WHEN THE NEW video for Bob Dylan's Like a Rolling Stone was unveiled worldwide on www.BobDylan.com yesterday, as part of the ongoing promo for the release of Bob Dylan – The Complete Album Collection Vol. 1 and Bob Dylan – The Very Best Of, we here at MOJO received a press release from Sony/Legacy filling us in on a few facts. “When Bob Dylan released Like A Rolling Stone in 1965,” it began, “forever shattering all pre-conceived notions for what a pop single could be in terms of length, sound and subject matter - no official music video was ever created to accompany his release. But nearly a half-century later, a groundbreaking interactive project has been created for the song, allowing fans to experience the classic recording in unprecedented ways.”
“I started to hang around on particular ‘stations’. The effect was odd.”
Well, naturally, we pressed play on the Like A Rolling Stone Interactive Video and watched, well, what exactly?
According to the press release we were playing “an active role in the story of the music video” surfing 16 different simulacrum channels of US TV entertainment - sports, kids, shopping, cooking, music, game-shows, Reality TV, BBC 24 Hour News, the History Network, The Price Is Right - where everyone, the hosts, the actors, the contestants, were all lip-syncing the lyrics to Like A Rolling Stone, which continued playing under everything, despite everything.
“No two people will engage with the video in the same way twice,” continued the press-release, adding that “the full interactive video can also be experienced on iPhones and iPads and is easily shared across social media platforms.”
This writer’s initial response was one of gloomy indifference. Initially, it all seemed to be about a new gimmick. Being able to flick back and forth through the channels as Dylan carried on regardless seemed to sideline the song and ignore its complexities, turning one of the greatest compositions of the 20th Century into a song about shallow popular culture and a new clickbait toy for the farming of social media opinion. I felt like this lot.
But I continued to flick through the channels, and I flicked, and I flicked, until I became bored of the flicking. But instead of switching off and getting on with some work I started to hang around on particular ‘stations’. The effect was odd.
The channels that seem tailored to play on the song’s historical significance (the VH1-esque channel showing live '65 of Dylan performing the song, the news report on the Occupy movement moving into Park Avenue, the History Channel documentary on the Great Depression, the fashion report) just didn’t work. Meanwhile, odder choices (the fake ESPN Pan-Asia tennis tournament coverage, where “Diovesky” and “Plotnivich” appear to exchange exhausted insults over the net, or the Danny Brown hip hop video in which the Detroit rapper consumes a world menu of takeaway food whilst lip-synching the entire song as if it were one of his own meticulously phrased raps) seemed touched by genius.
What was going on here? One moment stood out: a point in The Price Is Right sequence where presenter Drew Carey lip-synchs with rictus grin the words “You’d better take your diamond ring / You'd better pawn it, babe”. It sent proper chills down my spine, like that moment in John Carpenter's They Live where Roddy Piper puts on the sunglasses and sees the hidden narrative behind everything.
Directed by 27-year-old Israeli viral video prodigy Vania Heymann for digital media company Interlude, the video has been described by Adam Block, president of Sony Music/Legacy Recordings as “a unique, playful, highly engaging platform from which we can reach — and ideally attract — Dylan fans from across the spectrum.” A marketing exercise, in other words.
“It’s the song, in fact, that’s viral; it infects Heymann’s video, and not vice versa.”
Well, I think Heymann has bigger ambitions. I think he’s either read Greil Marcus’ 2006 Like A Rolling Stone monograph, or at least agrees with Marcus’ proposal that here is a song that is mythic in ambition and scope, that tells a story that was there before us all, and will remain after we have gone. In that context, the video makes a kind of brilliant sense, illustrating that Like A Rolling Stone runs as a narrative through everything, is in everything and behind everything and yet, in the end, belongs to none of it. It’s the song, in fact, that’s viral; it infects Heymann’s video, and not vice versa.
It’s reassuring to note that, 48 years on, the weariness, anger, resignation, fire and truth of Like A Rolling Stone is still powerful enough to burn through the noise and rhythms of modernity and yet remain defiantly free from it all as well.