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WHAT WAS IT YOU WANTED?

by Jim Gillan

 

‘…last thing that I want to do, is to say I’ve been hittin’ some hard travelin’ too.’ Especially as I only got to six of the UK shows, the worst moment being trying to find a parking spot in Bournemouth.

On to the music. Keltner magnificent throughout. Sexton on fire. Campbell, making it all seem so easy. Tony with a nice touch on the acoustic bass. And Bob, making it all happen. But despite some nice moments, overall I rate the tour as ‘good’, rather than ‘great’. Nice to see Oscar, though I’m not sure why Bob bothered to bring it. Or the bust of Little Richard (?). I guess I can’t be satisfied, even by the two hour plus shows. What I wanted was a set comprising ‘Mississippi’ and ‘High Water’ and ‘Abandoned Love’ and ‘Never Let Me Go’ and ‘Idiot Wind’ and ‘Shelter’ and ‘Black Diamond Bay’ and ‘Arthur McBride’ and an a cappella ‘Ninety Miles’ and ‘Days of 49’ and ‘Entella Hotel’ (a Peter Case song, which maybe Bob doesn’t even know) and ‘Pressing On’ and ‘Billy’ and ‘Series of Dreams’ and ‘Sunny Goodge Street and ‘Chimes’ and ‘James Alley Blues’ and ‘Bye and Bye’ and ‘The Internationale’. Then one the following day that included ‘In My Time of Dying’, ‘Up To Me’, ‘Dark Eyes’, ‘Eternal Circle’, ‘I Knew the Bride’, ‘Death is Not the End’, John Wesley Harding’ ... OK, enough said. Too much probably, but so it goes.

Now here’s a thing. The response to ‘Saved’. Much whooping and applauding from across the audience spectrum, which might therefore include agnostics, atheists, devil worshippers, pagans and New Labour supporters. Was it genuine appreciation or simply conformity to a norm. Most people subconsciously prefer to follow, rather than lead. Funny how it’s all so different from much of the crowd reactions to the song in 1979-81. Times have changed. Times maybe… Why don’t ya kill him Billy?

Brighton. Two black women, late teens, if that. ‘Hey! What’s goin’ on? You all queuing for a BOB DYLAN concert????!!!!!.’ ‘Yup’. ‘O man!!!!’ Bournemouth. ‘I haven’t seen him since Blackbush.’ ‘Didn’t Clapton play there?’ Newcastle. Poor crowd. Why? Manchester. ‘Blind Willie McTell.’ London 5/11. ‘I hate arenas’. My wife ‘me too.’ London 5/12. Me: ‘Where’s this ticket for?’ Crowd Safety person: ‘Front row, in the centre, mate.’ Row 1, Seat 47.

So then. To all who got to one, some, all the shows, I hope it / they delivered for you. To all those who have a decent copy of any of ‘em on CD, mine are mostly only OK but decidedly not brilliant. Offers of upgrades very welcome. To all those who were unable to get to the gig and have yet to hear the CDs, I hope that when you do it’s all, or at least mostly, what you wished for. And to those who for whatever reason remain unimpressed, no problem. Maybe next time.

It’s been a struggle to write this time. Now that Freewheelin’ has gone on line I’m acutely aware of writing for an audience I know next to nothing about, beyond the simple fact that Dylan, the music, the man must count for something with you. But does anything that I pen add to that? Or just get in the way? Ultimately of course I am writing to please myself, but am not so self-absorbed to be unaware that there is an audience who have needs/wants, opinions and the ability to make choices. It’s only fair that you get something back for something you give, so what could or should that be? Damn, it’s an unsettling feeling, one that I don’t much like, but as I have no intention of slipping in to ‘just give them what they want’ mode, I guess I’ll have to remain unbalanced. Nothing new there, then. Anyway, I’m on jimros.gillan@ntlworld.com and will reply.

Saturday 25 May 02. The Grove, Leeds. Small pub, big range of ale. Bullfrog Jones lashing in to a great set. Originally intended as a fundraiser for Cesar Diaz, it was instead a celebration and a way of remembering the time he stood in with Bullfrog at the convention last year. Only 12 months ago. There may not be a Heaven, but no one who is remembered is entirely gone from us. Thanks Cesar.

Now for something a little different. Some while back there was a little booklet published called ‘An Owl in a Sack Troubles No Man’, subtitled ‘Ten Years of Weekend Competitions from the New Statesman 1979-1988. As the name suggests it was a sort of ‘best of’, though with entries that included '’Pooh’s Sticky Fingers’ & ‘Sinned in the Willows’ (for the ‘Extracts from a sexy animal best seller’ category) and ‘Frankie Howard writes for Norman St John Stevas’ (‘Politicians Speeches Ghosted by Comedians’), it was to say the least eclectic and iconoclastic. Consider then Oscar Wilde’s version of the ‘Wind in the Willows’….

Magistrate : You admit taking the vehicle without the owner’s consent?
Toad : It was it’s colour, sir. A perfect foil for my silk cravat.
Magistrate : A fig for your cravat sir!
Toad : Done sir! I adore figs; so deliciously decadent.
Magistrate : The constable who was responsible for your apprehension…
Toad : He was responsible for my arrest. You are responsible for my apprehension.
Magistrate : …says that you accused him of diabolical behaviour.
Toad : The word was allegorical. I had a vision of Intelligence overcome by Diligence.
Magistrate : After which you made a further insulting remark.
Toad : An aphorism, reflecting on the brainless in pursuit of the shameless.
Magistrate : Enough! I am going to make an example of you.
Toad : It is the curious fate of the hardened criminal to lead an exemplary life.
Magistrate : I shall pronounce a long sentence. Twenty years.
Toad : ‘Twenty Years’ is neither long nor a sentence. It is merely a term.

Well, I wish it was me, rather than Noel Petty who wrote that as his entry for the ‘Dramatisations by well-known playwrights of anthropomorphic classics’ contest. But what has it got to do with Dylan????? Well me hearties, nothing and everything. Judged as a piece of writing, Noel’s might be considered amusing in its own right. Beyond that, it is (I contend) a brilliant pastiche of both Wilde and the ‘Wind in the Willows’, though it perhaps helps to be at least faintly familiar with both to fully enjoy that dimension. Also, there are some lovely plays on words, a couple of memorable quotes and a killer finish. All of which can be said of Bob’s work.

Would it have been funnier, or of greater value had Wilde written it? Or Dylan? Probably not, though some might call it otherwise. And is it parody rather than pastiche? If so, does this lessen it? Ah ha! It depends on whether ‘parody’ is taken to mean ‘a humourous exaggerated imitation of an author’ or ‘a travesty’. The Concise Oxford Dictionary regards both as proper usage. Confusing, or what?

Now then, Dylan is an artist who draws from all sorts of everywhere. Maybe sometimes quite deliberately, maybe at others sub-consciously. Possibly from one source, probably from many. What he finds there, what he takes in, how he processes it and so on comes out expressed as a poem, a song, a painting, a performance. And it is also affected by mood, mind set and the moment. So it is that something perhaps already ambiguous, will be changed, clouded or revealed by emphasis, phrasing, context. It’s not unique to Bob. We all do it, though in most cases, not nearly so well, not nearly so often and never against the relentless backdrop of commentary and analysis that Dylan attracts. Which means of course that - Damn, I seem to have lost the thread of my argument. It’s a REAL good one too. So if anyone out there can take some time off from analysing and explaining Bob, maybe you can help me out. You know my email Watson! As ever, at this point it’s time for some more music.

 
 
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