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May He Stay Forever Young: 80 Things We Love About Bob Dylan

Bob Dylan (born May 24, 1941) began his legendary career in Greenwich Village. The storied clubs and coffee houses in the neighborhood were the incubators for his formidable talent and work. You’ll find some surprises about him and his connections to the Village in our list of 80 Things We Love About Bob Dylan. We hope you’ll supply some of your own surprises and favorite things in the comments!

Bob Dylan in Christopher Park image courtesy of the Estate of Fred W. McDarrah

The List:

  1. Bob Dylan has written more than 500 songs.

2. Dylan has recorded over 39 studio albums.

3. Rough and Rowdy Ways, Dylan’s latest album, was recorded in 2020 at the beginning of the pandemic.

4. Dylan’s first 8 albums were recorded between the ages of 21 and 26 while living and working in Greenwich Village.

5. From 1990 until 2019, Dylan played an average of more than 100 shows a year – every year – all around the planet.

6. Dylan’s given name was Robert Allen Zimmerman. He changed it officially, but he has always taken on many aliases.

7. Dylan owes his name partially to the White Horse Tavern. This bar at 567 Hudson Street was the favorite drinking spot of poet Dylan Thomas (whose ghost is said to still haunt the establishment), and it was this regular at “The Horse” that inspired Robert Zimmerman to become Bob Dylan.

8. Dylan has said that the inspiration for his name is both true and untrue.

Image courtesy of the Estate of Fred W. McDarrah

9. Dylan arrived in New York City in January of 1961 and landed in the Village.

10. Dylan arrived in Greenwich Village with the hope of meeting his hero Woodie Guthrie, who lived there at the time.

‘A Tribute to Woody Guthrie’ concert at Carnegie Hall, New York, New York, January 20, 1968. Among those pictured are, Pete Seeger (back to camera), Judy Collins, Bob Dylan, Arlo Guthrie, Tom Paxton, and Odetta. Other band members include Jack Elliot, Levon Helm, Rick Danko, Garth Hudson, and Robbie Robertson. (Photo courtesy of the Estate of Fred W. McDarrah

11. Bob Dylan’s first New York City apartment was at 161 West 4th Street.

12. Dylan originally played backup harmonica for singer Fred Neil at Café Wha? at 115 MacDougal Street.

13. Gerde’s Folk City, then at 11 West 4th Street, was the location of Dylan’s first paid gig.

Bob Dylan, Karen Dalton, and Fred Neil perform at Cafe Wha? Image courtesy of the Estate of Fred W. McDarrah

14. Dylan opened for John Lee Hooker in April of 1961 at Gerde’s Folk City, and played for a two-week stretch earning him an amazing $90 per week.

15. On April 16th, 1962 Dylan debuted the song “Blowin’ in the Wind” at Gerde’s Folk City.

16. The Bitter End at 147 Bleecker Street saw the birth of Dylan’s Rolling Thunder Revue concert tour.

17. Izzy Young’s Folklore Center at 110 MacDougal Street (an 1880 Italianate tenement) was an epicenter of the beatnik music scene.  Izzy owned this store and hangout that carried books, records, and anything else related to folk music. The Folklore Center was one of Dylan’s favorite haunts.

18. Izzy Young organized concerts and festivals and produced Dylan’s first show.

19. A popular Dylan hangout was Allan Block Sandal Shop, a custom leather business at 171 West 4th Street.  Mr. Block was a folk musician himself who would house open jam sessions in his shop on weekends.

Allan Block Sandal Shop

20. In 2016, Dylan was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature “for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition.”

21. In his Nobel address, Dylan said: “The words in Shakespeare’s plays were meant to be acted on the stage. Just as lyrics in songs are meant to be sung, not read on a page. And I hope some of you get the chance to listen to these lyrics the way they were intended to be heard: in concert, or on record, or however people are listening to songs these days. I return once again to Homer, who says ‘Sing in me, oh Muse, and through me tell the story’.”

22. Dylan is the first musician to have ever been awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature.

23. His friend Patti Smith accepted the Nobel Prize for Bob Dylan and movingly sang “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall,” at the ceremony.

24. Dylan wrote and recorded the 1965 album that changed the course of rock ‘n’ roll: Highway 61 Revisited, featuring the first six-minute single, “Like a Rolling Stone.”

