A perpetual enigma, the world’s most influential songwriter, Bob Dylan is impossible to fathom. These facts, however, we believe to be true.
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Bob Dylan, ‘Dunquesne Whistle’, from the album ‘Tempest’ (2012)
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Robert Allen Zimmerman was born on May 24, 1941 in Duluth, Minnesota. He legally changed his name in 1962, and while most assume his name alludes to poet Dylan Thomas, there’s a theory it might be inspired by Green Bay Packers legend Bobby Dan Dillon.
Dylan signed to Columbia Records at the age of 20. That meant he was legally a minor and needed his parents to sign the contract, too. For whatever reason, he didn’t want that, so convinced John Hammond that he was an orphan so they didn’t have to sign.
‘Masters Of War’, a harsh invective against the military-industrial complex from 1963’s ‘The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan’, remains one of the most powerful protest songs ever written. The music and lyrics first appeared on the February 1963 cover of Broadside magazine.
Written in 1965, ‘Like A Rolling Stone’ has long been considered one of the greatest and most influential songs in modern music. Accounts vary, but before they were edited down to what you hear, Dylan’s original lyrics were between six and 20 pages long.
It was Dylan who first introduced The Beatles to marijuana, on August 28, 1964 at New York’s Delmonico Hotel. 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.
Dylan has never had a number one single on the Billboard chart. The closest he’s come is ‘Like A Rolling Stone’ and ‘Rainy Day Women #12 & 35’, which both reached number two in 1965 and 1966 respectively. The Byrds’s cover of ‘Mr Tambourine Man’ did hit the top spot, though.
When Dylan first started playing electric, in 1965, it elicited an angry reaction from his fans, including the infamous “Judas” moment in Manchester. But in his 1959 school yearbook, he claimed his ambition was “To join Little Richard”.
Dylan was inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame in 1988, by Bruce Springsteen. 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.
In 2004, Dylan appeared in a 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.
He released his 35th studio album, ‘Tempest’, in 2012. As per his records of the last 15 years, the sleeve didn’t contain any printed lyrics. The title-track did, however, include references to James Cameron’s epic 1997 blockbuster, Titanic.
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Bob Dylan, ‘Blowin’ In The Wind’, from the album ‘The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan’, 1963
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Words: Mischa Pearlman
The colossal 41-disc boxset ‘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. Find Bob online here.
The new issue of Clash, from which this article is taken, is out now – find out more here.