Sunday Reading: Bob Dylan at Eighty

Bob Dylan, the best songwriter of his period, turns eighty on Monday. A dominant presence for greater than sixty years, Dylan has made an indelible mark on the historical past of rock and roll, partly by not treating age and longevity like most here-and-gone performers. The New Yorker has coated him from the beginning.

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This week, as a birthday celebration, we’re highlighting a choice of items celebrating the musician and his virtuosity. In “The Crackin’, Shakin’, Breakin’ Sounds,” from 1964, Nat Hentoff visits Dylan within the studio and catches the artist within the first levels of his meteoric recording profession. (“Wiry, tense, and boyish, Dylan looks and acts like a fusion of Huck Finn and a young Woody Guthrie. Both onstage and off, he appears to be just barely able to contain his prodigious energy.”) In “The Wanderer,” Alex Ross follows Dylan on the highway throughout his Never Ending Tour, which has outlined the newest many years of his seminal performances. (“It’s hard to pin down what he does: he is a composer and a performer at once, and his shows cause his songs to mutate, so that no definitive or ideal version exists. Dylan’s legacy will be the sum of thousands of performances, over many decades.”) In “Bob Dylan’s ‘Rough and Rowdy Ways’ Hits Hard,” Amanda Petrusich argues that the musician’s most up-to-date album, his first of authentic songs in eight years, is remarkably attuned to the cultural second. In “Never Ending Bob Dylan,” Howard Fishman recollects how he turned a Dylan zealot in his teenagers. Finally, in “Bob on Bob,” Louis Menand examines the evolution of Dylan’s musical fashion—from protest songs to common music. This weekend, sit again and discover our catalogue of tales about this iconic artist.

—David Remnick

Bob Dylan on stage

Bob Dylan

Bob Dylan playing a guitar with a cigarette in his mouth

Bob Dylan performing in a white suit

Never Ending Bob Dylan

On his 1988 tour, as Dylan was at the nadir of his business and creative relevance, I noticed magnificence achieved in a manner that was ugly, various, and out of doors.

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