In 1966 there were no two artists quite like The Beatles’ John Lennon and Bob Dylan. Two of the most progressive and engaging songwriters the world had ever seen there are very few documented meetings between the two and even fewer video clips. This clip of the pair sharing a taxi as part of Eat The Document, therefore, remains a treasure trove for fans.
In a particularly memorable year for music and England in general, 1966 represented a quite astonishing period of freedom and creativity for the respective artists. At the time of this meeting on May 27th, Lennon was in the midst of recording The Beatle’s most progressive album to date Revolver, with John’s songwriting accelerating past pop perfection toward a new philosophical peak. Meanwhile, Bob Dylan was a lightning rod for free-thinkers and agitator attention, having recently delivered the ultimate protest pop with ‘Like A Rolling Stone’ the previous year, he’d “gone electric” and put his inspiring record Blonde on Blonde in the can. As we said, there were no two artists like these two in ’66.
This clip of the pair should, therefore, be a summit of creativity and forward-thinking unlike any other. But it most certainly isn’t. Instead, it sees two of the most brilliant musical artists the world has likely ever known babbling incoherently as they try to suppress the waves of marijuana-induced flippancy of thought like schoolchildren.
That doesn’t necessarily mean the two were peas in a pod though. In fact, if the video shows anything, it shows that the pair were, if not in direct competition, then equally sizing one another up at all times – Lennon, in particular, appears to be guarded and a little more cagey than the freewheeling Bob Dylan. With it being Dylan’s documentary, his show, this is hardly surprising, but the rivers of anxiety run a little deeper than that.
Lennon was widely credited with citing Dylan as a source of inspiration. In 1964 he described the troubadour as “the best in his field” and made large claims on his musical prowess. Dylan never returned the favour. Instead, Dylan tended to play the role of teasing older brother, deliberately straddling the line between homage and parody of Lennon on his song ‘Norwegian Woods’ being just one example of this pigtail-pulling behaviour. But while Dylan would proclaim that The Beatles learned a lot from his style it’s fair to say that Dylan, emboldened by the band’s rock and roll style, took a touch of inspiration from the fab four too.
This clip however shows the pair far from praise and instead verbally vomiting while most certainly under the influence of something or other. Each one, bobbing and weaving, waiting for an opening to land a decisive killer blow for the camera. They discuss all manner of subjects from World War Two and Winston Churchill to baseball and Lennon’s bandmates. They covered it all – even actual vomit. Dylan saying to camera “Oh, god, I don’t wanna get sick in here, what if I vomit into the camera? I’ve done just about everything else into that camera, man. I might just vomit into it.”
Lennon reacts like any northern lad would and teases him with an ad-libbed but extremely professional fake commercial: “Do you suffer from sore eyes, groovy forehead or curly hair? Take Zimdawn! Come, come, boy, it’s only a film. Pull yourself together.” Director D.A. Pennebaker later remarking that Lennon in fact helped the pained Dylan to his hotel room at the end of the evening where Bob duly made good on his promise.
The filming was taking place as Dylan had been engaging with Pennebaker for some weeks now as the legendary filmmaker had been making another documentary about the singer following the success of 1965’s Don’t Look Back. The clip would not only capture the morning after the night before, as the pair shared the ride through London’s Hyde Park after a particularly raucous Beatles bash.
“They had a funny relationship to begin with,” the late filmmaker remembered in an interview with Gadfly magazine back in ’99. “In this particular scene it was as if they were trying to invent something for me that would be amusing in some way, but at the same time they were doing it for each other.”
“It was not exactly a conversation by any means, Dylan was so beside himself and in such a terrible state that after a while I don’t think he knew what he was saying.”
It was a sentiment clearly shared as Lennon would later described the scene with a deep sense of remorse when speaking to Rolling Stone founder Jann Wenner in 1970: “We were both in shades and both on fucking junk, and all these freaks around us. I was anxious as shit. … In the film, I’m just blabbing off and commenting all the time, like you do when you’re very high or stoned. I had been up all night. We were being smart alecks, it’s terrible. But it was his scene, that was the problem for me. It was his movie. I was on his territory, that’s why I was so nervous.”
This feeling would stretch out of the pair’s relationship. Lennon and Dylan would only meet one other time, after Dylan’s 1969 Isle of Wight performance, and would signal the end of their public admiration of one another. Seemingly, this stoned drive was enough to put them off. Perhaps that cab wasn’t big enough for both of them.
Eat the Document was rejected by distributors and still remains unreleased. Luckily though, both outtakes and actual scenes remain online as bootlegs and mementoes of a time when Bo Dylan and John Lennon shared a taxi ride in 1966. This moment in time, a meeting of poetic minds and musical hearts wasn’t quite what we’d all hoped for, but it remains a scene of unprecedented rock history.
Source: Rolling Stone / Gadfly