Sixty-One Things to Know About Bob Dylan

1. He was born Robert Allen Zimmerman on May 24, 1941, in Duluth, Minnesota.
2. He started playing guitar when he was 12.
3. He wrote in his 1959 Hibbing High School yearbook that he planned "to join Little Richard."

4. He moved to New York City in January 1961 because he felt compelled to speak with Woody Guthrie, progenitor of lower Manhattan's then-blossoming folk scene. Guthrie had been paralyzed by a rare hereditary disease for eight years, but Dylan frequently visited him at Greystone Park Hospital in East Orange, New Jersey, and the two became friends. Incidentally, the road Dylan took from Minnesota to New York was Highway 61.

5. He made his first recording--a version of the classic "San Francisco Blues"--using a friend's home equipment in New York on February 3, 1961.

6. His first live gig in New York City was opening for John Lee Hooker at Gerde's Folk City in Greenwich Village on April 11, 1961.

7. He got paid $50 for playing harmonica in the sessions for Harry Belafonte's 1961 album The Midnight Special.

8. He was "discovered" by legendary Columbia A&R guru John Hammond, who signed him in September 1961. Hammond was prompted to check out Dylan by a glowing review of the Gerde's gig that critic Robert Shelton wrote for the New York Times. Little did Hammond know that Shelton was a friend of Dylan's and would continue for years to write pieces on the singer that had more puff than a marshmallow.

9. He cites Walt Whitman, the French Symbolists and the Beat poets as his primary literary influences.

10. He legally changed his name to Bob Dylan (after poet Dylan Thomas) when he was 21.

11. His self-titled debut album was released in March 1962. Bob Dylan failed to chart, but the collection of raw, tough-as-leather versions of folk and country standards made him an overnight sensation in the New York City folk scene.

12. He played a folk singer in the BBC radio play The Madhouse on Castle Street during a brief visit to London in January 1963, performing "Swan on the River" and "Blowin' in the Wind" on the air.

13. His second major release, The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan, came out in May 1963. The recording's eloquent originals such as "Blowin' in the Wind," "Masters of War" and "A Hard Rain's AGonna Fall" simultaneously established him as both a leader of the folk movement and a protest artist.

14. He refused to perform on The Ed Sullivan Show in May 1963 after producers told him he couldn't play the caustic political ditty "Talking John Birch Society Blues."

15. He liked to toy with reporters early in his career, giving purposely absurd answers to frequently inane questions (e.g., Q: "What is the blues?" A: "The blues is a pair of pants wihout any pockets in them") and spreading the myth that he'd been a troubled teenager who had run away from home to hang out on street corners and hop boxcars. He also said he was estranged from his family.

Bob's mom put that whopper to rest in 1963 when she showed up at one of his New York concerts and, outside after the show, shouldered her way through the crowd surrounding her son, got in his face and yelled, "Ienjoyed your performance tonight, Mr.Dylan."

16. He met Joan Baez at the Monterey Folk Festival on May 17, 1963. Later that year, he and Baez were the dual stars of Newport Folk Festival and toured the nation together. Somewhere along the road, they became lovers.

17. His songs have made other singers too much money to count. Peter, Paul & Mary were the first to score a hit with a Dylan cover--their version of "Blowin' in the Wind" hit No.2 in September 1963 and sold more than a million copies. 18. Three weeks after the assassination of President Kennedy, Dylan was nearly torn apart by peaceniks when he told the audience atthe Emergency Civil Liberties Committee's annual fund-raising banquet that he identified with Lee Harvey Oswald. "I don't know exactly what he thought he was doing, but I got to admit that I saw some of myself in him," he said in a drunken speech accepting an award for promoting free speech.19. He was the first person to get the Beatles stoned, smoking them out on Thai stick at the Delmonico Hotel in New York City in August 1964.20. His first song to chart in the U.S. was the hard, guitar-driven "Subterranean Homesick Blues," which went to No.39 in May 1965.

21. He effectively launched folk rock when he met the Byrds' Roger McGuinn and gave him "Mr. Tambourine Man." The Byrds' single hit No. 1 in June 1965.22. He was practically booed off the stage at the Newport Folk Festival by folk purists in July of 1965 when he plugged in and played a full electric set backed by the Paul Butterfield Blues Band. (Keyboardist Al Kooper, who played organ on "Like a Rolling Stone," recently contradicted this staple of rock lore in an interview for the Dylan fanzine On the Tracks. "They booed because Bob only played three songs," says Kooper, who was onstage with Dylan at the time. "He was on for 15 minutes or less.")23. He told rock journalist Edna Gundersen earlier this year that electric and acoustic guitar "are pretty much equal to me. I try not to deface the songs with electricity or nonelectricity. I'd rather get something out of the song verbally and phonetically than depend on tonality of instruments."24. His first major hit was "Like a Rolling Stone," which peaked at No. 2 in September 1965. The song was considered revolutionary for its length (six minutes).

25. He made his first appearance on the silver screen in Don't Look Back, a documentary of his 1965 British tour with Joan Baez. The film was released in 1967. His second movie, Eat the Document, which featured his 1966 tour of England with the Band, was filmed as a TV special for ABC in the late Sixties, but ultimately was canned by the network for being too "controversial and unprofessional."

