Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository


Master of Arts


Popular Music and Culture


Coates, Norma


The release of Bob Dylan’s 30th studio album in 1997, Time Out of Mind, marked an unlikely and triumphant return to critical acclaim following years of personal and creative decline. From this point onward, Dylan would maintain a quality of output comparable to his 1960s catalogue and unprecedented among artists in the twilight of their career. The proceeding albums, from “Love and Theft” (2001) to Triplicate (2017) would present Dylan as a living archive of traditional American genres – an intersection through which rock and roll, blues, bluegrass, and vocal jazz would pass. The notion of Dylan as a living archive is made possible firstly by a noticeable change in his late period songwriting, as his lifting of lyrics and literary passages becomes more brazen and problematic. An alternative reading offered here posits Dylan working in the vein of modernist cultural curation, a freedom granted to him by his advanced age and authority. Dylan’s late period output is also marked by a change in the singing voice and the emergence of two modes, the ‘croak’ and ‘croon,’ which are posited as intentional artistic decisions in service of the living archive project. A secondary function of this ‘new’ old voice is a performance of age intended to establish and solidify Dylan’s role as elder statesman and living archive, summoning the artists and genres he seeks to emulate. This suggestion is explored by way of analyses of each album from Time Out of Mind to Dylan’s standards albums of 2015-2017, followed by a discussion of the role of persona and the relationship between Dylan’s late period singing and songwriting.