50 Years Ago: Bob Dylan and John Lennon Take a Bizarre Cab Ride
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This bizarre, apparently drug-fueled meeting remains as historic as it was utterly awkward. There’s a reason for that. Lennon later seemed to confirm that they had both done heroin. He described this period, in a talk with Rolling Stone magazine’s Jann Wenner, as one in which they were “both in shades, and both on f—ing junk.”
As they ride around London, Lennon appears to be trying his best to play along with the film’s premise, while Dylan falls apart. “Do you suffer from sore eyes, groovy forehead, or curly hair? Take Zimdon!” Lennon mockingly says at one point. Later, he tries to encourage Dylan, saying “come, come, boy, it’s only a film. Pull yourself together.” The two rock legends spend the bulk of their time together engaged in a rangy, free-form conversation that runs from the Mamas and Papas and Barry McGuire to music publishing and the idea that the Thames kept Hitler from invading England.
“They had a funny relationship to begin with,” Pennebaker told Gadfly in 1999. “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.”
Dylan was in the midst of another game-changing year, highlighted by a controversial 1966 U.K. tour with members of the Band that was to be the focus of Pennebaker’s project. The director had earlier explored Dylan’s 1965 tour for the classic Don’t Look Back, a film which deftly captured the sense of discovery around his controversial new path toward rock and roll. This second go-round, however, would be much different – for Dylan and his hand-chosen filmmaker. The ’66 concerts were rocked by protest, Dylan himself was admittedly battling a crippling addiction, and Eat the Document was eventually shelved as the singer-songwriter downshifted into his Woodstock phase.
“Well, we cut it fast on the eye. It’s fast on the eye,” Dylan told Rolling Stone in 1969. “I’d have to let you see it for yourself, to think about if it’s a good one. I don’t know if it’s a good one. For me, it’s too fast for the eye … but there are quite a few people who say it’s really good. Johnny Cash is in it. John Lennon’s in it. The Band’s in it.” Speaking of Lennon, Dylan added, “He’s a wonderful fellow … and I always like to see him.”
Their driver on that day was Tom Keylock, a somewhat mysterious figure who served as a chauffeur and “fixer” in the Rolling Stones‘ entourage early on. Dylan tries to engage him, to no avail, throughout Pennebaker’s extended scene; later, Lennon finally blurts out, “Permission to land, Tom.”
A badly fading Dylan then puts his head in hands. “Oh God, I don’t wanna get sick here,” he says. “What if I vomit into the camera?” After the scene was shot, Pennebaker confirmed that Dylan collapsed. “We ended up in the hotel lobby, throwing up in those Victorian flower pots,” Lennon said in 1980. Dylan’s crew then “hauled him up the stairs of the hotel,” Pennebaker added, “and when he got to his room, he was really sick.”
Lennon ultimately seemed relieved that Eat the Document never saw official release. “In the film, I’m just blabbing off and commenting all the time, like you do when you’re very high or stoned,” Lennon told Wenner. “I had been up all night. We were being smart alecks. It’s terrible.”
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