Bob Dylan: A Style Icon 40 Years After His Seminal Record ‘Desire’

Legendary American singer Bob Dylan has a body of work for which there simply is no equal. Through his lengthy career, Dylan released no fewer than 36 studio albums. You can add to that 11 live Dylan albums, over 30 compilation albums, 12 “bootleg” series releases, and an astounding 58 singles. Dylan has long been credited as a master wordsmith, the first rock poet and, for many, Bob is the finest writer of contemporary music the world has ever known.

Dylan’s career launched way back in 1962 with his eponymous Bob Dylan album. Amazingly, Dylan’s most recent release, last year’s Shadows in the Night, shows that Bob is as popular as ever. Dylan’s album hit the top spot in the U.K. and at No. 7 on the Billboard 200. A remarkable success for a man who will be 75-years-old in just a few months.

For many fans, Dylan symbolized the 1960s counter-culture. Bob’s anti-war songs were a rallying call for those who condemned the U.S. involvement in Vietnam. Dylan is famed as a protest singer, and his canon of work exposes inequality, injustice, and the state of race relations, issues that many would say are just as relevant today as they were in the 1960s. In many ways, Dylan gave a voice to youth and demonstrated that music could be a rallying point for the disaffected. In the days before social media, Bob Dylan used his music to speak out about things that really mattered. Dylan was unquestionably a trendsetter.

At long last, Dylan’s status as a trendsetter is being recognized. CNN reports that Dylan Jones, the editor-in-chief of British GQ magazine, argues that “it isn’t just actors who can pull off the style icon label. Bob Dylan remains a sartorial role model for the anti-establishment dresser.”

The accolade for Dylan comes just days after the 40th anniversary of what many Dylan fans regard as a seminal recording. Rolling Stone call Desire “an exotic masterpiece,” and it certainly marked a new departure for Dylan. Bob certainly had not lost his edge on Desire; indeed, two tracks, the 11-minute “Joey” and the opening track “Hurricane,” were fiercely criticized by the establishment.

The latter track tells the story of boxer Rubin Carter. Dylan puts forward the theory that Carter was framed for a triple murder and laments that the case makes him “feel ashamed to live in a land, where justice is a game.” Joey tells the story of gangster Joey Gallo. Dylan’s Gallo was an outlaw with morals, a man who wouldn’t kill the innocent and who sacrificed his own life to protect his family when he was shot to death by assassins in a Manhattan clam bar.

Many claimed that Dylan had glorified a vicious mafia boss who was a racist and abused his wife and children, and who had taken part in a brutal gang rape of a young boy while he was in prison.

Leaving aside the controversy Dylan’s Desire was a masterpiece of storytelling, and many believe that it was also Bob’s most personal album ever. It also marked a move away from an obsessional attention to detail that had marked the recording of Dylan’s previous album, 1975’s Blood on the Tracks.

It has been widely reported that during the recording of Desire, Dylan thrived on chaos. Dylan had invited country singer Emmylou Harris to sing backing vocals on the album and was to discover just what a challenge Dylan was laying down.

Harris was said to be practicing the lyrics for “Romance in Durango” when she noticed the tape was running. She carried on believing that she would have ample opportunity to fix any flaws at a later time only to discover that there would be no second takes.

“I thought, ‘Oh, I can fix anything that sounds funky or out of tune with the engineer later,’ but there would be no second takes. That album was like throwing paint on a canvas. And whatever happened was what it was supposed to be. I guess that’s another part of the genius of Dylan: He knew exactly what he was doing.”

Harris was undoubtedly correct about Dylan knowing what he was doing. After all, you don’t stay relevant in the music industry for almost 55-years by accident.

[Photo by Vince Bucci/Invision/AP]