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).
The Death of Emmett Till (1962)
"Twas down in
Mississippi no so long ago,
Some men they dragged
him to a barn and there they beat him up.
Then they rolled his
body down a gulf amidst a bloody red rain
And then to stop the
United States of yelling for a trial,
I saw the morning papers
but I could not bear to see
If you can't speak
out against this kind of thing, a crime that's so unjust,
This song is just a
reminder to remind your fellow man