January 2, 2010

"I've never been in TIME Magazine. I don't need TIME Magazine."

An early rejection of mainstream media, from the movie "Don't Look Back" (which we watched again on New Year's Eve):

This is one of my favorite scenes in the great old documentary by D.A. Pennebaker. Bob Dylan is ranting — for the cameras? — and the TIME reporter looks like he walked into the room with his pencil in his hand, trying to understand but not knowing just what he will say when he gets home.

Does the film invite us to laugh at the reporter's cluelessness? I don't think it's that simple. Presumably, we're identifying with Dylan, the central character in the film we've chosen to watch, but gradually, and certainly by this point, we've been given cues to detach ourselves from our pop star hero. Do we think Dylan is being a jerk, mistreating the reporter? The reporter, whose bland doughiness makes a funny contrast to Dylan's intensity, might look as though he doesn't know what is happening here, but I got to thinking that the gears in that head were turning, and he was judging and gathering material. Who was that guy?

His name is Horace Freeland Judson, and he's no dummy. He worked for TIME for 7 years, but he is also — I'm relying on Wikipedia — a historian of molecular biology and a expert on the "deliberate manipulation of scientific data." He's been on the faculty of Johns Hopkins University, and he's won a MacArthur Fellowship. As for the film:
[H]e was subjected to what he believes to be a contrived tirade of abuse from Dylan. During Judson's interview, Dylan launched into a verbal attack on Time magazine, and Judson himself. The film's producer Pennebaker does not believe the tirade was planned, but notes that Dylan backed off, not wanting to come across as being too cruel. However, Judson believes the confrontation was contrived to make the sequence more entertaining. "That evening," says Judson, "I went to the concert. My opinion then and now was that the music was unpleasant, the lyrics inflated, and Dylan, a self-indulgent whining show off."
Here's a 2007 interview — in TIME Magazine, of all places — with Pennebaker:
Much of the film is devoted to Dylan tangling with the press. Why do you think he played so hard-to-get with reporters?

The poor souls, they were sent out to interview him and they didn't know much about him. He turned it into a circus. He was enjoying himself. But I never felt that he was being particularly mean in those interviews.

There's a scene, though, in which Dylan directs a lengthy recrimination of the media at TIME magazine correspondent Horace Judson. I have to be honest: I would have hated to be in Judson's shoes.

I have the story [Judson] wrote. He wrote a very good piece on Dylan. I thought Dylan was kind of nice in the end. He made jokes out of it. When I show the film, especially to kids, they want to see that as someone thrashing TIME. But it isn't that. He's thrashing a whole system of media that people had been thrashing for a long time. I never thought of it as mean-spirited.
A whole system of media that people had been thrashing for a long time... Ha ha. So much for my "early rejection of mainstream media"! People have been bitching about journalists forever, haven't they? And it's not as though Bob Dylan would have been kinder to bloggers if they'd been around and managed to infiltrate his entourage.


I'm following the TIME Magazine convention of writing "TIME" in all caps, which I haven't done in the past. I'm just for the first time noticing that's what TIME Magazine expects from me. Not that I need TIME Magazine, just that I'm noticing. And I'm wondering: Is in an acronym for something? "The [something with an "i"] Magazine Ever"?

UPDATE, May 10, 2011: The NYT obituary for Horace Freeland Judson.


AllenS said...

Dylan is a jerk. He probably treats everyday people he encounters the same way. He thinks that he's important, but can't say why.

Ann Althouse said...

No, I think he thinks he needs to be saying something scathing or biting or important all the time and sitting for a normal conversation will blow his cover. That's a lot of pressure, and he's doing his best to cope.

AllenS said...

I see your point, but if his cover is blown, he'll be exposed as the jerk that he is.

No, I think he thinks he needs to be saying something scathing or biting. I'll give him credit, he didn't say to the reporter: "When did you stop beating your wife?"

Dylan is one of the first of that generation to challenge authority. Because of that, he became a hero to some, but helped nobody.

Ritmo Brasileiro said...

"And I'm wondering: Is in an acronym for something?"

No. I don't think so. I think it's just a, a.... word. Like the same word in the L.A. Times or the New York Times. Or Sun. Or goldfish. Just a word.

