Bob Dylan Impact on Society

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Bob Dylan: An Impact on American Society in the 1960’s

Amy Blanton Professor Porter History 22
April 10, 2001

1 The 1960s was a decade of liberation for music, public opinion, dance, invention, and the binds of racism. From this generation spawned some of the greatest musical artists of all time—one in particular, Bob Dylan. Bob Dylan is considered to be the greatest influence on popular culture of all time. However, Bob Dylan was not born an idol—his legacy was a result of his surroundings. Throughout Bob Dylan’s life, starting with his childhood, he has been somehow affected by various historical events, such as the after-shocks of the world wars, improvement of television and radio in society, Kennedy’s assassination, the Cuban Missile Crisis, and the civil rights movement; it was these changes in society that influenced Dylan to write music that would in turn evoke changes within that society itself. Robert Allen Zimmerman, later known as Bob Dylan, was born on May 24, 1941 to Abraham Zimmerman and Beatty Stone Zimmerman. He was born in Duluth, Minnesota; however, at the age of seven, he and his family were forced to move to Hibbing, Minnesota. Abraham worked as a department supervisor at the local Standard Oil in Duluth, but after World War II, there was a low demand for Standard Oil products and the family decided to move to Hibbing. Iron ore had been discovered in Hibbing, which caused an economic boom. Abraham got a job at Micka Electric, while Beatty worked at Feldman’s Department Store.1

2 Growing up Jewish in a small town like Hibbing, was no easy task. There were very few Jews there; in fact, Robert was related to just about all of the Jews in town. Because of this, he spent much time around his family.2 At an early age, Robert was already showing signs of natural talent. He had a natural ability for writing poetry; according to his mother, Robert was “a prodigious writer of poetry throughout his youth.”3 Robert’s primary inspiration as a young boy came by means of the television and radio. He spent countless hours admiring the television as some of his favorite actors filled the screen. However, the radio had the biggest effect on young Zimmerman. Many believe rock-n-roll to be Robert’s first inspiration; however, it was actually country music that he loved.4 His “first idol” was country singer Hank Williams. “Hank Williams sang about the world of railroads, the pain of loss, and the need to move. His restlessness echoed Bob’s own.”5 Among his other inspirations were James Dean and Woody Guthrie. Robert mimicked the sound of Hank, but his image came from James Dean.6 In 1956, Robert heard for the first time the sounds of what would become his next inspiration--it was called rock-n-roll. As he listened to the music of Little Richard, Buddy Holly, and Elvis Presley play through the radio, Robert decided that he would also become a rock-n-roll star.7 “The lyrics crystallized all his feelings of ambition, rebellion and individual identity…Hibbing no longer represented a frontier to his aspirations.”8 Robert now had the music, the ambition,

3 and the image (he mimicked the look of James Dean “the rebel”). He decided to start a band, if fact, Robert was a part of several bands including the Shadow Blasters’, Elston Gunn and the Rock Boppers, and Bobby Vee’s Band.9 In 1959, Robert left home to attend the University of Minnesota. Shortly afterwards, he tried out for a gig at the Ten O’Clock Scholar coffeehouse. David Lee, the owner, was auditioning for folksingers. When he asked for Robert’s name, he simply replied, “Bob Dylan.” Later, when interviewed, Dylan said that the name just came to him right then—it had no meaning other than that.10 Some suspect that the name actually came from poet Dylan Thomas, but Bob never confirmed this. Other sources say that it may have come from Matt Dillon off of one of Bob’s old favorite TV shows, “Gunsmoke.” Another possibility was that “Dillon” was a family name,...
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