WHAT was it you wanted?  

by Jim Gillan


As ever, howdy to all. It’s taken ages to put fingers to keyboard, mostly on account of being real busy on other things, but also because of a shortage of ideas. ‘No change there, then’, as any cynics amongst you might say. But this is not just another voyage in to self-deprecation, or warped humour on my part (though I was tempted to sub-title the piece ‘Opus Hopeless’). No, this is not the usual unusual. Instead it is, in its own odd way, in part an essay on the problem of translating dreams, feelings, desires and emotions in to a useful form. What else it might also be is something you will have to decide.

Now then, many songwriters (Dylan et al), authors (Donna Tartt for one) and even humble scribblers (can’t think of any for the moment) have hit periods when the creative stream stops, or slowly dries up. For some artists things never recover; at which point they either give up, or settle for less. And how do their audiences respond? ‘What IS this shit’ thunder some. BOO! go others.

Cries and explanations of ‘what happened’ clog the ether. Down in some murky pool, thickened by ego and inadequacy, a ‘world authority’ turns his baleful eye on Self Portrait, Down in the Groove, Shot of Love, Infidels, Knocked Out Loaded, Unplugged and writes a book. (Alright. I exaggerate – but not by much)

Folks, the line between constructive and destructive criticism can be so fine as to be all but invisible. Not that the former is necessarily helpful to anyone struggling to rediscover the muse, as even the most well intentioned contribution can be a distraction. But I do not intend that to mean that there is no role for commentary and/or criticism, whatever the form. I think it was Voltaire (not that it really matters) who observed that ‘the proper role of the doctor is to keep the patient amused whilst nature takes its course'. Which is fine for most things, except those requiring surgery. Now then, what might this mean vis à vis Bob? Damn! A brick has just come through the window, with a note wrapped round it. Glass everywhere. This is what is written on it:-




Blimey! My thoughts, dreams really can be seen! And they are powerful enough to cause a reaction from someone who has maybe never even met me. Armed with what looks like a huge supply of ? and ! Both of which are dangerous in the wrong hands. Also it’s abundantly clear that there is no need for the telephone, the Internet or even the bloke with the semaphore flags. Wow! Maybe there is a collective consciousness that transcends technology! Maybe politicians, religious leaders and even whole nations will stop posturing, will actually reach an understanding, will remove suspicion, exploitation, and oppression. Now THAT would be creative. But maybe I’m just dreaming and it will still be lowest common denominator solutions, like bomb ‘em all.

Yes, I’ll come clean. I was in London for the ‘Stop the War’ demo. Repulsive as Saddam is, he’s not the only one guilty of crimes against humanity. The politicians, military and industrialists of the ‘democracies’ (including the USA and the UK) who equipped him, who allowed his use of chemical and biological weapons and whose primary concerns now are for their domestic economies and agendas, have much to answer for. But they know that war has a way of deflecting attention away from the real issues. And ‘collateral damage’, whilst always received with ‘deep regret’ in Washington, Whitehall and elsewhere, will be spun as a ‘price worth paying’. Are we going to sit by and let it happen? Or are we going to mix comment and criticism with action, showing that there is another way?

Another brick. More glass. No note wrapped round it though. Which suggests that whoever is chucking it has reacted destructively without even pausing to think constructively. Just like George and Tony. Who are armed with a lot more than ! and ? Now where was I? Ah yes. Voltaire and keeping amused. Bob, bless him, does occasionally react to opinion. And it sometimes makes for some rather fine songs, Like A Rolling Stone for one. Not that this necessarily means that the tears on his cheeks are always from laughter. Which is OK too, as it is often the darker side of creativity that produces the finest work. So when the world tottered on the abyss and held its breath as the Russian ships steamed towards Cuba, out poured some of his strongest, most compelling, songs.

Have you noticed that whilst anthems and flags belong to the victors, the best tunes and posters come from the oppressed? A whole musical tradition would have never existed if history had been distinguished by being only a GOOD THING. Verdi would never have written Nabbucco, Beethoven his Ninth Symphony, Behan the Patriot Game. No need for the Blues or Broadside Records. And literature, art, theatre and cinema would all be very different. Damn! World peace comes with a big price tag.

Well it’s unlikely that Bob will picket the White House and use his concerts as platforms of protest.

But even if he does it’s still also up to we. And if listening real hard to ‘Masters of War’ is what it takes to prick your conscience, then fine. I simply hope that you too will take the time to add your voice to those calling for sense to prevail. We can cope in those periods when Bob runs out of ideas, but when politicians get stuck in a mindset, then it’s time for the planet and all on it (and not just tired humanity) to watch out. What do you mean we can’t change things? Yes we can. Of course we can.

And so, gentle reader, I’ve reached the end. I’m not sure how I got here, but that is often the way.

And it’s not all gloom. For look what I found on the other side of the paper:-




Would that there can be a happy ending to everything.