37 Hilarious Bob Dylan Stories

By
Bob Dylan. Photo: Bettmann/Bettmann Archive

Bob Dylan won the Nobel Prize in Literature on Thursday, and maybe he was deserving and maybe he wasn’t. I’m in no position to judge, since I like every album he's ever released, even the bad ones. I can confidently say, though, that Dylan is a world-class weirdo. He was born different, that's for sure, but living for so long under intense scrutiny probably didn't help tamp down any interpersonal oddness. When people hail you as a prophet and a genius and dig through your garbage for clues about your day-to-day life, it's got to do things to your head.

Whatever the cause, Dylan long ago entered that realm (and it's a fun realm; Nicolas Cage and Shia LaBeouf live there) where you’d at least entertain any strange stories you hear about him as being true.

Here, apocryphal or not, are some of the best:

1. He Called Carrie Fisher to Brainstorm Names for Cologne
In her memoir Wishful Drinking, Fisher writes about getting a call from Dylan. He’d been asked to endorse a cologne called Just Like a Woman, but he didn’t like that name and wanted her advice on alternates. She gave him a few sarcastic options: “Ambivalence, for the scent of confusion”; “Arbitrary, for the man who doesn’t gave a shit how he smells”; and “Empathy — feel like them and smell like this.” To her surprise, “Bob actually liked those!”

2. He Annoyed Joni Mitchell 
As recounted in Brian Hinton’s Joni Mitchell bio Both Sides Now, the Canadian singer-songwriter had a bad experience sharing a microphone with Dylan at a concert in Japan in 1994. “On the third night they stuck Bob at the mic with me … and he never brushes his teeth, so his breath was like … right in my face.” For what it’s worth, Mitchell has needled Dylan over the years, saying, among other things, “I like a lot of Bob Dylan’s songs, though musically he’s not very gifted.”

3. He Was Picked Up by New Jersey Police for Looking Like a Hobo
In Long Branch, New Jersey, in 2009, Dylan, who was in town for a concert, decided to take a stroll. This did not go well. A couple of police officers, responding to complaints about a “scruffy old man acting suspiciously” picked up the ID-less singer. He was taken back to his hotel, where the reception staff explained to the officers who, exactly, they’d picked up.

4. He Confused a Famous BBC Talk-Show Host for a Waiter
Michael Parkinson is a distinguished English talk-show host, whose show Parkinson aired on the BBC for 33 years. So what? I couldn’t pick him out of a lineup, and, according to Parkinson, neither could Dylan. Parkinson had approached Dylan at a restaurant to tell him that he loved his music. Dylan’s reply? “Eggs over easy and coffee.”

5. He Gave Axl Rose Some Cold, Hard Truth
Axl Rose was in a rare expansive mood at a 2009 concert in Taiwan. Speaking to the audience in between songs, Rose mentioned meeting Dylan years before: “Bob asked me, ‘When you gonna record ‘Heaven’s Door’? And I said, ‘I don’t know, but we really love that song.’ And he said, ‘I don’t give a fuck. I just want the money.’ True story!”

6. He Actually Has Mixed Feelings About Guns N’ Roses
GNR recorded a cover of “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” in 1991. The following year, Dylan was asked what he thought: “Guns N’ Roses is okay, Slash is okay, but there’s something about their version of the song that reminds me of the movie Invasion of the Body Snatchers.”

7. He Sang to Bewildered Kindergartners
Page Six ran an item in 2007 about Dylan showing up to his grandson’s school in Calabasas, California, to perform: “The ‘weird man’ … keeps coming to their class to sing ‘scary’ songs on his guitar … [Dylan]’s been singing to the kindergarten class just for fun, but the kiddies have no idea they’re being serenaded by a musical legend.”

8. He Believed Kiss Fans Would Burn in Hellfire
Dylan was in the midst of his Born Again phase in 1980 when he performed a concert at the University of Arizona. Facing an audience angry about hearing songs in praise of Christ when they wanted to hear the hits, Dylan hissed, “If you want rock’n’roll, you can go see Kiss and rock’n’roll all the way down to the pit!” Dylan’s attitude toward the hottest band in the world softened over time. He co-wrote a song with Kiss's Gene Simmons, “Waiting for the Morning Light,” on the latter’s 2004 solo album.

9. His Dog Fouled Katherine Hepburn’s Flowers
For a time, Dylan rented a home next door to Katharine Hepburn in Manhattan’s Turtle Bay neighborhood. According to his aide-de-camp Victor Maymudes, Dylan let his Bullmastiff, Brutus, “shit in her flowerbed all the time.” And these weren’t dainty droppings. “The dog could really lay some logs,” Maymudes wrote. “I think if it was a small dog, [Hepburn] wouldn’t have cared.”

