Many A Year Has Passed And Gone

Many A Year Has Passed And Gone


 Greyhound in Pittsburgh

 by Brian Turner

I'll call him James here because he wouldn't like you to know who he really is; one of those private sort of blokes who seem to be somewhere else when you're talking to them. His appearance has hardly changed over the years, curly hair 'round a boy's face and wearing boots to make himself look taller. 

He was seventeen in nineteen eighty one and in the middle of one of those father son wars with a friend of mine who did not understand how his boy could be intelligent and yet leave school with nothing to speak of in the way of qualification. I tried to defend him once or twice and I think he was grateful for that. We became pals, largely I suppose because I've never made it past seventeen, also left school with nothing much and fought with my father. We were kindred spirits in a world not made for the impractical. 

James would retreat from his front line to my front room once a week or so where we talked about everything except his relationship with his father. I think that I once tried to offer him advice on his predicament, foolishly, but his mind drifted away while he nodded politely. The music of course united us most. He was just getting into it at a time when you needed help to find anything worth listening to - spoken or sung. Margaret was about to recreate the world in her own image; selfish, vicious and with “assassins’ eyes”, while we all learned Newspeak and that there was no other way. James looked for something more. He would leaf through the worn covers of my LPs like a child at Christmas, devouring titles such as “After The Gold Rush” and “Bringing It All Back Home” with relish. He stole them from me and I had to bully him to have them returned. Didn’t somebody else do that? 

During one of these conversations, conducted in lowered tones and with the record player barely audible to prevent my two year old son from being disturbed, the decision was made to organise a trip to his first concert. If seventeen seems a bit late to be doing this then you have to remember that twenty five years ago Cambridgeshire was still a relative backwater and opportunities for a teenage boy living on the edge of the Fens and miles from anywhere were practically non existent. Of course there was only one person that he really wanted to see. 

I picked him up from the isolated farmhouse that he lived in and we caught the London train from Huntingdon. It was the 30th of June nineteen eighty one. I don’t think that he’d been to the city before and I could see him taking it all in, especially at Earls Court underground where we arrived a little late to the buzz of the faithful pouring out of carriages in printed t-shirts, frock coats, top hats precariously balanced on flowing locks with one hand as they legged it to the exit, not wanting to miss a precious moment. Their women folk, trying to keep up, were in disarray; beaded necklaces rotated like hula hoops and holdalls swung dangerously. But there was no need to hurry, it was an all seater and the great man was an hour late anyway. He always did that to you in those days. Now he can’t get on and off quickly enough. 

For some reason that I can’t remember, we were seated apart, I eight rows from the front, he further back. The guy sitting next to me became a life long buddy after two minutes, or at least that was the way it seemed at the time. He lent me his binoculars, although I didn’t need them, and we hugged each other when he left early to catch a train. 

It wasn’t a great concert, Dylan was going through his religious phase and singing reggae style. It was bad enough to hear how great God was without being lectured through the lips of a Bob Marley impersonator. I jest of course, there were some good moments and I left with few regrets. He hoped at the end that everyone had heard something that they wanted to, in a conciliatory tone. That was a surprise. 

Afterwards I waited in the foyer and watched the crowd disperse. The top hats were now tucked under arms like best men leaving a wedding and whole families walked by, parents with children as young as ten or twelve. I had never seen that before at a rock concert. I felt my age. At thirty five. I didn’t have to ask James if he had enjoyed the show, he appeared suddenly and his huge grin told me that it had been the greatest experience of his life.

I couldn’t shut him up on the train home, he talked like a machine gun, reliving every moment over and over, it was infectious; his joy was infectious. I eventually thrust the programme at him and he retreated into the print while I stared at my feet. I might have half dozed, I’m not sure, trains do make me sleepy, but I was more than dreaming that I was on a Greyhound in Pittsburgh and Paul Simon was singing “America”. 

James lives in London now and is in computers or something. He hates it - well he would. Living is what happens between sleep and work; someone said that. We meet sometimes for a drink and he opens bar doors for me as though I am some respected elder in his dotage to be nurtured; then we start talking about music and all that is forgotten. 

I don’t know why I’ve told this story or if anyone will be interested. It just stuck in my mind so I wrote it down; a flashback on a train provoked by the excitement of a seventeen year old who had just discovered Bob Dylan and at the beginning of a dark decade.

Signs on the windows 

To see the track listing for Dylan’s concert at Earls Court on the 30th June 1981 look here.

To find out more about what Dylan was doing in 1981 visit one of the most fantastic Dylan sites on the internet here.