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Classic Recordings
Robert Altman Week

Sunday
Dec062009

« In Which Bob Dylan and John Lennon Were Earlier Versions of Someone »

When John Lennon Met Bob Dylan

by ELEANOR MORROW

We would normally be rung a couple of weeks before the recording session and they'd say, 'We're recording in a month's time and you've got a week off before the recordings to write some stuff.' ...so I'd go out to John's every day for the week, and the rest of the time was just time off. We always wrote a song a day, whatever happened we always wrote a song a day.... Mostly it was me getting out of London, to John's rather nice, comfortable Weybridge house near the golf course.... So John and I would sit down, and by then it might be one or two o'clock, and by four or five o'clock we'd be done.

- Paul McCartney

Things were once so easy for The Beatles. Their influences were women and whatever Carl Perkins songs they'd take for the album. The Lennon-Bob Dylan scene from D.A. Pennebaker's Don't Look Back was far from the first time John Lennon mincingly met Bob Dylan, from whom he may have thefted a number of self-involved "makeovers" over the years. The offending footage is like raising the curtain on The Wizard of Oz.

In his autobiography Chronicles, Dylan is relatively charitable about how he viewed The Beatles, although he was still courteous enough to put the proper distance between them and him.

The Beatles: not gay. Dylan biographer Howard Sounes described the meeting between Lennon and Dylan this way:

Lennon said later he was "very high and stoned," but he looked healthier than Bob, who appeared painfully thin and very pale. For a while, the banter was charming, like a scene from a Beatles movie. Lennon snapped off smart comments and Bob giggled. "Do you suffer from sore eyes, groovy forehead, or curly hair?" Lennon asked, in his comedic voice. "Take Zimdon." When the car passes a couple kissing in the street, Bob directed the camera to them. "Oh! Oh! Get those two lovers over there," he said, brightly. But his words became increasingly slurred and muddled. Toward the end of the segment, he begged chauffeur Tom Keylock to hurry to the hotel because he said he was about to vomit.

No one could become something else like Bob, and Lennon may well have discerned another direction for his career, one that would immediately stray from straightlaced songwriting efforts. Lennon saw a darker version of himself, and reached across a taxicab to inhabit it like another costume. The rest of The Beatles weren't far behind.

in belfastDylan would later have a long talk with all The Beatles, and although he can't really be blamed for breaking up the group, we can assume he didn't preach solidarity:

In London, Bob met up again with Dana Gillespie, and received The Beatles at the Mayfair Hotel. Bob Johnston flew in from America to assist in the recording of British concerts, and sat up most of one night while Bob rapped to The Beatles. Johnston believes the experience changed the group forever. "All four of The Beatles were in his hotel room and he talked to them all night long. They never even talked," he says. "When they came out the next morning they were John Lennon and George Harrison and Paul McCartney. They weren't The Beatles." As McCartney has said, "Dylan was influencing us quite heavily at that point."

tom murrayClinton Heylin's biography of Bob accounts for a similar event that's become somewhat apocryphal:

The occasion when Dylan descended from Woodstock to meet The Beatles, at their New York hotel, may have become overly imbued with Import, but on the night of August 28, 1964, two cultures fumbled for a common creed via a bag of weed.

bob & allen ginsbergIn the company of Victor Maymudes and Al Aronowitz, Dylan ascended the Delmonico elevator that evening to meet the current arbiters of change in pop culture. When he entered the Beatles' suite and went in search of 'what he usually drinks, cheap wine,' he was informed by Brian Epstein that they only had champagne. Apparently offered some pills, Bob suggested some pot and proceeded to roll a joint. As the Fab Four partook for the first time, enlightenment apparently dawned, though in the cold light of the following morn, it proved illusory.

As McCartney put it afterrwards, "I was wandering around looking for a pencil because I discovered the meaning of life that evening and I wanted to get it down on a bit of paper...Mal handed me the little bit of paper the next morning...and on it was written, in very scrawly handwriting: THERE ARE SEVEN LEVELS."

with bob deniro and david blueYou can't mock The Beatles for listening to everything Bob had to say, although it was a heady measure of their innocence that they took this much advice from someone who was supposed to be their peer. After Lennon died, Bob Dylan dealt with a stalker and feared for his life. He retreated even further into a distressing amalgam of different selves, as Todd Haynes made a long point of indicating.

Earlier this year, Dylan passed unnoticed through a bus tour of Lennon's Liverpool home. It's hard to imagine what he thought he could take from such an experience. The answer is tied up in The Beatles innocently engrossed with whatever Bob had to say to them. If there's one thing Bob is good at it, it's bringing something new to something old.

Eleanor Morrow is the senior contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in Manhattan. She tumbls here.

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Reader Comments (2)

Those video clips are actually from the documentary "Eat the Document", a little after the original "Don't Look Back".

December 6, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterCorrection

Amazing pictures. Never seen them before.

December 7, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJohn Lennon Fan

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