10. His Dog Also Ate Michael Douglas’s Caviar
Michael Douglas tells a story about being invited by George Harrison to hang out with him and Dylan. “George Harrison walks in with Bob Dylan. Bob Dylan has the biggest dog you’ve ever seen in your life.” Douglas orders some caviar for the trio, which Dylan’s dog (Brutus again?) promptly devours. “Bob Dylan hadn’t said a word yet,” Douglas recalls, “then finally he looks over and goes ‘far out.’”

11. He Tried to Get an HBO Show
Sometime in the late ’90s or early 2000s, Dylan decided he wanted to star in a slapstick comedy on HBO. Larry Charles, who at the time had been a main writer on Seinfeld and Mad About You (and who’d go on to direct Borat), got a call to meet with him. That led to a bizarre meeting with HBO, which involves someone whispering, in reference to Dylan, “he’s like a retarded child.” The whole story, which Charles shared on Pete Holmes’s You Made It Weird podcast, is worth hearing.

12. He Played Chess With a Stranger to Avoid Other Strangers
Folk singer Todd Snider told The Village Voice an insightful second-hand story: A friend of his played on the same European festival bill as Dylan, and after the concert, the musicians, Dylan included, had to take a ferry back to their hotels. Dylan was surrounded by onlookers and needed an escape. “My friend [who was sitting at a table with a chessboard] walked right up to [Dylan] and said, ‘Bob, we got the chessboard you wanted’ and Bob saw his chance and took it. My buddy got to play silent chess with him the whole trip, and as long as Bob seemed engaged, people seemed to leave him alone.”

13. He Confused the Replacements With R.E.M.
Bob Mehr’s Trouble Boys: The True Story of the Replacements is one of the best recent rock biographies. It’s also got a great little Dylan story. The Replacements were recording in the same studio in Hollywood as Dylan, then working on Under the Red Sky. And one day, Dylan showed up at the younger band’s session. Mehr quotes engineer Clif Norrell: “He was saying, ‘My kid loves you; my son’s really into your band.’ You could see [the Replacements’] eyes light up, and then Dylan goes, ‘You’re R.E.M., right?’”

14. He Sulked About Being Called "Byronic"
Dearly departed keyboardist Ian McLagan did a stint in Dylan’s backing band in the early ’80s, an experience he shared in his memoir, All the Rage.  Turns out Bob was a tetchy bandleader. Before a gig in Rome, Dylan appears in the band’s dressing room wearing “a black drape jacket with a white high-collar shirt.” McLagan tells him, “You’re looking very Byronic tonight” and is then confused when Dylan stews over the comment for several days. Almost a week later, in Barcelona, Dylan asks, ‘Hey, Ian, at the show in Rome, why did you call me moronic?’”

15. He Didn't Much Care for Led Zeppelin
This one also comes from McLagan’s book: During the mid-’70s, McLagan finds himself in a room with Dylan and Led Zeppelin’s infamously brutish manager Peter Grant, where he witnesses the following exchange: “Hello, Bob. I’m Peter Grant, I manage Led Zeppelin.” After a short silence, Dylan replies: “I don’t come to you with my problems.”

16. He Got His Daves Confused
Dave Stewart of the Eurythmics had invited Dylan to come by his studio in London, and the latter took him up on the offer — or tried to anyway. “He got my address wrong. He went up to this house, rang the doorbell and a woman came to the door. He said, ‘Is Dave here?’ and her husband was called Dave, so she said, ‘No, he’s at work' and Bob was going, ‘He’s at work? That’s funny, I thought I was supposed to come around here.’... By the time he got round to my place he was really flustered … he’s a funny chap.”

17. He Wrongly Assumed the Beatles Smoked Marijuana
Dylan famously turned the Beatles on to marijuana, at the Delmonico Hotel, in August 1964. Before they all smoked, the Beatles’ manager Brian Epstein told Dylan that the band members hadn’t tried the drug before. Dylan was shocked: He’d been mishearing the line "I can't hide" in the chorus of “I Wanna Hold Your Hand” as “I get high.”

18. He Talked Jesus With Hitchhikers
Keith Green was a Christian singer-songwriter who made Dylan’s acquaintance during Bob’s late-’70s and early-’80s Born Again phase. In the biography No Compromise: The Life Story of Keith Green, co-written by Green’s wife, Melody, the Greens learn just how devoted Dylan was to spreading the Word. “He told us that he loved to pick up hitchhikers and tell them about Jesus. They never recognized him because they drove a beat-up old car and wore a knit ski hat over his famous curls.”

