The TIMEs They Were A-Changin’
A Pentadic Analysis of the 1965 TIME Magazine Interview with Bob Dylan
While on tour in England during the summer of 1965, Bob Dylan was bombarded with heavy media attention everywhere he went. Having grown frustrated with the media’s attempt at labeling him and his music, Dylan proceeded to make a spectacle out of press conferences and interviews by turning questions against reporters, shaking up the newsrooms, and further perplexing journalists already struggling to understand the man and his music. One interview in particular has been preserved over the past forty years in the D.A. Pennebaker documentary Bob Dylan: Don’t Look Back. During the period of this film, Dylan’s career was quickly on the rise. He stood out with songs that defied existing pop music conventions and appealed hugely to the then growing counterculture. The impact of Dylan’s behavior and discourse in this documentary has been a subject of continuing comment and speculation since it first made its way to the silver screen on May 17, 1967.
This paper will examine some of the rhetorical choices Dylan made in his interview with Horace Judson. It will then speculate on the impact that those choices may have on the media’s perception of Dylan and ultimately, the perception he wishes to express as an artist. The principal tool used for this investigation will be the Dramatistic Pentad found in the writings of Kenneth Burke.
Presentation of Artifact
The artifact I have chosen to examine for pentadic analysis is the famous interview of Bob Dylan by TIME magazine correspondent Horace Judson. The interview, weighing in at six and a half minutes in length, is taken from the motion picture Bob Dylan: Don’t Look Back, a film that is both culturally significant and widely considered by many as the greatest rock documentary of all time. The setting for this particular portion of the film is an English hotel room in early May, 1965. During this time, Dylan was finishing up a highly successful tour overseas and slowly transitioning from a solo acoustic performer to a pioneer of rock n’ roll. On March 27, 1965, prior to embarking on his overseas tour, Dylan released Bringing It All Back Home, an electrically driven album that would forever change the future of music, alienate his fans, and make it even harder for the media to put his music in a box.
The Horace Judson interview captures Dylan’s frustration with the media, critics, and an unwanted iconography for himself. Dylan refuses to be conventionalized and labeled as something he’s not. “I’m no God, I’m not prophet, and I sure as hell don’t belong to you. I don’t belong to anybody.” At times the discourse of Dylan is haughty, almost arrogant, but for the most part, his mocking of Judson is always lighthearted and never sardonic. Dylan even maintains an air of humor throughout the interview, specifically at the end when he pokes fun at his own voice, sarcastically comparing it to Enrico Caruso, an accomplished Italian opera singer. “I happen to be just as good as him—a good singer. You have to listen closely, but I hit all those notes.”
Method of Criticism
To analyze the artifact I will use pentadic analysis, a method developed from Kenneth Burke’s concept of dramatism. In my analysis, I will use the five basic elements of a drama—act, agent, agency, scene, and purpose. Identifying these terms will help with understanding the drama a rhetor creates through discourse. Another element of pentadic analysis is the use of ratios, a pairing of terms to help discover the dominant pentadic element and uncover the rhetor’s motive in an artifact.
Analysis of Artifact
The analysis will attempt to establish that Dylan’s discourse with Judson was determined not only by the interviewer’s questions, but rather, an entire era’s approach to music and an inherent need to categorize it, simplify it, and explain it. Media and press at the time could not understand and appreciate an original like Dylan because his identity was intangible and ultimately too big to grasp for any outsider looking in at the counterculture movement.
In Bob Dylan’s dialogue with Horace Judson, we can identify these elements:
Scene: the 60’s—an era of intellectual and creative confinement for artists like Dylan
Agent: Bob Dylan
Act: refusing concession to the media’s opinion and portrayal of him
Agency: unprompted and unedited, showing Dylan’s sincere disapproval of the media
Purpose: to recriminate the media’s beliefs about him
Application of the ratios of the key terms suggests that scene is the central term in this pentad because it provides the basis and foundation for all other terms. It sets the stage for Dylan (agent) to refute any form of labeling by the media (act) in a disapproving manner (agency) while carrying out his countercharge against their claims (purpose). Without such relevance placed on scene, the rest of the terms do not function on a level that is deeper and symbolic in meaning. Without scene, there is no act or purpose to be carried out by Dylan.
Dylan’s motive behind the interview was not aimed at TIME magazine, but instead, a bigger entity that was mass media as a whole. Judson was not the target of Dylan’s argumentation of the truth, but instead, the catalyst that triggered a reaction from Dylan that shaped the outcome of the interview. Judson symbolizes the era of intellectual and creative confinements for artists, playing the role as an agent of scene. Dylan turns the interview around and uses it as a means of making his opinions heard. Much of the conversation is dominated by Dylan who can be seen doing the majority of talking in the video clip.
Dylan’s refusal of the media’s opinion of him serves to relinquish him from any hand in the matter, placing full responsibility on those who choose to give him titles. “I’m not god, I’m no prophet, and I sure as hell don’t belong to you. I don’t belong to anybody. — I’ve got nothing to say about these things I write. I just write them. I’ve got nothing to say about them. I don’t write them for any reason. There’s no great message. If you want to tell other people that, go ahead and tell them, but I’m not going to have to answer to it.” Dylan is rinsing his hands of the matter and rejecting any aspect of a scene that he has fallen victim to. These statements function rhetorically to emphasize Dylan’s disgust with the scene of intellectual and creative confinement created by the writers and critics who cannot see Dylan as anything less than a prophet or voice of a generation.
My analysis of the TIME magazine interview with Bob Dylan suggests that Dylan had deeper motives for answering in a defensive manner. Ultimately, a building scene controlled his reaction and purpose for reacting harshly towards media.
My analysis of the discourse in the 1965 TIME magazine interview with Bob Dylan suggests that there exists a deeper significance in Dylan’s tangling of ideas with Horace Judson. On the surface, the interview can be viewed as Dylan thrashing a poor, uninformed reporter and his employer, but with perspective and context for the scene that had enveloped over the previous years of his career, it becomes apparent that Dylan is attacking a whole system of media. Through his use of rhetoric, Dylan expresses his dissatisfaction with the media’s attempt to conventionalize and shape him to fit some cookie cutter mold for the consumption of mainstream America.