He had what can politely be called a dry patch in the 1980s which was the artistic equivalent of the Gobi Desert.
But his impact is greater now than at any time since late 1965 and he has made four (five if you count his bizarre 2009 Christmas album) artistically strong records in a row, hitting number one with at least one of them (depending which country you pick, USA or UK) and writing some of his best material since his supposed youthful heyday.
I am not the only writer, fan or critic fascinated by Bob Dylan and his work. Books on Dylan continue to pour forth, my second Dylan book is Shelter From The Storm, and I plan to start a third and final book on Dylan. Dylan fascinates for many reasons. He is the only pop musician you can name who has consistent not so much refused to play The Fame Game but who has ignored it completely. Until he was in his late forties he didn’t tour very much. His interviews make no attempt to win the public over. He records or doesn’t record depending on his mood and not the record company’s. He goes underground for lengthy periods yet came out of one such period of seclusion to host a very public and very popular radio show. The bottom line is this: rock musicians or pop stars, they all chase, they all seek an audience. Save one person.
Bob Dylan didn’t go to his audience and beg to be accepted. They found him, and when they did they found him valid, and their word of mouth spread like a cultural flash flood.
Dylan once said “a hero is anyone who marches to their own drummer”. Surely he was talking about himself. Name another revered public figure with a devoted following who re-married in middle age and successfully kept it secret from the fans for years and years? Name another public figure who at the height of his youthful fame calls it a day and leaves the public view for five years and change? Name another public figure who changes his style and his art with the seemingly casual flair of Bob Dylan? Name another public figure who is considered a cultural leader, a semi-political figure yet who gives extremely few pronouncements on the great issues of the day?
Through it all there has only been one constant in Bob Dylan and that constant is change.
He is everything his fans want him to be and yet he is nothing like that at all. In a few short years Dylan will have been recording and singing to his own particular audience for fifty years, a full half century. And through it all he has been true to only one thing; himself. And that is the most fascinating aspect of Bob Dylan and why I chose to write a trilogy of books on him.
Sid Griffin is perhaps most famous as the ringleader of 1980s indie chart heroes the Long Ryders, the band who kickstarted both alt-country and Americana. Now residing in London, England he writes books, appears as a pundit on BBC radio and plays mandolin with his new band, the Coal Porters.
Find More @ www.sidgriffin.com
this piece first appeared in Beat Magazine