by Jim Gillan


Silly question really, as all the past evidence indicates that I’m not hugely interested in the answer(s). Which is just as well, as on the whole the feedback from the vast army of Freewheelin’ readers is so slight as to be anorexic.  In parallel universes, which these days I find myself happily inhabiting for a growing amount of time, my postbag does occasionally bulge – indeed you may have read some of the items of correspondence that I’ve reproduced in earlier Freewheelin’s. Hell’s teeth, maybe you wrote ‘em. Anyway, to further amuse, enrich, enrage, divert, convert, pervert (keep reading), distract, extract, impact or encourage a swift shift to another’s piece, here we go again. 

But first. Anyone hoping to read more about the lovely Mary, and to use that as a means of further reflecting on the nature of intrusion, assumption, circumstance and meaning, the bad news is that she has asked me to hold it there. To further disappoint any voyeurs, she has also said that whilst she has every intention of coming to the John Green day, NO WAY is she going to risk appearing in seams, and even wearing a skirt is unlikely.  For the very last thing that she wants to do is be the object of curiosity and/or question. I’m increasingly unhappy with myself for the last effort and have promised not to point her out. I only hope that those of you who already know her also respect her wish to remain incognito.  Thanks for that. 

Now then. I am, as ever, hugely impressed with Paula’s writing. Her piece in Freewheelin’ 211 had all sorts of resonance for me. For sure “we are all degraded…” (sic) by what has, and is, happening in Iraq and elsewhereOn a personal level I don’t believe that it matters what Bob thinks, says or does about the war in Iraq, or indeed any of the countless other criminal abuses perpetrated by the US Government and their cohorts, including the UK. Truth, justice, freedom, democracy, peace, tolerance and personal integrity has no meaning for those people, anymore than does environmental protection, sustainable development, the elimination of world poverty and the ending of exploitation in all its forms. All of which can be achieved, but never will be so long as the interests of corporations, coupled with political expediency, especially the desire for re-election at any price, are what drives Government. By all means take what you can gather from Masters of War, When the Ship Comes In, or whatever. But if you want ANY chance of a meaningful future for yourself and future generations, get out of the chair and help make better things happen. 

On second thoughts, don’t bother, as the interests of the planet and all other life forms on it are better served by humanity imploding at the earliest opportunity. Which given the accelerating rate of the depletion of resources, the destruction of habitats and the proliferation of chemical, biological, nuclear and ‘conventional’ weapons, it is on course to do. And no, I don’t subscribe to prophecies of an Apocalypse, Armageddon, the Book of Revelations, Nostradamus or the existence of the Tralfamadorians. Though that last has some appeal. 

Back to parallel universes – which may indeed exist, as distinct from being a convenient construct. Horizon (I think) did a programme about it all some while back. Something to do with reconciling ‘string theory’ with the ‘big bang’.  I also seem to recall references to eleven dimensions, many different sets of laws of physics, gravity leaking over from another universe (where it is a much stronger force than we know it) and how black holes were/are caused. I may have this wrong, but I think the implication was that SOMEWHERE (maybe real close) the apparently inexplicable, the utterly irreconcilable, the demonstrably impossible and the terminally weird all make sense. Which might make Bob watching/listening/interpreting an entirely different activity. 

In one of those at dawn my lover wakes moments, what is certain is that only last night I did dream about being at a gig yet to happen here. On the basis of what I had already heard from earlier in the tour, my fears were high and my expectations low. But instead of the same old stuff, I was, along with the rest of the audience, astonished to hear Bob open with the ‘Sexual Life of the Camel’ which, for the sheltered amongst you goes :- 

The sexual life of the camel / Is stranger than anyone thinks, / At the height of the mating season / He tries to bugger the Sphinx.  /  But the Sphinx's posterior sphincter / Is clogged with the sands of the Nile, / Which accounts for the hump on the camel, /  And the Sphinx's inscrutable smile.

Now whatever you might feel about the content, it’s a good piece of writing, humourous, clever and full of energy, arguably akin to the likes of ‘If You Gotta Go’, ‘Fourth Time Around’ and ‘Motorpsycho Nightmare’.  The arrangement was massively atmospheric, very dark and with lots of brooding organ (appropriate enough I suppose), as well as some searing guitar. The vocal delivery was precise and measured, with Bob’s phrasing making for the usual unusual breaks in the lines, as for example ‘The sexual life of the camel is (pause) stranger than (longer pause) anyone (brief pause) thinks’. He also raised the pitch very slightly at the end of each of the lines, deliberately rising up on his toes as he did so. When he got to ‘He tries to bugger the Sphinx’ he leaned right in to the microphone, a downright lascivious leer giving him an expression new to me and, I guess, to everyone else in a crowd stunned silent by it all. 

At ‘And the Sphinx's inscrutable smile’ a HUGE grin lit up his face as his eyes danced across us, then signaled to Tony (on, of all things, a tea chest bass) to play a solo, using notes from somewhere down in the sub-basement of the musical register. Shimmering cymbals from GOOD LORD! Winston Watson led in to verse two (which, like the even more rarely heard verse three, deals with hedgehogs and the habits of the Navy), before the rumbling counter-point of bass drums and tom-toms overwhelmed everything. Bob segued straight in to ‘Senor’ – and never has ‘can you tell me where we’re heading?’ been more appropriate) before the thunderous applause kicked in. At which point I woke up. 

No, I’m not trying to be rude, crude, lewd and disgusting, none of which requires effort on my part. I really had this running though my head.  So much so that on waking with a sense of wonder and the curiosity that always follows, I attempted to sing it in my unlovely croak (which sounds a bit like, but not as rich as, Bob’s 2002 voice) in to the mini-disc recorder. Damn, I think it works! So too says Ros, my beloved – and she takes her Bob seriously. Bob could do it, no problem. 

I know that some might think it outrageous, but it’s not so very different to him battering ‘This Old Man’ or his dipping in to any of the ‘nonsense’ songs that so enrich the folk tradition. And we know he likes and respects that, as well as the ribald humour of minstrelsy and music hall. So if he could do it, maybe he will. Which is very nearly the same as definitely. Yes, I know it’s not conclusive, but is the glass half-full or half-empty – assuming it’s even there at all? 

How about it Bob? And, having performed it, why not allow it to go on to the site, or better still, in to the list of ‘custom mix’ songs?  If all that sounds a little too barmy, which I suppose some of the mean-spirited amongst you might think, then to at least give others a flavour, maybe our beloved leader, the Holy Spoke, can make time for a version of the Dylan Imitators Contest at the John Green day. The idea would be to get those who are willing to give it a go to treat the crowd to their attempt at it. Bound to raise a laugh, perhaps even garner a round of applause and maybe even be welcomed as an opener by Caroline Hester - who might even fancy trying it as a duet with the best rendition. 

Enough of this. I’m off to bed tonight in the hope that Bob shows up in concert some more. And if so, that he fancies a go at ‘The Talking Dog’, an Oldham Tinkers song from the late 1970’s, which was based on a much older work piece of doggerel (how apt) collected, I’m told, in a work called ‘Lancashire Lore’. It’s exactly the sort of obscure stuff that Bob seems to home in on, so who knows.  And, after his take on Arthur McBride wouldn’t you just love to hear him tackle the dialect?