Waiting For Bobo
(With a Touch of Fantasy)
by J. R. Stokes

Hands up all those who can remember The Freewheelin’ Fantasy Dylan League... That’s about 50% of the class. For those who raised their hands, the following is just a reminder. For those who didn’t, then what follows is a little bit of Freewheelin history for your edification. OK, it’s alright Richard, you can put your hand down now. 

In about the mid 1990’s two former Freewheelers namely Jeff Stevens and John Welburn had this idea about starting a Fantasy League (similar to the football and cricket fantasy leagues run by the non-tabloid press) where Dylan folk would try to guess what song Dylan would perform in concert. Dylan was himself well into the Never Ending Tour so there was no shortage of concerts available to enable the game to be played. The idea was kicked around and then The Two Riders approached carrying, in their saddle bags, huge amounts of professionalism and imagination that never seem to weigh down their horses or their motor cycles. 

John and Mike consequently set about putting the whole thing in order and then implementing it with requirements and rules so that the game could be played on a proper playing field with proper contestants and  with a proper and fair outcome. So it was thus a guessing game, requiring a certain degree of skill, whereby the contestants each had to choose a total of 15 songs per concert, that were formulated into 5 scoring groups with ‘rewards’ of one point each for every song guessed right in group one and increasing rewards for every song guessed right in the remaining groups. Each contestant had to pay a fee for entering the game and therefore, at the end each leg of the game, when the totals were totted up, those points made prizes. And what is more, if you guessed a song correctly that was in group five (which was a wild card group) then you got a Bobby Bonus of 5 points. 

Now the non-Fantasy Leaguists amongst you may consider that the rules of the game as roughly set about above may appear somewhat complicated. Believe me they weren’t and what made it easy for all of us was the absolutely superb way the game was managed by The Two Riders who used to compile regular results charts and who also used to dish out the prizes. 

In 1996 the FFDL went public and the league tables of results were published in the public Freewheelin’ magazine as it then was. In consulting Volume 1 of the public Freewheelin’ magazine I find that on page 34 there is a league table showing the results up to the end of the 1996 second leg of that years game.  I notice that included in the contestants were two Freewheelers who weren’t Freewheelers then but are now namely Paula and Jim. Other contestants included the late John Bauldie, Derek Barker, Lambchop and John Baldwin; in all there were 43 players and the person who topped that particular leg was the late John Green with Richard Lewis in second place (by just one point). 

Eventually the games came to a close but thereafter someone took it up on the internet where it was thought by many to be a pretty novel idea, although there were probably not many there among them who realised that the Freewheelers had done it all before and, thanks to The Two Riders, in such a professional way. 

What made me look back to the days of the FFDL was the prospect of the forthcoming Dylan shows and the navel gazing pursuit of what songs Dylan might play. I must say that I always have, probably like the rest of us, been interested in the set lists but when we were playing the Fantasy League those set lists took on a whole new competitive meaning and purpose, especially those five pointers. 

One of the songs that I included as my five pointer but I never imagined Dylan would ever play live was ‘If Dogs Run Free’. From the very early days of Freewheelin’ (and I beg forgiveness from those people who have witnessed me bleating on about it since those early days) I have been bleating on about ‘If Dogs Run Free’ being my all time favourite Dylan track. My confession was usually confronted by a mixture of incredulity, disbelief and random hostility but me and ‘Dogs’ were always ready to stand up and be counted. And usually there was only ever just the two of us – me and the song! 

Then, just as some volcano was erupting somewhere on the planet, Dylan included the song in his set. The date was October the first in the year of two thousand. The venue was the Halle Munsterland, Munster, Germany. I heard about it from Keith Wootton, who was a friend of mine, early the next day and the sets lists again became a matter of major fascination for me. Did he really play it? Would he ever play it again? Would I ever see him perform it live? Now you can count the answers to all of the above as yes, yes and yes as it was a considerable delight to me that I saw Dylan perform the song which was included in his set when he played the UK just three concerts after the Munster gig. Indeed the song became a constant in his set lists for a period of almost two years and in all he has performed it some 86 times in concert. I have this idea of collecting all those 86 versions at some stage and playing them one after the other but I don’t think that I could afford the resultant counselling fees! 

