GREAT HARMONICA MYSTERY STUMPS FANS
Beatle Bob Speaks!
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WHO’S LENNON? WHO’S DYLAN?
Is John Lennon of The Beatles really Bob Dylan?
That question isn’t as absurd as it seemed, and it caused quite a stir amongst fans of both phenomenal entertainers in 1965.
The idea was first put forward in the July-’65 “Letters” column of Sing Out!, the bi-monthly bible of folk music fans, by Eileen Strong, who noted many points of similarity between Dylan and Lennon, beginning with the observation that both are accomplished harmonica players. Lennon’s harmonica was featured on the Beatles’ records, “Love Me Do” and “I Should Have Known Better,” among others. Dylan’s personal trademark is his harmonica in its around-the-neck holder.
Miss Strong also noted their onstage stance, with legs wide apart, is identical; both wear Huck Finn caps, both write their own songs and both have distinguished themselves as poets. “In addition,” she wrote, “both rich young men express disdain for worldly things (in their songs, at least), use colloquialisms in their ‘librettos’, and display a Chaplinesque type of humor.” She also notes that Dylan’s “uncharacteristic” song, “Fare Thee Well,” is taken from the English song, “Farewell to Liverpool.”
Syndicated music columnist Ralph Gleason wrote in the San Francisco Chronicle just before Dylan appeared in San Francisco, “The approach of Bob Dylan to San Francisco to the Bay Area…heightens interest in one of the great mysteries of our time. Who is Bob Dylan?” He went on to quote Miss Strong’s letter at length, saying that she “proposes a fantastic idea but supports it with considerable evidence.”
Gleason added some evidence of his own-striking the similarity between the picture cover of Dylan on his first Columbia album and the picture of John Lennon on the jacket of his book, ‘In His Own Write.” “Do we have any published photos of Dylan and Lennon together together? Ah ha!” wrote Gleason. He goes on to point out the curious fact that when The Beatles were in this country, Dylan was off the scene… In fact, Dylan’s 1964 tour of England was reported as taking place just before The Beatles came to the U.S.A.”
Another folk magazine, Broadside, reprinted portions of Gleason’s column, adding fuel to the fire.
In a subsequent issue of Sing Out! Gleason wrote in a letter of his own, “Has anyone ever seen them together? I intend to investigate further and ask Joan Baez, who is the only person I know who knows both.”
And in a July-’65 interview with the British pop music magazine, Melody Maker, The Beatles themselves gave what might have been considered corroborating testimony. Admitting that “I’m A Loser” was inspired by Dylan, Lennon added mysteriously, “I could have made it even more Dylan-ish if I tried.”
“A Hard Days’ Night,” too, began in the Dylan vein, but later we Beatlefied it before we recorded it, said John.
“Anyone who is one of the best in his field–as Dylan is–is bound to influence people,” said John, adding modestly, “I wouldn’t be surprised if we influenced him in some small way.”
Another point of similarity between the two shaggy-haired pop idols was their revolutionary impact on the music business. Between the two them–or should we say “single-handedly?”– they helped sweep the harmonica to its highest peak of popularity at the time, and harmonica makers, at least, couldn’t have cared whether Lennon was actually Dylan or vice-versa.