In honour of Bob Dylan’s 73rd birthday, I’d like to share 73 cool facts you may or may not know about Dylan.
1. Bob Dylan is undisputedly the greatest songwriter ever bringing a sense of complexity and level of poetry to his songs previously unheard of in popular music.
2. With his distinctive gravelly, whiskey-soaked voice Dylan transformed the notion of what a popular singer had to sound like.
3. ‘The Girl from the North Country ‘ is inspired by either his hometown girlfriend, Echo Helstrom or college girlfriend, Bonnie Beecher.
4. ‘Girl from the North Country’ is Dylan’s updating of the traditional folk song, and now popular standard, ‘Scarborough Fair’.
5. Having been brought up in the 40s and 50s, Dylan is a fan of classic cinema- there are references to Bette Davis (‘Desolation Row’, Gregory Peck (‘Brownsville Girl’) and Lauren Bacall in his work (‘Tangled up in Blue’-‘ I must admit I felt a little uneasy, When she bent down to tie the laces of my shoe’ references a scene in the Bogart and Bacall film, ‘To Have and Have Not’. Coincidently he received the Kennedy Center Honor the same year as Bacall).
6. Likes Indian food.
7. Barack Obama is the only President he has ever formally endorsed.
8. His first wife was former model, Sara Lownds.
9. His second wife was Carolyn Dennis, a gospel singer and former Dylan back-up singer.
10. According to his Greenwich Village girlfriend, Suze Rotolo, Dylan was introduced to pot by Ian Tyson (of Ian and Sylvia).
11. According to myth he called himself Dylan after Dylan Thomas- however Dylan disputes this in ‘Chronicles’ stating he was considering using his middle name Allen but felt D was a stronger sound than A. However he was probably partly inspired by the Welsh poet. His name, like everything about Dylan is complex.
12. Contrary to popular imagination there is no record that Dylan dated Edie Sedgwick. She in fact dated Dylan’s best friend- Bob Neuwirth, although perhaps had a crush on Dylan. However Edie’s striking image and troubled persona may have inspired Dylan songs such as ‘Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat’.
13. ‘Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat’ could also have been inspired by Memphis Minnie as the song is similar to her ‘Me And My Chauffeur Blues’.
14. Dylan is modest and has little interest in awards. He turned down the Kennedy Center Honor when it was first offered to him but accepted it later on feeling it would be a good thing for his mother and children to see.
15. Wrote ‘Tomorrow Is a Long Time’ for Ian and Sylvia to sing.
16. ‘Tomorrow Is a Long Time’ is supposedly inspired by Suze Rotolo.
17. Has an affinity for Scotland.
18. Has been inspired by traditional Scottish folk songs.
19. He admires Robert Burn’s poetry. Robert Burns song ‘My Heart’s in the Highlands’ inspired a line in Dylan’s song ‘Highlands’ which brilliantly evokes the beauty of the Scottish Highlands.
20. He owns a mansion in the Scottish Highlands.
21. Is good friends to this day with Maria Muldaur and inspired her to take up playing her fiddle again telling her ‘people need to hear that rustic sound you make’.
22. ‘Don’t Think Twice’ was inspired by his relationship with Suze Rotolo.
23. Is a fan of Johnnie Ray.
24. Is a fan of Judy Garland.
25. Despite having written some of the greatest political songs ever, he is not overtly political preferring to be more of an observer of society.
26. Started the ‘Never Ending Tour’ in the 70s after his divorce from Sara Lownds and it continues to this day.
27. ‘Boots of Spanish Leather’ was inspired by Suze Rotolo and her trip to Italy to study there.
28. Is a fan of Kate and Anna McGarrigle.
29. Wears the violet cufflinks Joan Baez bought him, and so beautiful evokes in her song, ‘Diamonds and Rust’, on the cover of his album, ‘Bringing It All Back Home’.
30. Dylan’s ‘With God on Our Side’ is a clever re-working of ‘The Patriot Game’ by Dominic Behan.
31. Dylan revealed he lifted the melody for ‘Titanic’ from his album, ‘Tempest’ from The Carter Family song, ‘The Titanic’.
32. Gregory Peck said at the Kennedy Center Honors that Dylan reminded me of a ‘nineteenth century troubadour’.
33. His biggest early influence was Woody Guthrie.
34. When he first went East, Dylan befriended an ailing Woody Guthrie by visiting him in the hospital.
35. One of his favourite films is François Truffaut’s ‘Shoot the Piano Player’ starring Charles Aznavour.
36. His most famous relationship was with Joan Baez. They became the King and Queen of Folk Music in the 60s.
37. His relationship with Joan Baez is beautifully evoked in her brilliant song, ‘Diamonds and Rust’.
38. The best insight into the complex and elusive Dylan is perhaps given by Joan Baez who described in ‘as you who are so good with words and at keeping things vague’ in ‘Diamonds and Rust’.
