Bob Dylan at 70: What makes him a living legend?

Will Gompertz
Arts editor
@WillGompertzBBCon Twitter

Bob DylanImage source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Bob Dylan's hits include Blowin' in the Wind and Like a Rolling Stone

There's lots of Bob Dylan stuff about to cash in on/celebrate his 70th birthday. Some is eulogistic, some salacious and some critical.

You will have seen and heard plenty by now. But if you missed this short piece from Cerys Matthews on Radio 4's Archive Hour, I think it's worth a listen (about 15 minutes in).

I wonder what the man himself makes of it all? I wonder if he can even remember Robert Zimmerman?

As a young artist, did he realise that once you publish or perform your work it is no longer your own? That it is the public who gets to decide not only the merits of your efforts, but what your work means.

And the public decided in 1960s that Bob Dylan's work meant he was more than a singer-songwriter, that he was something nearing a prophet: a man of uncommon wisdom and insight. Society needs heroes and leaders and had chosen Bob for the job.

Which makes being a singer-songwriter a lot harder. Every song, every utterance; every decision is judged in an altogether different light.

It must be creatively stifling and personally very annoying. But he has managed. And probably recognises that there is something about him that is very easy for the public to romanticise.

He has a clear and distinct voice - very direct and rhythmic. Read his memoir Chronicles and hear him talk just to you.

The biographic doc No Direction Home consists of little more than a headshot of Dylan speaking and some archive footage but it is compelling.

I think it is because Bob Dylan is able to create an illusion of intimacy in a way few others can. Add to that his remarkable charisma, a slight air of vulnerability and an inclination to stick it to "the Man" and you have an icon of the age who has achieved the unusual status of becoming a living legend.