"All I can do is be me, whoever that is". —Bob Dylan
Bob Dylan's musical career has spanned almost 60 years, and just like a rolling stone, he keeps a rockin'. Even today, he is set to release his first album of original songs in eight years, Rough and Rowdy Ways. Besides his music and a Nobel Prize for Literature, there are so many weird things about Dylan's life that few people know. What are they? The answers aren't blowin' in the wind—they're right here.
1. His Real Name Is Much Different
Bob Dylan was born Robert Allen Zimmerman in Duluth, Minnesota, May 24, 1941. By the time he was 18, he decided to pursue a career in music and changed his name. Some say he took it from the poet Dylan Thomas, but the true inspiration is much different. As a teen, he was a big fan of the TV show Gunsmoke, particularly the character of sheriff "Matt Dillon".
2. He Lied About His Background
Today, we see Dylan as a bold truth-teller committed to honesty no matter the cost. Nothing could be further from the truth. Much of Dylan's mystique in the early 60s...was totally made up. He told everyone he was a teen runaway who rode the rails and worked in a circus. These were all lies—but the worst was yet to come.
3. His Past Came out in a Horrible Way
Dylan kept the truth from everyone, including his teenage girlfriend Suze Rotolo, and she ended up finding out in the worst way possible. One evening after a night out, Dylan's draft card, complete with the name "Robert Allen Zimmerman," fell out of his pocket. Rotolo picked it up and realized she didn't even know her boyfriend's name. And Dylan's lies weren't over.
4. A Newspaper Exposed Him
In 1963, Dylan was on top of the world, with two albums under his belt and chances to perform alongside the likes of folk legend Joan Baez. Then his web of lies suddenly unraveled. Newsweek revealed his real name and that he was just a kid from a normal, middle-class Jewish family. When Dylan read the expose, his reaction was one for the books...
5. He Had a Legendary Sulking Session
After painstakingly crafting his image and telling bald-faced lies even to the people who loved him, Dylan was incensed at the Newsweek article. According to one of his biographers, he "exploded with anger" and went "underground" for weeks on end after the article, refusing to see almost anyone. But as we now know, this was just the beginning for Dylan.
6. He Scandalized the Ed Sullivan Show
In 1963, Dylan's rebellious side reared its fiery head in an infamous episode of music history. He was due to perform on The Ed Sullivan Show, one of the highest-rated shows in America at the time. Yet when he told the network he planned to sing his political "Talkin' John Birch Paranoid Blues," the censors tried to force him to pick another song. This did not end well.
7. He Walked Away From Fame
Instead of toeing the party line and opting for something else in his catalogue, Dylan gave The Ed Sullivan Show the equivalent of a middle finger. He left the set, refusing what could have been a career-making performance. According to Dylan, he did the leaving very politely, giving only a firm "no thanks," but actions speak louder than words.
8. He Had a Secret Marriage
From 1986 to 1992, Dylan kept one of the biggest secrets in a life filled with secrets: He was actually married. Dylan tied the knot with his backup singer Carol Dennis, but they kept it hush-hush until a whopping nine years after they split, only revealing the truth in 2001. Their reason for keeping it under wraps, however, may not be what you think.
9. He Was an "Absent" Father
According to Dennis herself, she and Dylan kept their marriage a secret for the protection of their daughter together, Desiree Gabrielle Dennis-Dylan. They meant business, too. When it came time to make up a birth certificate for the baby girl, they even kept Dylan's name off of the document. Now that's commitment.
10. He Had a Terrifying Stalker
Dylan's fans can be almost as bizarre as the man himself, but A.J. Weberman, a self-described "Dylanologist," beats them all—and he crossed a huge line in the 1970s. Weberman kept rooting through Dylan's garbage in the hopes of finding notes, discarded poetry, or a scrap or two of lyrics. Dylan was furious at the invasion of privacy, and he soon let Weberman know it...
11. He Got Satisfying Vengeance
Dylan was well aware that Weberman was digging through his trash, but he thought they had come to an agreement that Weberman would, uh, stop it. So when Dylan came outside one day and found Weberman at it again, he grabbed the Dylanologist and shoved him before riding off on his bicycle. Weberman's take? "I deserved it".
