July 30, 2012

The author of "Imagine" imagined some Bob Dylan quotes.

"The quotes in question either did not exist, were unintentional misquotations, or represented improper combinations of previously existing quotes. But I told Mr. Moynihan that they were from archival interview footage provided to me by Dylan’s representatives. This was a lie spoken in a moment of panic. When Mr. Moynihan followed up, I continued to lie, and say things I should not have said."

And now he has to resign from The New Yorker.

Here's the book, on Amazon, where it seems as though you're not allowed to buy it right now.

What sorts of Dylan quotes did Jonah Lehrer concoct? "It’s a hard thing to describe.... It’s just this sense that you got something to say." Why would you make up something like that? Arguably, he didn't. And that's what he says. He did some heavy editing on the Dylan chapter and somehow in the process lost track of the sources.
In [a] quote mined from Dont Look Back, in which Dylan is asked by a pestering Time magazine journalist about the inspiration for his songs, Lehrer quotes Dylan as saying: “I just write them. There’s no great message. Stop asking me to explain.” The last sentence sharpens and simplifies Lehrer’s point—that Dylan’s brilliance isn’t easily explicable. But it doesn’t appear in Dont Look Back.
Maybe Lehrer is just a horrible transcriber.

Ah, well, that last link linked me to Isaac Chotiner's review of the book. The review is very negative (and not because of the quote problem). I loved this part:
Imagine is really a pop-science book, which these days usually means that it is an exercise in laboratory-approved self-help. Like Malcolm Gladwell and David Brooks, Lehrer writes self-help for people who would be embarrassed to be seen reading it. For this reason, their chestnuts must be roasted in “studies” and given a scientific gloss. The surrender to brain science is particularly zeitgeisty. Their sponging off science is what gives these writers the authority that their readers impute to them, and makes their simplicities seem very weighty. Of course, Gladwell and Brooks and Lehrer rarely challenge the findings that they report, not least because they lack the expertise to make such a challenge.
I've never given much thought to Jonah Lehrer. (We've talked about him on this blog here and here.) But Gladwell and Brooks are a big deal. And Chotiner's pithy criticism in that paragraph is much more important than Lehrer inventing (or botching) some Dylan quotes and then desperately dissembling. It's important not just because Gladwell and Brooks are big. It's important because it says something about us, the readers, our needs and frailties.

22 comments:

rcocean said...

Fired for misquoting a 70 year old rock star that no one under 50 cares about.

Is that pathetic or what?

More evidence of the boomer death grip on our culture.

Tom Spaulding said...

Grandpa died last week
And now he’s buried in the rocks
But everybody still talks about
How badly they were shocked

But me, I expected it to happen
I knew he’d lost control
When he built a fire on Main Street
And shot it full of holes

istillgotmyguitar said...

I think bob Dylan should be considered one of the best lyricists ever regardless of the genre. His music is timeless and even the way he presents his lyrics is unique. Great post keep up the hard work. Check these out IStillGotMyGuitar.

ricpic said...

Kate Hepburn would've taken all three of these arrivistes to the woodshed without missing a tremor.

cassandra lite said...

Lehrer got something weirdly wrong in the first chapter. He refers to the line in Like a Rolling Stone that contains "juiced in it" and infers something that suggests he'd never heard the word used to describe drinking.

Aside from that, I've enjoyed it so far b/c it's got several brain teasers, and the science reporting seems to confirm for me how I do what I do daily without knowing why I'm doing it--having learned certain tricks over the years to activate the creative process without waiting for the Muse to alight.

Alex said...

Still doesn't compare to the sheer epicness of Stephen Glass.

William said...

I think there should be comparative studies of Beatles, Dylan, and Rolling Stones fans. Which fans have suffered the greatest hearing loss, has the largest incidence of senile dementia and greatest problems with urinary icontinence. There's so much we don't know about prolonged exposure to these great artists.

phx said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
cassandra lite said...

Now everyone's mad because Lehrer made up quotes. Last week everyone was pissed because Romney quoted Obama accurately. Strange days.

Joe said...

If Lehrer made up quotes, what else did he make up? My guess is a whole lot.

"This was a lie spoken in a moment of panic"

Lehrer strikes me as as congenital liar and that his explanation is, itself, a lie. We've seen this all before.

David said...

So he's lazy and unimaginative. And a damn fool to boot. Yet he had a plum job at the New Yorker. What does that tell you about the New Yorker?

resoosti

David said...

William that was funny.

IggyRules said...

Imagine: Absolutely worst song ever.

Crimso said...

Chin up, Jonah. You can always write for TNR.

glenn said...

Dude should get on at NBCBABCNNMSNBC. They make stuff up all the time. Dig Richard Jewell up and ask him.

Rob said...

Just last week Dylan said, "Hnnh unn hehh uhh wnnh." The man's a freaking genius.

rhhardin said...

Dylan probably made up most of his quotes too.

gerry said...

Jayson Blair and Steven Glass and Jonah Lehrer - good heavens, can't these people think beyond the tips of their longest body parts?

gerry said...

Just last week Dylan said, "Hnnh unn hehh uhh wnnh."

But Rob, he probably got money for saying it. It may make no sense, but he still gets paid.

And another thing: when my generation was listening to Dylan's stuff, they were high on something most of the time, and that's why they think it is so great...and one musn't disturb happy memories, eh?

Dan in Philly said...

I really enjoyed Lehrer's "How we decide" for the same reason I enjoyed "Freakonomics," it seemed interesting if true, and interesting anyway. Just as I was disappointed in "Superfreakonomics" I was disspointed in "Imagine" - the magic was gone, and Lehrer reminded me of nothing so much as Gladwell in "Imagine," stringing together unrelated annecdotes under a loose topic of "Hey, these guys did creative things, so, uh... Science!"

Really jaded me on the "Decide" book, alas.

Peter said...

The liar said, "The lies are over now."

As for the New Yorker, it ceased being imaginative a long, long time ago. Perhaps around the time they serialized Paul Brodeur's stunningly ignorant "Currents of Death" nonsense? Or was it earlier?

Zach said...

The review mentions in passing an assertion by Lehrer that Auden's September 1, 1939 reads like it was jotted on a cocktail napkin.

I looked it up, and was amused to find references to Thucydides and "what mad Nijinski wrote about Diaghilev."

Why don't I get invited to those parties?