39. Is influenced by William Blake. The Blakeian theme of innocence and experience flows throughout ‘Every Grain of Sand’. Dylan’s the doorway of temptation echoes Blake’s ‘The Doors of Perception’.
40. Often references the Old Testament in his songs.
41. Influenced by classic country performers- Hank Williams, The Carter Family, Jimmie Rodgers, Kitty Wells.
42. Is a fan of Lenny Bruce and wrote a song about him.
43. ‘To Ramona’ is arguably inspired by Joan Baez. However it can also be read as Dylan’s kiss-off to the Folk Protest Movement.
44. ‘Positively Fourth Street’ is seen as Dylan’s ‘Fuck You’ to the Folk Protest Movement.
45. Richard Fariña, Joan Baez’s brother-in-law and Dylan’s friend wrote ‘Morgan the Pirate’ in response to ‘Positively Fourth Street’.
46. Is influenced by classic Blues singers such as Blind Wille McTell and Memphis Minnie.
47. ‘Visions of Johanna’ is inspired by Joan Baez. The song can be seen as a meditation on the power of the muse. Dylan often played on people’s names in song titles with Johanna being a play on Joan. There are many references to Joan in the song, most notably in ‘her cape of the stage once had flowed’.
48. References Keats’ ‘Ode to a Nightingale’ in ‘Visions of Johanna’ with its focus on the power of the muse and directly in the line, ‘the nightingale’s code’ and also in the song ‘Jokerman’ (‘dance to the nightingale tune’).
49. ‘Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands’ is supposed to be a play on Sara Lownds’ name.
50. Rose to national prominence and became the voice of the Protest Movement when he performed with Joan Baez at the March in Washington in 1963, where Martin Luther King gave his historic ‘I Have a Dream’ speech.
51. Lived in the infamous Chelsea Hotel with Sara Lownds and her young daughter Maria in the mid 60s.
52. Wrote ‘Queen Jane Approximately’ about Joan Baez, with Queen Jane being a play on Joan’s status as the Queen of Folk Music.
53. Dylan inspired The Beatles to write more complex, introspective and lyrical songs whilst their popularity may have influenced his decision to ‘go electric’.
54. Wrote a song about John Lennon, ’Roll on John’.
55. Visited John Lennon and Paul McCartney’s childhood homes in Liverpool when he recently performed in Liverpool.
56. His protest songs, ‘Blowin’ in the Wind’, ‘The Times They Are a-Changin’’, ‘When the Ship Comes In’ were the anthems of the civil rights and anti-war movements.
57. Is good friends with Maria Muldaur to this day. A few years ago Dylan encouraged Maria to start playing her fiddle again saying, ‘people need to hear that rustic way you play’.
58. Dylan brought poetry into Rock and Roll when he went electric thus elevating it to an art form.
59. He provocatively ‘went electric’ at the Newport Folk Festival in 1965 and was greeted by boos. However his decision to go electric influenced most of his peers in the folk community who then went electric, thus creating ‘Folk Rock’.
60. Dylan’s leather jacket, which he wore in mid 60s- perhaps even at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival, is now displayed in the Smithsonian Museum of American History in Washington, DC, alongside Muhammad Ali’s boxing glove.
61. Suze Rotolo argued much of his early greatness lay in his ability to soak up all of the ideas that were going on around him.
62. Referred to critics who accused him of plagiarism as ‘wussies and pussies’, and stated musical appropriation is ‘part of the folk tradition.’
63. Was good friends with Johnny Cash.
64. In the early Greenwich Village days, he would slot a coin into the juke box and play Judy Garland’s ‘The Man That Got Away’. He described listening to Judy Garland as like listening to the girl next door.
65. In his early teenager years in Minnesota, he played piano in Bobby Vee’s band at local gigs.
66. His work was first popularised by Peter, Paul and Mary who’s melodious harmonies were easier for the public to consume than Dylan’s own versions.
67. Won an Oscar in 2000 for Best Original Song for ‘Things Have Changed’.
68. Paid for a lavish casket for Brian Jones, the founder of The Rolling Stones.
69. In 1959, his high school yearbook photo carried the caption: ‘Robert Zimmerman: to join ‘Little Richard’.’
70. Created one of the first music videos with ‘Subterranean Homesick Blues’.
71. Directed and starred in the film ‘Renaldo and Clara’ with Joan Baez and Sara Dylan.
72. Enjoys playing golf.
73. One of his greatest strengths is to constantly evolve musically- he has evolved from Folk to Protest Songs to Rock and Roll to Country to Gospel to Blues, writing some of the greatest songs in each genre.