Monday, May 23, 2011

Happy 70th birthday Mr Dylan

I came across Bob Dylan as a teenager, perhaps 13 or 14 years old, in 1963. I was visiting my elder sister Chris and her friends who shared a student flat in Barrons Court. One of the girls Annie had a copy Freewheelin’, Dylan’s second album. I distinctly remember being struck by the cover, Dylan and a young women hurrying down a snow covered street. I later found out it was his girlfriend Suze Rotolo, she looked a little like my sister Chris. The photo spoke of a world away from my life on a council estate in Birmingham. The standout track for me then and now was “Girl from the North Country” it had a wistful romantic quality that fed my adolescent dreams and still does.

Other brushes with what became the Dylan phenomenon soon followed and I can remember seeing him sing “Gates of Eden” on Cliff Mitchelmore’s Tonight TV programme. what the hell was he singing about? I didn’t know much about poetry; I was reading a lot of boy’s literature, and what was passed to me as culture by my Catholic Grammar School, Julius Caesar etc. I had been taken to Paris by my eldest sister Kath, so I knew that the world didn’t end at the bottom of our garden, I had also imbibed a fair amount of catholic dogma and was grappling with sin and eternity as presented by intolerant Irish priests, I clearly had a great deal to learn and much to escape from.

I became interested in politics at about the same time, and have a memory of seeing the Aldermaston Ban the Bomb march in London. Students in duffel coats and college scarfs. My father, Jim, had served in the RAF during the war and it would have greatly pleased him if I was to follow in his footsteps, and I had duly joined the School Air cadet squadron. I shot a 303 rifle on the range and marched up and down the school playground, and gleaned the rudiments of internal combustion, (suck squeeze bang wheeze); my understanding of car mechanics has never progressed beyond that. I read a lot of war comics where “Jerries shouted Achtung before brave lantern jawed commandoes killed them with submachine guns. Seeds of rebellion however were being planted in my brain, mostly by Kath who was in her 20’s and smoked Senior Service and rode a mans bike in her Levi jeans. For Dylan the times were a changing and blowin in the wind. Whilst on TV the satire boom of TW3 fed my burgeoning anti establishment bias . I stopped going to Mass and got into fights at school by supporting nuclear disarmament.

By the time I was 18 and a spotty 6th former I had blossomed into a Trotskyite reading the Socialist Labour League’s Newsletter to a RE class and a bemused Father John (a liberal priest who supported liberation theology and subsequently left the priesthood). Dylan wasn’t approved of by the Trots, certainly not his druggy 1965/6 output, and his self imposed retreat to Woodstock took him off everybodies radar. Psychedelia was deemed to be for decadent petit bourgeois youth by the comrades and didn’t fit in with the coming revolutionary situation. I became workerish in my style and inclinations, preferring Jerry Lee Lewis to Sgt Pepper. I disdainfully dropped out of art college to became a Bus Driver and started paying my Union dues.

I had moved to Nottingham in 1969 and at a terminus cafĂ© break put Dylan on the Juke Box, “Lay Lady Lay” smoothed it's way out . Jesus Christ!!! he sounded like a spaced out Don Williams, what was going on? Country music was redneck, racist and right wing. However I was sufficiently curious enough to buy my first Dylan Album, “Greatest Hits”. I had become a HiFi freak and had blown a months savings (£100) on a Garrard deck Goodmans speakers and Armstrong amp and tuner, my brother piss taked that I was spending my life at the apex of a sound triangle in my search for true stereo, I blissfully had Dylan on my left and Happy Traum’s banjo on my right or was it the other way round? Moving back to Brum I was introduced by my first serious girlfriend; Flo, to Reggae music. Serious Dylan addiction was still sometime off.

By the mid 70's the much promised revolutionay situation was becoming less likely as Wilson morphed into Callaghan, comrades saw conspiracy everywhere, and I jumped off my yellow and blue bus and began to study Politics and American Studies at Swansea University . Somebody had done a paper on Dylan and American Politics, but I was consumed by the Cuban guerrilla foco, and the novels of John Updike, an unlikely combination I grant you, and into that heady mix I include Turgenev’s “Sketches from a Hunters Album” and Willa Cather’s “O Pioneer” as beacons which began to loosen my Trot workerish tendencies and inspire a softer poetic muse. I kept seeing copies of Dylan’s “Blood on the Tracks” around Swansea but I spent my money on the likes of Steely Dan and Chicago. One track from the Dylan diaspora that penetrated my consciousness was the Band’s “The Weight”.

By 1979 the revolution started, led by the Blessed Margaret, it wasn't what I expected at all. I married Flo in 1980 and with the birth of my daughter Ruth I began a confusing journey away from Politics and into Painting. Starting with timid watercolours my creativity started to expand and with that the need to feed it with something other than what I could see began. As I entered my 5th decade, my weariness with the bureaucracies I had worked in began to wear me down, depressions took hold and subversive thought of escape consumed me. Ruth had been joined by Reuben, surely they would enjoy my tastes in music? However my family would protest when I tried to share my growing Dylan CD collection with them. Listening to Dylan became a private passion, usually indulged in whilst driving. Tracks like Brownsville Girl and Highlands would be played over and over again, generating a trance like state, not good for road safety but blissful for my mental health. I began working on paintings inspired by Dylan lyrics.

All this culminated at an exhibition of my work in 2007, to which I invited Dylan,...... amazingly he didn’t show. I'm still addicted to his music, but I am getting help to cut down. He is the most Infuriating person, but you have to love him for his style. What I most respect is his understanding of the creative process and the need to move on constantly. However I am resolved never to see him in a stadium again, have I seen my last Dylan gig ? do I need to move on from Dylan?

1 comment:

  1. yes joe you need to move on and get a proper job lol