Michael Gray At The Guildhall

by Neil Watson


Inside the wax museums, Bob Dylan and the History of Rock ‘n’ Roll goes upon trial. Voices echo of days gone by. Robert Shelton, Studs Terkel. Two great voices from the past, with great presence. I could listen to those guys talk all night long. Not just about Dylan or music in general, but just about any topic they wish to choose.

They both had that magical way of engaging an audience. Now the time ha s come for Bob to engage us in his times past with ‘Chronicles’. Talk to us. And what will the masked and anonymous man in the wig and hat and a fake beard plastered on his brow have to say to us. Will it be mostly about Fate? Only Jack really knows, and of course his best friend Frank who still holds the key.

‘Bob Dylan to be played by a woman in his life story’ proclaimed the headline in the Independent newspaper 21st February, 2003. ‘God is a woman, we all know that’ said Bob Dylan in 1966! The headline was regarding the new Todd Haynes film he is making on Dylan’s life. Apparently this life story has Bob’s full backing and has given Haynes ‘unprecedented access to his music and previous film work’ with whom he has forged a close friendship.

I’d missed the advertisement one day that a Michael Gray talk was coming my way until a friend rang to say. ‘Bob Dylan And The History Of Rock ‘n’ Roll’ – An evening with author Michael Gray. I was surprised to learn the talk was to be held at the old Guildhall in Lichfield. Just up the road for us!

This turned out to be a very enjoyable evening with a good and interesting talk from Mr Gray. I met up with 3 or 4 old friends who had also turned up at the event, so the trip was well worth the effort.

Gray started off talking about Dylan’s early days in Hibbing, and his own pilgrimage to the town. As you would half expect it appears the name Bob Dylan is not too revered back in his old hometown. Nothing of any note is to be found in the local library. No plaques abound, Nothing. Hibbing is a mining town, iron ore. That’s what they are interested in.

Any stranger would have no idea that it all started off for the young Bob Dylan in this town!

Gray continued the story of Dylan’s early sixties journey to New York City to take the ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll’ route. One small problem to overcome as things turned out. ‘The day the music died’.

After the early emergance of ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll’ music in the mid 50’s that the young Bob had been so greatly influenced by, seemed to be dying a death by the time he hit New York.

Buddy Holly had died so tragically in a plane crash in 1959 soon after Dylan had seen his concert in Minnesota. Elvis was drafted into the army and served in Germany. Little Richard, Bob’s main influence, became a Preacher and only sang gospel songs for a while. Secretly, Bob probably wouldn’t have minded that too much!

The other piano ‘Rock ‘n’ Roller’ Jerry Lee Lewis wed his cousin which left his career in tatters, and later went into Country music. Soon after this Eddie Cochran was killed in a car crash while touring the UK.

Was all this some kind of ‘planned’ conspiracy against ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll music? It was an unbelievable sequence of events without a doubt. Must have left the young Bob Dylan with a real sense of ‘mixed up confusion’. So Bob had to put his real reason for hitting New York City on hold for the time being and joined the impending ‘Folk music’ boom. He soon became the best goddam ‘folkie’ in the business. Which would serve it’s purpose – for now!

Michael Gray also talked about the time he was invited backstage to meet Dylan at the Earls Court concerts back in 1978 with his young son Gabriel. He mentioned how Dylan was chatting with certain people whilst ignoring the likes of Bianca Jagger and Bill Wyman who along with others were waiting to meet Bob. Gray and his son eventually got to meet Dylan briefly. Apparently Bob was interested by the fact that Gray’s son had a biblical name.

Asking Gabriel which way he spelt his name, He then signed a copy of the 1978 Tour Programme to him. Gray proclaimed after that his son was infact a big Karen Carpenter fan!! As they always say, it does take alsorts to make a world.

We did get to talk with Michael Gray briefly after his discussion, though it was rapidly heading towards midnight when it finished. During this little chat ‘Freewheelin’’ was mentioned. The response was immediate. ‘Freewheelin’’? Ah, John Stokes? I had a bit of an altercation with John sometime back. Something about long articles which was printed in Song And Dance Man III. If my memory serves me well? Michael hasn’t forgotten you John. There is no wrath like a Dylan fan scourned!

We have to get Michael Gray along to one of the John Green Days soon. I think we’d better talk this over?

In February Gray was due to do another talk on Dylan’s life and music called ‘Bob Dylan And The Blues’ in the Pavilion Gardens at Buxton in Derbyshire.

A great topic to discuss on for sure. I was hoping to get to hear that one too, it would have been another great evening but unfortunately I didn’t make it. I’d like to get to see it some other time though. It’s one to look out for.