The Last Waltz of 2002
(A step back in time)

by J. R. Stokes


1-2-3 2-2-3 3-2-3 ……. 1-2-3 2-2-3 3-2-3

Forward -side- together; forward- side- together; back-side together.

Forward -side- together; forward- side- together; back-side together.

That’s how things seem to have been for me in 2002: two steps forward and one step backward. I seemed to have lived this year in waltz time. Take Christmas for instance. We had a fun Christmas here at number two Oaklands that was topped off with a trip down to London on the day after Boxing Day to catch the last exhibition of the year at the Tate Modern (see my cover) followed by a visit to the outside public skating rink at Somerset House in the Strand and a meal at the Café du Parie in Covent Garden. A wonderful, although very wet, day. Memories are made of such stuff. Then I was awoken early the following morning with the news that my dear 87 year old mum had been admitted to A&E at Barnet General Hospital suffering from a suspected stroke. An immediate return to London, 8 hours in a very busy casualty department witnessing all manner of blood and guts before mum was settled peacefully into a ward named after a tree. After a couple of days she was transferred to another ward named after a different tree and that is where she still is as I compose my 208th
article for Freewheelin’. The stroke has been confirmed, mum has lost her speech but has retained her sense of humour as her copious hand written notes about life on Spruce ward have confirmed. She is a fantastic, indestructible lady with an iron will. I can’t imagine life without her. She will be OK but progress will be slow. A matter of two steps forward and one step backward. Another life played out in waltz time.

It is not only the slow progress of those individual steps that seem to have hampered me this year, the entire 12 months has led me a merry dance. On occasions time has been as sunny as Doris Day and I could have been in some grand Viennese ballroom, effortlessly gliding around the floor in perfect waltz time to the beat of an orchestra conducted by none other than Johann Strauss the younger himself. At other times, I was stranded like a frozen wallflower, wonderin’ (as the song goes) what I’m doin’ here. Perhaps I should have learned some other dances. If I could have done the foxtrot, lope and pace, or perhaps the Georgia crawl or even the double shuffle and the darktown strut: now they would have come in handy when my legs were about to stiffen.

But I shouldn’t really complain, after all there has been a forward movement. Gentle and rhythmic with the sound of music in my ears. Who could ask for anything more? Who could ask for anything more? So, having learned to accept life in waltz time, let me take to the floor once again and recall ten of the best steps of the year. Doesn’t matter if you are not reading this in a honky tonk saloon or even underneath a Panamanian moon, I’m gonna tell you anyway – and you can watch my waltz for free! These are in no order of preference: they come as they spring to mind:

1. Freewheelin’
The epitome of waltz time this year. One step backward and two steps forward. The beginning of the year was horrendous for me personally as I witnessed the break up of all we had achieved in putting our public magazine together. Emotions get tempered in the general drift of time but reviewing the situation now cause a torrent of chemicals to flood and disturb a calmer mindset. But time moves us on and the only way to recover from the slings and arrows of outrageous misfortune is to take the lead from Sir Cliff and put on your dancin’ shoes to dance away the blues. Which we did and what was a relatively small step forward turned out to be giant leap for Freewheelin’ when freewheelin-on-line was launched on Dylan’s 61
st birthday, 24th May 2002. If you visit the bookshop you will see that a new issue of Freewheelin’ has been placed on the shelf on the 24th of each month thereafter, including (thanks to Chris) 24th December. The site has been tremendously successful, we get an average of 1300 hits a month and there are some exciting times ahead on the ‘net. Just watch this space.

Freewheelin’ isn’t however about its public face. What really makes this clock tick is the continued commitment of you Freewheelers to the project of a writing circle, a free exchange of anything we want to say, not only touching upon the most important figure in popular culture who just happens to be sharing our time and space, but also upon ourselves and the way that we relate to Dylan’s art. It is a unique project involving an eclectic bunch of individuals who may all dance in a different way but, by the same token, all remain on the same dance floor. I am proud and privileged to be up there with you. We have made just a few steps backward but with the current personnel of Freewheelin', and with Chris Hockenhull back where he belongs, we have definitely moved forward this year. Next year we could even make the final of Come Dancing!

2. Karl Erik Anderson at Expecting Rain
No longer do we have to scour the music papers for mention of what is happening in Bobworld. It is ready and waiting for us each morning. All we have to do is switch on and tune in. My visit to Expecting Rain is a daily function for me and I don’t think that I could do without it now. In this I am not alone: since Karl Erik started monitoring Expecting Rain in July 2001 he has had nearly 4 million visitors to his site. It is clearly the most important point of reference for anyone interested in the art of Bob Dylan and what is more, Karl Erik is such a nice guy! We all owe him a great debt of thanks.

3. John Green Day number 2
When we all seemed to be out of step, spinning around in different directions, suddenly it all came together and the day went as smooth as a rhapsody. Everyone who attended the day went home completely happy and John’s family have pleaded with us to do it again. At present we are seriously into waltz time for JGDay3 as the Moat House have tried to take the legs from under us. Only brutal persuasion by Keith Agar has kept us on the dance floor but I am sure it is going to happen again next year. So start shining those tap shoes now.

