Posted in: by Robert Horton, Contributors, Essays

16 Notes on the “Like a Rolling Stone” Video

1. You are free to debate whether “Like a Rolling Stone” is the best song of the last 50 years, but it is certainly the Catcher in the Rye of pop music. On the one hand it’s about a specific kiss-off from one person to another, on the other hand it’s about everything in the world.

2. The “Like a Rolling Stone” video is the work of director Vania Heymann for the Israeli company Interlude. It consists of 16 different channels, which the viewer can click through at random. On each channel, the people onscreen are lip-synching the song; one channel is a live Dylan performance from the mid-Sixties, shot by D.A. Pennebaker.

3. Some of the channels are fictional but strongly resemble actual programs; a cable-news channel, kiddie animation, a home shopping network, a cooking show. They are immaculately done. Other channels are actual shows that participated in the project: Drew Carey hosting “The Price Is Right,” the HGTV show “Property Brothers,” the History Channel’s “Pawn Stars.”

4. The video, which looks like a bona fide round of channel-surfing circa 2013, uncannily complements Dylan’s song almost a half-century after its release. The song, with its incantatory words and series of anthem-ready rising chords, is a rallying cry for authenticity. Rolling it across a flowing stream of media filler is exactly what channel-surfing deserves.

dustbuster5. It would be interesting enough, but too easy by half, if the song were playing over randomly-selected clips from TV shows. But everybody’s lip-synching to Bob Dylan’s voice. It is as though the thing you always wished would happen when you turn on the television, that people would stop kidding you and would actually say something real, were happening on every channel.

6. In that sense, it may be the greatest five minutes about Media World (which is to say, the World) since the moment Nada slipped on the special sunglasses in They Live and began seeing what was actually going on.

7. And yet the effect isn’t heavy-handed. It’s just a gimmick, a clever device, a goof, right? The performers don’t hammer home any particular coincidences between the lyrics and the concept (although the home-shopping lady—who is superb—does gesture to the Dust Buster she’s selling when “as you gaze into the vacuum of his eyes” goes past; too close to a direct pun, but you have to work hard to find it amongst the channel-flipping, so let’s give it a pass). In fact the performers are very good at maintaining the pitch of whatever program they are on—sobriety and meaningful pauses for the news announcer, vapid sincerity or catty dishing on a “Bachelor”-esque reality show.

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