Edit
Bob Dylan Poster

Biography

Jump to: Overview (4) | Mini Bio (1) | Spouse (2) | Trade Mark (12) | Trivia (93) | Personal Quotes (100)

Overview (4)

Date of Birth 24 May 1941Duluth, Minnesota, USA
Birth NameRobert Allen Zimmerman
Nicknames Bobby
Zimmy
Zimbo
The Voice of Protest
The Voice of a Generation
The Bard
Blind Boy Grunt
Height 5' 7½" (1.71 m)

Mini Bio (1)

Robert Allen Zimmerman was born 24 May 1941 in Duluth, Minnesota; his father Abe worked for the Standard Oil Co. Six years later the family moved to Hibbing, often the coldest place in the US, where he taught himself piano and guitar and formed several high school rock bands. In 1959 he entered the University of Minnesota and began performing as Bob Dylan at clubs in Minneapolis and St. Paul. The following year he went to New York, performed in Greenwich Village folk clubs, and spent much time in the hospital room of his hero Woody Guthrie. Late in 1961 Columbia signed him to a contract and the following year released his first album, containing two original songs. Next year "The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan" appeared, with all original songs including the 1960s anthem "Blowin' in the Wind." After several more important acoustic/folk albums, and tours with Joan Baez, he launched into a new electric/acoustic format with 1965's "Bringing It All Back Home" which, with The Byrds' cover of his "Mr Tambourine Man," launched folk-rock. The documentary Dont Look Back (1967) was filmed at this time; he broke off his relationship with Baez and by the end of the year had married Sara Dylan (born Sara Lowndes). Nearly killed in a motorcycle accident 29 July 1966, he withdrew for a time of introspection. After more hard rock performances, his next albums were mostly country. With his career wandering (and critics condemning the fact), Sam Peckinpah asked him to compose the score for, and appear in, his Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid (1973) - more memorable as a soundtrack than a film. In 1974 he and The Band went on tour, releasing his first #1 album, "Planet Waves". It was followed a year later by another first-place album, "Blood on the Tracks". After several Rolling Thunder tours, the unsuccessful film Renaldo and Clara (1978) and a divorce, he stunned the music world again by his release of the fundamentalist Christrian album "Slow Train Coming," a cut from which won him his first Grammy. Many tours and albums later, on the eve of a European tour May 1997, he was stricken with histoplasmosis (a possibly fatal infection of the heart sac); he recovered and appeared in Bologna that September at the request of the Pope. In December he received the Kennedy Center Award for artistic excellence.

- IMDb Mini Biography By: Ed Stephan <stephan@cc.wwu.edu>

Spouse (2)

Carolyn Dennis (4 June 1986 - 1992) (divorced) (1 child)
Sara Dylan (22 November 1965 - 29 June 1977) (divorced) (4 children)

Trade Mark (12)

Distinctive voice
Depressing yet witty lyrics
Lyrics about important social issues
Harmonica
Curly hair
Lyrics inspired by real life events
Messy Black Hair
Often dresses entirely in Black
Often wears a stetson hat
Thin Moustache
His seemingly personal but often mysterious and nebulous lyrics
Low rasping voice

Trivia (93)