4&5 Brighton and Bournemouth 2002
It was a matter of springtime for Dylan and harmony. Although he completely buggered up our arrangements for JGDay2, it was great to see old Bob back on these shores. There is no use complaining that he is looking old, that his voice is gone, that he didn’t play your favourite song: this is the current Bob – doing what he likes to do in the way that he likes to do it. He owes us nothing for we have already taken from him more than that to which we are rightfully entitled. His art may be divine but the guy is only human for Gods sake!

6. Waitin’ For You
As Paula has already pointed out in her articles for Freewheelin’ and The Bridge, Dylan has been doing some waltzing of his own and I love Paula's expression of ‘the crazy drunken waltzing of the tune’ when referring to this song. Indeed there is a passage from Paula’s article which deserves to be repeated here because it wonderfully ties you to the song: you can simultaneously feel the movement of both compositions and it is a passage that lifts the spirit.

‘The more I listen to it, and look at the printed words, the more there is in it. The words are a perfect match to the tune. As the tune whirls and circles like the hurdy-gurdy of a fairground ride, the lyrics stress the “aroundness” of the singers relationship to his “gal” (and what a very telling little word that is, placing the situation in time and place “exactly” with just three letters). Freedom rings, again using a circling image. His senses, and those of others around him, are heightened – although not, as in the case of the fiddler, overused to the point of exhaustion. There is seeing and saying, tasting and touching:

I’m here to see what she has to say…
The fiddler’s arm has gone dead…
Talk is beginning to spread…
I’ll see you tomorrow…
…I held you tight
…we said goodnight
The taste of tears is bittersweet…

Is it the tune, or the drink, or the heat, or the strength of his feelings, that’s overloading his senses, and making him dizzy?’

An intriguing, evocative question. Thanks for that Paula, nobody said it better about this song.

7. The Bootleg Series Volume 5. Bob Dylan Live 1975.
The other official product of the year. That very sexy photo of Bob with those smouldering eyes and those wispy strands of curly dark hair has been vandalised on my package by a bright yellow sticker declaring the contents to contain ‘Incendiary live versions of 22 classic Bob Dylan songs’ and a ‘ 56 page booklet with stunning rare photographs and in-depth notes’. I have to say that, for once, I accept the hype. It is a brilliant package of eternal delight. For some reason I have become absolutely stuck on the song which is neither a Bob Dylan classic nor a Bob Dylan original. The song is ‘The Water Is Wide’ and probably the reason for my particular groove on this song is because it was one of a quartet that was included on a Rolling Thunder sampler way back when. I seem to recall playing those four tracks so frequently that the vinyl ultimately melted!

8. Visions of Johanna
In the roaring traffic’s boom. In the silence of my lonely room, I think of this song. Night and day. But I will finish soon. I just have to finish soon!

9. 6 Nights at Cambridge
The Golden Hind on Milton Road is the place to be on the last Friday of every odd month. Our Cambridge meetings have been really well attended this year and the Management of the Golden Hind have at last got their act together and provided us with a safe haven for our Dylan meetings. I say this because, at a meeting early in the year a fight broke out in the bar downstairs and the place was almost wrecked. Us hardy Dylan folk however carried on regardless and now we have bouncers on the door and the toilets can be used again! It is great to see such a wonderful mix of Dylan people at these gatherings, from hardened completists to the occasional Bob watcher. We are family.

10. Bob Dylan
Yes it’s him. Old Bob. Just a song and dance man who waltzes through my life on such a regular basis. He doesn’t know me and, in all honesty, I haven’t got a clue about him. I just know there’s something in the way he moves that attracts me like no other artist. Thank you Bob for being around in 2002. If this year has been busy then it looks like 2003 will be mega with shows, films, books, meetings and the continuing journal of us Freewheelin’ folk to keep me spinning around and around. At the end of it all I hope that I can say that I could have danced all night, I could have danced all night and still have asked for more!

AND FINALLY some best non-Bob events:

Best Music: I seem to have spent the entire year listening to Billie Holiday and Frank Sinatra but of the many other CD’s I have bought in 2002, the one that haunts me the most is ‘Seachange’ the accoustic album from the wonderful Beck. Besides that, The Cheeky Song (touch my bum) by The Cheeky Girls was a life changing experience!

Best Film: Fantastic news that Tartan have released about 20 Bergman films on DVD. I have started collecting the titles all over again. Saw most of the big pics during the year but a film that totally absorbed me, even after a second viewing was the Mexican film ‘Amores Perros’.

Best Exhibiton: I got my money’s worth from my Tate membership subscription this year with Warhol, Picasso and Matisse on display. The one that knocked me sideways however was the Barnet Newman collection in December. Diving into those massive expanses of colour was just like dancing in the air.

Best Book. Alas, I don’t seem to have much time for fiction, or even non- fiction these days. ‘Mona Lisa’ by Donald Sassoon was a page turner for all sorts of reasons.

Best Food. Stiffado at Napoleons – A French restaurant run by Swedes on the Greek island of Skiathos in September was interesting. That light Sunday lunch in Suffolk at Elaine and Roberts in October was a delight!

Best Website Excluding freewheelin-on-line, it has to be Expecting Rain of course but is great if you are looking for a good range of music and film on the cheap.

Best Foottie. Forget the World Cup, we won’t win anything with Swedes. Barnet -v- Nuneaton Borough in the Conference was the game. Viva grass roots football.

Best Person. My mum. Our last waltz will last forever.