Bob Dylan and Philosophy: It's Alright, Ma (I'm Only Thinking)

By Peter Vernezze; Carl J. Porter | Go to book overview
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Bob Dylan's Truth


In a famous scene from Don 't Look Back (1966) Bob Dylan is being interviewed by a writer for Time magazine.1 We see a cheeky Dylan upbraiding the hapless writer and his magazine for not being interested in printing “the real truth.” “What is the real truth?” the writer challenges. Dylan responds, “The truth is just a plain picture of a tramp vomiting, man, into the sewer…”

The response might seem a theatrical gesture of youthful revolt against a major Establishment media prop. But when Dylan deployed surreal but concrete poetic imagery to undermine the “reasonable” journalist's sense of reality, there was more than theatre here. There was philosophy.2 This last point is suggested by the journalist's retort, a rhetorical question: “Do you care about what you are saying?” Dylan loses his cool and retreats with the last word: “Each of us really knows nothing, but we all think we know things. But we know nothing.” But I think Dylan was serious, and in a most novel way issues a critique of

1 The reporter's name, Horace Judson, is revealed in Clinton Heylin's account
in Bob Dylan, Behind the Shades Revisited (New York: HarperCollins, 2001), p.
187. For an account of the encounter and Dylan's contempt for “the forces
Time and Newsweek represent,” see W. Rothman, Documentary Film Classics
(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997), pp. 189–193.

2 According to Mike Marqusee, “Throughout the sixties, Dylan had seen him-
self as an uncompromising truth-teller, even when he was questioning
assumptions about the very nature of truth.” Chimes of Freedom: The Politics
of Bob Dylan's Art (New
York: The New Press, 2003), p. 270.


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