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Music

When Bob Dylan met John Wayne

@TomTaylorFO

When it comes to American pop culture icons, Bob Dylan and John Wayne both would possibly feature on a figurative Mount Rushmore. They preside over spheres of American arts to such a degree that their names are the first things that come to mind when you hear ‘folk’ and ‘westerns’ respectively.

That being said, they are certainly worlds apart when it comes to other all-American tenets. Throughout his work and personal life, Dylan has abided by the ethos put forward by James Baldwin when he said, “I love America more than any other country in the world and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually.” With this in mind, he has fought for liberty and egalitarianism by illuminating the divides within his beloved homeland. Whereas, the staunchly conservative John Wayne once uttered the reprehensible line, “I believe in white supremacy until the blacks are educated to a point of responsibility.” 

These unconscionable views, however, were less widely known when the two American forces met for the first time in 1966 when Dylan was an emerging iconoclast and Wayne was a cinematic icon. As a child of the 1940s, Dylan was naturally excited to meet the actor having been raised on the likes of ‘Sands of Iwo Jima’, ‘Red River’ and the legendary John Ford classic ‘The Searchers’. His enthusiasm for the fateful handshake was amplified even further given the dramatic setting for their meeting. 

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As Dylan recalled in a 2017 interview with Bill Flanagan. “[We got on] pretty good actually — the Duke, I met him on a battleship in Hawaii where he was filming a movie,” Dylan said. “He and Burgess Meredith. One of my former girlfriends was in the movie too. She told me to come over there; she introduced me to him and he asked me to play some folk songs.”

It was no doubt a big ask to simply start cranking out songs afore one of the most intimidating stars in Hollywood while stationed on an actual battleship, but Dylan has never really seemed perturbed by anything when he has got a six-string under his arm. After all, when he was only 21 when he began writing ‘Masters of War’ — a song that boldly announced perhaps the most unflinching line in music history, as he spat out, “And I hope that you die, and your death will come soon,” during conservative times. 

Thus, Dylan happily took his guitar up to the poop deck and rattled through a few traditional American folk songs befittingly dripping in history. “I played him ‘Buffalo Skinners’, ‘Raggle Taggle Gypsy’, and I think ‘I’m a Rambler, I’m a Gambler’. So, he told me if I wanted to I could stick around and be in the movie. He was friendly to me,” Dylan said.

While it would appear that Dylan didn’t actually appear in any John Wayne movie, unless he is some distant extra lost to the sands of time, he did go on to star in several other movies and even helmed his ambitious Renaldo and Clara project in 1978 when he aimed to bring a travelling gypsy show to the big screen. In fact, you can even catch him pulling off his own interpretation of a Wayne haymaker below.