Because of Bob Dylan’s 75th Birthday today, I have compiled some facts about him; some are fairly familiar & others may surprise you. Bob’s son Jacob Dylan once said after his dad suffered a heart “episode” – “Can you imagine a world without Bob Dylan in it?” Sorry, I don’t want to do that.
The King passed away on August 16, 1977. Dylan, who was going through a divorce at the time, was at his Minnesota farm with his kids and their art teacher, Faridi McFree, who told him the news. Dylan later said that once he heard, “I went over my whole life. I went over my whole childhood. I didn’t talk to anyone for a week after Elvis died. If it wasn’t for Elvis and Hank Williams, I couldn’t be doing what I do today.”
From around 1960 to 1964, Dylan’s preferred intoxicants were pot and Beaujolais.
On August 28, 1964, Dylan met The Beatles for the first time at The Delmonico Hotel in New York City. Dylan believed the group was familiar with marijuana, mishearing the lyrics to “I Want To Hold Your Hand” as “I get high” instead of “I can’t hide.” The Beatles tried marijuana four years earlier one night in Germany before deciding it wasn’t for them (their “drug” of choice was scotch and Coke). After Ringo bogarted the first joint, the other three joined in, and soon after became full-fledged pot smokers.Paul McCartney thought the experience so profound he asked road manager Mal Evans to note down everything that happened. The notebooks were later confiscated by police.
The 1978 film Renaldo and Clara was a 235-minute-long French New Wave/Beat Generation inspired collage of concert footage, documentary, and dramatic fiction. After almost universally negative reviews, it’s limited release in theaters in major U.S. cities was stopped.Rolling Stone insisted: “This is meant to work at the level of Freud, but it is a lot closer to fraud.” In The New Yorker, Pauline Kael wrote, “It’s what Louis and Marie Antoinette might have done at Versailles if only they’d had the cameras.” Dylan played Renaldo.
Dylan’s first major appearance on American television was on The Steve Allen Show in 1964. When Dylan announced that he was playing the song “Hattie Caroll,” only one audience member clapped in recognition.
Ed Sullivan himself actually had no issue with Dylan playing “Talkin’ John Birch Paranoid Blues”; it was a CBS executive who decided, hours before Dylan was set to appear, that the Birch organization could possibly sue for libel. After being told that he had to either change the lyrics or play a different song entirely, Dylan responded by asking the executive if he was out of his “f***in’ mind” before choosing option C: walking away and never coming back.
Suze Rotolo was an artist and Dylan’s girlfriend from 1961 to 1964, and the woman on his arm on the cover of The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan. It was Rotolo who told Dylan the story of Emmett Till, which led him to write “The Ballad of Emmett Till.” “Boots of Spanish Leather,” “One Too Many Mornings,” “Tomorrow Is a Long Time,” “Ballad in Plain D,” and “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right” were all about Rotolo, sometimes about their separation when she briefly lived in Italy, and other times about their final break-up. Even though she suspected that Dylan exaggerated things, she was still upset to discover his real name only after his draft card fell out of his wallet one day. She nicknamed him “RAZ” as playful revenge for hiding his true identity, as well as “Pig.”
Mary Rotolo was never happy with her daughter’s decision to date Dylan, after Dylan told her in one of their initial meetings that he was suffering from a degenerative eye disease that would gradually result in blindness. He was clearly lying.
Johnny Cash was an early ally of Bobs. Cash and Dylan hung out together as early as 1962, when Columbia was openly discussing dropping Dylan before he even had the chance to record his famous second album The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan. John Hammond claimed it was Cash’s endorsement of Dylan that helped to convince Columbia not to make a colossal mistake by dumping Dylan. In 1969, Dylan returned the favor by making his first television appearance in three years to perform on the first episode of The Johnny Cash Show. Bob Dylan appeared with Joni Mitchell on that show. Joni Mitchell recently revealed a giant grudge against Dylan.
Dylan was quoted as early as 1961 as saying he is “always conscious of the Chaplin tramp.” Early in his performing career, the musician would use his hat as a prop, just as Chaplin did in his films. In 2006, Dylan released an album titled Modern Times, an obvious nod to Chaplin’s classic 1936 film of the same name.
. In 1973, Dylan appeared in Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid, a feature film directed by Sam Peckinpah. He also wrote the film’s soundtrack, which became a hit and included the now-classic song, “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door”
In the summer after his high school graduation, Zimmerman was working as a busboy at a Fargo, North Dakota cafe when he conned his way into future music star Bobby Vee’s band, The Shadows, by claiming he had just been on the road with Conway Twitty and only showcasing his piano skills in the key of C. The stage name Zimmerman gave himself was Elston Gunnn. (with 3 N’s) The group arrangement didn’t last for very long, due to lack of funds for all involved, and Zimmerman/Gunnn left for Minneapolis at the end of the summer to attend the University of Minnesota.
