Like Judas Kissing Flowers

by Robert Forryan

10 for 2002

Before getting to my Top Ten, I feel I have to comment on the Chris & Mark issues regarding interaction and reaction to each other’s writing. I think there are a couple of relevant facts to be considered. One is that Chris wouldn’t have expected, presumably, us all to respond to his quandary. Which means, of course, that some of us may either feel we have nothing individually to offer, or that someone else will probably do it better anyway – and leave it up to that unknown ‘someone’. In this instance I didn’t feel I had much to say for the reasons I’ve stated elsewhere, namely, that I’m not into the collecting/recording merry- go-round myself. Chris may feel that I would, therefore, have something useful to say to him, but I don’t think I have ever been where Chris is, so to speak. Equally, it would be difficult for someone who hasn’t ‘been there’ to have any credibility, and there is always the danger of sounding-off about things you don’t understand and of seeming patronising or worse.

There is something else, however, which I don’t think the older Freewheelers (in terms of membership, that is) see as a problem. Several of us ‘newer’ Freewheelers were invited, I imagine, because we were known quantities in that we had written for other Dylan magazines. In itself that is fine, but in practice what it means is that we have become used to thinking of a topic and writing about it. We didn’t have a background of sort of writing letters to one another. So, in my case, when I have responded to someone else’s writing (like CP Lee’s & Patrick Webster’s recently, and before that to Mark’s ‘Blair Witch Project’) it has been mainly about a subject rather than a kind of personal interaction which is what Chris’s situation seemed to require. As I have said to JRS many times: I don’t really know any of you and have only met some of you briefly. JRS is the only one I really have any ongoing friendship with. Maybe that’s my fault but there it is. It’s not helped by the fact that I don’t go to many Dylan events or concerts so I don’t meet people.

Anyway, I don’t know where that takes anybody so I think I’ll move on to my Top Ten, in reverse order:

10. The Pedro Almodovar movie ‘Talk To Her’. I have to admit that this story of two men drawn together by their connection to two women in a coma is brilliantly conceived and filmed and I couldn’t take my eyes off the screen for a second. I haven’t seen a better film this twelvemonth. But it is morally flawed (for reasons too long to go into here) and that did leave a nasty taste in the mouth.

9. The Eden Project which we visited for the first time this year. I found the Tropical Zone just amazing. Not just the trees and flowers but the sheer joy my body felt in the heat and humidity. It was so invigorating and I loved feeling the dampness on my face which wasn’t sweat but simple moisture. And unlike the real tropics you don’t get bitten to death by insects.

8. The Gaslight Tapes CD by Bob Dylan. Not new, I know, and I have had this on tape for years, but it was only in 2002 that I picked up the CD. I guess you all had this for ages but for me the superior sound was stunning. It made me re-appraise the whole thing – and the voice, oh, the voice…

I also picked up the Minneapolis Hotel tape on CD which was another revelation.

7. Bernhard Schlink’s novel, ‘The Reader’. A wonderfully written holocaust-related lo ve story. It made me think about what it was to be young and German after the war, knowing that your parents and all their friends and peers had been nazi sympathisers or collaborators – and the complexity of maintaining family relationships in the knowledge of that. A compelling study of the insidious nature of national guilt. And a brilliant twist in the plot.

6. Tom Waits: ‘Alice’/’Blood Money’. Two albums released simultaneously and, in many ways, my musical highlights of the year (the only CD higher is really 27 years old). Full of the usual Waitsian mix of sardonic humour, off-the-wall sounds, pathos and noirish atmosphere. Lovely stuff.

5. ‘Live 1975’ by Bob Dylan. A wonderful, wonderful album. I don’t understand why some of you seem to be grumbling about this? 1975 is a year where I do have lots of the shows on CD and tape but there is nothing to compare with this CD. Whoever made the selection chose absolute gems and the sound clarity is a joy. It’s just gorgeous and I don’t know how anyone can complain about the odd missing song (why should it have to represent the order of the shows – how does historical accuracy enhance quality?). It’s damn near perfect. The fact that it’s not my number one simply reflects the fact that Dylan is no longer the most important interest in my life. If he ever was. Sorry.

4. ‘Like A Complete Unknown’ by John Hinchey. My Dylan book of the year. A book which takes a serious look at the poetry in Dylan’s work from 1961 to 1969. This could have been a huge yawn but it isn’t. Each chapter gives me a new ‘take’ on some aspect of Dylan’s output. I’ve never been a supporter of the Dylan for the Nobel Prize lobby, but this is the book that just might change my mind.

3. ‘The Lone Swallows’ by Henry Williamson. This was the year I discovered that I could trace out-of-print books via the internet. This was one of those books – a book I read and re-read endlessly from the school library in my adolescence. In those days I was a day-dreaming romantic who fantasised about the solitary life in the English countryside. It’s a remorselessly sentimental book and I would hate it if I first read it now, but then it was a treasure and I’m glad to now have it for sentimental reasons. I was meant to have this book. The only copy I could trace in all of England was on sale in Lowestoft – the town where I work. Serendipity or what?

2. Roy Harper live at Exeter University. I’ve written about this previously. Life-enhancing and the only concert I saw this year.

1. ‘Autumn Journal’ by Louis MacNeice, read by Samuel West on Radio 4. MacNeice is my favourite poet and this is one of his finest poems. So when I found it was to be on radio it had to be taped and re-taped for friends. West makes an excellent reader, and very different from MacNeice himself who had the clipped upper-class diction of his time. For anyone who doesn’t know this poem it was written in 1938/39 and is a kind of elegy for the pre-war world that MacNeice sensed was doomed. The poem has all sorts of resonances as we sit today on the verge of another war. It skips from love affairs in London to childhood in Ireland to Birmingham in the depression to Spain at the outbreak of civil war. Mostly it is an atmospheric evocation of a time that was vanishing and is now long gone:

I loved my love with a platform ticket,
A jazz song,
A handbag, a pair of stockings of Paris Sand –
I loved her long.
I loved her between the lines and against the clock,
Not until death
But till life did us part I loved her with paper money
And with whisky on the breath.
I loved her with peacock’s eyes and the wares of Carthage,
With glass and gloves and gold and a powder puff
With blasphemy, camaraderie, and bravado
And lots of other stuff.
I loved my love with the wings of angels
Dipped in henna, unearthly red,
With my office hours, with flowers and sirens,
With my budget, my latchkey, and my daily bread.