Because of the situation that another song, namely ‘Visions of Johanna’ had more or less taken over my Dylan life, I also looked out keenly over recent years for this song in the set lists. This song did not however figure with Dylan so highly as ‘If Dogs Run Free’ as for the same two year period that Dylan performed my favourite song some 86 times, he only performed ‘Visions of Johanna’ on 39 occasions. A highlight for me about this song being played though was that Dylan included it in his sets on both the consecutive nights of the 12th and 13th July 2001, at Liverpool and at Stirling Castle in Scotland, and I was there on both nights. It was in fact only the second time that Dylan had performed the song on consecutive nights since 1966 when he was including it in his set on every night. Since than rainy night in Scotland the song hasn’t been played again on consecutive nights. Well, I can’t help it if I’m lucky! 

Of course you can’t read anything at all into set lists but the very last time Dylan played ‘If Dogs Run Free’ was on the 8th August 2002. If you check out the set list for that gig you will see that immediately following ‘Dogs’ he played ‘Visions of Johanna’ which he has played on only a few occasions since. It would have been a great night for me personally if I had attended this gig to see these two songs played back to back but as it was in place called Harbour Station, New Brunswick which is in Canada, I just couldn’t have made it! The actual name of the venue was Saint John and I must admit that when I first saw that name I thought it was Saint Joan a la Joan of Arc: but it wasn’t. As the venue had the name ‘John’ in the title however, that was good enough for me!

So, getting back to my navel gazing, what songs is Dylan going to play when I see him live on the UK leg of his 2003 outings? I am pretty sure that he won’t be playing ‘If Dogs Run Free’ as that song just doesn’t seem to figure in his thoughts anymore. I also doubt that he will be performing ‘Visions of Johanna’ because he has only included that song once in his set lists for the entire year to date. Whatever else he plays there is one song that, it seems, we will be certain to hear this year and that is ‘Cats In The Well’. Now this song is interesting because of its erstwhile lack of popularity with Dylan, so far as his live performances are concerned, over recent years as he only played it 6 times in the year 2000; 8 times in 2001 and just twice last year- 2002. Thereafter in the shows during the first half of 2003, he didn’t play it at all. So what changed that has caused Dylan to include the song in every set since the start of the European autumn shows that commenced on the 9th October in Finland?  The answer may be found in the lyrics as follows: 

The cat's in the well, the wolf is looking down.
He got his big bushy tail dragging all over the ground.
The cat's in the well, the gentle lady is asleep.
Cat's in the well, the gentle lady is asleep.
She ain't hearing a thing, the silence is a-stickin' her deep.

The cat's in the well and grief is showing its face
The world's being slaughtered and it's such a bloody disgrace.
The cat's in the well, the horse is going bumpety bump.
The cat's in the well, and the horse is going bumpety bump.
Back alley Sally is doing the American jump.

The cat's in the well, and pappa is reading the news.
His hair is falling out and all of his daughters need shoes.
The cat's in the well and the barn is full of bull
The night is so long and the table is oh, so full 

The cat's in the well and the servant is at the door.
The drinks are ready and the dogs are going to war.
The cat's in the well, the leaves are starting to fall
The cat's in the well, leaves are starting to fall
Goodnight, my love, may the lord have mercy on us all.

The clue may be in certain lines which have an almost ‘war correspondent’ like report on how things seem to be: grief is showing its face; the world’s being slaughtered; back alley Sally is doing the American jump; a fathers hair is falling out; a daughter needs shoes; and the dogs are going to war.  Does that not remind you of current story lines appearing everyday on our TV screens and in our newspapers? And who is the wolf that is causing all this mayhem? The answer could be found in his description: ‘He’s got his big BUSHy tail’.

Now that interpretation is a real fantasy for you!