by Jim Gillan


How do! Hope and trust that all out there have had nothing but good times since last you peeked at the assorted jumble (or in my case, mumble) that make up Freewheelin’. Why do I say mumble? Well at one level I like the slightly (so slight as to be anorexic) poetic play on words and the hint of self-deprecation implicit in it. But it’s also a nod to the fact that all us Freewheelin’ folks (or should that be spokes?) are very different. This makes for variety, but not for house style. And it doesn’t do much for anyone who likes things to be instantly recognisable for what they are.

But is anything? O sure, at one level it’s convenient, even necessary to reduce everything around us to a lowest common denominator level. Human interaction is enormously facilitated by this, which on the whole is a good thing, or even a GOOD THING for those who rely on 1066 And All That as a lifestyle guide. Consider the confusion that would arise if everything we said or wrote or did required a detailed explanation. On the whole assumptions allow things to flow. And if there are occasional misunderstandings, well they usually are easily resolved.

Thoughts, dreams, beliefs are a bit different. They can need more time, more consideration, if only because all of us have a unique sense of what we experience and consequently have going on inside us. Sadly we too often take ourselves and our prejudices, beliefs, attitudes for granted. Which is why there are few, if any, who can really be certain that they fully understand why they think what they think. This is reassuring for therapists and analysts, as it guarantees a steady stream of business. But there is a downside. Of which more below.

Looking like he was failing badly in his attempt to parody a Soggy Bottom Boy, Bob gets out in front of the crowd at Newport and lets rip. Haven’t heard the set, but have seen the list and the photos in Isis and some of those on the web. Could be that there is a clear and distinctive message in the songs, their order, his reading of ‘em on the day, his appearance, demeanour, dress and so on. On the other hand, maybe the message lies elsewhere, or if one even exists, may have no real significance. It’s unlikely that Bob will explain, either partially or in full, always assuming he knows himself, or can remember.

But that’s OK, he doesn’t need to. Anyway there are plenty of Dylan watchers who will speculate, deliberate, cogitate, meditate and predicate. Then will allocate an explanation. Which might cause some to abrogate responsibility for thinking for themselves, others to gyrate (i.e. find themselves going round in circles, confused by all the interpretations) punctuate (to change emphasis and therefore meaning), negate (as in ‘it’s all wrong’) and even elevate (Bob is King). And you are all invited to berate me for being silly.

It’s just that there seems to be more interest in the bearded Bob than in the music. Which as ever speaks for itself and is uniquely heard by us as individuals. Which makes it a bit sad that we go around seeking common ground, as though a consensus about the ‘top twenty’ songs of the last millennium means anything. Except to the commercial interests that benefit from creating a want. Which ain’t the same as addressing a need.

Ah! the folly of the human condition. We are prepared to devote endless hours in pursuit of the ultimately trivial, are desperate to find common ground around who should be voted out of the ‘Big Brother’ house, are willing to go the extra yard to cheer for the team of our choice, but can’t seem to find a way of dealing with the obscenities highlighted by events such as the Earth Summit, the Bhopal disaster, corporate greed and virtually anything ending in –ism. I’m not trying to think for you, or speak on your behalf. I’m not even sure that I can adequately do it for myself. Damn! I’ve just looked again at the 02/08/02 set list. It’s true! I am going nowhere. And as I can’t bring good news…

Well that would have been a good place to stop, but I’m impelled to scribble some more, especially as I know that you are not compelled to read it. Does that mean that I’ve dispelled the notion that a writer needs a readership? Or are you repelled by that idea? Or am I merely being more silly than usual?

Well at one level I am, but at another I’m offering the argument that if it is next to impossible to get your head around anything I might pen and mean (and anyway, why should you bother), consider that it is much harder to make sense of Bob. His writing is far more subtle, playful, intriguing, perplexing, stimulating, evocative and downright pleasurable than anything I scribble. Or, with no disrespect to the other contributors, to anything else found in Freewheelin’. Or Judas! Make that especially Judas!

Yes I know (1). Trying to make sense of Bob mostly adds to the listening pleasure. Not always though. There are any number of vanity publications which only demonstrate that trees are a much-abused resource. Nor can you always rely on Dylan himself. Some of his stage comments, for example those at 1979/80 concerts jarred badly with me and got in the way of the music. Which is a far bigger sin than any self-appointed moralist/evangelist can invent.

But for many, commentary and criticism can sometimes illuminate. Though I tend to feel that insight is incompatible with a spotlight held and directed by another. Yes I know (2). That view is full of contradictions since it seems to negate the massive contributions made by those who by song and/or story and/or action have highlighted injustice, challenged oppression and shown that there is a better way, one that we can all benefit from and which minimises the abuse heaped on the world we live on.

However it’s again an example of the folly (and frailty) of the human condition. Dylan is blessed/cursed by an extraordinary talent. I respect his right to express that talent as he chooses to and can appreciate why he does not want to align himself with any movement, but it doesn’t stop me wishing that he would add his voice to those calling for sense to prevail. Politicians, corporations and their armies (you don’t think they are on your side do you?) have brought us to the brink, perhaps making disaster inevitable, but without the belief in an alternative, the future isn’t just bleak, it’s non-existent. Instead of learning to live we are learning to die. So yes, I do think Let Me Die in my Footsteps, Hard Rain and so on helped to turn things around. But now there is an even greater need for that eloquence. False beard, wig and all.

Jim (or, if you prefer him who is grim).