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Yesterday Is A Long Time – About Freewheelin’

On the 13th July 1985, the mother of all charity events was staged from both sides of the Atlantic. The event, known as ‘Live Aid’ was held in response to the news of a devastating famine that had occurred in Africa. A world wide television audience exceeding one billion watched various artists performing during the day and the grand finale was broadcast from the JFK Stadium, Philadelphia, where Bob Dylan, backed by the Rolling Stones Keith Richards and Ronnie Wood, sang three songs.

For a good number of his fans, Dylan’s appearance at ‘Live Aid’ was a low point in their appreciation of his talents. The performance appeared ram shackled, Dylan didn’t seem sincere and his set was dangerously out of sync with the purpose of the day. In the press Dylan was ridiculed and vilified for not taking the cause seriously. 

What the Dylan accusers missed however were the very words that he used. In  ‘When The Ship Comes In’, written 22 years previously, Dylan sang about an event ‘that the whole wide world is watchin’;  in Blowin’ In The Wind’ he posed the question: ‘Yes, ‘n’ how many deaths will it take ‘till he knows, that too many people have died?’ and in the third song, ‘Ballad Of Hollis Brown’ his lyrics provided a vivid image of a desperate starving family including the awesome lines: ‘Your baby’s eyes look crazy they’re a tuggin’ at your sleeve’.  

So in those three songs Dylan displayed his poetic/visual art form as his words perfectly illustrated the suffering behind the day. No other performer was able to give expression so succinctly to the essence of the cause. But to really appreciate what Dylan was about, the ram shackled performance was not to be taken at face value; there had to be a different way of thinking. Dylan lost a lot of fans on that day. 

It was soon after the ‘Live Aid’ incident that a small group of committed Dylan fans, who always it seemed had thought differently about Dylan’s art, commenced the ‘Freewheelin’ project. They formed themselves into a writing group for the purpose of freely exchanging ideas, opinions, news and information concerning all aspects of Dylan’s art and the first issue of a privately circulating journal called ‘Freewheelin’ was circulated among the group in September 1985. An issue of Freewheelin was thereafter circulated among the group on a monthly basis and the concept of this free exchange of material was developed.

Many of the articles and other items of work that first appeared in Freewheelin’ have been published in other Dylan fanzines and indeed the Dylan bibliography ‘20lbs of Headlines’ compiled by Freewheeler Mark Carter still appears in ISIS, the most widely read Dylan fanzine in print. Over the years articles by the Freewheelers have appeared in numerous other fanzines including ‘The Telegraph’; ‘Fourth Time Around’; ‘The Bridge’; ‘On The Tracks’; ‘Look Back’; ‘Dignity’; ‘Homer The Slut’;  ‘Endless Road’; ‘Bob Forum’; ‘Ramblin’ On’; and ‘Judas’. 

It was by natural progression that the Freewheelers decided, in 1996, to release Freewheelin’ as a public magazine. Thus, in September 1996 issues 129, 130 and 131 of the Freewheelin' Journal were published, unedited, in Volume 1 of the public Freewheelin’.  The introduction to that Volume 1 included the following statement: ‘As individuals with differing personalities and points of view, of course we disagree, sometimes it seems that we are never going to see eye to eye; but there is an underlying vision that enjoins us: we are all dazzled by the firework wonders surrounding Bob Dylan and our common view of that amazing aura ensures our continued sparkle of unity’. It was, if you like, a warning to the potential readership that the magazine would be different to anything else they had picked up on Dylan but, despite that difference, the contents of the magazine contained the work of committed Dylan fans. 

The public Freewheelin’ prospered and when we got to Volume 21 we knew that we had found the key. The magazine looked great, the contents were excellent, the subscription base was steadily climbing and it had a lot going for it. Volume 21 sold out and has become a very rare item. Then, following the publication of Volume 22 when the magazine was really in its prime, certain circumstances arose where the free thinking originality and the very unity of the Freewheelin’ group was threatened. Because of those circumstances the public magazine just ceased to exist and Volume 22 was the last issue. 

Although seriously disappointed such an unfortunate turn of events, the Freewheelers were heartened by the notion that the public Freewheelin’ had followed in the footsteps of other great legends who had been cut down when they were in their twenties and in their prime. Buddy Holly, for instance, also died at age 22. James Dean was 24 when he left behind his beautiful corpse; Brian Jones was 26 and Jimi Hendrix made it to 28. Lord Byron was a little older but he didn’t do rock ‘n’ roll so that excuses him! 