Although I can see why you think it sounds haughty given the lack of elaboration on that word, in contrast to the more specific titles offered by other print media.

AllenS said...


T-I-M-E stands for The International Magazine of Events.

Meade said...

Is in an acronym for something? "The [something with an "i"] Magazine Ever"?

Idiot Windiest

"...images... and distorted facts..."

Ritmo Brasileiro said...

Horace's daughter Olivia blogs for a science section in NYT, but I find the topics kind of shallow and easily given to a tenor of debate that she doesn't encourage.

Ritmo Brasileiro said...

Oh, and that guy's dentition was nearly unbearable to look at. It's too bad that oral biology was not his friend.

Still, the clip is cool. People were more intelligent about how they expressed themselves and debated back then. It's easy now, looking back on the last several decades, to blame our lower standards on TV.

J said...

He seems to have been ahead of the curve on some issues:


ricpic said...

The only excuse for Dylan lording it over this reporter is that Dylan is very young and still very taken with what a big deal he is. Did he remain this kind of shit into middle age? I don't know. But if he did then that's what he is, a shit, no matter how talented.

Ritmo Brasileiro said...

Although not familiar with his work, I suspect the reason for such a low, 2.5 star review is that it is shoddy. The reviewers are picking up on the fact that he doesn't distinguish between conflict of interest and fraudulent manipulation of data. And BTW, all data is manipulated. All data is selective. The data that is selected are those which are relevant to proving or disproving, strengthening or weakening your hypothesis. You don't include data on the price of eggs in Belgium in an article published in the Journal of Astrophysics. Unless it's relevant to your study. Which is, sorry to say, a judgment call.

Scientists are allowed to and supposed to exercise judgment. They are supposed to engage methods of reasoning that lay people might not be familiar with. I don't see what's so damn controversial about that.

somefeller said...

TIME is like KISS. All caps to show some respect.

William said...

I'm just a tad younger than Dylan. When I first saw this movie, I thought Dylan was some kind of tortured soul groping for the truth. Now he looks like a pretentious jerk, but I guess back then those were pretenses that we, his audience, shared... I think it would be more difficult for Dylan to get his mind around the fact that his interviewer is knowledgeable about molecular biology than for his interviewer to get his mind around the fact that Dylan is more than a folk singer. We are all of us a good deal more and sometimes a good deal less than the person we present to the world. The latter is especially true in the case of celebrities. At any rate Dylan succeeded in his lifelong quest to grope the truth.

Florida said...

"The poor souls, they were sent out to interview him and they didn't know much about him. He turned it into a circus."

This is true, but then again when presented with a stage upon which to reveal "THE TRUTH." Dylan babbles about a collage of pictures featuring a tramp in the sewer vomiting - juxtaposed next to a picture of Rockefeller.

Wow man. Wow. That's deep.

That's speaking truth to power, man.

They're hiding the drunk tramps man.

They're too afraid to even see the truth, man.

Sounds like Chong on "That 70s Show."

A circus indeed.

Dylan's problem was - and is - his inability to articulate the hidden truth when presented the stage.

Ritmo Brasileiro said...

KISS is a funny analogy. I never understood the intrigue behind them. I remember posters of weird guys with curly long black hair and white face paint as a young child. It vaguely creeped me out a bit.

And then the ten-years older amateur musicologists I'd come to later know informed me that, despite their love for some KISS songs, the band never intended to be serious. They just saw it as a way of getting tail. Which isn't so surprising given the reality TV shows that Gene Simmons has made and his often stated revelations of thousands of liaisons.

So I guess if artificial, inflated prestige is your focus, both TIME and KISS may have something in common with each other.

shoutingthomas said...

Might want to put this in context.

Since I live in Woodstock, NY, where Dylan lived during a critical period in his life, I'll try my best.

Dylan was under considerable pressure to be... a spokesman for something. In Greenwich Village and Woodstock, his most frequent haunts, he was mobbed by the old commie folk singers and their attendant media. These people all wanted Dylan to be the spokesman for the great commie, save the world cause.

Then, as now, the major media was predominantly staffed by commie, save the world types.

