From TIME’s Archives: Dylan Through the Decades

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Bob Dylan’s first mention in TIME was a 1962 article that provided a snapshot of the young artist trying to make a name for himself on the New York folk scene. As the musician turns 70, here’s a look at TIME’s portrayal of the ever-changing icon through his storied career.

First TIME mention of Bob Dylan in 1962:

The tradition of Broonzy and Guthrie is being carried on by a large number of disciples, most notably a promising young hobo named Bob Dylan. He is 21 and comes from Duluth. He dresses in sheepskin and a black corduroy Huck Finn cap, which covers only a small part of his long.’ tumbling hair. He makes visits to Woody Guthrie’s hospital bed, and he delivers his songs in a studied nasal that has just the right clothespin-on-the-nose honesty to appeal to those who most deeply care. His most celebrated song is Talkin’ New York—about his first visit to the city, during the cold winter of 1961, when he discovered “Green Witch Village.

TIME first mentioned Dylan in a 1962 article that provided a snapshot of the young artist trying to make a name for himself on the New York folk scene. Take a look at five subsequent TIME portrayals of the ever-changing icon.

Despite (or perhaps due to) TIME’s extensive coverage of him, Dylan hasn’t always been so fond of us. In this clip, from the 1966 documentary, Don’t Look Back, he argues with TIME journalist Horace Judson, telling him, “I don’t need TIME Magazine.” [youtube=]

The Sixties

There he stands, and who can believe him? Black corduroy cap, green corduroy shirt, blue corduroy pants. Hard-lick guitar, whooping harmonica, skinny little voice. Beardless chin, shaggy sideburns, porcelain pussycat eyes. At 22, he looks 14, and his accent belongs to a jive Nebraskan, or maybe a Brooklyn hillbilly. He is a dime-store philosopher, a drugstore cowboy, a men’s room conversationalist.
May 31, 1963

Young and seemingly earnest, Dylan captured attention from the local to international level with folksy ballads, lyrical genius and political prose, becoming a poetic voice of the sixties counterculture movement.

The Seventies

Dylan, bearded and blue-jeaned, wearing his trademark harmonica on a brace around his neck, was backed by his longtime colleagues—now stars in their own right—the Band. He spoke to the audience only once, before intermission (“Be back in about 15 minutes”); otherwise he said what he had to say in his songs…If his followers expected a new political consciousness for the ’70s, the three new songs that Dylan unveiled provided none. As he sang in Wedding Song: “It’s never been my duty to remake the world at large/ Nor is it my intention to sound the battle charge.
Jan. 14, 1974

Following the tumultuous sixties that involved significant cannabis use, a rapid escalation to fame, a controversial switch from folk to rock during a famous trip to England, and a near-fatal motorcycle accident, Dylan’s 70s were calm in comparison. Though he continued performing and producing music extensively, most of his songs shed the “protest” label for personal meaning. As a career move, that was a non-issue: his 1975 album, Blood on the Tracks has come to be regarded as the quintessential “breakup album.”

The Eighties

Dylan has been undergoing a period of grave spiritual uncertainty, from which bulletins have periodically issued forth like dispatches from some ancient war: Bob has been born again; Bob’s Christianity has waned and lapsed; Bob is searching for his roots in Judaism. The news was confusing; so were the records, like Slow Train Coming, that were issued in the wake of the gossip. Dylan’s songs of faith managed to be reverent and uncommitted at the same time, as if, by singing to the listener, he was also trying to convince himself and calm his restless soul.
Dec. 5, 1983

In the 80s Dylan surprised fans and critics alike by embarking on a spiritual quest, releasing gospel albums and studying orthodox Judaism. His religious renewal in the eighties and the extent to which that was reflected in his work continued to indicate his eclectic talent.

The Nineties

A dizzying number of changes followed–from born-again Christian testifying to deep blues–but Dylan has been consistent only in one thing: he has never stopped making great music, or being cagey about it. And funny, when he feels like it. And hip, without peer or precedent.
June 8, 1998

Dylan’s tunes took on a blues-y tone in the 90s, but his quality of work remained high as ever. TIME listed his 1997 album, Time Out of Mind, as a top 10 comeback album.

The Two-Thousands

In life, well, I mean I feel like I fall short in just about everything. In music I can do just about what I need to do. I feel pretty calm most of the time, but then if I review my situation at all, it always seems like I’m up there walking the plank. I’m probably a driven person. I always feel like somebody’s cracking the whip. Somebody or something. I never felt like I was searching for anything. I always felt that I’ve stumbled into things. I never went to the holy mountain to find the lost soul that is supposed to be part of me. I don’t believe in that stuff, and I don’t feel like a person has to search for anything. I feel like it’s all right in front.

April 18, 2005

Like a fine wine, Dylan improves with age. Even after five decades in the public eye he continues to surprise and charm fans with a gravelly voice and prophetic wisdom. NewsFeed can only speculate as to what comes next.

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