Before Papoose put his hater blockers on, and before Corey Hart wore sunglasses at night, Bob Dylan was wearing Wayfarers.
These days, everyone is wearing them. Hipsters, Bros, grandmothers and Blues Brothers all rock Ray-Ban’s most famous frames. JFK introduced them to the White House. Audrey Hepburn wore similar shades long before Rihanna reportedly got paid to mention them in a song. Tom Cruise’s role as Joel in Risky Business helped sell over 360,000 pairs in the first year following the film’s release. Even established companies' shelves are stocked with Wayfarer knock offs. Few other accessories are so common, yet so damn cool.
Wayfarers are often called the best-selling sunglasses in history. And Ray-Ban can thank ol' Bobby D for this.
Bob Dylan is credited with everything from pioneering rock ’n roll to encouraging hordes of musically untalented souls to take up the harmonica. But he's also the reason you and I wear Wayfarers.
He defined and redefined cool. In the sociopolitical tumult of the 1960s, the young Robert Zimmerman emerged as an artist who fundamentally cared about you, the common man, but couldn't care less about what you thought of him. Bob's cool was for everyone and for no one. It was nonexclusive. It was determinedly anti-establishment and detached from everything other than itself. By negating strict association, Bob welcomed admirers and emulators and even critics from everywhere.
Dylan has a talent for connecting people who otherwise oppose each other. A Randian capitalist colleague of mine, who wears his college moniker, “The Rightwing Prick,” like a badge is hands down the biggest Bob Dylan fan I’ve ever met. To say he only listens to Bob Dylan is hardly an exaggeration. As the de facto DJ of office parties, I’d remove all trace of Bob from my playlists because I knew from experience that after a few gins the prick would put Dylan songs on repeat until people were pulling out their hair with each additional harmonica solo. And although Bob's essential message contradicts the worldview of so many of his fans, Dylan delivered an image, and an attitude to which folks of all types identified.
Who knows how exactly a Jew from Duluth, Minnesota, became a cross-cultural icon. We won't try to explain it here. But one undeniable fact is that Bob Dylan made Wayfarers the cool and all-too-common accessory worn today.
Dylan's widespread musical influence gives some insight into his cultural, political and even fashionable impact. It's uncommon for people to admit to disliking his music. It's folksy and primitive but sophisticated. It's careful and caring but indifferent to criticism. Bob embodied and emanated these qualities, and the big mass of a generation idolized him for it. The focal point of his cool was often his shades — a still unspecified pair of Ray-Ban Wayfarers.
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Find any picture of Bob from the '60s or early '70s and I bet he’s wearing Wayfarers. They were critical to his character, like James Dean’s red leather jacket or Kanye’s smug face. Bob’s image and attitude influenced an entire generation whose members influenced further generations, whose members influenced further generations, and so on. Bob’s universal and nonexclusive cool made him accessible for everyone. A great reminder of his influence can be found on our faces, in the utter ubiquity of Ray-Ban’s Wayfarer shades.
Will Bob Dylan be wearing a pair of Wayfarers when he takes the stage at the Au-Rene Theater at the Broward Center on April 21? We hope. But even if he's wearing a pair of those bulky industrial strength geriatric black-out shades, he'll still probably manage to make them look cool. Because he's Bob goddamn Dylan.
Bob Dylan. 8 p.m., Tuesday, April 21. Au-Rene Theater at the Broward Center, 201 SW Fifth Ave., Fort Lauderdale. Tickets cost $75 and up. Call 800-745-3000 or visit ticketmaster.com.