I'm not exactly a fan of Dylan's music. I like his songwriting. (In fact, I'm a musician and at one time or another I've played with every member of The Band.) One of the things that I do admire about Dylan is that he decided that he wanted to make money and that he wanted to use his skills for the sole purpose of advancing his own career as an artist.

He was being pressured on all sides to save the world, advance the great commie revolution, write yet another civil rights anthem, etc. And, he was sick of it.

Dylan got sick of Woodstock and got the hell out for the same reason.

And nothing has changed in Woodstock to this day. The music scene in Woodstock is entirely an ideological scene. As a result, the music scene is about as dreadful as you might imagine.

Kansas City said...

My reaction was that Dylan had nothing to say of any intelligence and the reporter was trying to keep for breaking out laughing or (since he did not seem like a laughing type) at least trying to keep from telling Dylan how stupid he was. I thought some of the questions, suchas about giving an example, were an attempt to reveal Dylan's stupidity.

The reporter was in the position that the media oftern is in. They depend on access to sensistive, self promoting celebrities and politicians, and they know that if they ask tough questions or publish the truth, they will lose access. It is most prevalent on TV with the media people who question politicians.

Ritmo Brasileiro said...

This is so off-topic it's not even funny, but an inevitable consequence of mentioning KISS - one of modern music's unfortunate heirs to Bob Dylan. (Older Althousians will just have to put up with the consequences of the musical deprivations of Gen X. Sorry.):

In a February 4, 2002 interview on the NPR radio show Fresh Air with Terry Gross, Simmons said to Gross regarding his claim to have bedded more than a thousand women: "If you want to welcome me with open arms, I'm afraid you're also going to have to welcome me with open legs" (paraphrasing The Who's hit song "You Better You Bet"). To this Gross replied, "That's a really obnoxious thing to say." Simmons refused to grant permission to NPR to make the interview available online on the network's website. However, the interview appears in print in Gross's book All I Did Was Ask (ISBN 1401300103), and some unauthorized transcripts are also available.[7] A part of the interview was re-broadcast on Fresh Air on Aug 31, 2007.[8]

In a later Fresh Air interview, satirist and future United States Senator Al Franken related to Terry Gross his own encounter with Gene Simmons. According to Franken, he was awaiting a racquetball partner at a club when Simmons, whom Franken had not recognized, challenged him to a match, stating "I'll kick your ass", only to suffer an embarrassing loss to Franken. Simmons responded by calling for another match, and when Franken indicated that since his racquetball partner had arrived, he couldn't play Simmons again, Simmons responded by making loud "boc, boc, boc" chicken sounds. Franken then offered to play Simmons with $500 at stake, at which point Simmons walked away.[9] Franken told Gross not to blame herself for her experience with Simmons, and that Simmons' behavior at the racquetball club made him "the most awful person I've ever met."

I'm not sure how this fits into the interview, but I found it interesting.

Again, a thousand apologies. Resume the analysis of TIME, Dylan, and the conflict between journalists and communists.

Joseph said...

AllenS: "Dylan is a jerk."

Ann Althouse: "I think he thinks he needs to be saying something scathing or biting or important all the time."

I think Althouse offers what most people, including myself, would describe as a jerk. But I still love Dylan's music.

AllenS said...

I like Dylan's music, and paid good money for me and my girlfriend to attend a concert of his in Bushkill, PA., in 2003. When he talks to anybody, he comes off as a jerk.

peter hoh said...

Such a clean and articulate young man.

rcocean said...

"I thought some of the questions, such as about giving an example, were an attempt to reveal Dylan's stupidity."

And the questions accomplished their objective. Once Dylan got passed his initial statement and tried to answer the questions it was rather embarrassing - for Dylan.

And why was rattling on and on about NOT BEING A FOLK SINGER?

shoutingthomas said...

And why was [Dylan] rattling on and on about NOT BEING A FOLK SINGER?

Because (see my comment above), it was expected in that era that every folk singer was a commie propagandist.

Not much has changed there either.

rcocean said...

Because (see my comment above), it was expected in that era that every folk singer was a commie propagandist.

Even Peter, Paul and Mary?

shoutingthomas said...

Even Peter, Paul and Mary?