19. He Sang the Word “Stadows”
Engineer Chris Shaw was working on the Love and Theft album when he heard Dylan sing something wonky: “There’s a lyric on the song where Bob sings, ‘The leaves cast their shadows on the stones,’ and, when he was singing it live, he was reading his lyrics off a piece of paper, and, I guess, for a split-second, he got dyslexic, because on the live take, he actually sang, “The leaves cast their ‘stadows’ on the stones.”

Shaw figured he could remix the song and fix the mistake. No dice. “Bob was listening to all these mixes, and he kept saying, “Nah, man, I really wanna use that rough mix.” Finally, I said, “Well, you know, on the rough mix, you don’t sing ‘shadows,’ you sing, ‘stadows.” And he took a long hit on his cigarette, and he kind of looked at me deadpan, and he went, “Well, you know: ‘stadows.’” 

20. He Boxed, He Just Wasn't Supposed to Be Punched
Dylan is a well-known boxing fan, and used to spar for exercise. Comedian Daniel Russ was at a gym in Austin, Texas, in 2008 when he was asked to get in the ring: “In comes a diminutive, skinny man. Looks to be a little older than me, has short curly hair. He turns to face me. It’s Bob Dylan.” Russ tells the gym owner, “If you paid me by the shot, I wouldn’t hit this guy ever.” The gym owner says, “Good. Don’t.”

21. He Heard a Ghost Dog (Ghosts Aren't Real)
Muff Winwood was the bassist with the Spencer Davis Group when that band wound up in Birmingham, England, in 1966, at the same time as Dylan. The musicians all met up, and Dylan mentioned that he was into ghosts and figured there’d be some good ones in England. As Winwood lays it out in Wanted Man: In Search of Bob Dylan, he and his bandmates told Dylan that they knew of an abandoned house nearby, one believed to be haunted by the ghost of a dog. So they all headed out to the house and poked around. At one point, they heard a dog bark. “Now this is likely to happen in the countryside in Worcestershire,” Winwood notes, “but Dylan is convinced he’s heard the ghost of a dog! He was like a kid … running up to you grabbing you by the arm going ‘This is unbelievable!’”

22. He Pestered Val Kilmer
Val Kilmer played Doc Holiday in Tombstone. Bob Dylan loved Tombstone. So much so, says Kilmer, that when the two had a chance to meet, “[Dylan] shows up and sits down and wants to talk about Tombstone." But Kilmer didn't want to. "Eventually [Dylan] says ‘ain’t you going to say anything about the movie?’” Kilmer later regretted being stubborn. “Now I’ll tell any schmo in the airport, I’ll say ‘I’m your huckleberry,’ but I wouldn’t say it to Bob Dylan!”

23. He Had Real Love for Larry "Bud" Melman
Bob Dylan’s first appearance on The Late Show With David Letterman is a wild story in itself. The show’s bandleader, Paul Shaffer, shared his own slightly bewildering account of Dylan's Letterman debut: Shaffer had been trying to engage Dylan in conversation, only to get blank stares in return. Eventually, Dylan perks up: “Paul, do you think you could introduce me Larry ‘Bud’ Melman?’”

24. He Tried to Mess With Aimee Mann
The great wry singer-songwriter Aimee Mann told a story on "The Best Show" on WFMU about being summoned to meet Dylan while opening for him on a tour. They get into a conversation about the music they each like to listen to, and Dylan says, “The only thing I can’t stand, though, is, I can’t stand those story songs.” Which Mann realizes is weird, since he’s written a huge amount of those. She calls him out: “You mean like ‘Tangled Up in Blue?’” Dylan says he doesn’t play that one anymore. Mann points out he’d played it the night before.

25. He Wanted to Be Left Alone. Then Got Lonely. 
The late concert promoter Bill Graham understood that Dylan could be prickly. So in advance of a tour in the ’70s, he told the road crew to keep their distance. As he explained in his memoir Bill Graham Presents, the staff obeyed — too well: “In the third or fourth city in the middle of the night, someone knocked on the door of my hotel room. I opened the door and it was Bob. He came in. I could see he had a problem. I said, ‘Is everything okay, Bob? Something’s wrong?’ He said, ‘Bill, why isn’t anybody talking to me?'” Aw.