25. Bob Dylan was the subject of one of the great rock docs of all time: the 1967 D.A. Pennebaker cinema verite Don’t Look Back.

26. Shakespeare 101, move over. There are already college courses on Dylan’s works (this author took once such course in college).

27. Bob Dylan is also a visual artist. Following his Drawn Blank book of drawings, in recent years, galleries around the world have been exhibiting new and recent works in his other medium of choice — oil painting.

28. Bob Dylan has published 8 books of his visual art.

29. Dylan, a sentimental person, has worked songs of departed friends into his setlists over the years, including tunes by Warren Zevon, George Harrison, Jerry Garcia, and even Lenny Bruce.

30. Dylan has been officially nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature several times, first in 1997 and then again from 1998-2002.

31. Dylan wrote songs that are now woven into the fabric of America and the 1960s Civil Rights movement, such as “Blowin’ in the Wind,” “The Times They Are-A-Changin’” and “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall.”

32. Dylan didn’t play Woodstock.

33. Dylan played the character Alias in Sam Peckinpah’s 1973 western Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid.

34. Dylan wrote the song “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” specifically for the soundtrack of Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid.

35. Dylan rarely gives interviews and doesn’t allow cameras or recording devices at shows.

36. Dylan picks his interviewers and the locations where they are to meet when he wants to talk and has recognized the concert “bootleggers” in both song and liner notes.

37. After suffering serious injuries in a motorcycle accident in 1966, Dylan was rendered bedridden and rumored to be dead. Thank goodness for us and for music, that rumor was untrue.

38. To generate positive publicity for his album, Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits, CBS Records commissioned Milton Glaser to design a special poster to be packaged with the album. Taking inspiration from a Marcel Duchamp self-portrait, Glaser depicted Dylan in profile, his abundant curly hair rendered in saturated colors that stood out in high contrast from the white ground. The energetic design with its swirling streams of color evokes the visual effects of the psychedelic drugs that were gaining popularity amongst members of the counterculture at the time.

39. Today’s Washington Square Hotel was, in the 60’s, a flophouse called the Hotel Earle, and Bob spent some time staying there.  In Joan Baez’s love song about Dylan, ‘Diamonds and Rust’, she refers to it as “that crummy hotel over Washington Square.” 

40. Dylan performed covers of his inspiration Woody Guthrie’s songs at Café Wha?

41. Dylan wrote “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall” in the basement of the Village Gate, a frequent venue of his.

42. Dylan wrote “Blowin’ in the Wind” at 105 MacDougal Street, which was, at the time, called The Commons. The place would later be called The Fat Black Pussycat.

43. In 2005, the album Live at the Gaslight 1962 was released, featuring 10 of Dylan’s early Village performances.

44. When Dylan’s self-titled debut album was released in 1962, its sales figures of 5,000 copies didn’t immediately indicate that he would be Columbia Records’ new star. However, producer John Hammond, who helped to discover Dylan, didn’t lose faith.

45. Music as a form of protest has long been one of Bob Dylan’s calling cards. He performed at the March on Washington and wrote songs about black Americans like Medgar Evars and Rubin “Hurricane” Carter.

46. “Don’t think twice, It’s alright” — Bob Dylan

47. Dylan owned the building at 94 MacDougal Street and lived there with his wife Sara and their children from 1970 to 1973, but grew tired of the constant invasion of privacy. Fans flocked here to get a glimpse of the now world-famous folk legend.

48. Dylan decided to leave NYC when overzealous fans would not stop picking through his garbage.

49. Dylan often played the Fat Black Pussycat when it was at 11 Minetta Street, at one point the epicenter of the beatnik music scene. Among the performers the Pussycat showcased were Tiny Tim, Mama Cass Elliot, Richie Havens, and Shel Silverstein. The place had a short life when you think of it; it became Panchito’s in 1972 and has been such ever since. Yet, the Pussycat is a legend and Panchito’s… not so much.

50. Music Inn at 169 West 4th Street has been in continuous operation since 1958. Dylan frequented the music shop and sometimes borrowed instruments for his performances.

51. While jamming at 1 Sheridan Square one night, Dylan met his girlfriend, Suzy Rotolo.

52. Dylan and Rotolo can be seen walking down Jones Street on a cold February day in 1963 on the cover of his second studio album, The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan.