Especially Peter, Paul and Mary.

Mary Travers was an all out Stalinist.

bearbee said...

Pretentious rambling. The lethargic smoker in the background seems more interesting.

Jeff with one 'f' said...

Ritmo: "It's easy now, looking back on the last several decades, to blame our lower standards on TV."

I blame several generations of teachers deciding that children don't need to learn history or geography and that memorization kills creativity. Guess what: it also kills eloquence and literacy!

Ritmo Brasileiro said...

Nah. It was TV that did it. People grow up learning to communicate according to the way the dominant medium conveys thought. And TV doesn't convey thought. Words do. Printed materials do. The internet does.

TV conveys symbols, images and feelings.

For thousands of years people conveyed thought through words, and the more intelligent learned how to preserve and decipher those thoughts through print. Now we have electronic print that makes the process faster and even more interactive than before. But it doesn't transfer the process to a medium that is more pictorial than before. It transfers the process to a medium that is more literary than before.

There's a reason all human language developed through the use of speech, and not through a reliance on hand gestures, sign language and other unspoken cues.

I grew up learning basic history and geography, and don't know anyone who didn't. I suppose we could all learn ways of incorporating more geography into the basic curriculum, somehow. But in the meantime I'll celebrate the advent of a generation that texts, that doesn't watch after-school specials, that doesn't aspire to become the next short-lived, Lindsay Lohanesque pin-up model before crashing, burning and turning into the next True Hollywood Story.

Just my two cents.

traditionalguy said...

Bob Dylan's attempt to be a singer and creator of music with that voice of his was so bold in the day of rock and roll teen idols that few people saw him then or now as a courageous genius giving us his gifts. How many roads must a man walk down until some one notices that he is a great man? The answer my friend is blowing in rock and roll's rebellious winds. Dylan's success didn't harm rock and roll, instead he gave rock and roll its relevance to life against its will.

Golden West said...

I bring this up only because I know you strive for accuracy. As far as I know, there is no apostrophe in the movie title "Dont Look Back".

kynefski said...

Judson wrote The Eighth Day of Creation, the definitive popular history of molecular biology.

traditionalguy said...

Ritmo@ 2:01...That was a very insightful comment. Thanks.

The Crack Emcee said...

I got into Dylan kind of late in life - I've always liked "Lay Lady Lay" though - and, like shoutingthomas, admired that he was determined not to be a tool for anybody. His 60 Minutes interview was a classic, describing hippies determined to get him into organic farming - "What do I know about organic farming?" - and coming across as a pretty straight-up guy for a hippie icon. I was impressed anyway.

Most people, in my opinion, can't tell what constitutes musical greatness - and, especially, what it takes to either create or achieve it - which is why we wallow in so much crap. (I've never recieved a bad review - or even many that didn't declare me a musical genius - but a lot of good that's done me because so many people, today, also demand I become a "positive-thinking" suck-up,...) Dylan had it easy, by comparison, when challenging the audience was expected.

SteveR said...

Yes Ritmo, great comment.

I only judge Dylan by my experience with his music and not by the occasional encounters with molecular biologists and other assorted bystanders. It speaks for itself.

Alex said...

Dylan was always a self-important prick. Don't really care for his music either.

William said...

I remember reading that Joseph Haydn was pretty upset that he had to wear the livery of a court servant, but, perhaps, the Emperor got the relative placement of genius musicians in the world order exactly right. Gershwin was also a boy genius, but I don't think it would have ever occurred to anyone to look to him for spiritual, moral, or political guidance. The pretensions here are not Dylan's but ours. He wrote some tunes and some lyrics that seem to have impacted on a lot of lives. That's a huge achievemet. But if he was more than a folk singer, he was less than a prophet and, as shown here, a bit of a poseur. The ability to write good music does not transcend adolescent posing. In fact, a lot of good music is probably immanent in adolescent posing. Whatever stupidity and self importance that is revealed here was the source of a lot of good music. Hate the player, not the game.

Alex said...

William - give me examples of songwriters who write "adult" music. I'm curious. You sound like an old, bitter fart to me!

Kirby Olson said...

