"Times A'Changin': When Bob Met Woody: The Story of the Young Bob Dylan by Gary Golio
"All I could do is be me, whatever that is."
Like many of America's iconoclastic twentieth-century artists, young Bob Dylan was deeply immersed in his time, but not of his time, an American original.
In fact, he wasn't even Bob Dylan at first. He was just another mid-western kid, skinny little Bob Zimmerman, and he didn't exactly fit in in Hibbing, Minnesota. In his Heartland hometown he was one of the few Jewish kids. He liked odd music, weird sounds. Everything from the foghorns and seagulls of Lake Superior to the jazz and blues he sometimes could find on the radio--all of them called to him. Ignoring his family's wishes and his piano teacher, he persisted in a search for a sound he could only half imagine:
"I'm going to play the piano the way I want to," he said.
Bob taught himself to play a guitar and harmonica the same way. He listened to records by the great bluesmen of the time, Leadbelly, Muddy Waters, B.B. King, roots music from the countryside, and finally was drawn as a teenager into the burgeoning folk music movement. There he discovered the works of Woody Guthrie, and all those strands of American music suddenly came together for Bob, who renamed himself Bob Dylan after the Welsh lyrical poet Dylan Thomas. And he began to write his own poetry--lyrics done his way--and found his place in the historic music which was suddenly going mainstream.
He listened to Pete Seeger, the Weavers, everyone who had kept this music alive and met and played with Joan Baez in the coffeehouses of New York City. To the ears of middle America, accustomed then to the romantic ballads of the commercial crooners of the day, Bob Dylan's music and lyrics still sounded strange, but people who first scoffed at his rough style soon came to respect and love it.
As Bob found some early recognition, he finally achieved his dream of meeting Woody Guthrie himself. Hospitalized with the hereditary disease which was soon to end his life, Woody happily received the young folksinger, and the two formed a close friendship. At last, Bob got up the courage to play and sing a song he had written for Woody:
"Hey hey, Woody Guthrie, I wrote you a song..."
When Bob finished, Woody's face lit up like the sun.
Gary Golio's When Bob Met Woody: The Story of the Young Bob Dylan (Little, Brown, 2011) makes good use of the picture book format to bring another iconic musician to life for elementary readers. The author of the acclaimed Jimi: Sounds Like a Rainbow: A Story of the Young Jimi Hendrix with artist Javaka Steptoe, Golio is again blessed with an illustrator who brings the right touch to artwork which lights up Golio's excellent but straightforward text. He tells the story well as he brings the young Bob to life for younger readers. As the New York Times reviewer says of Golio's work, "He charmingly delivers the boy behind the ragamuffin troubadour, doing justice to young Zimmerman's jumbled early musical interests…"
Like those musicians, artists, and writers who went before and wove all our diverse strands together in a new but altogether American way, Bob changed and enriched our music. As American as apple pie? As American as Bob Dylan.