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Music

The Hollywood icon that inspired Bob Dylan's vocal style

Although Bob Dylan is a true one-off that bleeds originality, even he has taken inspiration from others throughout his career. Interestingly, Dylan claimed his singing voice was inspired by one specific Hollywood icon and, bizarrely, one with a notably impressive role in silent films.

Dylan made this known in his earliest interview in 1961 when he spoke to the publicist Billy James, who worked for Columbia Records. At the time, Dylan was an unknown who was yet to achieve anything of note. He’d only moved to New York at the beginning of the year, and it didn’t take him long to pen a record deal.

In a revealing interview, Dylan discussed his smorgasbord of influences and surprisingly said: “If I’m on stage, even my idol – my biggest idol on stage – the one that’s running through my head all the time, is Charlie Chaplin. And, uh, it takes a while to explain it, but he’s one of the men.”

When Dylan was growing up, he didn’t have access to a wealth of cultural riches but even living in a small town, Chaplin’s films were available to him, and as a result, they subconsciously shaped him as an artist.

“I seen some of his films,” Dylan noted. “I just sort of knew who he was and that kind of stuff. Vaudeville, that kind of thing. Will Rogers. And I never really met anything—I never really came across anything that changed my mind about this. I never lived in a big city until I lived in New York. I don’t think it’s got the best of me,” he admitted in the same interview.

Meanwhile, in a separate conversation, Dylan went into more detail about what made him attracted to Chaplin. After admitting the Hollywood legend impacted “the way I sing,” Dylan added, “I like to see the humour in the world. There is so little of it around.”

While Dylan has been accused of, at times, taking himself extremely seriously, these comments are a reminder of his humorous side. Although their approaches to art are incomparable, Chaplin and Dylan’s work is capable of making people feel every possible emotion. In one moment, they can have you in fits of laughter; the next, you can be wiping the tears from your cheek.

Dylan’s ability to take influences from the most unlikely and unexpected corners is partially what made him stand out from the start. While everyone else was taking inspiration from the same collection of blues bands, Dylan was operating on his own wavelength, and this was reflected in his art.

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