Bob Dylan is the great genius who built contemporary music as we know it today. His wanderlust has inspired him to write some of the greatest songs of all time, which were significant due to their blend of folk and modern sounds. He is a close observer of the world that surrounds him and is able to find inspiration in the normalcy of everyday life. His creativity never sought any material success, but rather self-exploration, which allowed him to discover the different facets that make him a true artist.
In the 1960s, only very few artists had the potential to take over Dylan's place as the leading figure of rock music. John Lennon was one them, but his career was imbued by moments of great pretentiousness. The author of the song "Like a Rollin' Stone" was able to see beyond the facade of The Beatles' leader, and didn't hesitate to mock him when he noticed Lennon had tried to imitate his personal style and musical compositions.
The Liverpool quartet and the American poet met in a room in New York, in 1964. There are many rumors circulating around this encounter and only few of them have been confirmed. Ringo Starr assured that they smoked weed together and writer Allen Ginsberg also confirmed that they actually got along really well. The Beatles wanted to broaden their musical horizons, so they couldn't help but be influenced by American music. A year later, John Lennon included the song "Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)" in the album Rubber Soul. The song recreated Dylan's image and sound.
"Norwegian Wood" makes use of traditional folk music and gets rid of the drums. In this regard, the musical piece pays a proper homage to its muse; however, some maintain that Lennon's efforts to follow Dylan's lyrics and trademark had gone too far. The song's rhetorical format and simple narrative is similar to Dylan's style.
"I sat on a rug biding my time
Drinking her wine
We talked until two and then she said
<<It's time for bed>>"
In the eyes of any expert, the references to the American artist are obvious. The album Another Side of Bob Dylan had been released prior to The Beatles' new experiments, and as we listen to the following lyrics we have the sneaky suspicion they inspired Lennon in their new venture:
"With unknown consciousness, I possessed in my grip
A magnificent mantelpiece, though its heart being chipped
Noticing not that I’d already slipped
To a sin of love’s false security"
The now Nobel laureate immediately noticed Lennon's attempt to sound like him. Some people say Dylan got a little bit upset, as he didn't expect the man to blatantly try to replicate his style. Others claim that Dylan found this remarkable accomplishment funny and decided to show him how to write a genuine Bob Dylan's song. Here comes the best part, Dylan would then release what is considered to be his masterpiece: "Blonde on Blonde." The track where he intended to disclose Lennon's pretentiousness was "Fourth Time Around," a simple reply to "Norwegian Wood," which included a fantastic finishing touch that only Dylan could be capable of delivering.
The lyrics in "Fourth Time Around" are similar to Lennon's in terms of story and structure, but the poetics are far more sophisticated
"I stood there and hummed
I tapped on her drum and asked her how come
And she buttoned her boot
And straightened her suit
Then she said, 'Don’t get cute'
So I forced my hands in my pockets
And felt with my thumbs
And gallantly handed her
My very last piece of gum"
But Dylan didn't mock Lennon by just writing a better song. The lines at the end of the song are unrelated to the rest of the narrative, in fact, he's addressing a different character altogether. The verses go like this:
"And when I was through
I filled up my shoe
And brought it to you
And you, you took me in
You loved me then
You didn’t waste time
And I, I never took much
I never asked for your crutch
Now don’t ask for mine."
It is believed that Dylan is directly addressing Lennon in those last few lines and referring to their previous meet-up. This "crutch" refers to Dylan not wanting to leave an evident mark in the music of The Beatles and to influence Lennon.
We can further speculate that this line unleashed Lennon's paranoia. He was never able to figure out if Dylan was really referring to him for using a similar structure and style in his song. He felt deeply offended and in response he would write "I don't believe in Zimmerman" in his song "God," using Dylan's real surname.
Both songs hold too many similarities to be seen just a coincidence. Dylan's piece is a clear reference to Lennon's intentions. We can see this exchange in a negative or positive light, perhaps Dylan wrote the song as a thank you to The Beatles for being inspired by his work. In all of this, the fans are the true winners, they can enjoy these two creations, which marked a key moment in the music industry.
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Translated by Andrea Valle