birth 24 May, 1941
Bob Dylan has never been short of claims on his behalf. He’s been hailed as a prophet, poet, genius, mystic and ‘the voice of his generation’. He’s been ‘the king of folk’ (alongside ‘queen’ Joan Baez, his one-time lover), and made ‘the greatest rock record of all time’ (‘Like A Rolling Stone’). He’s been a traitor (the audience shouts of ‘Judas’ on his 1966 UK tour are rock legend), a has-been, and a survivor.
The only consistent in the Dylan equation is his refusal to ever accept the labels pinned on him. In his recent autobiography, Chronicles, he details his particular discomfort with his role as ‘a spokesman for a generation I knew nothing about…I felt like a piece of meat thrown to the dogs’.
To escape the expectations projected onto him, Dylan has always presented a moving target, giving notoriously slippery interviews. Asked, at the height of his fame in 1965, what his main message was, he replied, ‘Eat’. What kind of a singer was he? ‘A mathematical singer’. What were his songs about? ‘About four minutes long’.
His evasiveness was not just a response to his huge fame. As a struggling 19 year old folkie in New York, Dylan had erased his past, changing not just his name but variously describing himself as an orphan and a hobo, when the truth was he was a respectable middle class Jewish kid from the mid-west.
Astrologically, none of this is any surprise. Robert Zimmerman was born under Gemini, the most agile, restless and ambiguous sign of the zodiac. Ruled by the planet Mercury, the wing-heeled messenger of the Gods, Gemini is the sign of mind, speech and movement. Like the Twins that are its symbol – seperate but forever joined together – Gemini’s nature is dualistic, always exploring, relating, analyzing, with a butterfly mind flitting this way and that. Pinning down a Gemini is always difficult.
In Dylan’s case these qualities are magnified. Mercury, the talk planet, is also in its own sign of Gemini giving him a poet’s eloquence and a barbed wit, and letting him play loose with the truth. He’s a classic ‘unreliable narrator’. With Venus the romance planet also in the fast-and-loose Twins, monogamy is difficult, as Dylan’s many consorts have discovered – there has invariably been room for more than one lover in his heart.
Dylan’s Gemini identity shines through his lyricism, wordplay and humour. In the Sixties he even referred to his electric music as ‘that wild, Mercury sound’. As man with two names, it was natural that he called his character in the movie Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid ‘Alias’. His song ‘Tweedledum and Tweedledee’ was named after the famous twins of Lewis Carroll’s Alice Through the Looking Glass. Earlier, in ‘Simple Twist Of Fate’, he sang of his wife, Sara, ‘I still believe she was my twin, but I lost the ring’, while in ‘Where Are You Tonight’, he went further: ‘I fought with my twin, that enemy within, ‘til both of us fell by the way’.
At the time he wrote those lines in the mid Seventies, Dylan was obsessed by esoteric ideas. It was the era of his confusing symbolist film, Renaldo and Clara, of references to Rimbaud and tarot cards on the back cover of Desire. Astrology seems to have been in the mix. He’s still playing identity games today: for the upcoming biopic, I’m Not There, his life will be played out by seven different actors, including women!
Aside from the tricky Twins, Dylan’s horoscope has several other themes. His Moon (emotional side) is in the stubborn sign of Taurus, meaning he’s very possessive of his women, however much he runs around after others. Fittingly, the two great loves of Dylan’s life, Suzie Rotolo (the girl on the cover of Freewheeling) and his first wife Sara. were both Scorpios, the opposite and complementary sign of Taurus. Joan Baez, a Capricorn, proved too ‘heavy’ for Dylan’s sprightly Gemini qualities – Bob used to send up Baez’s seriousness on stage and in song – and she couldn’t provide the passion of his Scorpio lovers.
The other planets strong in Dylan’s birth chart are Pluto (showing his immense wealth) and Uranus, the planet of independence. From childhood, Bob was ‘different’, a nonconformist who marched to his own drum regardless of what others thought. Inevitably, this brought trouble (he was sent to a special ‘corrective’ school for a while). His little home town couldn’t hold him, and neither could the folk movement of which he was soon the biggest star. Rock music, too, struggled to contain his talents – Dylan’s brilliance as musician and lyricist left popular music transformed. He remains a one-off, with a body of songs unequalled in pop history.
The other big significator in his horoscope is Sagittarius, the constellation rising over the horizon at his birth. The Centaur is the gypsy, the explorer, always ‘on the road, heading for another joint’. Sagittarius also reflects Dylan the moralist, castigating the ‘Masters of War’, warning that ‘You Gotta Serve Somebody’, and handing out judgments like an Old Testament prophet.
With a birth chart like this, Dylan was always going to find it difficult settling into family life. The few years he managed it, from 1967 to 1973, coincided with Saturn, the planet of responsibility, crossing most of his major planets (1). By the time the same planet had reached the marriage zone of his horoscope, he and Sara were splitting up.
As usual, Saturn marks several turning points; at the famous ‘Saturn return’ age of 29, Dylan released Self Portrait, a record calculated to help destroy his reputation as ‘Prince of Protest’ (2). On his second Saturn return, at age 58, Dylan released Love and Theft, arguably his best album since 1975’s Blood On the Tracks, and started to write Chronicles, his memoirs (3).
Dylan’s conversion to Christianity in 1979 also coincided with several major planetary events in his horoscope, with Neptune, the planet of mysticism, especially involved (4). Having survived the heart disease that that put him in hospital in May ’97, when spooky Pluto was involved (5), Dylan has got past most of the more challenging omens in his horoscope, though his health remains a key issue in the next six months.
1 and 2. Transit Saturn at IC, April 1968. Saturn return July 1970. Transit Saturn conjunct Sun and Venus, June 1972, conjunct Mercury 1973. Saturn At the time of his motorcycle accident in 1966, Saturn was conjunct natal south node.
3. Saturn return September 2001
4. Transit Neptune conjunct Ascendant at 20 Sagittarius Feb 1979, simultaneous with Transit Pluto on MC. Transit Uranus opposite Moon.
5. Transit Pluto opposite Sun, May ’97.