Bob Dylan’s influence has been immense and his mythology will continue to haunt the cultural landscape long after he bites the dust. John W. Whitehead talks to David Dalton about this enigmatic persona.
Photograph by Jerry Schatzberg, 1965 (Credit)
Dylan is actually the James Dean of the 1960s. American culture shifts often after a cataclysmic war such as World War II. It needs a new persona, a new character to identify with. The new sensibility—the sensibility that James Dean projected—was a teenage sensibility. The teen culture erupted with James Dean and the year after his death, of course, Elvis Presley came along who was another admirer of James Dean. Elvis was also another idol of Dylan, oddly enough. And interestingly so, Dylan basically serves the same James Dean function in the 1960s. There was all this turmoil and everything happening and here was somebody who embodied all of these other personas. Dylan embodied a James Dean-like quest for stardom. He was unabashedly ambitious with folk music, which represented authenticity. Eventually rock music would serve the same change of persona function. Rock music’s secret function was its subtext, which was “we can change the world.”