July 1966: He was in a serious motorcycle accident, and in seclusion until late 1969.
1991: Awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Grammys.
5/27/97: Admitted to hospital for treatment of a "potentially life-threatening infection".
Father of the singer/songwriter Jakob Dylan of The Wallflowers.
February 1964: Dylan and three friends drove south from New York to see some of the US heartland. He insisted they stop unannounced to see poet Carl Sandburg in North Carolina. To his lasting disappointment, Dylan left after some ten minutes when he sadly realized he couldn't get the venerable man of letters to take him seriously as a fellow poet.
2000: Awarded the Polar Music Prize, the Royal Swedish Academy of Music Award.
1/30/90: Received France's highest cultural award, the Commandeur dans l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres.
6/9/70: Awarded honorary doctorate by Princeton University, Princeton, NJ.
1/18/88: Inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame by Bruce Springsteen at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel, New York City.
1985: Daughter Desiree Gabrielle Dennis-Dylan born. Mother is gospel-rock vocalist Carol Dennis, a backup singer who formerly worked with him and who he secretly married.
At the famous "Johnny Cash at San Quentin" concert, Johnny Cash introduced a song co-written by Dylan, describing him as "...the greatest writer of our time".
Son Jesse Dylan is a director.
Early in his career used the stage name Elston Gunn.
His albums "Time Out of Mind" (1997), "Love and Theft" (2001) and "Modern Times" (2006) were voted Album of the Year in the Village Voice's annual critics' poll.
Appears on sleeve of The Beatles' "Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band".
Borrowed lines from a Japanese book "Confessions of a Yakuza" for lyrics in the songs of his album "Love and Theft" - the author was apparently flattered by this.
Attended the University of Minnesota briefly after graduating high school; flunked out by non-participation ("refusin' to see a rabbit die" in a science class, and reading Kant instead of a required textbook), and cutting classes to frequent the local Dinkytown coffeehouses.
Hitchhiked from Minnesota to New York after leaving college, paying his way by doing odd jobs and sleeping wherever he could find space. Stopped at a courthouse along the way and legally changed his name from Zimmerman to Dylan (when asked later if his name was spelled like Dylan Thomas, he answered "No, like Bob Dylan").
1964: Introduced The Beatles to pot-smoking, during their first meeting in New York; each told the press later, "We just laughed all night.".
Dylan's father owned a furniture store when young "Bobby" was in high school, and sent him once on rounds, to collect from installment-plan customers late on their bills. When Dylan returned and told his father "Dad, those people don't have any money," his father replied "Some of those people make as much money as I do; they just don't know how to manage it." The lesson stuck with Dylan.
According to the stage manager at Hibbing High School, and a local documentary, the piano that he played on stage is currently the same one that the school uses during their drama performances.
1959: Graduated from Hibbing High School.
The town of Hibbing, Minnesota where he went to high school still acknowledges him. On Howard Street, there is a restaurant called Zimmy's taken after his real last name (Zimmerman).
June 2004: Awarded an honorary degree at the University of St. Andrews (Scotland).
Some of his biggest influences are Hank Williams, Muddy Waters, Ferdinand 'Jelly Roll' Morton, Leadbelly, Mance Lipscomb, Big Joe Williams and Woody Guthrie.
Dylan once visited artist and filmmaker Andy Warhol when he came to pick up actress/model Edie Sedgwick, whom he was dating at the time, and found himself the subject of Warhol's movie camera. Dylan responded by picking up an original Warhol painting and taking it with him "for payment" for being filmed, which he used first as a dartboard, then traded for a sofa (he apologized to Warhol in a press interview years later for his attitude).
Early 1980s: Visited Israel on what was supposed to be a private trip; this was spoiled when he was photographed at Jerusalem's Wailing Wall, and the picture made headlines around the world.
Said that when he performs "All Along the Watchtower," he thinks of it as a tribute to Jimi Hendrix. Although Dylan was the song's original writer, Hendrix's cover is the best known version of the song.
Although raised Jewish (being of fully Jewish heritage), he converted to a born-again version of Christianity in the late 1970s. He drifted away from Christianity later, though, returning to Judaism in the 1990s and 2000s by studying and attending services with an ultra-Orthodox Jewish sect, the Chabad Lubavitcher Chassids.
Although he avoids discussing religion now, Dylan said in a 1997 interview with Rolling Stone that he's no longer a follower of any organized religion.
Almost all of his studio recordings has been original songs. One exception was his self-titled debut which was comprised mainly of standards. The others were from two periods when he allegedly suffered from a case of "writer's block", the early 1970s ("Self Portrait" and "Dylan") and two from the the early 1990s ("Good As I've Been to You" and "World Gone Wrong", respectively).
