Bob Dylan and Brigitte Bardot were outriders, rule breakers, iconoclasts who became icons of the sixties revolution.
When Dylan in 1965 played Like a Rolling Stone at the Newport Folk Festival, this electric tidal wave was a manifesto, his resolve to take folk, country and jazz out of their boxes and meld them into the radical new future that was rock and roll.
When Bardot in 1956 stripped from her clothes to sunbathe in And God Created Woman, she wasn’t coerced by her director husband Roger Vadim. She deployed her body as a weapon of war against the bourgeois grey world that was keeping her and every woman constrained in a paternalistic vision of rules and restrictions.
Bardot naked wasn’t playing a movie character, she was playing herself, free, wild, unfettered by conventional morality. BB in this single act showed a new generation that they were free to make their own decisions, that we could do and be whatever we wanted.
Dylan brought to song writing a freshly-picked bouquet of ideas – he could be political as in William Zanzinger Killed Poor Hattie Carrol, abstract and mysterious in the words of All Along the Watchtower, playful as in Bob Dylan’s 115th Dream – the discovery America, sensual as in Lay Lady Lay, poetic and terrifying in the elegiac warning of Hard Rain.
Bob Dylan and Brigitte Bardot inspired a generation and inspired each other. On his breakthrough 1963 album The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, he cites Bardot in I Shall Be Free with the verse:
Well, my telephone rang it would not stop
It’s President Kennedy callin’ me up
He said, ‘My friend, Bob, what do we need to make the country grow?’
I said, ‘My friend, John, Brigitte Bardot.’
It sounds like a throwaway line, a useful rhyme. It’s not. Good writing never is. And it’s not the first time BB was on Bobby’s mind.
And God Created Woman appeared on American movie screens when Bob was 15. He wrote for the piano the unrecorded Song for Brigitte, a teen paean to love and desire that was only revealed when Dylan mentioned the song in a 1966 Playboy interview. He said he intended to play it one day for Brigitte when they met.
That never happened, but Dylan found his own Bardot. His first girlfriend was Echo Helstrom Casey, the girl he took to the Hibbing High School junior prom in 1957 and whom is widely viewed as the inspiration for his 1963 Girl From the North Country. In her yearbook, Dylan wrote: Let me tell you that your beauty is second to none. Love to the most beautiful girl in school. In Dylan’s 2004 memoir, Chronicles Vol. 1, he refers to Echo as ‘his Becky Thatcher,’ the small-town sweetheart in Mark Twain’s Tom Sawyer and writes that ‘Everybody said she looked like Brigitte Bardot, and she did.’
Bob Dylan and Brigitte Bardot – Renegades
BB and Bob were originals. They weren’t born of their times. They shaped them.
Bardot was Helen of Troy, the face that fired off a thousand paparazzi flash bulbs, the apotheosis of female sexuality, overt, liberated, the greatest sex symbol of all time. After her strict and abusive childhood, she had married Vadim at 18 and left him at 22 after an affair with her co-star in And God Created Woman, Jean-Louis Trintignant – the first of many.
BB wrote: ‘I gave a new image of the way you should be in life in the movies: New, blonde, free, not stuffy, not hung up, not like a little lady’s maid, no little corset, no little collar… but stark naked.’
Bardot had taken a risk to flee her family and launch a career in the movies. Dylan had a happy childhood, a nice family, and risked it all to hitchhike to New York one cold winter with a plan like a giant jigsaw puzzle he was slowly putting together and completed but for one missing piece – that meeting with Brigitte Bardot.
See more of Eduardo Skinner’s work at Encounters Art Space