Dylan was an opening act for The Smothers Brothers before they had him canned. That happened in Denver in 1960, a few years before Dylan or the Smothers Brothers were famous. Neither the siblings nor the audiences liked Dylan’s obscure songs, and Tommy wasn’t keen on the musician’s voice and near-homeless look.
Dylan’s first professional recording was as a harmonica player at a Harry Belafonte album in 1960. He was paid 50 dollars for his work.
John H. Hammond signed Billie Holiday, Aretha Franklin, and (later) Bruce Springsteen, so Dylan was in talented company. Though Columbia’s vice president said Dylan’s voice was “the most horrible thing he’d ever heard in his life,” Hammond signed him anyway (he did the same thing a few years later with Leonard Cohen). When Dylan’s self-titled debut album, which consisted mainly of covers, only sold 5000 copies in its first year, his signing became known as “Hammond’s folly.” Hammond always contended that the so-called flop of an album only cost $402 to make anyway. When he was first signed to Columbia Records, Dylan conned his way out of a stipulation that required his parents to sign (at 20, Dylan was considered a minor at the time) by convincing Hammond that he was an orphan.
Dylan didn’t show up for his own High School Graduation party. Robert Allen Zimmerman graduated from Minnesota’s Hibbing High School in 1959. Under his yearbook picture, his life goal reads “to join Little Richard.” Driven by the influences of early rock stars like Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis and Little Richard (whom he used to imitate on the piano at high school dances), the young Dylan formed his own bands, including the Golden Chords. The teenager likely had a 1956 school talent show incident in mind when he decided on that caption: as he played keyboards and sang a Little Richard song with his band, the school principal cut them off and pulled the curtain. By graduation night, he was ready to leave. When he was in high school, his standard order at the local luncheonette was cherry pie á la mode.
Dylan’s father, Abe, was a semi-professional baseball player before he contracted polio in his early twenties.
His great-grandfather and uncles owned the biggest movie theaters in Hibbing, Minnesota, allowing a young Dylan to watch films for free.
Before he flunked out of the University of Minnesota, Dylan pledged to the fraternity Sigma Alpha Mu. In college, Dylan was known for scamming his friends out of cigarettes and articles of clothing. While in Minneapolis, he began performing folk and country songs at local cafés, taking the name “Bob Dillon.” (Despite a popular myth to the contrary, the pseudonym was not inspired by Welsh poet Dylan Thomas—who he later professed to dislike—but by the main character from the popular Western television series Gunsmoke.) There’s a theory it might be inspired by Green Bay Packers legend Bobby Dan Dillon.
He has recorded under several pseudonyms, including Bob Landy, Robert Milkwood Thomas, and Blind Boy Grunt.
He became involved with one of the movement’s established icons, Joan Baez, in 1963. While his romantic relationship with Baez lasted only two years, it benefited both performers immensely in terms of their music careers—Dylan wrote some of Baez’s best-known material, and Baez introduced him to thousands of fans through her concerts. By 1964 Dylan was playing 200 concerts annually, but had become tired of his role as “the” folk singer-songwriter of the protest movement.
In 2009, Dylan was detained by the police in New Jersey after a homeowner spotted him wandering around a residential block in the rain.
During Dylan’s 1965 tour of England, reporters swarmed the singer at Heathrow. They were so entranced by Dylan that Lena Horne, then an enormous British celebrity, passed by the gaggle of photographers unnoticed.The first time Donovan and Bob Dylan met, Dylan and his entourage all wore Halloween masks.
Dylan’s first draft of “Like a Rolling Stone” was between six and twenty pages long. He struck up a friendship with Tiny Tim, who Dylan recorded singing “Like a Rolling Stone” while strumming the ukulele.
His first wife, Sara Lowndes (above), worked as a Playboy bunny. After a painful split with his wife, the song “Sara” on Desire was Dylan’s plaintive but unsuccessful attempt to win Lowndes back—Dylan again reinvented himself, declaring in 1979 that he was a born-again Christian. The settlement was tremendous for Lowndes; it is reported that she received $36 million from his estate. In addition, she was owed half the royalties from the songs Dylan wrote during their marriage – a hefty sum, considering the bulk of his most successful work came in that time.
One night at Max’s Kansas City, Dylan and his road manager, Bob Neuwirth, insulted The Rolling Stones’ Brian Jones until Jones broke down in tears.
At John Prine’s second gig outside of Chicago ever, Dylan showed up to play backup harmonica.
He was secretly married for 6 years to Carol Dennis, one of his backup singers. They had a daughter together (see above.)
The first words Dylan spoke to playwright Sam Shepard, who Dylan had hired to write scenes for the movie Eat the Document, were “We don’t have to make any connections. None of this has to connect.” Shepard and Dylan cowrote a 12-minute song called “Brownsville Girl” based on the Gregory Peck film The Gunfighter. Dylan has only played it in concert once.
The original title of Planet Waves was Ceremonies of the Horsemen.
In 1978, Dylan took a three-month course at the Vineyard School of Discipleship as part of his conversion to born-again Christianity.
