Bob Dylan Is Not His Real Name (And Why That Matters To Musicians)

Just like a Russian spy, Bob Dylan is not his real name. It’s just an alias.

Bob Dylan aka Robert Zimmerman
Bob Dylan aka Robert Zimmerman (photo via GQ.com)

Early on in his career, Robert Zimmerman (later to be called Dylan) introduced himself as Elston Gunn at concerts. But in his autobiography, Chronicles, he said that name was just temporary.

Once he left his hometown of Hibbing, Minnesota, he was going to call himself Robert Allen, saying “that was who I was.”

But then he decided he liked the spelling Allyn better. Then he saw some poems by Dylan Thomas and thought the name Robert Dylan would be cool.

So he ended up at a crossroads, trying to decide between Robert Allyn, Robert Dylan, Bob Allyn, or Bob Dylan.

His sub-conscience made the decision for him.

“The first time I was asked my name in the Twin Cities, I instinctively and automatically without thinking simply said, ‘Bob Dylan,’” he writes. “Now, I had to get used to people calling me Bob. I’d never been called that before, and it took me some time to respond to people who called me that.”

But it stuck. And it worked out for him.

In 2004, a 60 Minutes interviewer asked him why he changed his name in the first place. His answer was so Dylan-esque.

“Some people — you’re born, you know, the wrong names, wrong parents,” Dylan said. “I mean, that happens. You call yourself what you want to call yourself. This is the land of the free.”

The moral of this story: put a lot of thought into your stage name or band name, but ultimately, it’ll come down to your gut feeling.

For example, when my bandmates and I were trying to decide on a name, some of the “options” included Shark Farts, The Immediate Regret, and other terrible ideas that I’m too embarrassed to type.

Fortunately, I went with my gut and chose Caleb J. Murphy and The Bright Future.

 


I originally wrote a version of this article for Crazy4Rock

Billy Joel Said He Hates “We Didn’t Start The Fire”

Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start The Fire” is a classic song, but he said he actually hates it.

Joel told the University of Oxford in 1994 that he wrote this song in a stream of consciousness after a conversation with a friend of Sean Lennon’s (son of The Beatles’ John Lennon).

Sean Lennon’s friend had just turned 21-years-old and was complaining about how difficult it was to be 21. Joel said he could relate to that.

“Yeah,” Joel said to the friend. “I remember when I turned 21 and it was an awful time,” bringing up the Vietnam War, the drug epidemic, and the Civil Rights Movement.

“Yeah, yeah,” said the friend. “But it was different for you because you were a kid in the 50s and everybody knows that nothing happened in the 50s.”

But Joel was surprised by this because so much happened in the 50s.

So he started writing down all the things that happened from 1949 up until 1989 when the song came out.

The first verse is packed with so much, and it’s only one of nine:

Harry Truman, Doris Day, Red China, Johnnie Ray
South Pacific, Walter Winchell, Joe DiMaggio
Joe McCarthy, Richard Nixon, Studebaker, television
North Korea, South Korea, Marilyn Monroe

But Joel is not happy with this song, telling the audience at Oxford University he “didn’t think it was that good to begin with” saying it was “almost like a dentist drill.”

He said he wrote the lyrics first, which he did only for this song. And the melody he came up with doesn’t meet his own standard.

“It’s terrible musically,” he told Billboard. “It’s like a mosquito buzzing around your head.”

He was actually sued for allegedly stealing the melody, which he is dumbfounded by.

“Some guy actually thought I had to steal that from him,” Joel said in disbelief.

RELATED: Did Aloe Blacc Rip Off Elton John?

As a songwriter, you won’t like every one of your songs.

In fact, most of them will probably be throwaways. Just be ready for it so you don’t give up when that happens.


I first wrote a version of this article for Crazy4Rock

How Jimi Hendrix Wrote “Little Wing” In 145 Seconds

Jimi Hendrix’s song “Little Wing” may be evidence that he was, in fact, an alien.

Songwriting
Hendrix lighting his guitar on fire at the Monterey Pop Festival (photo via History Things)

Writing a song in 30 minutes feels really good, and this has happened to me maybe once or twice in my life.

But writing a song in just over two minutes is hard to wrap my brain around.

When Hendrix wrote “Little Wing,” he pulled from his experience at the Monterey Pop Festival, which was three days of music held in June of 1967.

In addition to The Jimi Hendrix Experience, other acts that performed included The Who, Janis Joplin, and The Grateful Dead.

It sounds like it was an amazing event.

So when Hendrix went into the studio later that year to record the song, he channeled what he had found at that festival.

“[‘Little Wing’ is] based on a very, very simple Indian style,” Hendrix said, according to the book Jimi Hendrix: Electric Gypsy“So I figured I take everything I’d see around [at the festival] and put it maybe in the form of a girl … and call it ‘Little Wing,’ and then it will just fly away.”

And in a mere 145 seconds, he came up with what would be one of his biggest songs.

RELATED: How To Get Better At Songwriting

Hendrix’s biographer, Harry Shapiro, describes the shortness of the song perfectly in the book.

“The song fades on a magical solo after only two minutes and twenty-five seconds,” he writes. “Even live, ‘Little Wing’ was hardly any longer — [Hendrix] said what he wanted to say and stopped.”

Shapiro also describes the arrangement of the song beautifully.

“Musically, ‘Little Wing’ is structured to lay a gossamer touch across the whole song from the arresting opening statement and the haunting glockenspiel to the use of a Leslie speaker cabinet for the guitar,” he said.

Try doing this to test your songwriting skills: set a timer of 145 seconds and try to write a full, complete song. 


I first wrote a version of this article for Crazy4Rock