I think Dylan is just like Obama. He pretends to be cool and hip, but no one can really figure out what he's saying. He's just playing the angles, and setting up false dichotomies and saying other people are square, or in Obama-speak, a bunch of fat-cats.

It's not deep logic. It's the logic of the hipsters. They all suck.

Kirby Olson said...

Dylan and Obama both make sly references to hope and change. But when you try to get them to touch their feet to the ground, as the interviewer does here, they go spastic.

It's probably why no one dares to question Obamaspeak. It's a lot of hooey, and if you do it, you know he will just go spastic.

These hipsters with all their cool and individuality are just followers of trends trying to look special. I wish people wouldn't take their schtick seriously.

The Crack Emcee said...


"Hate the player, not the game."

I despise that phrase and all it stands for.


"Give me examples of songwriters who write 'adult' music. I'm curious."

I can't speak for William but Everything But The Girl's "Walking Wounded" album is my idea of "adult" music - as well as being an amazing display of DIY drum machine/sampler wizardry.

The Crack Emcee said...

"It's probably why no one dares to question Obamaspeak. It's a lot of hooey, and if you do it, you know he will just go spastic."


I'm still waiting for someone to tell me what "We are the ones we've been waiting for" means. It's just a bunch of thought-stopping "hooey" and, if you study NewAge, you run across it every day.

It's really sad to think so many "educated" people couldn't see through such obvious fluff - even when presented as a political platform! Ann, Peggy Noonan, Colin Powell, and even Christopher Buckley and Christopher Hitchens (who have, to their credit, already declared themselves "wrong") and so many others, drank the Kool-Aid, and drank so deeply they forgot to skeptically ask the most important question for the country's well-being:

"What's in this?"

The Crack Emcee said...

About the snippet:

"Do we think Dylan is being a jerk, mistreating the reporter? The reporter, whose bland doughiness makes a funny contrast to Dylan's intensity, might look as though he doesn't know what is happening here, but I got to thinking that the gears in that head were turning, and he was judging and gathering material."

Damn straight he is - Dylan's bullshit (which is what it is) doesn't faze him. He's not being mistreated because Dylan's established no reason to be trusted - his every word is a neon sign flashing "betrayal" - that's reflected in the reporter's wary sideward glances:

He's doing a job, and part of that job is hanging out with this intellectually skittish asshole.

Ann Althouse said...

"drank the Kool-Aid"

I think if you go back and read my pre-election posts, you will see that I did not fall for the bullshit. I simply made the call between 2 candidates and McCain lost me.

jr565 said...

Listening to Dylan is like listening to schizophrenics. I can see why he wants the news to be a collage because he speaks like a collage. Trying to follow what he's saying is near impossible. It's all disjointed and out of place.

I think a lot of it is done to present himself as the angry inscrutable artist, and is something of a put on, but even so I wish someone asked him what the hell he was babbling about.

jr565 said...

"There's something happening and you don't know what it is. Do you mr. jones?"
Classic line from a dylan song. Wondering tough if this reporter is Mr. Jones, or if Dylan is Mr. Jones or if the audience is Mr. Jones. Because Dylan makes no sense.

kwood said...

Dylan was penultimate tea-totaller (lucid) version of the otherwise typical know-it-all fast-talking 60's jack-ass. But he wrote great songs and entertained us and we love him for that.

"I'm not a pop singer. You don't know what I am. Blah blah blah..."

Yeah, Bob. You're a f*cking plumber. We get it. We are entertained!

A big part of what I'm trying to say here is that Dylan sounded much smarter than he was simply because he wasn't drunk or tripping on acid.

LonewackoDotCom said...

How interesting that no one mentioned street cred, which is all he's going for here. He has no solution beyond a picture of a vomiting tramp. Which reminds me of today's bloggers: they and him in the clip are like those who stand on the riverbank all day saying how good it would be if there were a bridge, whining about how leaders won't build a bridge, and on and on and on. None of them have a clue about how to build the damn bridge or any inclination to actually do something.

P.S. As is my custom, I'll post someone who can sing. So, here's Joan Baez singing in German.

el polacko said...

ahhh..youth ! what i see in this clip is your average 20-something who thinks that the vague non-sequitur is evidence of being too deep and cool to be understood by the stupid, square adults.

p.t. fogger said...