Although he is often thought of as just playing guitar, harmonica, and singing, Dylan is equally skilled on the piano, and he has played most instruments at one point or another in his 40+ years in music. On the album "John Wesley Harding," for example, he played all the instruments but drums and bass on most of the tracks.
He turned down an offer to headline the legendary Woodstock Festival in 1969 (Jimi Hendrix ultimately headlined), even though he had been living on a farm in Woodstock for many years at that point.
Although he continues to influence musicians today, perhaps his most significant influence was on other musicians of his own generation in the 1960s. Among the musicians he influenced to start writing deeper, more introspective material were The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix, The Beach Boys, Sam Cooke, Otis Redding and Paul Simon, among many, many others. Ironically, when those he influenced were at their creative peaks in the late 1960s, Dylan himself was in seclusion (after a motorcycle accident) and he really had nothing to do with the "hippie counterculture.".
He was voted the second Greatest Rock 'n' Roll Artist of all time by Rolling Stone.
Early 1980s: He studied with Lubavitch Hasidim.
Always something of a Casanova, he had his first steady girlfriend at 14 and was seeing as many as five girls at once by the time he was in college.
By the time he was ten, Bob began to get piano lessons and he was beginning to listen to the country, blues, and (a little later) the rock 'n' roll played on radio late at night in Hibbing. In his teens, Bob's father bought him an electric guitar and he started a series of rock 'n' roll cover bands with friends from school and summer camp called The Jokers, The Shadow Blasters, and, lastly, The Golden Chords. Once in college, he became so excited by the folk music of Woody Guthrie that he traded his electric guitar for an acoustic one.
In his book, "Chronicles," Dylan indicates that the reason he began starting writing songs were the works of folk-legend Woody Guthrie (he was obsessed with Guthrie's "hopped-up union meeting sermons"), mysterious blues great Robert Johnson (saying he evoked the "dark night of the soul") and certain songs by Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill (due to their "tough language" and their "resilience and outrageous power").
There is much myth surrounding his changing his last name. In his "Chronicles" he said that he didn't think Zimmerman would be catchy enough as a stage name and that he first considered making his last name to his middle name, Allen. He then noted that a "D" would be stronger than an "A". But rather than spell it Dillion and in tribute to one of his favorite poets, Dylan Thomas, he choose to spell it Dylan. By late in college as many people called him "Dylan" as they did "Zimmerman" or "Zimmy" and, by the time he made it to New York City, everybody called him "Dylan.".
Won an Academy Award for the song "Things Have Changed" from the Wonder Boys (2000) soundtrack. He performed the song and accepted the Oscar via satellite due to the fact that he was on tour through Germany at the time.
Although he had several stalkers over the years, perhaps the most dogged was the self-titled Dylanologist, A.J. Weberman. This obsessed fan started the "Dylan Liberation Front," protesting that Dylan had sold out and has abandoned his political causes (in reality, Dylan was never very political). Weberman staged several "protests" in front of Dylan's home, rooted through Dylan's garbage repeatedly, and accused Dylan of heroin use. After Weberman pushed aside Dylan's wife, Sara, and broke into Dylan's home, Dylan lost his patience and defeated his considerably beefier stalker in a fight.
Despite his reputation as a "protest singer", he was never very active politically and very rarely rallied for causes. Although he did some work in support of the civil right movements and often fought individual injustices (most famously, that of Rubin 'Hurricane' Carter), many of his peers in the folk community found his apparent indifference to politics frustrating.
For the recording of the famous, rambling song "Rainy Day Women # 12 & 35" (with its chorus of "everybody must get stoned!"), Dylan took the group of mostly straight-laced, professional session musicians he was recording with, got them very drunk and had them smoke pot. When they returned, he had each man play a different instrument to what they usually played. After this went on, somebody asked Dylan when they were actually going to record the song, Dylan countered, "That was it."
His favorite movie is Shoot the Pianist (1960) by François Truffaut.
Other bands Dylan preformed in are The Satin Stones, Elston Gunn and the Rock Boppers, and The Rockets.
At the The 40th Annual Grammy Awards (1998) he won a Grammy for best male rock singer (on "Cold Irons Bound"), best contemporary folk singer and album of the year ("Time Out of Mind").
May 1997: He was diagnosed with pericarditis, which can be lethal if it's not discovered in time.
Holds the impressive distinction of having had his songs covered by nearly 3,000 artists, including Jimi Hendrix, U2, Dave Matthews Band, Sheryl Crow, Johnny Cash, Stevie Wonder, Eric Clapton, Joe Cocker, Diana Ross, Rod Stewart, Elvis Costello, Phil Collins, Bryan Ferry, Steve Hackett, Steve Howe, Emerson Lake and Palmer The Beach Boys, and My Chemical Romance.
