In late September 1961, New York Times music critic Robert Shelton visited Gerde’s Folk City, a small (and now defunct) concert venue in Greenwich Village. The headliner that night was a local bluegrass band called The Greenbriar Boys, but it was a 20-year-old folk singer and “bright new face” named Bob Dylan that caught the writer’s attention. “Resembling a cross between a choir boy and beatnick,” Shelton wrote, “Mr. Dylan has a cherubic look and a mop of tousled hair he partly covers with a Huck Finn black corduroy cap. His clothes may need a bit of tailoring, but when he works his guitar, harmonica or piano and composes news songs faster than he can remember them, there is no doubt that he is bursting with talent.”
The review, which would go on to deem Dylan both a “comedian and tragedian,” catapulted his career into an echelon that today he shares with few other musicians, dead or alive. Now 75 (and still touring), he has been awarded the Nobel Prize in literature. The Minnesota-born crooner is the first American to receive this award since Toni Morrison in 1993.
Jonathan Zalman is a writer and teacher based in Brooklyn.