Little is known for sure about the famously enigmatic Bob Dylan, who, throughout his mammoth half-century career, has been confounding fans and journalists with false information. What we can be sure about, however, is that the 76-year-old performer will be taking to the stage at Rogers Arena on Tuesday (July 25)—and all five of these facts.
Media mogul. Dylan once appeared in a TV ad for lingerie giant Victoria’s Secret. The commercial, titled “Angels in Venice”, sees the singer stalking around a medieval hall replete with multiple chandeliers and a brunette in her underwear. That’s not the only advertisement the singer has booked in recent years, with Dylan featuring in commercials for giants like Apple, Cadillac, Chrysler, and Pepsi (before that Kendall Jenner nightmare).
Spinning out. Bob Dylan maintains that he had a horrible motorcycle accident in the mid-‘60s—but it’s never been proven. The singer allegedly lost control of the bike near his home in Woodstock, and was thrown to the ground, breaking several vertebrae in his neck. Despite the supposed severity of his injuries, he was never hospitalized, and was instead driven by his wife to the house of his doctor. Much speculation has arisen about whether the six weeks he spent convalescing at his doctor’s home was to help the singer get off drugs—especially because Dylan withdrew from the public eye and would not tour again for another eight years. Either way, the performer still remains committed to his story.
Haters gonna hate. The vice president of Columbia Records called Dylan’s singing “the most horrible thing he’d ever heard in his life”. Famous A&R rep John H. Hammond—the man behind names like Billie Holliday, Aretha Franklin, and Bruce Springsteen—discovered the artist in ’61, and wanted him to ink a contract with the label despite the vice president’s vehement opposition. Ignoring the fact that Columbia execs would not authorize the signing, Hammond sealed the deal later that year. Dylan’s first album was a bona fide flop, selling only 5,000 copies—but his second, The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, would cement his status as an all-time great.
Dean keen. With the exception of those who wore pocket protectors and dreamed of being accountants, every kid in the ’50s wanted to be James Dean after seeing Rebel Without a Cause. Dylan was one of them. In a Playboy interview in the ’60s, he explained his love for Dean with: “He let his heart do the talking. That was his one badge. He was effective for people of that age.” Pop historians have long contended that the cover for The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan mimics a famous Dean photo, right down to the clothes. The similarities didn’t escape songwriter Don MacLean, whose famous “American Pie” contains the lyrics “When the jester sang for the King and Queen/In a coat he borrowed from James Dean/And a voice that came from you and me.” MacLean has always refused to break down the lyrics of “American Pie”, but there’s an almost concrete case to be made that the jester is Dylan, whose voice was famously no better than the guy next door, and that the King and Queen suggests his ascension to rock royalty status at a time when Elvis was peeling potatoes in the army.
“Only a Pawn in Their Game”. In photos from the early part of his career—including the essential work of Daniel Kramer—Dylan is frequently shot in front of a chess board, sometimes with friends, sometimes with fellow icons like the Band, sometimes with masters like Anatoly Karpov watching over his shoulder. The singer was indeed a keen fan of one of the world’s oldest and most challenging games, to the point where it’s been reported he once had his manager pay the great Bobby Fischer to sit down for a match. In 1991’s Dylan: A Biography, author Bob Spitz reports that Dylan would attempt to interrupt the concentration of opponents while talking throughout games, and that he wasn’t above nervously shaking his leg while playing, something that fans will recognize him for famously doing while playing live.