His song "Like a Rolling Stone" was named # 1 on Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Songs of All Time (2004). Other songs listed include: "Blowin' in the Wind" (# 14), "The Times Are A-Changin'" (# 59), "Tangled Up In Blue" (# 68), "Mr. Tambourine Man" (# 106), "Desolation Row" (# 185), "Knocking on Heaven's Door" (# 190), "Positively 4th Street" (# 203), "Just Like a Woman" # (230), "Subterranean Homesick Blues" (# 332), "Highway 61 Revisited" (# 364), and "Visions of Johanna" (# 403).
Despite rumors that he hates rap music, Dylan cites several rappers as having "brilliant minds" and, in his "Chronicles" states that he is a big fan of several Old School rappers, particularly Public Enemy, who were one of his favorite artists of that era. Many see an early connection to rap in Dylan's music, particularly the song "Subterranean Homesick Blues". However, Dylan apparently dislikes the commercialism of much modern hip-hop and warned popular rappers that "sometimes less is more". When he hosted "Bob Dylan's Radio Theme Time Hour", during his "Mother's Day" hour in 2008, Dylan played "Momma Said Knock You Out" by LL Cool J and was heard to rap along with the first verse. LL Cool J himself was thrilled when he heard this.
Some notable covers of his songs: "Quinn the Eskimo" - Manfred Mann; "Mr. Tambourine Man" - The Byrds; "All Along the Watchtower" - Jimi Hendrix; "It Ain't Me, Babe" - Johnny Cash, The Turtles; "Knockin' on Heaven's Door" - Eric Clapton; as well as Guns N' Roses, "Maggie's Farm" - Rage Against the Machine, "Desolation Row" - My Chemical Romance, and there are over 100 covers of "Blowin' in the Wind".
Rode a 500cc T100S/R Triumph Tiger motorcycle upon which he famously crashed
1959: Played piano for Bobby Vee in a make-up band booked for show left vacant by the airplane-crash death of Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and The Big Bopper (aka J.P. Richardson).
He has nine grandchildren - four from his step-daughter, Maria, one each from Jesse and Samuel, and three from Jakob Dylan. He also has a "World's Greatest Grandpa" bumper sticker that he proudly displays on his car.
A father of six children. His children are: Maria Lowndes Dylan (born 21 October 1961; married to Peter Himmelman and a mother of four), Jesse Byron Dylan (born 6 January 1966; married to Susan Traylor and father of William), Anna Leigh Dylan (born 11 July 1967; she is married, but has no children), Samuel Abraham Dylan (born 30 July 1968; married to Stacy Hochheiser and father of Jonah), Jakob Luke Dylan (born 9 December 1969; married to Paige and a father of three), Desiree Gabrielle Dennis-Dylan (born 31 January 1985). His eldest child, Maria, became his step-daughter when he married Sara Lowndes, and he later adopted her as his own. His youngest daughter, Desiree, was born to his second wife, Carolyn Dennis. His other four children were all with his first wife, Sara.
11/16/05: Inducted into the UK Music Hall of Fame for his outstanding contribution to British music and integral part of British music culture.
Son of Abraham Zimmerman and Beatrice Stone (Beatty Zimmerman).
Has a brother named David Zimmerman.
1982: Inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame.
Fan of Elvis Presley.
"All Along the Watchtower" is the song he's performed the most, with nearly 2,000 known performances. It is also, including Jimi Hendrix's performance of the song, the song that's been most frequently featured on film and TV soundtracks.
In 2007 Bryan Ferry released "Dylanesque", an album consisting entirely of 11 of Dylan's songs.
In 1999 Steve Howe released "Portraits of Bob Dylan", an album consisting entirely of 12 of Dylan's songs.
(April 7, 2008) Awarded a special Pulitzer Prize.
Awarded a 2008 Pulitzer Prize (Special Citation "for his profound impact on popular music and American culture, marked by lyrical compositions of extraordinary poetic power"). He is the first rock or folk musical artist to win this prestigious honor.
Supported Barack Obama in the 2008 presidential election.
Resides in Malibu, California.
Voted the seventh greatest singer of the rock era in a Rolling Stone magazine poll in 2008.
Recorded "Empire Burlesque" as well as several tracks from his platinum selling "Bootleg Series" at the well-known Cherokee Studios in Hollywood.
Although he had previously disparaged the use of his likeness and music for advertisements, he has appeared in commercials for Victoria's Secret, Cadillac, Apple and Pepsi within the last 10 years (2009).
His Album "Modern Times" (2006) was voted the 8th Best Album of the Decade by Rolling Stone Magazine.
His Album "Love and Theft" (2001) was voted the 11th Best Album of the Decade by Rolling Stone Magazine.
He was awarded the American National Medal of the Arts on February 25, 2010, in Washington D.C. for his services and contributions to the arts.
Historically, he rarely fraternized or even spoke extensively with the studio band members he recorded with. The musicians would usually await instruction only from the producer at the time and were frequently rankled by Dylan's chilly behavior and lack of credit they received after recording. Recently, when Dylan has begun producing his own albums and recording with the touring band he assembled in the '80s and '90s, this has been said to have changed somewhat.
Between the ages of 10 and 18, Dylan ran away from home seven times.
He is a big fan of the films of John Ford.
