Tuesday, May 30, 2006

The Beatle Years: Dylan on Lennon...And Vice-Versa

The March 11, 2000, episode of The Beatle Years (hosted by Eliot Mintz) was a special devoted to the connections between two of the 20th century's greatest songwriters--John Lennon and Bob Dylan. What is especially fascinating about this show is that Mintz airs an interview he conducted with Dylan in 1992 concerning his memories and impressions of Lennon.

Dylan remarked that it was difficult to pick a favorite Lennon song, but he singled out "Nowhere Man" and finally chose "Mother" as his all-time favorite. "Don't ask me why, though," he remarked. Mintz brought up the subject of John's now infamous Dylan parodies. "Did it ever bother you?" Mintz asked. Dylan said that an old drummer of his used to play the parody of "Serve Somebody" to him, but that he wasn't bothered, he just wondered why Lennon cared so much. "It didn't bother me, it intrigued me. Why would it affect him this way? It was just a song." Mintz agreed. When point blank asked if he was offended, he replied, "Naw. Not really."

Dylan (if he isn't yanking our chain) confirmed that a tape of he and Lennon jamming together does exist. (I believe he mentioned this before.) They were at Kenwood, and he remembered a tape recorder running. He stated that they probably played some old Gene Vincent song, but he does not know where the tape is. Mintz asked, "It would be very nice to have that tape, wouldn't it?"and Dylan paused. "Yeah."Mintz asked Dylan to give him his impressions of John. "He was very quick witted, wasn't he? A lot of those English guys were smart," Dylan immediately replied, playing his great humble country bumpkin, Nashville Skyline-type guy--loved that response. He also added that Lennon was a "wonderful guy" and "as a musician, some one to look up to."

Dylan stated that John was a wonderful musician with a great voice, that he had the "attitude" even before primal scream therapy. Also, Dylan felt that John's version of "Stand By Me" was even better than the original. Dylan made the excellent point that often an artist's personality overshadows his work, but in his eyes Lennon was first and foremost a musician, "and lyrically he was no slouch, either." Mintz brought up that Lennon was always paranoid and nervous when he would come into contact with Dylan. "Did you notice that?" Dylan emphatically answered "No!" He also didn't feel any competition with the Beatles or Lennon because he was not trying to better somebody else. "The recording element wasn't my scene." He sort-of takes a shot at Brian Wilson.

Lennon and Dylan were very different as songwriters and performers, but I do believe that both of them were heavily influenced by each other's work. At another Beatles board, a member tried to argue that John Lennon was no poet, but Bob Dylan was, and that really bothered me. John was always a poet, even in simple lines like: "I gotta chip on my shoulder that's bigger than my feet." How can you top that? It's just as profound as anything Dylan ever wrote, just different. It's like the proverbial apples and oranges. Lennon is visceral and cerebral--he can cut you to the core. Dylan speaks to me, too, but it is a completely different experience, both enriching. But nothing has ever moved me like the Beatles in all their configurations, especially John.

Despite the healthy competition with Dylan, Lennon was more "influenced" by talented songwriters like Robinson, Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly, Goffin & King, etc. (and also by his own experiences & soul) than he was influenced by Dylan. It seems to me that the Lennon-McCartney partnership spawned introspective songs from the onset, while some critics want to point out that it didn't happen until the Beatles For Sale album/period. "There's A Place" always springs to mind. I don't think Dylan felt competitive toward Lennon, but I do believe that the music of the Beatles had to have moved him or inspired him. The then-unreleased song "I Wanna Be Your Lover" points to that (and to the Stones). I've debated this with people who think that I blindly believe everything goes back to the Beatles (I made a guy furious by pointing out that Brian Wilson was inspired to make Pet Sounds after hearing the US Rubber Soul, but I digress...). When Dylan went electric---If an artist does not progress, what will become of his art? He had to move forward, expand, and become what he was destined to be. As Bob Johnston said, "He (Dylan) has the Holy Spirit. You can see it in his eyes."

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