I’m in a reflective mood, I guess. That’s what happens, take a couple of weird life situations, add a slice of crazy, drop in a dime’s worth of insolence, mix at medium speed in a blender.
Fellow named Jonah Lehrer, who wrote for the New Yorker Magazine before resigning, has been exposed as having invented a bushel of quotations he attributed to Bob Dylan in his, Lehrer’s, book, entitled ‘Imagine.’ The imagining got out of hand, looks like.
A fellow journalist, Michael C. Moynihan, self-described Dylan obsessive, spotted the creative writing and called him on it. At first, Lehrer claimed that the quotes were pulled from unused outtakes from the Scorsese film biography. Later on, he was of course forced to concede that he’d never spoken with Dylan’s manager Jeff Rosen, whom he’d said had given him the footage, and had never seen any such video material.
It’s a good thing Hunter Thompson’s dead.
Thompson, the best political writer of the last hundred years, bar none, scribed several long articles and a brilliant novel/textbook called ‘Fear And Loathing On The Campaign Trail’ purporting to tell the story of the 1972 presidential race. What was so extraordinary about Thompson’s work was that, like the greatest artists, he told the truth by telling tales.
Probably Senator Ed Muskie of Maine did not indulge in an exotic South American drug called ibogaine, but you never really knew. Probably his wife chided him cruelly in divulging things he’d confided to her from his deepest longings. Did Nixon really say to Thompson the lunatic, twisted things Thompson cited? Who knows? It didn’t matter. Because in his wild rantings, the writer wrote the truth even if the specifics were just what was left over in Thompson’s drug-addled skull after yet another day or night of substance abuse in a Holiday Inn in Des Moines or Cleveland.
To invent quotes from Dylan, well, why in hell not? If anyone out there in the public world has entered the domain of pure myth it is Dylan. He might’ve said anything by this time. Hell, he wrote, “the wind howls like a hammer” and got away with it. You want to get picky after something like that?
Ever read Dylan’s autobiography? Unbearable. He’s a poet, no question, and some of his work is beyond genius, and he’s produced at least four albums, arguably as many as seven or eight, so remarkable that it’s a tough act to match even for the Beatles. But his book stinks. He can’t write and, obviously, he didn’t have an editor.
So as far as I’m concerned, he’s fair game. Probably not a good idea to ascribe lyrics to him; that’s out of bounds. Artistic output, okay, that stands. But otherwise? This is a guy who, when criticized for selling the rights to “Times They Are A’Changin’” for use in a bank commercial, said it was never meant to be a protest song. Tell that to Woody Guthrie, you liar.
Lehrer’s mistake, obviously, was trying to pen this stuff as Truth, verifiable, scholarly junk. Screw it. Hunter Thompson would’ve made half of it up and let you figure out which half. Of course, the New Yorker would never have hired Thompson.
Hope they get it straight. Can’t have misquotes by public figures, let alone pure invention. We leave that to government spokespeople, editorial writers, and ‘news’ reporters. You can make up shit to a fare-thee-well if you’re pimping a war or some ridiculous economic sleight-of-hand. But you’d better not mess up a Dylan quote.
As Raymond Chandler said, what a world.