Listen To This Eddie is a weekly column that examines the important people and events in the classic rock canon and how they continue to impact the world of popular music.
There are music documentarians and then there is D.A. Pennebaker. Outside of maybe Martin Scorsese, no one in the history of the medium has done as much to shape the way in which musicians are captured on tape. From his era-defining behind-the-scenes profiles to the many, many iconic onstage concert chronicles, Pennebaker’s lens has captured it all. In some respects, he’s become very nearly as influential as the many subjects he’s chosen to profile.
Since he’s filmed a number of the most celebrated and impactful artists of all-time for well over fifty years and more, Pennebaker has been privy to some of the most indelible moments in the history of music. Bob Dylan dressing down a Time Magazine reporter in his film Don’t Look Back in 1965, Jimi Hendrix lighting his guitar on fire at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967, John Lennon at the Peace Concert in Toronto in 1969, David Bowie bidding his adieu as Ziggy Stardust in 1973. It is to our great benefit that Pennebaker remained curious enough to follow these iconoclasts around. Many of our long-standing perceptions of who these artists are as people have been shaped by the fact that at one point they were in the same room with his camera.
I had the chance to talk to Pennebaker about his life, career, and some of the incredible people he’s managed to document along the way.
Your relationship with Bob Dylan began in 1965. What were your initial impressions of him and how did you find yourself in his orbit?
I had been asked if I wanted to make a tour film with him by his manager Albert Grossman so I went along with the assumption that Albert wanted some kind of musical film to help promote the various things that [Dylan] was doing. We flew together to London and I really didn’t have much of a chance to talk to him before that very much. I met him and we talked one morning down in the Village and that was it. When I spent time with him I kind of got interested in the way he talked about things. I sort of thought it’d be more interesting to make a film about him as a person rather than try and make a music film and so that’s what I started to do.