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Bob Dylan

“You can’t fake laughter”

Bob Dylan and Joan Baez in 1963. Rowland Scherman/Getty Images

Bob Dylan turned 80 this week, but even as a 20-year-old he was a grumpy old man, says Dorian Lynskey in UnHerd. Born Robert Allen Zimmerman, he left his tight-knit Jewish home in Minnesota for Manhattan in the 1960s and changed his name to Bob Dylan. He dismissed rumours that the rebrand was a nod to the Welsh poet Dylan Thomas in typically cutting style: “Dylan Thomas’s poetry is for people that aren’t really satisfied in their bed… I’ve done more for Dylan Thomas than he’s ever done for me.”

In concert he is similarly cold, purposefully disfiguring his songs into unrecognisable mumbles. On stage he looks “as though he’d rather be in a dark parlour, playing chess”, said his former girlfriend Joan Baez. During one tour, Dylan took a fancy to an assistant. After his set, he asked her: “Did you enjoy the show?” She replied: “No, I didn’t! You don’t talk to the audience. You don’t say hello. You don’t say goodnight.” What do you expect, he said: “I’m not Frank Sinatra.” She replied: “You should be!” The next night he performed Sinatra’s hit My Way.

But when he wasn’t pursuing women – he has been married twice and has six children – he was never very forthcoming, says Lynskey. “I once heard an anecdote about a rock star who met Dylan for dinner in an English pub with their respective girlfriends and spent almost the entire evening eating in silence.” Driving home, the rock star’s girlfriend assumed it was a disaster, until her boyfriend chirped: “Well, I thought Bob was on great form.”

He has endured because he’s talented, says David Lister in The Independent – but, better still, he’s funny. In 1973 Peter Grant introduced himself: “Hi Bob, I manage Led Zeppelin.” Dylan replied: “Hey man, I don’t come to you with my problems.” Humour is everything, the singer said on his radio show Theme Time Radio Hour. “You can fake an orgasm, but you can’t fake laughter.”

Bob against the press

Watch Dylan’s moodiest moments with the media below👇