I'm giving Dylan a break here, because I like him. And, as others have pointed out, he was a kid at the time.

First time I ever hear Dylan was in the mid 1980's, when I was a teenager in high school. I had heard about him, but I hadn't ever actually heard him. So at some point I bought one of his records -- I think it was "Bringing It All Back Home". Anyway, I was totally surprised: for one thing, it just didn't sound like what I thought '60's rock was supposed to sound like. For another thing, I was surprised that it wasn't hippy, dippy, and drippy, which is really kinda what I expected. It was more snide, ironic, clever and edgy (and often opaque: yes). Anyhow -- I knew for certain he wasn't a Hippy or anything like it, which was a huge plus in my teenage column, little wannabe punk rocker that I was.

William said...

Alex expresses the opinion that I might be a bitter, old fart. Ha! That's so not true. My life experiences have not embittered but rather purified me. Consequently, my farts have the bracing smell of wintergreen mixed with cloves. Calvin Klein has offered me a small fortune for a men's fragrance based on my farts. I, of course, refuse. Unlike Dylan, I am not so crass to commercialize my talent. The gifts from God should be given freely to the poor of the earth....Irving Berlin gave the commercial rights to God Bless America to the Boy Scouts. I wonder how Dylan for all his leftist hyperbole stands as regards charitable giving. Maybe he should start some Legal Defense Fund for file sharers. I think file sharing is to musicians as national health is to doctors. He should speak out in favor of it and do all that he can to nationalize the musical wealth of America.....I think Gershwin is the greatest composer of the 20th century. He hits the Mozart chords, the ones that will last forever. His music is lovable and just plain great. Songs like Biding My Time, Fascinating Rhythmn, and Embraceable You have no message except the beauty of the melody and the intricacy of the rhythmn that the song conveys. Even Ira Gershwin's witty lyrics are referential to the charms of the music. Dollars to donuts, someone will be singing Summertime five hundred years hence.....I liked Dylan a great deal when I was young, but at lot of his music doesn't travel with you as you age. "I was older than but I'm younger than all that now."...Crack Emcee: Let me rephrase "Hate the player, not the game." Hate the bullshit, not the rose from which it grows. Although Dylan, as we see in the interview, was heavily manured, he was able to blossom with a lot of flowers.

AllenS said...

I simply made the call between 2 candidates and McCain lost me.

If you have doubts about both candidates, why not abstain from voting for either? There is no law that requires you to vote for POTUS. You could have voted for whomever was on the ballot running for other offices. If there was a choice between Mr. Smith and Mr. Jones for dogcatcher, and you didn't know anything about either of them, why place a vote for dogcatcher?

Ritmo Brasileiro said...

Thanks guys.

Mike said...

Dylan is an artist and entertainer and for that he gets respect. "Tangled Up in Blue" is as good a short story as O Henry or Faulkner ever wrote. He was primarily a writer and performer, and thoroughly steeped himself in literature and culture top achieve his point of view. (Read his autobiography for details.) However, there were several movements that wanted to "claim" Dylan, including the commie folksingers and the folk purists. Unlike Obama, Dylan was most definitely NOT asking to lead us, and said so explicitly. His distrust of the media was built upon events that shaped him prior to the TIME clip posted.

Finally, Dylan recognizes that there really are no "normal" conversations when the tape is running. When the red lights on or the pens are poised, Bob is "on" and that's what you get.

Carl said...

He worked for TIME for 7 years, but he is also — I'm relying on Wikipedia — a historian of molecular biology and a expert on the "deliberate manipulation of scientific data." He's been on the faculty of Johns Hopkins University, and he's won a MacArthur Fellowship.

Right. Plus he's got some interesting and accomplished children, and he probably had some affectionate grandchildren to brighten his old age before he completed his time on Earth.

What's Dylan got? A big pile of money, some aging hits remembered fondly by aging boomers. He may end up needing propofol to get to sleep at night, like Michael Jackson.

I think Dylan was by far the bigger fool, and Judson knew it at the time. It was only Dylan's groupies who took years to catch on. The gods of the copybook headings always win.