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The Influence of Bob Dylan on Literature and Music

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Born in America, Bob Dylan has been a prominent songwriter, singer, author, and visual artist, taking the frontline in popular culture for more than fifty years. The majority of his regarded works date back to the 1960s, where some of his hits became a reference point for those spearheading the civil rights movement. Remarkably, Dylan’s lyrics during this period integrated an array of political, social, philosophical, and literary influences, which contradicted the existing pop-music convention at that time and interested in the rising counterculture. Significantly, Dylan chose to incorporate a simple, overlooked form into his compositions. Although they were simple, every word he ever wrote was pure artistry. He was able to ascribe poetry to music, causing a significant shift in literature. In a way, Dylan made a milestone shift through songwriting, outstanding vocal talent, and moving stage performances by writing songs and poems that reflect the happenings of the 20th century.

To help with his compositions, Dylan dedicated much time listening to mainstream music, both day and night. Defying the existing music culture in society during this period, he devoted all efforts to the 20th century American popular music. He spent time listening to the forms that played on the radio stations and gramophone records for the ordinary individuals, both white and black: songs for revolution, country music, blues, old rock gospel, and the mainstream music. By exposing himself to the various genres of music, he can emerge himself into the different cultures and even get a glimpse of their pain, sorrow, and just everyday emotion. When Dylan began to compose his own works with his unique creativity, he still followed the same beat as the original song or even used snippets of the original lyrics. While the songs were similar, Dylan’s versions were still original. For this reason, he concluded that all creativity starts with imitation.

What is most commendable about Bob Dylan’s works is how well he can portray his emotions through rhyme. This may not seem like a high achievement, seeing as many artists have the ability to rhyme. What makes it noteworthy is how much of himself is expressed in such a few words. A great example of Dylan’s talent is ‘Mixed-Up Confusion,’ the song is only eight verses, but the song covers the feelings of helplessness, isolation, desperation, depression, and much more. Bob Dylan surprised many listeners with his gravelly voice, piercing harmonica, and soothing guitar. He contradicted this image of a poppy folk singer; he sang with emotion and with a purpose. He had a much more competitive edge compared to the artists and poets in his generation. Bob Dylan was paving the way for a new musical genre.

Much of Dylan’s works were influenced by both previous and mainstream artists and genres. In the beginning, he drew much from country and western music, while later on, from rock done by Little Richard and Chuck Berry. During his teenage career, he learned from folk musicians such as Odetta and mimicked Woody Guthrie. Notably, he imitated Guthrie’s Oklahoma twang (Gilmore, 2018). He progressively absorbed the folk and traditional songs wherever found them, from colleague performers, from books such as Alan Lomax’s ‘Folk Songs of North American,” and from records. Nonetheless, Dylan was not only inspired by other music but also literature, poetry, and film, which have all contributed enormously to his artistic life.

Dylan’s work marked an incredible moment in the worldview regarding the cultural and generational movement that started in the mid-1960s, which had a significant impact on people’s lives. Though he spearheaded a revolution in society, Dylan refused to accept leading any charge. His language alone, how he packaged it, opening up songs’ contents and meanings, spoke his intention. His purpose was not to express novel concerns but rather let people know that they were heard and in turn, make the oppressors or wrongdoers realize they needed to start providing solutions. He met criticism in the course of his work. In other words, mainstream journalists found unbelievable aspects in his lyrics and attitude. On the other hand, his audience strongly believed that Dylan was fighting for them, and only confronting a backward world that they were striving to overcome. Dylan’s writing cannot be separated from his music, as he changed the times. In a way, his arguments and demarcations realigned modern literature in a manner that independent poetry or prose could not achieve. Because of his great invasion into American culture, some individuals (authors and poets), switched to popular music.

