Talkin’ Bob Dylan


Graeme Wood, at the Atlantic, goes in search of Bob Dylan’s mysterious accent.  An excerpt:

At the Sportsmen’s Club, I spoke with Jaqi the barmaid, who went to Hibbing High School a few classes behind Dylan, whom she and her brother would have known as Robert Zimmerman. “Is it true that people in Hibbing talk like Bob Dylan?” I asked. She narrowed her eyes and issued an abrupt correction.  “You mean, ‘Is it true that Bob Dylan talks like people in Hibbing?'” Her accent was an even Midwestern plod, garnished with a snarl all her own.

Discussing Dylan brought out the worst in her. She said she hated him and thought Dylan’s parents, “the nicest people you ever met,” had an ungrateful, arrogant bastard for a son (a conclusion hard to dispute, if you’ve ever seen footage of Dylan on the road). The grand auditorium in Hibbing High School, an Art Deco edifice built with mining money in 1920, was the site of Dylan’s first concerts, but his music never caught on there.  Jaqi said Hibbing rejected Dylan not because it failed to spot talent but because he was a creep who deserved to be rejected. “I knew a girl who went out with him once,” she said. “Once was enough.”

It’s an entertaining article, and I recommend that you read the whole thing. But I’m surprised by an apparent hole in Wood’s research. His article makes no mention of Woody Guthrie, who was a formative influence on Dylan’s music. To my ears, a big part of Dylan’s early accent is an imitation of Guthrie’s plaintive Okie drawl.

Bob Dylan’s “Talkin’ World War III Blues”

Woody Guthrie’s “Talking Dustbowl Blues”

We know that Dylan assimilated Guthrie’s songwriting and guitar playing, so why not some of the accent as well?

Published in: on August 20, 2009 at 7:01 pm  Comments (1)  

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  1. Because Woody Guthrie was such a huge part of Dylan’s life, it would make perfect sense for him to emulate Guthrie in all ways. It has been said that he dressed like Woody, acted like Woody, wrote songs like Woody’s and sang like Woody. The fact that he travelled from Minneapolis to New York just to see him in the hospital proves this.

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