12. He Worked in Unconventional Ways
Astonishingly, Dylan wrote his legendary song "Like a Rolling Stone" on a regular piece of stationery from the Roger Smith Hotel in Washington, DC. The draft was just four pages long—but it has a pretty storied history. Dylan eventually sold the sheets to a friend, and when the friend put them up for auction in 2014, they went for a record $2 million.
13. He Joined the Lonely Hearts Club
Dylan is one of the celebrities featured on the cover of the famous Beatles album Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. His photo is in the top right, and John Lennon was the one who chose him. Sure, this might have been just an homage to a fellow musician, but the Beatles had another reason to thank Bob Dylan...
14. He Corrupted the Beatles
According to music lore, Dylan was the man who first introduced the naive, newcomer Beatles to marijuana in 1964, during a meeting at a Park Avenue hotel in New York City. It was also their first introduction to Dylan himself, and the story goes that Ringo Starr smoked an entire joint on his own, then spent the rest of night giggling. Sounds about right.
15. He Said No to Woodstock
Although we associate Dylan with the revolutionary 60s, he never actually performed at the Woodstock festival, despite living near the town where it took place. So why did he say no to headlining what has become of the most famous musical events in modern history? Because one of his children was sick. Then again, some say there was darker reason...
16. He Turned His Back on the 60s
According to some people close to Dylan at the time, the real reason he declined Woodstock was because he was sick and tired of the hippies who were gathering around his home in droves waiting for the festival. True or not, Dylan did move away from upstate New York shortly after. Not groovy man, not groovy at all.
17. His Reaction to Elvis' Passing Was Heartbreaking
Though he's a private, secretive, and sometimes duplicitous man, Dylan has a tender heart, especially for his musical idols. When Elvis Presley passed suddenly in 1977, Dylan was reportedly so saddened that he didn't speak to anyone for a week. During that time, as Dylan put it, "I went over my whole childhood". Yet some of that sadness might have been guilt...
18. He Stood up Elvis
In truth, Dylan once had a chance to record with Elvis Presley, but he threw it all away. At one point, he and George Harrison of the Beatles were set to make a song with Presley. It never happened, and legend has it that Elvis was a no-show. Yet Dylan later revealed the sad truth. He admitted that Elvis did show up and "It was us that didn't". Ah, what could have been.
19. He Almost Caused a Riot
In 1965, Dylan performed his most inflammatory act yet. At a music festival in Newport, Rhode Island, Dylan notoriously exchanged his acoustic guitar for an electric Fender Stratocaster for his set. The reaction has gone down in infamy. Folk devotees in the crowd booed as "Dylan went electric". But the fate of that guitar is even more interesting...
20. He "Forgot" a Priceless Instrument
So what ever happened to the famous Sunburst Fender Stratocaster that caused such an uproar? Well, weird Bob Dylan strikes again. Maybe he had some bad memories from that time, too, because the musician left the guitar on a private plane and then simply never asked for it back. The pilot, naturally, kept it—and got way more than he bargained for.
21. His Guitar Case Hid a Treasure
The pilot's family knew they had a famous electric guitar on their hands, but they couldn't have known how valuable it really was. When the pilot looked inside the guitar case, he also found song lyrics and notes written in Dylan's own hand. The guitar later sold for almost a million dollars at auction...all because Bob Dylan is a little forgetful.
22. He Was Banned in Texas
Dylan's half-singing, half-talking vocal style can be a little grating, but one radio station took it to the next level. In the 60s, an El Paso, Texas station entirely banned Dylan's music because they couldn't understand what he was singing, and they thought it might very well be revolutionary propaganda. They decided to shut him down, just to make sure.
23. He Was a Victoria's Secret Model
Even with his revolutionary image, Dylan never turned a blind eye to big endorsement checks from the likes of Pepsi and IBM. This infuriated many of his fans—and his most bizarre endorsement was yet to come. In 2004, Dylan starred in a Victoria's Secret commercial, exchanging alluring looks and tossing his cowboy hat to a scantily-clad model while playing his song "Love Sick".
24. He Was Barred From His Own Show
In 2001, Dylan was touring when he got into very embarrassing situation. Security officers refused him entry to the Jackson County Exposition Center, where he was playing, because he didn't have a backstage pass. Dylan argued with guards before his security director cleared up the confusion. As we'll see though, this was far from the last time Dylan suffered a case of mistaken identity.
