“May you grow up to be righteous, may you grow up to be true. May you always know the truth and see the lights surrounding you. May you always be courageous, stand upright and be strong. May you stay forever young.” – Bob Dylan.
The forever young Robert Allen Zimmerman hits three score years and ten today. Both for those with a passing interest in His Bobness and for avid Dylanologists, here are 20 diverting facts about the man and his music:
1 – He was born in Minnesota, 24 May 1941, and his grandparents were originally from Odessa (paternal) and Lithuania (maternal).
2 – It has been said that The X Factor will never find “the new Bob Dylan”. But the man himself entered a school talent show in 1956 performing a Little Richard number on keyboards. The principal pulled the curtain on him.
3 – When Dylan turned up to play session harmonica for folk singer Carolyn Hester, he met Columbia Records’ legendary talent scout, John Hammond, who signed him shortly afterwards. Hammond also signed Leonard Cohen and Bruce Springsteen.
4 – Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right, from The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, is widely believed to be about ex-girlfriend and album-cover muse Suze Rotolo, who died in February this year. It was voted the Angriest Love Song in a 2007 poll, beating Alanis Morissette’s You Oughta Know and REM’s The One I Love.
5 – The famously controversial decision to go electric at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival was, according to Dylan’s roadie Jonathan Taplin, spontaneous, and designed to cock a snook at the festival director Alan Lomax. For a lark, The Decemberists recreated the moment in 2009.
6 – Philip Larkin gave Highway 61 Revisited a positive review for the Daily Telegraph, saying he was “well-rewarded” by the record.
7 – “I just don’t hear anyone else making the music I’m making in my head, so I’ll have to do it myself,” Dylan once said. That hasn’t stopped his songs being covered by Neil Young, Tracy Chapman, Jimi Hendrix, Sufjan Stevens, Nick Drake, Phoenix, Beck and so many others magazines routinely create lists of the 50 best Dylan covers.
8 – Dylan’s most famous recent song to be covered is Make You Feel My Love from Time Out of Mind, which has been a hit for Billy Joel, Garth Brooks and Adele, the last regarded as the most famous version. Recordings have been warbled by Bryan Ferry, Ronan Keating, Neil Diamond and the definitive reading by Jeremy Irons.
9 – Dylan’s first major starring role, in Hearts On Fire from 1987, was soundtracked by Bond legend John Barry. Basic Instinct screenwriter Joe Eszterhas rewrote the screenplay. Rupert Everett co-starred. It went straight to video.
10 – In 1995, Dylan played the Phoenix festival on Stratford-upon-Avon. He did not play last on the bill. Suede did.
11 – His music has been picked 89 times on Desert Island Discs including by David Cameron (Tangled Up In Blue), Billy Connolly (Highlands) and Alice Cooper (Ballad of a Thin Man).
12 – 1997 was the first year in which Dylan was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature. In 2011, the movement for him to win has its own Facebook page.
13 – He has made a career out of the bizarre career decision, including appealing for support for American farmers at Live Aid in 1985, releasing a Christmas album in 2009, and in 1999 a cameo in a middle-of-the-road sitcom, Dharma and Greg, backed by T-Bone Burnett.
14 – In 2007, ten years after he sang “My heart’s in the Highands”, Dylan bought Aultmore House, an Edwardian property near Nethy Bridge. One of his neighbours is new Rangers owner Craig Whyte.
15 – Musicians Dylan admires include Roy Orbison (“With Roy, you didn’t know if you were listening to mariachi or opera”), Smokey Robinson (“America’s greatest living poet”), Gordon Lightfoot (“When I hear one of his songs, I wish it would last forever”) and Paul McCartney (“I’m in awe of him maybe just because he’s just so damn effortless. I mean I just wish he’d quit [laughs]”).
16 – Dylan plays golf. His handicap is 17. “I hit as if it were a baseball bat,” he told Der Spiegel.
17 – In 2009, a 24-year-old policewoman in New Jersey failed to recognise Dylan and picked him up after a resident complained of “an old man wandering the neighbourhood”.
18 – The lines for the Dylan part on Quincy Jones’ 2010 remake of We Are The World were laid down by hip hop artist Lil Wayne.
19 – Parodies include John C Reilly playing Dewey Cox in Walk Hard, internet prankster Mike Bauer imagining Dylan covering Rebecca Black’s Friday and Colin Murray’s recollections of the South Africa World Cup with the most parodied song of all.
20 – Dylan’s famously entitled Never Ending Tour which started in 1988 was no such thing. In his sleevenotes for 1993’s World Gone Wrong, Bob claimed it ended in 1991 with the departure of guitarist G E Smith. He has nonetheless been touring ever since the late 80s, with 100–150 shows a year, and plays London next month.