By Dan Kimpel
Bob Dylan: Ballads, Blues and Beatitudes
Roughly four and a half decades since he ascended from the coffeehouses of New York's Greenwich Village to become the poet laureate of modern music, Bob Dylan continues to cast his incalculable aura over the landscape of popular culture. His 2009 album, Together Through Life, debuted at #1 on the Billboard charts, making Dylan, at 68, the oldest living artist to accomplish this feat. The album's Grammy-winning predecessor, Modern Times, similarly debuted at the top.
Christmas In The Heart, Dylan's new holiday album, features the bard on chestnuts like "Here Comes Santa Claus," "Winter Wonderland," and "Little Drummer Boy." It is a project of enduring generosity: All of the artist's U.S. royalties from sales of this recording will be donated to the organization Feeding America, guaranteeing that more than four million meals will be provided to more than 1.4 million people in need. Dylan is also donating all of his future U.S. royalties from this album to Feeding America in perpetuity.
In 2009, a multi-month North American journey from Seattle to New York revealed Dylan on guitar, harmonica and keyboard, fronting a blistering band. Since the late Eighties, he has traveled with a rotating cast of sidemen, playing over 100 dates annually on a caravan dubbed "The Never Ending Tour." This is no nostalgia trip: By recasting his classic repertoire with edgy, idiosyncratic arrangements, Dylan balances on an interpretative tight wire that is white hot and razor-sharp.
The Todd Haynes-directed feature I'm Not There, with the tagline, "inspired by the music and many lives of Bob Dylan" cast actors Christian Bale, Cate Blanchett, Marcus Carl Franklin, Richard Gere, Heath Ledger and Ben Whishaw to illustrate various eras of Dylan's career. But Dylan is there. In 2009, he collaborated with Black Eyed Peas front man will.i.am on a duet version of "Forever Young" for a Pepsi ad that debuted to an audience 98 million strong on Super Bowl XLIII.
A three-year stint as a radio host on Theme Time Radio Hour for XM Satellite Radio displayed Dylan's encyclopedic knowledge of often-obscure American music genres. Mixing mediums, he wrote an autobiography, Chronicles Volume One that was on the New York Times Best Seller list and nominated for a National Book Award. The National Gallery of Denmark plans to hold a major exhibition of his visual art in the fall of 2010. (Dylan painted the cover of his 1970 album Self Portrait. His drawings are also included in his books Writings and Drawings and Lyrics 1962-1985.)
Despite this outpouring of high profile projects, Bob Dylan retains his enigmatic dignity. These words on his website echo what is so evident in his songs: "The land created me. I'm wild and lonesome. Even as I travel the cities, I'm more at home in the vacant lots. But I have a love for humankind, a love of truth, and a love of justice." With the enduring poetry of his lyrics and the magical illumination of his muse, Bob Dylan extends his legacy as the world's most celebrated singer/songwriter.