26. He puked on John Lennon's shoes while tripping on a smorgasbord of psychedelics in the back of a limousine carting the two superstars back to their Mayfair Hotel suite in London. The scene was captured during the filming of Eat the Document, but was cut from the final version for obvious reasons. "John, I sure wish I could talk English," Dylan said shortly before doing the big spit. "Me too, Bob," Lennon icily replied. Dylan then pawed at his face like a dog digging a hole for a bone, compared Johnny Cash to Frankenstein's monster, hunched over and did a Technicolor yawn on the floor of the limo.

27. His October 1965 album Highway 61 Revisited was an instant classic for its live-in-the-studio recording process. The recording peaked at No. 3 on the album charts.

28. His biggest hit off Highway 61, "Positively 4th Street" (No. 7 in the U.S.), sounds suspiciously similar to "Like a Rolling Stone."

29. His masterpiece was Blonde on Blonde, released in August 1966. Although the album is best known for the "Everybody must get stoned" chorus to "Rainy Day Women #12 & 35," it also contains Dylan's deepest, most hypnotic work in the ballads "Just Like a Woman" and "Visions of Johanna."

30. He decided he wanted a Salvation Army horn section on "Rainy Day Women #12 &35" in the middle of the night during thesessions for Blonde on Blonde, so he called up a local trombone player and calmly explained the situation. An hour later, the trombonist showed up in a suit and tie, recorded two takes and went home to bed.

31. He broke his neck on July 29, 1966, when he crashed his Triumph 55 motorcycle while riding near his Woodstock, New York, residence. In addition to several broken vertebrae, he suffered a concussion and severe lacerations on his face and scalp. He was in critical condition for a week and bedridden for a month. He spent the next nine months in seclusion, afflicted by amnesia and occasional paralysis.

32. His first public performance after the motorcycle crash was at a memorial concert for Woody Guthrie at Carnegie Hall on January 20, 1968. Guthrie had died at 55 four months earlier.

33. His artistic sensibilities were eerily prescient. A prime example is The Basement Tapes. The source material for that double LP was a recording of a jam session of Dylan and the Band in 1967 at a huge, old house in Woodstock known as Big Pink. The recording clearly anticipated the coming wave of ruralist rock bands led by the Grateful Dead.The master tapes of that session were bootlegged and enjoyed widespread underground circulation before Robbie Robertson compiled and remixed them for release eight years after they were recorded. The Basement Tapes turned out to be a surprise hit, rising to No.7 on the U.S. album charts and No.8 across the pond. The album also was ranked No.1 in the 1975 Village Voice Jazz & Pop Critic's Poll, then considered the definitive critical assessment of popular music.

34. His first album after the motorcycle crash was 1968's John Wesley Harding, a simpler, more countrified effort than his prewreck albums that utterly ignored the psychedelic stylings that were still in vogue because of the Beatles' 1967 release of Sgt.Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. Although Harding went to No.2 on the U.S. album charts, no single was issued off thealbum (though Jimi Hendrix would later geta hit with his take on "All Along the Watchtower").

35. He recorded a country album called Nashville Skyline in 1969 on which he sang a duet with Johnny Cash called "Girl From the North Country."

36. His last Top10 single was "Lay Lady Lay," which hit No.7 in 1969. The song was originally written for the Midnight Cowboy soundtrack on request, then rejected.

37. His garbage became an obsession of munchkin-faced star-stalker and self-proclaimed "Dylanologist" A.J. Weberman, who throughout the late Sixties and early Seventies would routinely pilfer Dylan's personal refuse from in front of the songwriter's Greenwich Village town house. Weberman scrutinized the trash and published his findings from a roach-infested loft in the Bowery where he also housed his "Dylan Archives"--thousands of pages of analysis, including a deconstruction of every word in every song Dylan ever wrote.

38. He was awarded an honorary doctorate in music by Princeton University in 1970.

39. He wrote a surreal, stream-of-consciousness rant of a novel titled Tarantula that was published in November 1970. Dylan didn't want it to see print, but A.J.Weberman forced his hand by publishing bootleg mimeograph copies of purloined five-year-old galleys to fund hisfan club from hell, the Dylan Liberation Front.

40. His worst recording released with his consent was 1970's Self Portrait, an insufferable double album patchwork of new songs and tired covers that relied heavily on theinferior talents of Paul Simon, Gordon Lightfoot and the Everly Brothers. Portrait is the only Dylan album whose best song ("All the Tired Horses") is an instrumental.

41. He spent most of 1972 in seclusion, writing the soundtrack to the Sam Peckinpah movie Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid, which included "Knockin' On Heaven's Door." He also appeared in the film as an outlaw named Alias.

42. He jumped ship from Columbia to Asylum on a handshake deal with David Geffen in November 1973. Columbia retaliated by releasing Dylan, a collection of horrid outtakes and rejected covers from Self Portrait. Dylan's Asylum debut, Planet Waves, was his first No. 1 album in the U.S., topping the charts for four weeks. Shortly after Planet Waves was released, however, Dylan smoked the peace pipe with CBS bigcheese Clive Davis and returned to Columbia.