26. He Could Be Really Sneaky
Before the release of his 1962 debut album, Dylan asked fellow Greenwich Village folksinger Dave Van Ronk if he could record the latter’s arrangement of the folk standard “House of the Rising Sun.” In the excellent The Mayor of MacDougal Street, Van Ronk recalls telling the young singer that he’d prefer Dylan not record his arrangement. “Uh-oh,” says Dylan. “What exactly do you mean, ‘Uh-oh’?” Van Ronk says back. “Well,” Dylan replies, “I’ve already recorded it.”

27. He Napped in Neil Young’s Hearse
In the Neil Young biography Shakey, artist Sandy Mazzeo remembers taking Young’s ’54 Pontiac hearse for a drive. (This is in the mid-’70s.) Mazzeo hears a series of loud bangs. “I’m thinkin’, Oh my God, it’s a ghost.’ I look in the rearview mirror and it’s Bob.” Dylan had, for whatever reason, climbed into the back of the vehicle and gone to sleep. “Dylan was in his turban stage, and he’d slept in his turban and it had come all undone — he looked like the mummy.”  

28. He Stole Records. Good Ones, Though.
Music critic Paul Nelson was an acquaintance of Dylan’s in Minnesota. Nelson and his friends would play folk records for Dylan, who loved what he heard so much that “he stole a bunch of them from my friend,” Nelson said in the biography The Life of Paul Nelson. “He came along, and he took about twenty or thirty of them.” Though he admitted that Dylan “had impeccable taste. He took the best.”

29. He Was Such a Pretty Baby, His Mom Told Him He Should've Been a Girl
Not really funny, just kinda curious: In a 1968 interview given by his mother, Beatty Zimmerman, and reprinted in the Dylan fanzine Isis, she said, “He was a gorgeous child who just exuded personality. He had very blond hair. I put ribbons in his hair up to a year old. I used to say to him, ‘Bobby, you should have been a girl.’”

30. He Made Up Some Excellent Fake "Real" Names
Among them: "Knezelvitz," given to a reporter in Sydney, Australia, in 1988; and "William W. Kasonavarich," given to a reporter in Los Angeles in 1965. (This is also from Isis, which hasn't yet digitized its back issues.)

31. He (Sometimes) Just Went Where He Was Told
In an interview with Isis, Mickey Jones, who drummed for Dylan on the famously controversial 1966 tour (every known recording from that tour will be released together as a box set in November), told of running into his old boss years after playing together. Jones had gone to see his son-in-law, a boxer, fight: "As I turned to leave, I hear a voice, Mickey, and I turned around and it's Bob Dylan. I said, 'What are you doin' here?' And he had the definitive Bob Dylan answer. He said, 'I don't know. They bring me and I come.'"

32. He Scoffed at Pottery Barn
Journalist Al Aronowitz was a confidant of Dylan's during the ’60s. In papers published in, yes, Isis, in 2001, Aronowitz offered the following about a shopping trip that Dylan and his then-wife Sara Lownds took to Pottery Barn in Manhattan, during the mid-’60s: "We walked around," said Lownds, "and looked at some of the pottery and do you know what he said?" Aronowitz answered, "He probably said, "I can make better pottery than that!" "How did you know?" Sara gasped.

33. He Whizzed Out a Window
Again from Aronowitz's papers, this time telling of Dylan's arrival to perform at the U.K.'s Isle of Wight festival in 1969. The singer gets peeved when he sees there's no toilet in his dressing room. "I don't want to have to go outside to look for some place to pee!" said an aggrieved Dylan to Aronowitz, who'd helped to organized the trip. "How come you didn't get 'em to get me a dressing room with a toilet?" Aronowitz offers that maybe Dylan could tinkle out the window. "If my memory serves me," Aronowitz wrote, "this was one time Bob ended up doing what I suggested."

34. He Had an Allen Iverson–esque Attitude Toward Practice
Former Dylan touring guitarist César Díaz has told a story about going into Dylan's dressing room and asking to rehearse. Dylan's usual response: "I don't need to fuckin' practice."

35. He Called the Counting Crows a Turd
Another Díaz story: "I would go … 'Bob, the guy from the Counting Crows, he wants to be you.' And that was before they did that 'Mr. Jones' thing, you know. And he goes, 'Yeah, look at them. What a piece of shit.'" 

36. He Uses an Anise-Flavored Aperitif As a Hair Relaxer
This one's popped up a bunch of places: Dylan uses ouzo to tame his curly hair. Maybe that's what Joni Mitchell smelled in Japan? 

37. He Wrote a Memoir by (Allegedly) Using Other People's Words
So maybe a reasonable argument can be made that Chronicles: Volume One lifted a bunch of lines from other sources. It's still the best rock memoir ever written. Give this man a prize! (Another one!)