Bob Dylan is easily one of the greatest songwriters of all time, and he’s also known to be extremely eccentric. There’s no shortage of stories about the quirky, blunt and sometimes just plain rude musician. His friends have since revealed it was even worse than that – once he’d achieved stardom, he became mean to those around him.
Bob Dylan’s attitude before fame
Although Bob Dylan was playing music well before the 1960s, it wasn’t until he moved to New York City in January ’61 that he started making a name for himself. While playing at different clubs, he found a lot of musical inspiration, which he put into his own work, and built connections with other artists who he’d often accompany on the harmonica.
Dylan quickly became friends with other musicians, both established and upcoming. While these relationships were initially fine, things changed once he’d gained some fame of his own – in particular, after releasing his second album, The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan. He was always viewed as a bit of an oddball, but as he became more and more acclaimed, his behavior toward his friends became less than kind.
Soon, he was vocally criticizing their careers, and there are many accounts of him doing so.
A prima donna?
Jack Elliot told Rolling Stone as early as 1972, “When he got famous around then, he got kinda mean. He was very quick, very sarcastic, dealt with people like a boxer, parrying blows and remarks and skipping out in a hurry.”
Folk singer and artist Carla Rotolo said he “could twist somebody’s words back on themselves and make them feel he was right and they were wrong,” while another account recalled that he said of a band member from Counting Crows, “Yeah, look at them. What a piece of s***.”
In response to an introduction from Led Zeppelin manager Peter Grant, Dylan allegedly said, “I don’t come to you with my problems.” He also said that Brian Jones of The Rolling Stones was talentless, and told Phil Ochs he wasn’t a musician. Not to mention, Dylan had a longstanding feud with Joni Mitchell.
This behavior can’t be written off as a mistake of youth, as the musician’s road manager promises, “He’s crankier now by far […] he’s miserable. He’s miserable as f***.”
Another possible explanation for Bob Dylan’s behavior
Many are quick to dismiss Bob Dylan’s behavior as “mean,” but one of his old girlfriends has a much different explanation – and it has nothing to do with him being a cocky musician.
Joan Baez explained that it wasn’t that Dylan was cruel, it was just that he didn’t know how to deal with fame. She recalled him being “so terrified” about fans coming up to him after concerts to ask for autographs. She added that the only way to explain his behavior was that he’d have a tantrum when he got nervous.
David Van Ronk, another person insulted by Dylan, could understand that, once saying, “[Fame] scared him. He never trusted anybody in his life. Now there were a lot more people grabbing at him, to mistrust.”
Is Bob Dylan mean or just a tortured genius? We guess we’ll never really know.