As Bob Dylan turns 80, his music, words and artistry permeate our world and remain culturally relevant.
For some, Dylan is dubbed the "voice of a generation". For others, he reframed songwriting. For Dylan himself, "titles get in the way".
"I think that [the voice of a generation title] was just a term that can create problems for somebody, especially if someone just wants to keep it simple and write songs and play them," Dylan told a rare interview with NPR – National Public Radio in the United States – in 2004.
"Having these colossal accolades and titles, they get in the way," he added.
Dylan's 60-odd years of performance, artistry and creation have heralded many directions and incarnations. From the outset, his songs were cast as anthems for the civil rights and anti-war movements. More recently, in 2016, the Nobel Prize for Literature placed him at the forefront of music history.
Born on 24 May 1941, in Duluth, Minnesota, Robert Allen Zimmerman came to prominence in the 60s.
"At a time of very great social protest, for young people, there was a place for an artist to communicate something that was different than everybody else. Bob Dylan was the man – I'm talking here about the early to mid-60s," RTÉ's Dave Fanning told Morning Ireland.
For Dave Fanning, Bob Dylan's place in music history is rivalled only by The Beatles.
"There was great social protest, huge changes in music and he was the one who was at the front of it all. He brought that right through to the '70s and the '80s. If there is one person I have to look to in terms of the greatest of all in Rock, I'd look to Bob Dylan – in the same way as I say that his importance is only rivalled by The Beatles," Dave Fanning explained.
Just like Dave Fanning, RTÉ lyric fm's John Kelly is a Dylan fan.
"The first time I heard him was possibly Mr Tambourine Man on the radio, but really when I heard him properly was when I was a teenager and I got my hands on Bringing It All Back Home and I thought: 'Here is a world I can get into'," John Kelly told Morning Ireland.
For John Kelly, any conversation about Bob Dylan needs to examine his influences, his early folk days and the artist's ability to retain, access and use what he heard, read and experienced.
"The narrative usually is that Dylan began as a folk singer and that's not entirely true because the folk scene at the time was a craze. He became part of this craze and he became a folk singer and invented himself as one. In that sense, in immersing himself in that [folk], he really set himself up for the rest of his career," said the presenter.
"He went in there to that folk scene and learned a whole lot and took it with him. The point is that it wasn't just folk. Bob Dylan had everything at his command – Rock 'n' Roll, Blues, Country, Bluegrass, Swing, the American Songbook. He had all this stuff at his command and he seems to have this extraordinary mental capacity to remember everything that he hears, everything that he reads. He seems to be able to retain it. He seems to be able to access it. He seems to be able to go and get it whenever he needs it, and use it, and play with it, and then add his own thing to it and invent something of his own out of all of that. I think that is the distinct advantage Dylan has over an awful lot of performers – he has a massive hinterland," John Kelly continued.
Ann Powers – an NPR music critic, and a contributor to the new anthology The World of Bob Dylan, told Morning Ireland that Bob Dylan reframed songwriting.
"He connected the historical expansiveness of the folk tradition, the daring avant-gardism of 'The Beats' and the attitude, the sexiness and the constant need for renewal and novelty of Rock 'n' Roll. In making those connections, he did change the game for every songwriter who came after him," she said.
In 2016, Bob Dylan was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature for, as the citation stated: "Having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition."
Poet Caitriona O'Reilly told Morning Ireland the citation "making reference to the great American song tradition is, in a part, a nod to that tradition as well as a recognition of Dylan's individual achievement".
NPR's Ann Powers said Dylan's words are culturally relevant and permeate our world.
"His work takes from the culture and reinterprets it. Young people who don't even know who Bob Dylan is, as a person, know his songs - even if they don't know the reference they are hearing is from one of his songs. To me, that is how a culturally relevant writer is defined. His work has permeated our world. It is about, 'Is that work in our lifeblood?', and I think it is when it comes to Bob Dylan," she said.
As he turns 80, what is Bob Dylan's legacy? Poet Caitriona O'Reilly said his legacy is best highlighted in the song Murder Most Foul from his 2020 album Rough and Rowdy Ways.
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"It referenced the assassination of John F Kennedy in 1963. It then segues from that into a litany of his own cultural reference points. I think what he is doing there is making a plea for the importance of art, and popular art at a time of public crisis, and saying that it has something to say and it has a serious social impact and that it matters. I think that's what Dylan's legacy ultimately will be," she said.
John Kelly said Dylan's legacy will be in the enormous amount of work he has created.
"His legacy, and I hope there will be a lot more, is a massive, massive body of work – a lot more music than we have even heard at this stage – and knowing him, maybe the best stuff has not yet even been released."