Bob Dylan is an artist of the highest order. He has done it all. Written classic songs, penned novels, won the Nobel Prize and is now even an accomplished artist. Seemingly, there is nothing he can’t do. There can be no surprise then that Dylan, real name, Robert Zimmerman, has influenced countless others. The variety of personalities within the army of Bob Dylan disciples is rather large. Adherents to his work stem from that annoying guy with an acoustic guitar at the party to David Bowie, Leonard Cohen, John Lennon and the rest. Even former US President Barack Obama noted Dylan’s stature, stating: “There is not a bigger giant in the history of American music.”
As an artist that is well versed in the canon of English literature and is influenced by his popular culture surroundings, Dylan’s informed and imaginative lyrics have unsurprisingly inspired another great wordsmith; Stephen King. Who’d have thought it, that the master of modern supernatural suspense, Stephen King, would be influenced by Bob Dylan? With books such as The Shining, Carrie, It and Pet Sematary, he has carved out a career no writer could ever honestly imagine. He is, without doubt, one of the most influential writers of our generation, and his books have spawned countless TV and movie adaptations.
King has also famously been critical of the political order and seems to have a lot of shared ideals with Dylan. He has criticised Donald Trump and Republican Steve King in the past, labelling them racists. He is also a noted philanthropist donating to libraries, schools, fire departments and a wide range of arts organisations. Along with his indelible mark on literature and film, King’s charitable work has gained him many supporters. However, it is safe to say that his stature is eclipsed by his hero, the gargantuan Dylan.
An avid Dylan fan, King has frequently sent plaudits in the folk hero’s direction over the years. King even supported Dylan in winning the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2016, a decision that drew ire from other “writers”. In a Rolling Stone article, King contended, “People complaining about his Nobel either don’t understand, or it’s just a plain old case of sour grapes.”
Within that same article, King recalled the first time he heard Bob Dylan, and the profound mark it made on his young soul: “I must have been 14 the first time I heard Bob Dylan. I was sitting in the back of a car going home from a movie”. He continued: “This is in rural Maine back when AM radio was big. There was a guy on WBZ radio out of Boston, and he had a show called The Night Express and played a lot of off-the-wall stuff. He played ‘Subterranean Homesick Blues.’ Hearing it was like being electrified. It was like this pressurised dump of lyrics and images.”
King’s love for Dylan is not solely reserved for that song. On BBC Radio 4’s flagship programme Desert Island Discs, the Misery author picked ‘Desolation Row’. He named the classic as one of the eight songs he would take with him and declared it the one he’d risk his life to save.
Host Kirsty Young asks: “If the waves did crash on to the shore and washed away the discs and you had to run across the sand to save one of them, which is the one disc you would save?” King quickly replies, “The one disc I would save would be ‘Desolation Row’ by Bob Dylan.”
Consequently, there have been numerous instances where the influence of Dylan tracks have bled into King novels. The most notable of these is in King’s 1974 debut, the epistolary Carrie. It features references to two Dylan songs, ‘Just Like a Woman’ and ‘Tombstone Blues’.
For the former, a notebook is found quoting the song written by the titular teen. Taken from the second verse of ‘Just Like a Woman’, Carrie’s inscription reads, “Nobody has to guess that baby can’t be blessed/ ‘Til she finally sees that she’s like all the rest”. This infers that Dylan directly inspired the events of Carrie, given the line’s similarity to the events that unfold in the book, particularly the prom scene.
Furthermore, ‘Tombstone Blues’ was included by King at the end of Carrie. He quotes the lines, “Now I wish I could write you a melody so plain/ That could hold you dear lady from going insane/ That could ease you and cool you and cease the pain/ Of your useless and pointless knowledge”. This line again is reminiscent of Carrie‘s plot, and as Dylan had such an effect on the young Stephen King, it is clear that his music had a credible influence on King’s inspiration for the classic horror.
Listen to Stephen King talking about his influences and childhood, below.