He has sometimes erroneously been parodied as having lyrics that are hard to understand due to his singing voice.
According to Dylan writer Clinton Heylin, Dylan's "true story" songs were usually riddled with inaccuracies, with Dylan indifferently taking poetic license with the truth. In "The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll", he wrote of William Zantzinger beating Hattie Carroll to death with a cane, when in fact she died of heart failure some time after she had been verbally abused and tapped on the rear end with a toy cane by an inebriated Zantzinger. In "Hurricane" (arguably his most famous "true story" song), Dylan and Jacques Levy got several facts about the case against former boxer Rubin 'Hurricane' Carter wrong, including false accusations of police corruption in the case, claiming without evidence that the witnesses to the crime were lying and claiming that Carter was an almost saint-like figure that "coulda been the champion of the world", when in fact Carter was long past his prime as a boxer and had been known throughout the area as a bully with a brutal, hair-trigger temper. In "Joey" (about murderous mob boss Joe Gallo) and "John Wesley Harding" (about famous western gunfighter John Wesley Hardin), Dylan spins the title characters into Robin Hood-like do-gooders, when in fact both men were known to be sadistic killers--Hardin once emptied his pistol through a hotel-room wall because the man on the other side was snoring and keeping Hardin awake. The man died instantly--and unrepentant thieves.
Although it has been reported that Dylan renounced his faith in Christianity, he in fact has never publically renounced it and he only seemed to drift away gradually from being outspoken in regards to his religious beliefs. Despite remaining more subtle in their Christian elements, the songs recorded for the album "Infidels" (often described as the first secular album after the born-again albums) almost all contained some Bible-based material. Dylan was also observed to discuss his preoccupation with Jesus and Armageddon and engage in Christian prayers at least through the mid-1980s and still occasionally sings songs from his "born again" phase today. He also recorded a full-length album of Christmas standards, "Christmas in the Heart", including fairly religious songs, in 2009.
He refused the use of his recording of the song "Moonshiner" in the soundtrack for the film An American Werewolf in London (1981) due to his objections to the moral content of the script since he was at the height of his Christian born-again phase at that point. Ironically, several Dylan songs were used nearly 30 years later in the TV show True Blood (2008), which has similar content.
Although celebrated as one of the most original songwriters of all time, he has borrowed heavily at some points in his songwriting. In his early acoustic days (before 1964), he often put his own original lyrics to melodies and chords cribbed from traditional folk songs, which is a fairly common tradition in blues and folk music. He returned to regularly "borrowing" tunes and lyrics more recently since the late 1990s.
Both "Halfbeat" and "Rolling Stone" magazines have said that Dylan's song "The Times, They Are A-Changing" captured the true decade (1960s) like no other song did.
He no longer plays the guitar when performing live, instead either playing on the keyboards or only on his harmonica. Although this has erroneously claimed to be due to back problems, it is apparently due to his opinion of the band's sound. He has accumulated several talented guitarist in his long-time touring band who fill the void.
Parodied by 'Weird Al' Yankovic in the song "Bob", consisting of palindromes sung in a Dylan-like voice.
Awarded the Presidendial Medal of Freedom (the highest civilian award in the United States) by President Barack Obama on 29 May 2012.
He has developed the habit in recent years of making impromptu visits to the childhood homes of musical colleagues he admires. He told Rolling Stone magazine that he has visited the childhood homes of Neil Young, John Lennon and Bruce Springsteen. In Springsteen's case, some neighbors called police when they allegedly saw Dylan peering into the window of Springsteen's childhood home in Long Branch, New Jersey, He was questioned by a pair of police officers who didn't recognize him. He was not arrested.
In 2012 Dylan claimed to Rolling Stone magazine that he was a philosophical believer in transfiguration. He says he came to believe in it after reading "Hell's Angel" by Sonny Barger, former president of the notorious Hell's Angels motorcycle gang, which included a passage about Bobby Zimmerman, a Hell's Angel "president" who is erroneously reported to have died in a biking accident in 1965, coincidentally the same year Dylan was at the zenith of his fame (actually it was 1961 that the biker Zimmerman died, around the time that Dylan started getting noticed in Greenwich Village). Coincidentally, Dylan's birth name was also Robert Zimmerman, a last name also shared by the book's co-authors, Kent Zimmerman and Keith Zimmerman.
In 1963 he canceled a booking on The Ed Sullivan Show (1948) because the show's producers told him that he couldn't sing "Talking John Birch Paranoid Blues".
His songwriting is both narrative and metaphorical.
He often wears a hoodie and/or a blonde wig when out in public, reportedly because he is very shy and likes to avoid being recognized.

