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 L I K E  J U D A S  K I S S I N G  F L O W E R S 

by Robert Forryan
 

Thoughts prompted by 985 words on ‘Boots Of Spanish Leather’

 

You’re just too marvellous, too marvellous for words,
Like glorious and glamorous and that old standby, amorous.
You’re much too much and just too very, very
To ever be in Webster’s Dictionary

These days it seems that almost everything I hear, see or read is refracted to me through the prism of memory. I mean: I can’t help looking back. It must be some irrefutable function of the ageing process – a tendency towards nostalgia that is most apparent in my case with regard to Dylan’s 2nd, 3rd and 4th LPs. These are the records I listened to most in approximately 12 months stretching from the spring of 1964 to the spring of 1965. They were, and they remain, the three albums that affected me most profoundly (which is not the same as saying they are my favourite albums, though one may be). I think it was because I was young and without responsibilities that I was able to spend more time listening to these than any other records in my life. For that one year in the pre-electric dawn of Dylan listening, it seemed as if Dylan’s words were all that I heard. I am conscious now that most of my friends were busy buying Beatles and Rolling Stones’ records but, as I implied last month, I was never that cool. Actually, the very fact that I might think their actions cool seems to define me in an ongoing unhipness.

But before Dylan there had been other musical affections. I have written previously about The Everly Brothers. Around the same time, when I was still at school, I remember saving my weekly pocket money until I had the requisite thirty pieces of silver (thirty-two shillings and sixpence, to be precise) which were necessary for me to obtain the Frank Sinatra LP called ‘Songs For Swinging Lovers’. I still have that LP somewhere in the attic. The words that head this article, as you may know, come from that very LP. I was reminded of that record and those times by Patrick’s words on ‘Boots Of Spanish Leather’ – more specifically by his use of the word ‘heterodiegetic’, which I had never come across before. Trust a Webster to send me scurrying to the dictionary. But having scurried I was unable to find the word, either in my large dictionary or my Readers Encyclopaedia. Are you sure this isn’t a wind­up, Patrick?

As I was saying, “Boots Of Spanish Leather” is inextricably linked to my memories of 1964. At this distance certain aspects seem to linger, suspended in the air, so to speak. One is that I seem to remember that the guitar intro was louder, more to the fore, on my old mono LP. Another is that I am sure that when I first heard this song I thought that it could have been a traditional folk song – it seemed to inhabit a familiar, much-travelled landscape. It was as if I knew the song before I had ever heard it. That first line: “I am sailing away, my own true love” is so archaic that you almost can’t help visualising ancient sailing ships and maids with ringlets. Even in 1964 I would have been embarrassed to address a girl friend as ‘my own true love’. If I had it would have been a deliberately mannered and ironic delivery so that she was sure I didn’t mean it.

I have much enjoyed the first two articles, so I hope Patrick won’t mind a couple of comments. He says: “Dylan’s love songs are mostly what might be called ‘anti-love songs’”. He goes on to reflect that they “are concerned with how to escape the domain of woman”. I think that this is probably true of a number of Dylan’s love songs but whether it is ‘mostly’ the case I am not so sure. Traditionally, love songs are more often songs of love lost or unrequited. There are many examples in the Dylan songbook: ‘I Threw It All Away’, ‘She’s Your Lover Now’, ‘You’re A Big Girl Now’, ‘I Don’t Believe You’ and ‘You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go’ are among them. And there is ‘If You See Her Say Hello’ which, with the line “she left here last early spring” oddly echoes ‘Boots Of Spanish Leather’. Again the narrator – heterodiegetic or otherwise – has been rejected.

There are other songs such as ‘The Man In Me’ and ‘On A Night Like This’ which seem to be simple affirmations of love. I don’t want to quibble with Patrick’s thesis, I simply want to demonstrate that there is a wide range of love songs out there, before FOL creates its own urban myth.

I do agree that “the most significant genre of Dylan’s work is the love song”. In discussing ‘Another Side of Bob Dylan’ in his great book, Michael Gray wrote: “the love songs Dylan offered on this album were more true and more real – and ultimately more radical – than protest songs” – something that can be said of many of Dylan’s love songs.

But I’m troubled and I don’t quite know why by Patrick’s assertion that “women are the cause of masculine wandering”, though it would go some way to explaining Dylan’s occasionally observable misogyny. I will be interested to see what direction this argument takes, I hope. I wonder if it is women that are the cause or simply that they offer a mirror to the male gaze which reflects man’s guilt, inconstancy and feelings of inferiority – and that man would rather walk down the road than face that mirror? I only ask the question.

* * * * * * * *

Last month a couple of Freewheelers were speculating on the effect upon the way we write (or the contents of our writing) which may have been brought about by the change from a magazine to a web-site. At the risk of sounding utterly self-absorbed, I have to admit that I have been changed by the change. Not because I no longer know who those readers are – I never did know (how could I?) – but because a web-site is so intangible it doesn’t seem real to me. It is probably rendered more insubstantial for me by the fact that I have no access to the internet, so it doesn’t exist at all in my mind. In consequence it certainly doesn’t hold the same appeal as having my writing reproduced in a nice glossy magazine which I could file on my Dylan shelves. The result is that I effectively find myself in the situation older Freewheelers began from: I think of it in terms of just writing to the other 12 of you and responding to your articles. I no longer have the same urge to come up with something worth keeping. I’m sorry if that sounds awful. I am happy to keep doing this stuff though.

Like Van said: “I’m not a nice guy, I never said I was”.

 
 
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