25. He Almost Died From a Strange Condition
In 1997, we almost lost a legend. That spring, Dylan went into the hospital with a serious and fatal heart condition, pericarditis. Although he caught the condition early, it took time for Dylan to recover, and he was out of commission for six weeks. Even Dylan knew how close he came to heaven's door: ''I'm just glad to be feeling better,'' he said at the time. ''I really thought I'd be seeing Elvis soon.''
26. The Pope Denounced Him
In 1997, Dylan reached new heights when he made no less than a Pope angry. When Dylan played at a Catholic youth rally in Italy, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the future Pope Benedict, vehemently opposed the performance and later compared Dylan to a false prophet. What did Dylan play at the rally? "Knockin' On Heaven's Door," of course.
27. Frank Sinatra Was His Fake Friend
One day, the iconic crooner Frank Sinatra invited Dylan over to his house for dinner along with fellow legendary singer Bruce Springsteen. Although this seems like a juggernaut of a dinner party, it was probably more awkward than you're imagining. According to Dylan, it quickly became clear that Sinatra didn't really know any of his songs.
28. Concerned Citizens Called the Authorities on Him
While on tour in 2009, Dylan took a walk...and ended up in the back of a cop car. A local resident thought the man in a hoodie was suspicious and called the authorities. When officers didn't recognized the ID-less Dylan, they put him in the car and drove him to his hotel, where they verified it was indeed one of the most iconic figures in American music history.
29. He Was a Born-Again Christian
The kid who grew up in a small-town Jewish family converted to Evangelical Christianity in the late 1970s. Like, big time. Dylan began playing and recording gospel music, and would even try to convert everyone from his fans to his record producers during this time. But times change: He now says he follows no organized religion.
30. He Wanted to Be the Next Jim Carrey
One of Dylan's little-known interests is, believe it or not, comedy. While on tour once, he became obsessed with Jerry Lewis movies and decided he wanted to have a comedy show of his own. He even went so far as to recruit Curb Your Enthusiasm alum Larry Charles and pitched the show to TV titan HBO. This meeting...went very weirdly.
31. He Was Almost a Sit-Com Star
When Dylan went into meet HBO executives, he reportedly wore a floor-length duster and a cowboy hat. Strange attire, but his behavior was even stranger. He apparently spent the whole meeting with his back turned on the board. Then when HBO actually accepted the show, Dylan walked out and said he didn't want to do it anymore because "It's too slapsticky". My head, it's spinning.
32. His Radio Show Was Incredibly Weird
Between 2006 and 2009, Dylan had his own radio show. He DJ'd a whole slew of episodes on "Theme Time Radio Hour," which aired on satellite radio. For an hour each week, he played everything from old blues to hip hop, but with a twist. All the songs had a similar theme, such as "mothers," "presidents," or the eternal classic, "drinking".
33. He's Only Had One Number One Hit...And It's Surprising
Talk about a late bloomer. It took Dylan almost 60 years to garner his first No. 1 song under his own name on any Billboard chart. In March 2020, Dylan released "Murder Most Foul," a 17-minute epic. The next week, the song made it to No. 1 on the Billboard Rock Digital Song Sales list. His second-highest charted song? "Like A Rolling Stone," which topped out at No. 2 on the Hot 100.
34. He Dropped out of School for a Disgusting Reason
It seems Dylan is a lover of all creatures, but not a fan of the classroom. He flunked out of the University of Minnesota after less than six months. He apparently decided he preferred hip coffee houses to classrooms, especially after science class. "I sat in science class an' flunked out for refusin' to watch a rabbit die," he recalls.
35. His First Instrument Wasn't the Guitar
Dylan is known as a guitar and harmonica player, but few people know about his passion for the piano, which was the first instrument he ever learned to play. In fact, the piano that teenaged Dylan often played on in Hibbing High School in Minnesota is still used today at the school's drama performances. That's one Old Faithful.
36. He Has a Famous Son
Since Dylan is so secretive about his private life, not many people know that he actually has six children. One of his sons, Jakob Dylan, even followed in his father's footsteps and became a musician, heading the 90s band The Wallflowers and earning himself a hit with "One Headlight". Yeah, that's right, that guy.
37. He's Not a Regular Grandpa
To go along with his big brood of children, Dylan also now has nine grandchildren, complete with a bumper sticker that reads "Worlds Greatest Grandpa". The legendary rocker also sometimes plays guitar at his grandchildren's elementary school. But if you think that makes him cool in his kids' eyes...you'd be wrong. The kids' classmates refer to Dylan as the "weird guitar guy" who visits class "to sing scary songs on his guitar".