Personal Quotes (100)

I think of a hero as someone who understands the degree of responsibility that comes with his freedom.
What's money? A man is a success if he gets up in the morning and goes to bed at night and in between does what he wants to do.
When you feel in your gut what you are and then dynamically pursue it
  • don't back down and don't give up - then you're going to mystify a


lot of folks.
The radio makes hideous sounds.
What good are fans? You can't eat applause for breakfast. You can't sleep with it.
Take care of all your memories. For you cannot relive them.
People today are still living off the table scraps of the '60s. They are still being passed around - the music and the ideas.
People seldom do what they believe in. They do what is convenient, then repent.
Money doesn't talk, it swears.
Just because you like my stuff doesn't mean I owe you anything.
Maybe in the '90s or possibly in the next century people will look upon the '80s as the age of masturbation, when it was taken to the limit; that might be all that's going on right now in a big way.
If I wasn't Bob Dylan, I'd probably think that Bob Dylan has a lot of answers myself.
It rubs me the wrong way, a camera . . . It's a frightening thing . . . Cameras make ghosts out of people.
I'm speaking for all of us. I'm the spokesman for a generation.
I've never written a political song. Songs can't save the world. I've gone through all that.
I think a poet is anybody who wouldn't call himself a poet.
I say there're no depressed words, just depressed minds.
I like America, just as everybody else does. I love America, I gotta say that. But America will be judged.
I define nothing. Not beauty, not patriotism. I take each thing as it is, without prior rules about what it should be.
I don't think the human mind can comprehend the past and the future. They are both just illusions that can manipulate you into thinking there's some kind of change.
Democracy don't rule the world, You'd better get that in your head; This world is ruled by violence, But I guess that's better left unsaid.
I accept chaos, I'm not sure whether it accepts me.
A poem is a naked person . . . Some people say that I am a poet.
All I can do is be me, whoever that is.
All this talk about equality. The only thing people really have in common is that they are all going to die.
I consider myself a poet first and a musician second. I live like a poet and I'll die like a poet.
Chaos is a friend of mine.
Being on tour is like being in limbo. It's like going from nowhere to nowhere.
A lot of people can't stand touring, but to me it's like breathing. I do it because I'm driven to do it.
A mistake is to commit a misunderstanding.
Being noticed can be a burden. Jesus got himself crucified because he got himself noticed. So I disappear a lot.
Basically you have to suppress your own ambitions in order to be who you need to be.
At times in my life the only place I have been happy is when I am on stage.
I've only written four songs in my whole life, but I've written those four songs a million times.
I wasn't a good husband . . . I don't even know what a good husband is.
[on his song "Everything Is Broken"] Critics usually don't like a song like this coming out of me because it didn't seem to be autobiographical. Maybe not, but the stuff I write does come from an autobiographical place.
[when asked what his songs are "about"] Oh, some are about four minutes; some are about five, and some, believe it or not, are about 11 or 12.
[from his acceptance speech for a lifetime achievement award at the Grammys in 1991] Well, my daddy, he didn't leave me much, you know he was a very simple man, but what he did tell me was this, he did say, "Son," he said, "you know it's possible to become so defiled in this world that your own father and mother will abandon you, and if that happens, God will always believe in your ability to mend your ways.
I know there are groups at the top of the charts that are hailed as the saviors of rock 'n' roll and all that, but they are amateurs. They don't know where the music comes from . . . I wouldn't even think about playing music if I was born in these times . . . I'd probably turn to something like mathematics. That would interest me. Architecture would interest me. Something like that.
They'd like to use my tunes for different beer companies and perfumes and automobiles. I get approached on all that stuff. But, shit, I didn't write them for that reason. That's never been my scene.
You can't be wise and in love at the same time.
I can move, and fake. I know some of the tricks and it all applies artistically, not politically or philosophically.
[on the legendary Woodstock Festival] I didn't want to be part of that thing. I liked the town. I felt they exploited the shit out of that, going up there and getting 15 million people all in the same spot. That don't excite me. The flower generation - is that what it was? I wasn't into that at all. I just thought it was a lot of kids out and around wearing flowers in their hair taking a lot of acid.
[on a visit to Israel in the early 1970s] There was no great significance to that visit, but I'm interested in the fact that Jews are Semites, like Babylonians, Hittites, Arabs, Syrians, Ethiopians. But a Jew is different because a lot of people hate Jews. There's something going on here that's hard to explain.
Those are songs from the Tree of Life. There's no love on the Tree of Life. Love is on the Tree of Knowledge, the Tree of Good and Evil. So we have a lot of songs in popular music about love. Who needs them? Not you, not me. You can use love in a lot of ways in which it will come back to hurt you. Love is a democratic principle. It's a Greek thing.
The bootleg records, those are outrageous. I mean, they have stuff you do in a phone booth. Like, nobody's around. If you're just sitting and strumming in a motel, you don't think anybody's there, you know . . . it's like the phone is tapped and then it appears on a bootleg record. With a cover that's got a picture of you taken from underneath your bed and it's got a striptease-type title and it costs $30. Amazing. Then you wonder why most artists feel so paranoid.
You don't necessarily have to write to be a poet. Some people work in gas stations and they're poets. I don't call myself a poet because I don't like the word. I'm a trapeze artist.
[about Woody Guthrie] His influence on me was never in inflection or in voice. What drew me to was that hearing his voice, I could tell he was very lonesome, very alone and very lost in his time. That's why I dug him.
[1966] It's the thing to do, to tell all the teeny-boppers, "I dig The Beatles" and you sing a song like "Yesterday" or "Michelle". Hey, God knows, it's such a cop-out, man, both of those songs. If you go into the Library of Congress, you'll find stuff a lot better than that. There are millions of songs like "Michelle" or "Yesterday" written in Tin Pan Alley.
I think of myself as a song-and-dance man.
What the songwriter does is just connect the dots. The ends he sees and the ones given to him and he connects them.
Art is the perpetual motion of illusion. The highest purpose of art is to inspire. What else can you do? What else can you do for anyone but to inspire them?
My childhood is so far away . . . it's like I don't even remember being a child. I think it was someone else who was a child.