Bob Dylan ushered a new reign of music where the melody changed, and the songs incorporated powerful and inspirational messages. Interestingly, Dylan became prominent and featured in the news headlines, where he subsequently won the Nobel Prize for Literature. At the same time, Dylan’s has been lauded for his notable snub of the apparent system. Most of his songs and poems, for instance, ‘Mixed-Up Confusion,’ was inspired by the urge for political and social change. Similarly, over the past few decades, the mantra of what is regarded as literature has been broken down and shaped up, turning into an inclusive and diverse concept that touches on a concoction of elements. The conception of literature has moved from works that are morally oriented to works that shape human beings in all kinds of diversities.

Undoubtedly, Bob Dylan is one of the essential literary personnel of his generation. Notably, he uses a proficient and extraordinary language, and he has amassed a celebratory collection of poetic works. Even though he fundamentally specializes in music and performance, Dylan has an unmatched sense and skill of poetry. For example, his poem titled ‘My Life in a Stolen Moment’ comprises an interplay of words, figures of speech, diction, rhyme, and language awareness as both form and a style itself. This is much different from his famous works as ‘My Life in a Stolen Moment’ is a poem without set music, but it still has the characteristics of a Bob Dylan creation. Dylan hails from a culture predominated by performing poets. What makes Dylan unique compared to his rivals was his ability to communicate with his fans. Dylan was in such harmony with his audience, and with his lyrics that he was creatively capable of altering his words to suit the audience. The aspect of the oral versus the written was a dominating theme in Dylan’s work. Seemingly, the relationship between the seen and the heard is not a unique concept to Dylan. It serves as the primary aspect of his poet performances. The distinguishing mark for Dylan from other fellow poets stands at his primary oral text, which is supplemented in the written text. The stage performances, audio records, and out-takes are all different versions that exude variant meanings, as well as variant lyrics.

Correspondingly, in a bid to understand the sincere contribution of Dylan to the artistic aspect of the American society, significant consideration should be placed in his wholesome work, and not only on a handful of songs. Dylan shows how much strength he has in his field due to his expression and usage of various themes, styles, and techniques. Substantially, he writes in the English language as opposed to the ‘language of his generation,’ which several writers used to pass influential songs. In a way, Dylan is showing respect for his audience by indicating that he does not have to speak condescendingly towards them for them to understand what he is trying to convey. Dylan primarily sits unforgettable in American history as his songs and the general works began at a time when the society was in dire need of change. Specifically, he reclaimed and redefined poetry, and it is for this reason that he is highly regarded as a crucial figure in the history of English Literature.

Dylan updated with happenings in the country, cognizant of the fears, agony, battles, and injustices that had invaded the land, and was linked to the folk music and his audience. As such, he was out to initiate a revolutionary fight, where he first wrote an indelible lamentation based on racial discrimination. His ‘Hard Times in New York Town’ and ‘Rambler, Gambler’ expressed the underlying problems that the disenfranchised groups were facing in America. Therefore, these songs were rooted in the comprehensive insights and demanded generational changes that would last and persevere, whether the established powers were ready or not.

From the ongoing discussions, it is evident how Bob Dylan has made milestones changes in American songs and poems. He significantly shaped the idea of poetry by incorporating his personal flare that spoke out to the masses. Notably, to affirm his legendary works, he won the Nobel Prize for Literature for his unmatched literary works that ranged from the beats, performances, and the quality of the oral and written presentations. Deservedly, he ought to be placed in ranks with the early Romantic visionaries, kings, and queens of the blues, rock legends, and the unsung heroes that had predominated the western music. Drawing from the previous works of the former legends, Dylan found a staircase for success, learning, and using the idea of the existing works. Nonetheless, he was inspired by a desire to spur a revolution, which means realigning the society without upsetting the current literature in any means.

Works Cited

  • “Bob Dylan Biographical.” The Nobel Prize, 2017,
  • Engdahl, Horace. “The Nobel Prize in Literature 2016.” The Nobel Prize, 2016,
  • Gilmore, Mikal. “Why Bob Dylan Is a Literary Genius.” Rolling Stone, 25 June 2018,

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