Culture & Literature
LIFE Bob Dylan

LIFE Bob Dylan

LIFE Bob Dylan

On the occasion of Bob Dylan becoming the first songwriter to be awarded the Nobel Prize in literature, LIFE presents this updated classic edition of Dylan’s illustrious and transformative life. With beautiful and rarely seen photographs and with a deeply engaging narrative the book takes readers from the icon's early days in Minnesota to his emergence onto the New York City folk-rock screen to his rise to the world’s most influential singer and poet. There is only one Bob Dylan and through this chronicling of his relationships, his controversial public stances and those unforgettable songs, Dylan comes to life. PLUS: An exclusive appraisal of Dylan’s place in the Nobel Prize pantheon.

United States
Meredith Corporation
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in this issue

5 min.
nobel man

The unorthodox selection of Bob Dylan as the 2016 recipient of the Nobel Prize in Literature was bound to cause controversy. He became the first American to win the prize since Toni Morrison in 1993 and, more significantly, he became the first songwriter, from any country, to win it ever. Although there had been a quiet groundswell for Dylan-as-Nobelist over the years—supported in part by university academics who teach his lyrics in their classrooms—many within the literary community squirmed. What about Philip Roth? What about Don DeLillo? What about …? The novelist Irvine Welsh derided the Dylan selection as an “ill-conceived nostalgia award.” The poet Natalie Diaz wondered why the late Bob Marley never got considered. Some writers groused about ancillary things: Dylan is rich and famous enough already! He doesn’t…

26 min.
birth of a folksinger

The prodigious Minnesotan Robert Zimmerman, who certainly hoped that one day books would be written about him, just as certainly never imagined—even in his considerable ambition and his wildest dreams—that there would be so many such books. And he surely never guessed that one of them might start with a note about Roger Maris and Kevin McHale—guys he certainly didn’t know. ¶ Bobby Zimmerman was born in Duluth on May 24, 1941, but the legend of his extraordinary life usually begins with Hibbing, a smaller place that was his mother’s hometown (his grandparents, both maternal and paternal, were Jewish immigrants from Europe, and his people were ensconced in Minnesota’s small but tight-knit Jewish community). His family had relocated when Bobby was six after his father, Abe, contracted polio and the…

1 min.

As we have said, Dylan soaked up everything he saw or heard: how to sing, how to play, how to write, how to perform. His influences range from white-bread ’50s pop bands to soulful Depression-era African American folksingers, from the fiercest rock ’n’ rollers to traditional acoustic-guitar balladeers. Here, pieces of Dylan.…

33 min.
plugging in

Dylan, even beyond his singular singing voice, was going to be difficult for lots of people. It is good to understand that this was an inevitability; he was simply a difficult guy when measured against standard norms of social or professional interaction. ¶ “I wanted to meet the mind that created all those beautiful words,” the singer Judy Collins told the author David Hajdu when he was assembling material for Positively 4th Street, his fine group portrait of Dylan and the Baez sisters, Joan and Mimi, and of Richard Fariña (who would become Mimi’s husband) and other creatures of the Village in the early 1960s. “We set something up,” continued Collins, “and we had coffee, and when it was over, I walked away, thinking, ‘The guy’s an idiot. He can’t make…

1 min.
dylan and the band

Mostly Canadian by birth—Robbie Robertson, Rick Danko, Garth Hudson and Richard Manuel were all from north of the border, while Levon Helm hailed from Arkansas—their sound was a blend of Americana and roadhouse rock ’n’ roll. They weren’t Dylan’s first electric backing band, nor his last, but they were with him in Woodstock, and at the Royal Albert Hall (minus Helm). They shared the catcalls and, later, the cheers.…

25 min.
retreat, return

Dylan wanted to get out of the rat race, sure, and whether he purposely caused his exit from the scene or it was forced upon him, there was an irony to the first weeks and months of his rehabilitation— physical, psychological, spiritual rehab—in Woodstock. The irony: Nothing was calm, all was chaos. If anything, it was even worse than it had recently been. Dylan’s fans desperately wanted to know how he was and what had happened. Journalists were their only agents, and so the drumbeat from the press was ceaseless. Across the globe, a story ran in a Japanese newspaper recounting a bedside interview in a hospital—an interview that had never happened. It was all so very ponderous and urgent, as Dylan lay at home rubbing his neck. This, from…