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Music

The singer Bob Dylan called "the last real individualist"

After a rise to prominence in the early 1960s, Bob Dylan became the biggest name in folk music and the spearhead of an unsettled counterculture with his politically evocative material. As he became more successful in his own right, he became less liberal when naming artists he admired, seemingly unwilling to feed the egos of his peers until they reached a certain high standard in his eyes. This would become a constant throughout the rest of Dylan’s career and served to add a touch more conviction when he did, on rare occasions, express his admiration. 

Over the years, Dylan would maintain his love for early blues and rock pioneers like Jimmy Reed, Little Richard and Elvis Presley. After his departure from folk in the mid’60s, he regularly partnered up with some of the musicians he revered, such as George Harrison, Mark Knopfler, Tom Petty and Johnny Cash.

It’s hard to imagine Dylan listening to much of the new music that’s been released since the millennium. In this image, we’d be mostly accurate. Dylan, being 81 years old, has lived through a lot of music and a lot of time. “From 1970 till now, there’s been about 50 years, seems more like 50 million,” Dylan said in a 2017 interview with Bill Flanagan. “That was a wall of time that separates the old from the new and a lot can get lost in this kind of time. Entire industries go, lifestyles change, corporations kill towns, new laws replace old ones, group interests triumph over individual ones, poor people themselves have become a commodity.”

“Musical influences too – they get swallowed up, get absorbed into newer things or they fall by the wayside,” he added. “I don’t think you need to feel bummed out though, or that it’s out of your clutches – you can still find what you’re looking for if you follow the trail back. It could be right there where you left it – anything is possible. Trouble is, you can’t bring it back with you; you have to stay right there with it. I think that is what nostalgia is all about.”

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In the same interview, Dylan revealed that he’s a fan of the late Amy Winehouse, despite not listening to a great deal of modern music and having devoted many of his recent recordings to standards of the Frank Sinatra era. “I liked Amy Winehouse’s last record,” he said. “She was the last real individualist around.” 

In an interview with Rolling Stone around the time of Winehouse’s final album, Dylan discussed the same topic but didn’t bring up Winehouse. “Who’s the last individual performer that you can think of,” Dylan asked. “Elton John, maybe? I’m talking about artists with the willpower not to conform to anybody’s reality but their own. Patsy Cline and Billy Lee Riley. Plato and Socrates, Whitman and Emerson. Slim Harpo and Donald Trump. It’s a lost art form. I don’t know who else does it beside myself, to tell you the truth.”

Elsewhere in the interview, Dylan discussed his modern tastes further, revealing that he likes Iggy Pop’s 2012 French-language album, Après, and extended his praise to Imelda May, Stereophonics and Valarie June. So while Dylan may be long in the tooth and somewhat rooted in older musical traditions, he likes to keep his finger on the pulse for any intriguing modern acts that come along from time to time.