Bob Dylan

Bob Dylan

Bob Dylan (1941- ) was born Robert Allen Zimmerman in Duluth, Minnesota. He learned to play the piano, guitar and harmonica while in performing in rock bands while in high school. After he graduated from high school, he attended the University of Minnesota for a while, but moved to New York the following year, where he changed his name to Bob Dylan and immersed himself in the Greenwich Village folk music scene. He released his first album, called Bob Dylan in 1962. He toured the U. S. in 1964-1965, and part of this tour was made into a film, Don’t Look Back. He changed his style from one of a simple folk rock to one using an electric rock sound, which upset many of his earlier followers but gave him a larger, younger audience. After he was injured n a motorcycle accident in 1965, he emerged two years later with a new country sound.

In 1971 he published his first book, Tarantula. He began performing again in 1974 and produced music in a variety of genres, from rock, country, and gospel. His albums and concert performances have been successful since his heyday in the 1960s; however, they have not been able to quite duplicate the excitement he first generated. He remains one of the largest symbols of the counterculture movement of the 1960s, a cult hero to many.

The lyrics below, like many of Dylan’s early compositions, is a protest ballad. In a 1964 interview, he refers to the song, but saw it as an expression of a youthful immaturity on his part: “I used to write sons, like I’d say, ‘Yeah, what’s bad, pick something bad, like segregation, OK, here we’d go,’ and I’d pick one of a thousand million little points I can pick and explode it, some of them which I didn’t know anything about. I wrote a song about Emmett Till [in this way]….I realize now that my reasons and motives behind it were phony. I didn’t have to write it” (as quoted in Christopher Metress, ed., The Lynching of Emmett Till: A Documentary Narrative, Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2002, 318).

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The Death of Emmett Till (1962)

"Twas down in Mississippi no so long ago,
When a young boy from Chicago town stepped through a Southern door.
This boy's dreadful tragedy I can still remember well,
The color of his skin was black and his name was Emmett Till.

Some men they dragged him to a barn and there they beat him up.
They said they had a reason, but I can't remember what.
They tortured him and did some evil things too evil to repeat.
There was screaming sounds inside the barn, there was laughing sounds out on the street.

Then they rolled his body down a gulf amidst a bloody red rain
And they threw him in the waters wide to cease his screaming pain.
The reason that they killed him there, and I'm sure it ain't no lie,
Was just for the fun of killin' him and to watch him slowly die.

And then to stop the United States of yelling for a trial,
Two brothers they confessed that they had killed poor Emmett Till.
But on the jury there were men who helped the brothers commit this awful crime,
And so this trial was a mockery, but nobody seemed to mind.

I saw the morning papers but I could not bear to see
The smiling brothers walkin' down the courthouse stairs.
For the jury found them innocent and the brothers they went free,
While Emmett's body floats the foam of a Jim Crow southern sea.

If you can't speak out against this kind of thing, a crime that's so unjust,
Your eyes are filled with dead men's dirt, your mind is filled with dust.
Your arms and legs they must be in shackles and chains, and your blood it must refuse to flow,
For you let this human race fall down so God-awful low!

This song is just a reminder to remind your fellow man
That this kind of thing still lives today in that ghost-robed Ku Klux Klan.
But if all of us folks that thinks alike, if we gave all we could give,
We could make this great land of ours a greater place to live.

Emmett Till