69 Things You Didn’t Know About Bob Dylan


On this day in 1941 at 9:05 p.m., little Bobby Zimmerman — a.k.a. His Dylanness — was born. Earn your degree in Dylanology with our primer on unexpected Bobster trivia, featuring one fact for each of his 69 years, after the jump. Don’t think twice!

1. Before he renamed himself Bob Dylan, Robert Allen Zimmerman briefly went by Elston Gunn.

2. Dylan’s father, Abe, was a semi-professional baseball player before he contracted polio in his early twenties.

3. According to Bob Spitz, author of

, it was Dylan who first introduced the Fab Four to marijuana.

4. The phrase next to Robert Zimmerman’s picture in the 1959 Hibbing High School Yearbook was “To join Little Richard.”

5. Dylan’s first professional recording was as a harmonica player at a Harry Belafonte session.

6. His great-grandfather and uncles owned the biggest movie theaters in Hibbing, Minnesota, allowing a young Dylan to watch films for free.

7. After seeing Rebel Without a Cause, Dylan became obsessed with James Dean.

8. In 10th grade, Dylan and his back-up band were rejected from a high school talent show because the student council judged his performance at the audition too shocking.

9. Before he flunked out of the University of Minnesota, Dylan pledged to the fraternity Sigma Alpha Mu.

10. In college, Dylan was known for scamming his friends out of cigarettes and articles of clothing.

11. In 1960, Tommy Smothers of the Smothers Brothers tried to get the manager of a Denver club to kick Dylan off the bill, complaining that his voice was awful.

12. During his days in Greenwich Village in the 1960s, Dylan became a chess fiend.

13. When Dylan met girlfriend Suze Rotolo’s mother, Mary, he lied and told her that he had a degenerative eye disease that would eventually lead him to go blind, earning him Mary’s eternal distrust.

14. Bob Dylan appeared with Joni Mitchell on the first episode of The Johnny Cash Show.

15. 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 John Hammond that he was an orphan.

16. Suze Rotolo’s pet names for Dylan were “the Pig” and “RAZ.”

17. When a CBS censor informed him that he couldn’t play “Talkin’ John Birch Paranoid Blues” on The Ed Sullivan Show, Dylan refused to go on.

18. 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.

19. In 2004, Dylan earned an honorary doctorate in music from the University of St. Andrews.

20. The only other honorary degree Dylan has accepted was in 1970 from Princeton.

21. Last year, Dylan was detained by the police in New Jersey after a homeowner spotted him wandering around a residential block in the rain.

22. 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.

23. The first time Donovan and Bob Dylan met, Dylan and his entourage all wore Halloween masks.

24. Dylan’s first draft of “Like a Rolling Stone” was six pages long.

25. His first wife, Sara Lownds, worked as a Playboy bunny.

26. 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.

27. Dylan struck up a short-lived friendship with Tiny Tim, who Dylan recorded singing “Like a Rolling Stone” while strumming the ukulele.

28. He appeared in the 1973 Sam Peckinpah film Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid as a drifter named Alias.

29. Kris Kristofferson was the custodian at the studio where Dylan recorded Nashville Skyline.

30. Aside from song-writing, Dylan is also a prolific painter. The cover of his 1970 Self Portrait is his own painting.

31. After his friend Phil Ochs died, Dylan took to polishing off a fifth of bourbon a day.

32. Pauline Kael called Dylan’s film Renaldo & Clara “what Louis and Marie Antoinette might have done at Versailles if only they’d had the cameras.”

33. According to Nico, Edie Sedgwick was the subject of “Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat.”

34. From around 1960 to 1964, Dylan’s preferred intoxicants were pot and Beaujolais.

35. After Dylan’s 1966 motorcycle accident, Allen Ginsberg brought him a box full of books to aid his recovery.

36. In the summer of 1970, Dylan was briefly involved in the production of a musical version of The Devil and Daniel Webster with poet Archibald MacLeish but backed out when he and MacLeish didn’t see eye to eye.

37. At John Prine’s second gig outside of Chicago ever, Dylan showed up to play backup harmonica.

38. The original title of Planet Waves was Ceremonies of the Horsemen.

39. 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.”

40. 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.

41. After Elvis died, Dylan didn’t speak to anyone for a week.

42. In 1978, Dylan took a three-month course at the Vineyard School of Discipleship as part of his conversion to born-again Christianity.

43. An offhand comment Dylan made at Live Aid inspired Willie Nelson to organize Farm Aid.

44. During his satellite radio hour, Bob Dylan covered a verse of LL Cool J’s “Mama Said Knock You Out.”

45. Dylan toured with the Grateful Dead for six shows in 1987.

46. Bruce Springsteen inducted Bob Dylan into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1988.

47. 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.

48. The Pulitzer Prize committee gave Dylan a special citation in 2008 for “lyrical compositions of extraordinary poetic power.”

49. 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.

50. Since 1988, as part of his “Never-Ending Tour,” Bob Dylan has played at least 100 concerts per year.

51. Dylan starred in a 1987 box-office flop Hearts on Fire as a rock star turned farmer.

52. When Dylan performed for Pope John Paul II in 1997, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (the current Pope Benedict), tried to stop Dylan from playing.

53. “Rainy Day Women #12 & 35” was recorded in one take.

54. Joni Mitchell recently revealed a giant grudge against Dylan.

55. In 1999, Dylan appeared on an episode of Dharma & Greg.

56. Seinfeld veteran Larry Charles directed Dylan’s 2003 film Masked & Anonymous.

57. Dylan has played shows in supported of the ultra-Orthodox Lubavitcher sect of Judaism.

58. 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’.

59. At the release party for Blood on the Tracks, Bob Dylan’s table included guests Bette Midler and David Bowie.

60. Dylan’s experimental novel,

, was published in 1971.

61. When he was in high school, his standard order at the local luncheonette was cherry pie á la mode.

62. Patti Smith and Dylan toured together briefly in 1995.

63. He also appeared in a 2004 Victoria’s Secret commercial.

64. Weird Al Yankovic did a song entirely of palindromes called “Bob” that was styled on “Subterranean Homesick Blues.”

65. Dylan’s younger brother, David Zimmerman, is a record producer.

66. Dylan has nine grandchildren and sports a bumper sticker on his car that reads “World’s Greatest Grandpa.”

67. Dylan got the idea for some of the lyrics for his album Love and Theft from the book Confessions of a Yakuza .

68. Last year, Dylan released an album of Christmas songs entitled

, which includes a sped-up, Dylanized version of “Must Be Santa.”

69. In February, Dylan braved a blizzard to perform at a civil rights concert at the White House.