53. Dylan wanted to re-create an iconic photo of James Dean on the cover of “Freewheelin” and wore only a light jacket during the shoot despite extreme winter temperatures.

Album cover for The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan

54. Dylan would often stay at the apartment of Miki Isaacson at 1 Sheridan Square.

55. Caffe Reggio at 119 MacDougal Street was the first coffee house in the Village and one of many venues along MacDougal Street where Dylan played in his early Village days.

56. There is a debate over whether or not “Positively 4th Street” was written about 4th Street in the Village or about a street on the University of Minnesota campus where Dylan lived before he moved to the Village.

57. Dylan once had Passover with Marlon Brando.

58. “Murder Most Foul” from his latest album Rough and Rowdy Ways has the highest word count of any of Dylan’s songs.

59. “Murder Most Foul” is nearly 17 minutes in length.

60. Dylan has taken on many aliases in his career.

61. He took the name Elston Gunn to play piano behind the early rock-and-roller, Bobby Vee.

62. He played harmonica for Ramblin’ Jack Elliot’s 1964 album, Ramblin’ Jack, under the handle of Tedham Porterhouse.

63. He recorded an album of old folk songs as Blind Boy Grunt. 

64. He was known as Robert Milkwood Thomas in Steve Goodman’s Somebody Else’s Troubles.

65. As a member of the Traveling Wilburies, he took the name Boo Wilbury.

66. As co-writer for the screenplay of Masked and Anonymous in 2003, he called himself Sergei Petrov.

67. In July 1966, Dylan withdrew from touring after his motorcycle accident. During this period, he recorded a large body of songs with members of The Band, who had previously backed him on tour. These recordings were released as the collaborative album The Basement Tapes in 1975.

68. Dylan has sold over 100 million albums, making him one of the top recording artists of all time.

69. Dylan had a romance with Joan Baez.

70. Dylan, Joan Baez, and Paul Stookey (of Peter, Paul, and Mary) played together at the Lincoln Memorial at The March On Washington, August 28, 1963, where Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his memorable “I Have a Dream” speech.

Image courtesy of the Estate of Fred W. McDarrah

71. Dylan recorded a series of three albums in the 2010s comprising versions of traditional American standards, especially songs recorded by Frank Sinatra.

72. The Pulitzer Prize Board in 2008 awarded Bob Dylan a special citation for “his profound impact on popular music and American culture, marked by lyrical compositions of extraordinary poetic power.”

73. In May 1963, Dylan’s political profile rose when he walked out of The Ed Sullivan Show. During rehearsals, Dylan was told by CBS television’s head of program practices that ” Talkin’ John Birch Paranoid Blues” was potentially libelous to the John Birch Society. Rather than comply with censorship, Dylan refused to appear and walked off the set.

74. The 1975 tour The Rolling Thunder Review featured about one hundred performers and supporters from the Greenwich Village folk scene, including T-Bone Burnett, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, Joni Mitchell, David Mansfield, Roger McGuinn, Mick Ronson, Joan Baez, and Scarlet Rivera, whom Dylan discovered walking down the street, her violin case on her back.

75. In the late 1970s, Bob Dylan became a born-again Christian and released a series of albums of contemporary gospel music before returning to his more familiar rock-based idiom in the early 1980s. 

76. Dylan has said he was influenced by African-American poets he heard on the New York streets, especially Big Brown.

77. On May 29, 2012, President Barack Obama awarded Dylan a Presidential Medal of Freedom in the White House. At the ceremony, Obama praised Dylan’s voice for its “unique gravelly power that redefined not just what music sounded like but the message it carried and how it made people feel.”

78. A musical play was created from the Bob Dylan songbook called “Girl From the North Country.” Nineteen Bob Dylan songs are performed by the cast throughout the production. Each is backed by instruments from the 1930s.

79. Bob Dylan will be one of the featured artists in Village Preservation’s Outdoor Public Art Exhibition, VILLAGE VOICES, August 15, 2021-September 30, 2021.

Image courtesy of the Estate of Fred W. McDarrah and Doyle Partners

80. “May your heart always be joyful, May your songs always be sung.” We love you, Bob.

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