The legends of those great artists prevailed into the 21st century and so it was that the legend of the public Freewheelin’ lived on in cyber space for in 2002 Freewheelin’ was launched as the first Bob Dylan magazine on the internet. The project was named ‘freewheelin-on-line’ and on the 24th May 2002 issue number 199 of the Freewheelin journal was placed into an internet bookshop for viewing and downloading on subscription. That first on-line issue was subtitled ‘freewheelin-on-line Take One’ and thereafter new issues of the Freewheelin Journal were placed in the internet bookshop of the Freewheelin website on a monthly basis.

We must have been doing something right because the sum of the subscriptions taken in our first year from the internet bookshop enabled us to realize a dream: to make Freewheelin freely available to any one interested in the art of Bob Dylan. We thus found a new home on the internet which we called Freewheelin House and we moved in with our ideas, opinions and our keyboards. In all we provided 38 issues of the on-line magazine and by January 2006 there had been some 236 issues of the Freewheelin Journal. And with an average count of 50 pages per Freewheelin Journal, the Freewheelers have committed over 11,500 pages to the pursuit of the artist and his work. In no other place have so many words been written about Bob Dylan and they probably never will be, collectively, again.

Freewheelin number 236 (Take 38 of freewheelin-on-line) was a bumper issue of over 100 pages which marked the end of the road for the Freewheelin Journal. But in that very busy act of dying another project was busy being born and a new door was opened in Freewheelin House: the door to Room 237. This room is a veritable Tardis with limitless dimensions and boundless scope. The room is open to anyone who has anything at all to say about the art of Bob Dylan and, as time goes by, you will find in Room 237 not only the continuing ideas, opinions, news and information provided by the Freewheelers but also contributions by anyone else who would like to leave some thoughts here at Freewheelin House. Indeed if you are reading this and want to submit an article for Room 237 then please do not hesitate to email the Janitor at jr.stokes@ntlworld.com with your contribution.

That is then, where the Freewheelin’ project is today. Making full use of 21st century technology the Freewheelin' journal evolved into a vibrant and entertaining on-line magazine whose scope was widened by the opening, in January 2006, of Room 237 at Freewheelin House. The format and delivery to the public may be different but the Freewheelers have never been afraid to express themselves in a different way to mainstream projects. The friends who maintained the Freewheelin’ writing group remain committed to the art of Bob Dylan and they say what they say without editorship or control. They thrive on originality of thought and that wonderful superpower of humanity: imagination. As the Freewheelin’ story continues we are grateful to you for sharing the journey with us.

 


 

Fixtures, Forces and Friends – Freewheelers past and present

Time passes. Things change. Some people move on and some remain. Over the 20 years of the Freewheelin Journal (1985 – 2005), there have been various changes of personnel amongst the Freewheelers. The following is a list of the Freewheelers showing the timing and the duration of each member’s tenancy:

Chris Cooper 1985 – 2005
John Stokes 1985 – 2005
Terry Kendrick 1985 – 1992
Mel Gamble 1985 – 1998
John Welburn 1985 – 2001
Neil Watson 1985 – 2003
Brian Hey 1985 – 1986
Glynn Worwood 1985 1987
Roger Wass 1985 – 1987
Dave Dingle (HM) 1985 1991
Keith Marsh 1986 – 1988
Chris Hockenhull 1986 2004
Patrick Webster 1987 – 2005
Derek Barker 1987 1989
Mark Carter 1988 – 2005
Ian Woodward 1988 1991
Richard Lewis 1989 – 2005
John Green 1989 – 1999
Jeff Stevens 1991 – 2001
The Two Riders 1991 – 2005
Andrew Muir 1998 – 2002
Keith Wootton (HM) 1999 – 2002
Robert Forryan 2000 – 2003
Paula Radice 2001 – 2005
C.P. Lee 2001 – 2005
Jim Gillan 2002 – 2005
David Brazier 2002 2002
Russell Blatcher 2002 2003
Martin Stein 2003 – 2005
Michael Crimmins 2003 – 2005
John Nye (HM) 2003 – 2005
Bob Fletcher 2004 – 2005
Trevor Gibb 2004 2005
Al Masciocchi (HM) 2005


HM = Honorary member.


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