People can learn everything about me through my songs, if they know where to look.
[on his hometown of Hibbing, MN] The town didn't have a rabbi, and it was time for me to be bar mitzvahed. Suddenly a rabbi showed up under strange circumstances for only a year. He and his wife got off the bus in the middle of winter. He showed up just in time for me to learn this stuff. He was an old man from Brooklyn who had a white beard and wore a black hat and black clothes. They put him upstairs above the café, which was the local hangout. It was a rock and roll café where I used to hang out, too. I use to go up there every day to learn the stuff, either after school or after dinner. After studying with him an hour or so, I'd come down and boogie.
When I first heard [Elvis Presley's] voice I just knew that I wasn't going to work for anybody; and nobody was going to be my boss. Hearing him for the first time was like busting out of jail.
The closest I ever got to the sound I hear in my mind was on individual bands in the "Blonde on Blonde" album. It's that thin, that wild mercury sound. It's metallic and bright gold, with whatever that conjures up. That's my particular sound. I haven't been able to succeed in getting it all the time. Mostly I've been driving at a combination of guitar, harmonica and organ.
My friend's wife is a really bad cook. I broke a tooth on her coffee.
[on Bob Seger] Some people think Bob is a poor man's Bruce Springsteen, but personally I always thought Bruce was the rich man's Bob Seger. Love 'em both, though.
I always thought I might want to be a doctor. Where else could you ask a woman to take off her clothes and send a bill to her husband?
I always liked songs with parentheses in the title.
The harmonica is the world's best-selling musical instrument. You're welcome.
I'm not ashamed to say that I lived my life to that code. Quite a man, that Gene Autry.
Lipstick traces on cigarettes can get you in trouble or remind you of the wonders of the night before.
Not all songs about crying are necessarily sad.
A giraffe can go a long time without water. But he wants to see the menu right away.
[on Joni Mitchell] Joni and I go back a long ways. Not all the way back, but pretty far. I've been in a car with Joni. Joni was driving a Lincoln. Excellent driver. I felt safe.
[on Johnny Cash, in 2005] Johnny Cash was more like a religious figure to me. Just the fact that he'd sing one of my songs was unthinkable.
Things will have to change. And one of these things that will have to change: People will have to change their internal world.
I don't consider myself an educator or an explainer. You see what it is that I do, and that I've always done. But it is time now for great men to come forward. With small men, no great things can be accomplished at the moment.
He does me better than anybody. (On Mark Knopfler)
Right now, America is in a state of upheaval. Poverty is demoralizing. You can't expect people to have the virtue of purity when they are poor. But we've got this guy there now who is redefining what a politician is, so we'll have to see how things play out. Am I hopeful? Yes, I'm hopeful that things might change. Some things are going to have to. - on Barack Obama
Charlton gets a bad rap for his strong conservative beliefs and involvement with the NRA, but truth to tell, he was a strong advocate for civil rights, many years before it became fashionable ... Never mind the fact that he's in a couple of our favorite movies, including Touch of Evil (1958), The Big Country (1958), Planet of the Apes (1968) and of course, Soylent Green (1973). - Following the death of Charlton Heston
(On his songs today) I just come down the line too far to make any superfluous song. I mean, I'm sure I've made enough of them, or that I've got enough superfluous lines in a lot of songs. But I've kind of passed that point. I have to impress myself first, and unless I'm speaking in a certain language to my own self, I don't feel anything less than that will do for the public, really.
I don't break the rules, because I don't see any rules to break. As far as I'm concerned, there aren't any rules.
Genius? There's a real fine line between genius and insanity. Anybody will tell you that.
I would really like to think of myself as a poet, but I just can't because of all the slobs who are called poets.
Art, if there is such a thing, is in the bathrooms; everybody knows that.
[on Paul McCartney] I'm in awe of McCartney. He's about the only one that I am in awe of. He can do it all. And he's never let up...he's just so damn effortless.
I don't need to be happy. Happiness is kind of a cheap word. Let's face it, I'm not the kind of cat that's going to cut off an ear if I can't do something.
What's so bad about being misunderstood?
[on the question of "message" songs] Well, first of all, anybody that's got a message is going to learn from experience that they can't put it into a song. I mean it's just not going to come out the same message. After one or two of these unsuccessful attempts, one realizes that his resultant message, which is not even the same message he thought up and began with, he's now got to stick by it; because, after all, a song leaves your mouth just as soon as it leaves your hands. Are you following me? Well, anyway, second of all, you've got to respect other people's right to also have a message themselves. Myself, what I'm going to do is rent Town Hall and put about 30 Western Union boys on the bill. I mean, then there'll really be some messages. People will be able to come and hear more messages than they've ever heard before in their life.
[on the question of "what made you decide to go the rock-'n'-roll route?"] Carelessness. I lost my one true love. I started drinking. The first thing I know, I'm in a card game. Then I'm in a crap game. I wake up in a pool hall. Then this big Mexican lady drags me off the table, takes me to Philadelphia. She leaves me alone in her house, and it burns down. I wind up in Phoenix. I get a job as a Chinaman. I start working in a dime store, and move in with a 13-year-old girl. Then this big Mexican lady from Philadelphia comes in and burns the house down. I go down to Dallas. I get a job as a "before" in a Charles Atlas "before and after" ad. I move in with a delivery boy who can cook fantastic chili and hot dogs. Then this 13-year-old girl from Phoenix comes and burns the house down. The delivery boy - he ain't so mild: He gives her the knife, and the next thing I know I'm in Omaha. It's so cold there, by this time I'm robbing my own bicycles and frying my own fish. I stumble onto some luck and get a job as a carburetor out at the hot-rod races every Thursday night. I move in with a high school teacher who also does a little plumbing on the side, who ain't much to look at, but who's built a special kind of refrigerator that can turn newspaper into lettuce. Everything's going good until that delivery boy shows up and tries to knife me. Needless to say, he burned the house down, and I hit the road. The first guy that picked me up asked me if I wanted to be a star. What could I say?
