Larry Sloman on the Jokerman video

From "A Conversation With Larry Sloman", by Mitchell Blank, ON THE TRACKS #2 

... Ironically, later on George (Lois) and I would team up to do that Jokerman video, which was a great video.

Can you tell us a little more about how that came about? Did Bob have any input in that?

No, the input that he had in that was that he didn't like it. Bill Graham told me, and Graham was managing Bob at the time, that he needed a video and to me, "Jokerman" was the best song on the album. I played the song for George Lois. He and I sat down and George says, "Oh yeah, but Michelangelo this and that..." and he starts doing storyboards and stuff. Bob and Graham come in; Graham is bowled over and Bob is more reserved, but he digs it.

We were set to shoot, and I got a call the night before that Bob wants to have dinner with me in Chinatown. So we go to Chinatown. I walk into this restaurant and there's Gary Shafner and Bob sitting at a table. Bob is wearing a green parka with the hood up and I think it's summer time. Bob is saying, "Do you think I should do this? What do you think of this video?" I'm saying, "It's great!"

So the next day we shoot him. The whole idea of the video, I mean there were a few ideas - One, was this guy is one of the greatest poets that we have working in contemporary music, so we were going to take his words and put them in your face. The second thing was we would use great artworks to illuminate his art. And third, we would shoot Bob and make him look as heroic as these artworks... so he would look as heroic as Moses. So, we put him in a white tee shirt and sport jacket and the whole time Bob was lip-synching the chorus, "Jokerman dance to the nightingale tune..." For the whole shoot he kept his eyes closed. After every take George would plead with him, "Bob, please open your eyes, "Bob would say, "I'm trying."

Finally, on the last take, and to me this is the ultimate Dylan video, we got him to open his eyes and he looks cagily at the camera. We had captured that Dylan mystique, I think. So Columbia flips out, they think it's the greatest video ever done, and it's about to go on the air and Bob wants to kill it. Well... not kill it, he likes everything except what was shot of him. He wants to go to Malibu and to take an 8mm handheld thing and do some shots of him on the beach instead. George says, "Fuck him, I know better, I don't want him to do that." Columbia, who had paid for the video, said they agreed with Lois. So we finished the video over Bob's objections.

The video's done, we send it out and MTV, well you know MTV, it's eight minutes long so they put it in sublunar rotation, you know, like once every leap year they're gonna show it. On the other hand, there was another hip show, Nightflight, and they flip out. They love this thing. They were very hip, and they decide this is number one. Dylan is in France, so I fly out there. The day before I fly was the day that Nightflight premiered this video at number one and they did a whole big thing.

So I fly out there, and I go backstage before the concert and I see Bob. We hug and everything, and I say, "Oh, the Jokerman video is number one on Nightflight." He looks at me and says "Either the world's crazy or I'm crazy." It wound up that the LA Times named it, "The best video ever made." It got tremendous accolades, and ultimately he was pleased with it.

Did you ever talk to Bob about any of his other videos?

I don't think that he ever liked any of the videos. He didn't like participating in that kind of thing. He doesn't do publicity for albums and video interviews that they send out.


From Rolling Stone, 
6/21/84 : #424
By Kurt Loder

Kindly supplied by Seth Kulick

On a typically soggy March mess of a day in Manhattan, Bob Dylan, wearing black jeans, biker boots, and a white sport coat over a white T-shirt, sat slouched on a stool at the far end of a small downtown studio. The crowd of cameramen, lighting technicians, makeup people and producers had withdrawn for a bit to consult their equipment, leaving Dylan to strum and hum on his own. As his long nails raked the strings of his Martin guitar, he began huffing softly into the harmonica racked around his neck, and soon a familiar melody filled the air. Could it be? I moved closer to cock an ear as Dylan cranked up the chorus. Yes, no doubt about it - Bob Dylan was running down the first-ever folkie arrangement of "Karma Chameleon," the Culture Club hit.

Soon, however, he was surrounded by tech people again. The audio crew punched up the tape of "Jokerman," a song off Dylan's latest album, Infidels, and as the video cameras rolled, the star obediantly lip-synced along. Dylan had been doing take after take of the number all morning and most of the afternoon without complaint. "Jokerman" would be the second video for Infidels, and he knew it had to be good. The first, for the lovely ballad "Sweetheart like You" had been a flat and lifeless embarrasement. So two of Dylan's most trusted friends - Larry "Ratso" Sloman author of a book about Bob's 1975 Rolling Thunder Revue tour, and George Lois, a brilliant New York adman who met Dylan during the ill-fated legal-defense concerts for fighter Rubin "Hurricane" Carter a decade ago - were called in to assist.

It was Lois who came up with an agreeable video format for the stiff, camera-shy Dylan. Bob's face would only be seen onscreen during the song's choruses; the verses would be illustrated by classic art prints from Lois' own library: paintings by Michelangelo, Durer, Munch - and, in a wry touch, a Hieronymus Bosch painting titled The Musician's Hell. Lois' most innovative concept, however, was to superimpose the song's apolcalyptic lyrics over the images throughout the video - a technique Lois laughingly dubbed "poetry right in your fuckin' face." The result, as it later turned out, makes most run-of-the-mill rock videos look like the glorified cola commercials they generally are."

And then goes on to talk about "is Dylan relevant today, and who is he today" etc. for a few more paragraphs and then the interview starts.


Analytical Commentary

Analysis of Jokerman - a commentary which '...proposes that the Jokerman is Dylan the Jew: An individual blessed with charisma and cursed with turbulence, aware of God's commands but unsure of their reality and of his ability to respond.'

From the web page Tangled Up In Jews, by Larry Yudelson.