In 1970, Bob received an honorary degree from Princeton, New Jersey. In 2004, he also received an honorary doctorate in music from the University of St. Andrews, Scotland.
Dylan wrote his about the boxer Rubin “Hurricane” Carter, then serving life in prison after what many felt was a wrongful conviction of triple homicide in 1967. Dylan was one of many prominent public figures who helped popularize Carter’s cause, leading to a retrial in 1976, when he was again convicted.
The Traveling Wilburys started when Tom Petty, Roy Orbison, George Harrison, and Jeff Lynne recorded a Harrison B-side called “Handle with Care” at Dylan’s house in Malibu.
The Pulitzer Prize committee gave Dylan a special citation in 2008 for “lyrical compositions of extraordinary poetic power.”
In 2001, Dylan received an Academy Award for his song “Things Have Changed,” featured in the film Wonder Boys. According to rumor, Dylan often props his Oscar up on the speakers when he’s playing.
Since 1988, as part of his “Never-Ending Tour,” Bob Dylan has played at least 100 concerts per year.
Dylan starred in a 1987 box-office flop Hearts on Fire as a rock star turned farmer.
When Dylan performed for Pope John Paul II in 1997, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (the current Pope Benedict), tried to stop Dylan from playing, because, according to him, he was the wrong kind of “prophet.” He played “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door.”
“Rainy Day Women #12 & 35” was recorded in one take.
Seinfeld veteran Larry Charles directed Dylan’s 2003 film Masked & Anonymous.
Dylan has played shows in supported of the ultra-Orthodox Lubavitcher sect of Judaism.
During a cross-country trip in 1964, Dylan showed up at Carl Sandburg’s doorstep and handed the poet a copy of The Times They Are A-Changin’.
At the release party for Blood on the Tracks, Bob Dylan’s table included guests Bette Midler and David Bowie.
Patti Smith and Dylan toured together briefly in 1995.
Dylan appeared in a 2004 television ad for sexy lingerie company Victoria’s Secret. ‘Love Sick’, the first song on 1997’s ‘Time Out Of Mind’ album, plays in the background as Dylan’s wandering figure is intercut with images of model Adriana Lima.
Weird Al Yankovic did a song entirely of palindromes called “Bob” that was styled on “Subterranean Homesick Blues.” A palindrome is a word, phrase, or sequence that reads the same backward as forward, e.g., madam or nurses run.
Dylan’s younger brother, David Zimmerman, is a record producer.
Dylan has eleven grandchildren and sports a bumper sticker on his car that reads “World’s Greatest Grandpa.”
Dylan was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1989. Bruce Springsteen spoke at the ceremony, declaring that “Bob freed the mind the way Elvis freed the body … He invented a new way a pop singer could sound, broke through the limitations of what a recording artist could achieve, and changed the face of rock and roll forever.” When he makes his acceptance speech, Dylan first thanks both Muhammad Ali and Little Richard, then has a slight dig at the Beach Boys’ Mike Love.
Dylan got the idea for some of the lyrics for his album Love and Theft from the book Confessions of a Yakuza.
In 2010, Dylan released an album of Christmas songs entitled Christmas In the Heart, which includes a sped-up, Dylanized version of “Must Be Santa.
Dylan was really “Blowin’ In The Wind” in February of 2010 when he braved a blizzard to perform at a civil rights concert at the Obama White House.
In 2011, he performed for the first time in Vietnam and mainland China.
In May of 2012 receives the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama during a ceremony in the White House East Room.
In December of 2013, The Paris prosecutor’s office said Dylan is being investigated on suspicion of inciting hatred. He allegedly compared the conflict between Croatians and Serbs to the Nazis’ persecution of Jews in an interview he did last year for the French edition of Rolling Stone.
In February of 2015, his 36th studio album, “Shadows in the Night,” is released. Dylan gives away 50,000 copies to seniors who subscribe to AARP’s magazine
The colossal 41-disc box set ‘Bob Dylan Complete Album Collection Vol. One’ (which includes every Dylan studio album plus live recordings) and ‘The Very Best Of Bob Dylan’ are both out now on Columbia Records.
On May 20th of this year, released his 37th studio album, Fallen Angels.
In April of 2016, it was announced that Amazon is developing and producing a television series based on Dylan’s discography. The show will be called “Time Out of Mind,” after Dylan’s 1997 album with the same name.
Celebrity Net Worth puts him at an astonishing $180 million, while other sources claim it’s closer to $80 million. He has sold over 35 Million albums in the U.S., and over 44 Million worldwide.
Dylan generally won’t accept more than $250,000 to do a show. But, in fact, he can make quite a bit more than that. Back in early May, it was announced that the organizers of Coachella were creating a new festival called Desert Trip. The festival includes not just Dylan, but other equally legendary acts like The Who, The Rolling Stones, Roger Waters, Neil Young, and the aforementioned Paul McCartney. It’s understandably expensive, and a lot of that money will be going right into the artists’ pockets – Rolling Stone said that “it’s been reported that acts are receiving upward of $7 million per set.”