Bob Dylan

In sheer number of mentions in the JN, Bob Dylan outranks other star performers.

It is hard to believe, but Bob Dylan celebrated his 80th birthday on May 24. It is not an overstatement to say that Dylan — aka Robert Allen Zimmerman — is an enigmatic sort of musical genius.

Dylan is universally lauded as one of the best, some say the best, songwriter in American history. His career has lasted nearly 60 years, and along the way, Dylan has received 10 Grammy Awards, an Academy Award, a Presidential Medal of Freedom, and just to top off these accolades, the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2016. He has also been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and has received numerous international recognitions.

Bob Dylan

Dylan was born in Duluth, Minn., and raised in Hibbing, Minn., a town established for miners who worked in the famous Mesabi Iron Range in northern Minnesota. His grandparents were Jewish immigrants from Europe. Dylan was raised within Hibbing’s small but vibrant Jewish community. While in high school, Dylan began his musical career. He moved to New York at the age of 19 and took the name, Bob Dylan. He released his first album in 1962 at the age of 21; his latest album, his 39th, was released last year.

Dylan appears on 369 pages in the William Davidson Digital Archive of Jewish Detroit History in a wide range of stories, reports and feature articles. In sheer number of mentions in the JN, Dylan outranks other star performers such as Elvis Presley, who only appears on 49 pages; Frank Sinatra, 78 pages; the Beatles, 77 pages; and Barbara Streisand, 58 pages. 

Bob Dylan

Dylan first appears in the Dec. 29, 1967, issue of the JN in an advertisement from the Studio I Theater in Detroit. It was showing an “exclusive first run” of Don’t Look Back, a movie about Dylan’s 1965 concert tour in England, a film that “tells it like it is….” The ad carried a disclaimer: “No one over 30 admitted.” 

One only needs to read the coverage of Dylan in the JN to understand that he moves to his own drummer. Raised Jewish, Dylan embraced Christianity in the 1980s for a short time, and then returned to Judaism and contributed to Chabad and to the Lubavitcher movement. He has been consistently pro-Zionist over the years. His song, “Neighborhood Bully” has a strong Zionist message. Yet, when Dylan visited Israel in 1987 for a concert, he canceled a live-TV interview and didn’t show up for scheduled meetings with Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and Jerusalem Mayor Teddy Kollek (Sept. 11, 1987, JN). How many of us would have the chutzpah to stiff those guys?

Bob Dylan

There are also a number of analyses of Dylan’s music and life in the JN, including several cover stories. Their titles should give you a hint of how tough it is to fully explain Dylan. For example, see “Tangled Up in Zimmerman” by frequent JN contributor Don Cohen (Sept. 22, 2005) or “Will the Real Bob Dylan Please Stand Up” by David Holzel (Jan. 12, 1990) and “Deciphering Dylan” by Larry Yudelson (July 2, 1999).

Bob Dylan

Perhaps “A Nice Jewish Cultural Icon? Sort Of” by reviewer Ken Gordon (Jan. 7, 2005) reaches the most reasonable assessment of Bob Dylan: “He is always, and only, himself.” 

Want to learn more? Go to the DJN Foundation archives, available for free at www.djnfoundation.org.

Previous articleGuest Column: It Was a Good Year
Next articleDanny Raskin: Good Burgers