Bob Dylan and John Lennon

Aaron Galbraith

The two icons met for the first time in a smoke filled room in New York in 1964. Whilst it seems that Lennon was initially taken with Dylan, (it was he who passed around copies of “Freewheelin’” to the other Beatles), Lennon’s influence on Dylan’s writing around this time appears to be minimal.

Shortly after this meeting John would begin writing such songs such as “I’m A Loser”, “Nowhere Man” and “Norwegian Wood”. Bear in mind that John had already written “There’s A Place” in 1963 so this might have been the way things were heading in his writing anyway, but it’s easy to see Bob’s influence in lines such as:

"I sat on a rug biding my time
Drinking her wine
We talked until two and then she said
'It's time for bed'"

Dylan’s response to this song appears with “Fourth Time Around” both in the title, melody and lyric, particularly this couplet:

“I never asked for your crutch
Now don’t ask for mine."

It seems Lennon never fully got over that line or the song itself, alternatively interpreting it either as a parody of or as a tribute to Norwegian Wood throughout his entire life.

Nevertheless, after “Blonde On Blonde” was released, the pair met up for the infamous limo ride shown in the clip above, which was intended for the “Eat The Document” film. They are both clearly stoned, anxious and nervous of each other, the conversation is bizarre and free ranging, covering topics such as baseball, Johnny Cash, World War II and The Silkie (who covered both Dylan and The Beatles). I’m not sure much more can be gathered from the meeting, except Lennon gets the best line, “Do you suffer from sore eyes, groovy forehead or curly hair? Take Zimdawn! Come, come, boy, it’s only a film. Pull yourself together”.

Lennon continues to reference Dylan directly in lyrics throughout the next few years:

“I feel so suicidal, 
Just Like Dylan’s Mr Jones”
  • Yer Blues (1968)
“Ev'rybody's talking about
John and Yoko, Timmy Leary, Rosemary
Tommy Smothers, Bobby Dylan, Tommy Cooper”
  • Give Peace A Chance (1969)
“I don't believe in Zimmerman”
  • God (1970)

When the Beatles were recording the “Let It Be” album it’s well known that they warmed up with covers of old blues and rock and roll tunes, however they also pulled out several Dylan tunes to get the juices flowing for the day, usually these were led by Harrison, including run-throughs of “I Shall Be Released”, “Blowing In The Wind” and “Positively 4th Street”.

During the sessions Lennon led them through this short version of “Rainy Day Woman #12 & 35”

In 1979 Dylan put out “Gotta Serve Somebody”. It would seem Lennon took offense at some of the lyrical content in the track and penned his own response with “Serve Yourself”.

“I must say I was surprised when old Bobby boy did go that way. I was very surprised. But I was also surprised when he went to that Jewish group. That surprised me, too, because all I ever hear whenever I hear about him is – and people can quote me and make me feel silly, too – but all I ever think of is ‘Don’t follow leaders, watch the parking meters.’ It’s the same man, but it isn’t the same man, and I don’t want to say anything about a man who is searching or has found it. It is unfortunate when people say, ‘This is the only way.’ That’s the only thing I’ve got against anybody, if they are saying, ‘This is the only answer.’ I don’t want to hear about that. There isn’t one answer to anything”.

In private he was even more scathing:

“Gotta Serve Somebody… guess he [Dylan] wants to be a waiter now.”

“Serve Yourself” was never released in his lifetime, but subsequently 2 versions have been issued, one on acoustic version and the other with piano.

Here is the best version in my opinion:

Bob wasn’t against the odd Beatle’s cover himself over the years and warmed up for shows with several selections including these 2 Lennon tracks:

Come together from 1985

 

ttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8cg6NbBcKXY

“He got tomatoes
He got Rolling Thunder
He got arthritis”

Then in 1990 Bob added Nowhere Man to the show. Pretty good version here, although the sound quality isn’t great.

 

This leads us rather nicely to Bob’s “Roll On John” from the “Tempest” album. I was going to write a long piece here on my views on this track, but then I reread Tony’s review of the song and I found I had copied most of his thoughts, sometimes to the letter, so instead and I will take a quote from the review and also add a link to the full article (here).

“Roll On John isn’t a sad song about a friend that died. And it’s not a sonic fist-bump from one icon to another. It’s Dylan acknowledging that Lennon has become legend—another mythic character to populate his songs”.

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2 Responses to Bob Dylan and John Lennon

  1. Larry Fyffe says:

    Summarized nicely and concisely.

  2. Larry Fyffe says:

    In a real head scratcher, Kees de Graaf says ‘Roll On John’ is really about John the Apostle ….he can’t be serious!

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