43. His 1974 tour of the U.S. (his first in eight years) generated six million ticket orders in one week, according to producer Bill Graham.

44. He returned to his old haunts in Greenwich Village in the fall of 1975, and a series of impromptu jams at the Other End inspired him to put together an informal communal tour. The Rolling Thunder Revue started out playing surprise shows at small venues (the revue made its debut before a crowd of 200 in Plymouth, Massachusetts, on October 30), but quickly built up to stadium shows, including one in Fort Collins, Colorado, where NBC-TV filmed the raw footage for the concert movie Hard Rain. Revue members included Joan Baez, Allen Ginsberg, Joni Mitchell and violinist Scarlet Rivera.

45. He and the revue played two Night of the Hurricane benefit concerts for boxer and convicted murderer Ruben "Hurricane" Carter (subject of the song "Hurricane" on Desire) in late 1975. After expenses, the gigs raised just under $10. His efforts did get the cause clbre a new trial. However, Carter also went down in round two.

46. He was quoted by Jimmy Carter in the president's 1977 inaugural address.
47. He lost $2 million on Renaldo and Clara, a four-hour film released early in 1978. Dylan wrote, directed, co-edited and, with Joan Baez, starred in the film.

Renaldo included live concert footage of 47songs by the Rolling Thunder Revue and a scene of Dylan and Allen Ginsberg visiting the grave of Jack Kerouac, widely interpreted as a symbolic statement that a true artist's work outlasts the artist.

48. He sold out the 90,000-seat venue Lloyd's Court in London in less than eight hours (May 7, 1978).

49. He announced he was a born-again Christian in 1979 after his girlfriend at the time, an L.A. actress named Mary Alice Artes, and Rolling Thunder Revue guitarist TBone Burnett hit him with a tag-team evangelical effort. Dylan's next album, the overtly religious Slow Train Coming, rose toNo.3 on the album charts. The single "Gotta Serve Somebody" earned Dylan his first Grammy (Best Rock Vocal Performance, Male).

Dylan recorded one more born-again theme album (Saved, released in 1980) before renouncing Christianity in 1983.

50. He founded his own record label, Accomplice Records, in January of 1979, but never really did anything with it.

51. He was elected to the Songwriters Hall of Fame in March 1982.
52. He told Los Angeles Times writer Robert Hilburn in 1984 that the Sixties was a decade when "everything happened so quick. There was just electricity in the air. It's hard to explain--I mean, you didn't ever want to go to sleep because you didn't want to miss anything. It wasn't there in the Seventies and it isn't there now. But if you really want to be an artist and not just be successful, you'll go and find the electricity. It's somewhere."

53. He traveled to the Soviet Union in 1985 at the invitation of Soviet poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko and performed at an international gathering of poets. Yevtushenko introduced him as a "famous singing poet."

54. He made a truly bad movie called Hearts of Fire in 1987--generally considered to be his worst career blunder ever.

55. He was "Lucky" in the Traveling Wilburys, joining "Nelson" (George Harrison), "Lefty" (Roy Orbison), "Charlie T. Jr." (Tom Petty) and "Otis" (Jeff Lynne) to record the short-lived supergroup's first album in October 1988.

56. His 33rd LP, Down in the Groove, was areturn to form after a series of feeble, unfocused efforts in the early and mid-Eighties. Released in 1988, the album sported a stellar lineup of guest artists, including Eric Clapton, Ron Wood, Steve Jones, Jerry Garcia, and exClash bassist Paul Simonon.

57. His first album of the Nineties, Under the Red Sky, was his worst since Self Portrait, a sad stab at recovering the elegant simplicity of John Wesley Harding that yielded only drivel for lyrics.

58. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in January 1988, performing "Like a Rolling Stone" at the ceremony with George Harrison, Neil Young, John Fogerty, Les Paul, and Jeff Beck on guitar. Mick Jagger, Bruce Springsteen, and former Supreme Mary Wilson sang back-up.

59. His singing voice is technically awful, but critics defended his nasal mumbles and whines, saying that since he introduced several new musical languages, it's appropriate that his voice be so startlingly bad that people shut up and listen. "Dylan's singing struck some of the radio-ears of his moment as ugly or funny, but as an interpretive vehicle it soon became understood as a revelation," wrote Rolling Stone critic Paul Evans in 1979. "Dylan sang with the immediacy of talking, of sharing secrets and conveying intimate truths."

60. He once said that "creativity is not like a freight train going down the tracks. It's something that has to be caressed and treated with a great deal of respect. If your mind is intellectually in the way, it will stop you. You've got to program your brain not to think too much."

61. He will be here on Thursday, November 9. He's scheduled to perform at Symphony Hall, with Ian Moore Band. Showtime is 7:30 p.m.--David Holthouse


All-access pass to the top stories, events and offers around town.

  • Top Stories


All-access pass to top stories, events and offers around town.

Sign Up >

No Thanks!

Remind Me Later >