People have different emotional levels. Especially when you're young. Back then I guess most of my influences could be thought of as eccentric. Mass media had no overwhelming reach so I was drawn to the traveling performers passing through. The side show performers - bluegrass singers, the black cowboy with chaps and a lariat doing rope tricks. Miss Europe, Quasimodo, the Bearded Lady, the half-man half-woman, the deformed and the bent, Atlas the Dwarf, the fire-eaters, the teachers and preachers, the blues singers. I remember it like it was yesterday. I got close to some of these people. I learned about dignity from them. Freedom too. Civil rights, human rights. How to stay within yourself. Most others were into the rides like the tilt-a-whirl and the roller-coaster. To me that was the nightmare. All the giddiness. The artificiality of it. The sledge hammer of life. It didn't make sense or seem real. The stuff off the main road was where force of reality was. At least it struck me that way. When I left home those feelings didn't change.
I'm coming out of the folk music tradition and that's the vernacular and archetypal aesthetic that I've experienced. Those are the dynamics of it. I couldn't have written songs for the Brill Building if I tried. Whatever passes for pop music, I couldn't do it then and I can't do it now.
Byronesque maybe. Look, when I started out, mainstream culture was [Frank Sinatra], Perry Como, Andy Williams, The Sound of Music (1965). There was no fitting into it then and of course, there's no fitting into it now. Some of my songs have crossed over but they were all done by other singers. -on what kind of artist he is
Those guys all had conspicuous hits. They started out anti-establishment and now they are in charge of the world. Celebratory songs. Music for the grand dinner party. Mainstream stuff that played into the culture on a pervasive level. My stuff is different from those guys. It's more desperate. [Roger Daltrey], [Pete Townshend], [Paul McCartney], the Beach Boys, [Elton John], Billy Joel. They made perfect records, so they have to play them perfectly...exactly the way people remember them. My records were never perfect. So there is no point in trying to duplicate them. Anyway, I'm no mainstream artist. -on artist from the 60s who still play songs in the same way they always have
Sometimes I might shift paradigms within the same song, but then that structure also has its own rules. And I combine them both, see what works and what doesn't. My range is limited. Some formulas are too complex and I don't want anything to do with them.
The myth of the starving artist is a myth. The big bankers and prominent young ladies who buy art started it. They just want to keep the artist under their thumb. Who says an artist can't have any money? Look at Picasso. The starving artist is usually starving for those around him to starve. You don't have to starve to be a good artist. You just have to have love, insight and a strong point of view. And you have to fight off depravity. Uncompromising, that's what makes a good artist. It doesn't matter if he has money or not. Look at Matisse; he was a banker. Anyway, there are other things that constitute wealth and poverty besides money.
A saint is a person who gives of himself totally and freely, without strings. He is neither deaf nor blind. And yet he's both. He's the master of his own reality, the voice of simplicity. The trick is to stay away from mirror images. The only true mirrors are puddles of water.
Politics was always one because there were people who were trying to change things. They were involved in the political game because that is how they had to change things. But I have always considered politics just part of the illusion. I don't get involved much in politics. I don't know what the system runs on. For instance, there are people who have definite ideas or who studied all the systems of government. A lot of those people with college-educational backgrounds tended to come in and use up everybody for whatever purposes they had in mind. And, of course, they used music, because music was accessible and we would have done that stuff and written those songs and sung them whether there was any politics or not. I never did renounce a role in politics, because I never played one in politics. It would be comical for me to think that I played a role. Gurdjieff thinks it's best to work out your mobility daily.
You can be a priest and be in rock 'n' roll. Being a rock-'n'-roll singer is no different from being a house painter. You climb up as high as you want to.
[on folk rock] It's all music. No more, no less. I know in my own mind what I'm doing. If anyone has imagination, he'll know what I'm doing. If they can't understand my songs they're missing something. If they can't understand green clocks, wet chairs, purple lamps or hostile statues, they're missing something too.
[on the recordings that become known as 'The Basement Tapes'] I didn't know how to record the way other people were recording, and I didn't want to. The Beatles had just released Sgt. Pepper which I didn't like at all. I thought that was a very indulgent album, though the songs on it were real good. I didn't think all that production was necessary.
I don't care what people expect of me. Doesn't concern me. I'm doing God's work. That's all I know.
If you're not fulfilled in other ways, performing can never make you happy. Performing is something you have to learn how to do. You do it, you get better at it and you keep going. And if you don't get better at it, you have to give it up...Whatever you do, you have to be the best at it-Highly skilled. It's about confidence- not arrogance. You have to know you're the best whether someone tells you that or not. And that you'll be around, in one way or another, longer than anybody else.
Folk musicians, blues musicians did write a lot of songs about the "Titanic". That's what I feel I'm best at, being a folk musician or a blue musician, so in my mind it's there to be done. If you're a folk singer, blues singer, rock & roll singer, whatever, in that realm, you oughta write a song about the "Titanic", because that's the bar you have to pass.
The Fifties were a simpler time, at least for me and the situation I was in. I didn't really experience what a lot of other people my age experienced, from the more mainstream towns and cities. Where I grew up was about as far from the cultural center as you could get. It was way out of the beaten path. You had the whole town to roam around in, though, and there didn't seem to be any sadness or fear or insecurity. It was just woods and sky and rivers and streams, winter and summer, spring, autumn. The changing of the seasons. The cultural was mainly circuses and carnivals, preachers and barnstorming pilots, hillbilly shows and comedians, big bands and whatnot. Powerful radio shows and powerful radio music. This was before supermarkets and malls and multiplexes and Home Depots and all the rest.
[on Bing Crosby] A lot of people would like to sing like Bing Crosby, but very few could match his phrasing or depth of tone. He's influenced every real singer whether they know it or not. I used to hear Bing Crosby as a kid and not really pay attention to him. But he got inside me nevertheless.
[on Gordon Lightfoot] Every time I hear a song of his, it's like I wish it would last forever.

See also

Other Works | Publicity Listings | Official Sites | Contact Info

Contribute to This Page