Bob Dylan Chooses a Name
Born Bobby Zimmerman, Bob Dylan escaped a life in small town Minnesota and eventually arrived in Greenwich Village, New York in 1961. Andrew Muchin, author of the article “Dylan’s Jewish Pilgrimage,” argues that Dylan’s arrival in New York gave him the chance to “reinvent himself as the musical heir to folk troubadour Woody Guthrie.” Zimmerman’s choice of names, given the prominence he achieved as Bob Dylan, begs for explanation.
In Chronicles: Volume I, Dylan says himself that “I’d seen some poems by Dylan Thomas… People had always called me Robert or Bobby, but Bobby Dylan sounded to [sic] skittish to me…” By the time Dylan reached New York and was asked his name he “… instinctively and automatically without thinking simply said, ‘Bob Dylan.’”
When recreating himself something would have had to happen to the old identity. Dylan explains Zimmerman’s disappearance was due to a motorcycle accident in 1964. In the place of Bobby, Andrew Muchin believes, Bob Dylan began his career by “re-animating tradition-laden folk music with original, topical songs.” Bob Dylan found success with this in his songs such as “Blowin’ in the Wind,” “Masters of War” and “Like A Rolling Stone.” As Dylan notes he became labeled the conscience of a generation but really, he felt he “…was only a musician.” In Muchin’s article Dylan’s Jewish Identity is questioned and the feeling is “There’s a sense of Jewishness, especially culturally, but also an overriding feeling that ‘you’re an American.’”
- Bob Dylan, Chronicles: Volume 1 (New York: Simon & Schuster Paperbacks, 2004), 78-79.
- Andrew Muchin, "Dylan’s Jewish Pilgrimage. Since Leaving Minnesota, the former Bobby Zimmerman Has Traveled a Winding Trail.", The Jewish Journal, http://www.jewishjournal.com/articles/item/dylans_jewish_pilgrimage_20051014/ (accessed May 5, 2009).
- Howard Sounes, Down the Highway: the Life of Bob Dylan (New York: Grove Press, 2002), 74-75.