38. Even His Hobbies Are Bizarre
Dylan has, shall we say, eclectic interests. He has his own metal-working business called Black Buffalo Iron Works in Los Angeles. While there, he welds together gates using junk metal, incorporating everyday things like wrenches, gears, and car parts. That's right, in his spare time you can find Dylan foraging through scrap yards.
39. He Collects "Death Cars"
Wait. What? Besides welding gates together, Dylan also assembles tables out of the doors of cars driven by some of the most infamous gangsters of the 1920s. Some doors still even have bullet holes in them. They make great conversation-starters! "Lovely coffee-table, Joan!" "Yes, it's called: Knockin' On Heaven's Door".
40. He Has Another Creative Outlet
Aside from his music, Dylan has also established himself as a visual artist with a collection of drawings and paintings. He even used his own art as an album cover on 1970’s Self Portrait.
41. The Spirits Move Within Him
In 2018, Dylan launched his own whiskey brand, Heaven's Door. There's a rye, a bourbon, and a double-barrelled vintage, all in bottles featuring the artistry of Dylan's scrap-metal gates. In classic Dylan fashion, he told his whiskey collaborators "It should feel like being in a wood structure". Um, okay then Robert.
42. He's Obsessed With One Strange Sport
Surprisingly, the reedy Dylan is a fan of boxing, and owns his own private gym. There, Dylan has sparred with boxing champion Ray Mancini...but he was miserably bad at it. "He wasn't real fast or strong," recalls Mancini. "And after a couple of rounds, Bob said, ‘Hey Ray. Could you take it a little easy on the head? I have a few songs left in there.’"
43. He Has a Creepy Spyhole
True to Dylan's strange tastes, he once constructed a "peep hole" between his private gym and an adjoining coffee house, which he also owns. The small hatch between the walls allows the musician to take a peek inside the coffee house and determine if it's safe for him to go in. Again: Whatever floats your boat, Bob.
44. He's a Surprisingly Good Father
Even though Dylan has been touring, recording, and well, being an eccentric dude, he also was a devoted father. His youngest son Jakob Dylan said to the New York Times, "He never missed a single Little League game I had. He's collected every home-run ball I ever hit". See, it's not all just weirdo hobbies and crazed fans.
45. His Tour May Never End
Bob Dylan is still going strong at 79. His 2020 dates for his Never Ending Tour have been postponed, but are planned to resume again in 2021. So there's bound to be more weird, eccentric, strange stories about the "voice of a generation". Genius? Madman? The poet cloaked in an enigma of mystery and contradiction may never be fully understood. Dylan probably likes it that way.
46. He Had a Bitter Vendetta
One day at the height of his fame, Dylan stopped by artist Andy Warhol's place to pick up his then-girlfriend, Warhol It-girl Edie Sedgwick. Sounds oh-so glamorous, right? It turned sour fast. To Dylan's fury, Warhol started filming the musician without his consent, hoping to use the footage in a documentary film. So Dylan ended up getting a brutal revenge...
47. He Stole From Friends
Viciously miffed at Warhol's breach of privacy, Dylan bit back by "borrowing" an original Warhol painting and leaving with it. Then, instead of giving the practically priceless work of art back, Dylan first turned the painting into a dartboard, and then traded it in for a...couch. The man does know how to make a statement.
48. He Got Into a Horrifying Accident
In the early 1960s, Dylan's career was catapulting ahead with amazing speed. He released three albums in an astonishing 14 months, was about to tour, was finishing a novel, and had a contract for a television show. It all changed on July 26, 1966. That day, he crashed his motorcycle near his home in Woodstock, NY. But the fateful accident is still an enigma...
49. His Crash Is Still Shrouded in Mystery
Whatever happened, the crash altered Dylan's life in less than a second, and music historians call it a defining moment in his career. According to the singer, he lost control and ended up with several broken vertebrae. He was in recovery for months after, didn't tour for years following the accident, and soon changed his style of music completely. But some dark evidence still lingers.
50. He May Have Self-Harmed
Just before the accident, many experts believe Dylan had to be using amphetamines in order to keep up his incredible creative pace. Worn out from all the effort and his addictions, some have suggested Dylan let himself off the hook by getting into the accident, even subconsciously. Afterward, Dylan himself admitted, "Truth was that I wanted to get out of the rat race".
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