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THE MISSIONARY TIMES


Two Lessons For Lent
(And A Happy Birthday To Geraldine)

 by J. R. Stokes

   

do Not create anything, it will be
misinterpreted. it will not change.
it will follow you the
rest of your life.

Advice for Geraldine on Her Miscellaneous Birthday

Never in my wildest dreams have I ever been Geraldine. Well actually there was one occasion in Ibiza where I had a red bull babycham and… No. Better not go there John. Better start this again. And get it right this time. Break it down.

Here beginneth the first lesson:
‘do Not create anything, it will be misinterpreted’.
 

Never in my wildest dreams have I ever been Geraldine… but that advice give by Dylan in a poem featured in the concert programme for his performance at the Philharmonic Hall in New York on the 31st October 1964 (a concert that we are soon about to hear in clear-as-a-crystal quality) has many times caused me to falter whilst on the verge of creation. Sometimes I wish that I had heeded the instruction contained in the opening sentence of the advice so readily dished out to Geraldine alone but eavesdropped by countless others. If I was the complaining sort I would probably complain that, from the outset, my Dylan ‘creations’ have too often been misinterpreted. 

Starting at the very beginning, what now seems like a life time ago, I wrote a piece of Dylan fiction, sprinkled with facts and containing an underlying theme paralleled to the Dylan search for some kind of truth, that the editor of The Telegraph, the late John Bauldie thought was good enough, although ‘different’, for publication in his magazine. The trouble was that it went on a bit (no change there then, I hear you say!) so he decided to serialize it which was fine by me. Part 1 appeared in an early Telegraph but before Part 2 appeared there was a temporary change at the top of The Telegraph tree and the serial was axed. The new Editor apparently didn’t understand it and thought it wasn’t suitable any more! Unperturbed I sent it to the ‘Endless Road’ magazine who had a very wise Editor namely John Welburn, who published the story in full in Endless Road 7. The misunderstandings didn’t however go away and I was plagued with negative responses through misinterpretation. 

That was about 20 years ago but the plague continued and I recall that I was the subject of some pretty angry correspondence in an American Dylan fanzine following the publication of another misunderstood article. Then there was that bastard footnote 110 on page 630 of Michael Gray’s ‘Song & Dance Man 3’ where he lambasted me for the contents of my article on  Dylan’s song ‘Series of Dreams’  wherein I portrayed Dylan, according to Gray, ‘bemoaning and detailing his sexual impotence, in code’. Of course the article was not about that at all: it was all about dreams. Surely anyone could understand that? Although that particular, and fundamental, misinterpretation tainted Gray’s doorstop tome for me I did, on that occasion, find a degree of comfort in Dylan’s knowing advice to Geraldine. The first part of this advice, my ‘fist lesson’ rings so true that it is worth repeating and remembering: 

‘do Not create anything, it will be misinterpreted’.  

If you accept these words of advice as a universal truth, then you might as well continue with your creations anyway and be damned to misinterpretation. So whilst I say that I have faltered at the advice, it has, on the whole, encouraged rather than dissuaded me. I wonder if that has been the case with Geraldine? 

One particular theory for which I received canon loads of flak from the Freewheelers at the time arose from an article that I wrote 9 years ago, in February 1995. The article had the subtitle ‘Coincidences And How To Avoid Them’  and the problem was that the article put forward the somewhat preposterous suggestion of linking together Dylan with the pop artist Prince.  I had just been to see Prince in concert at Wembley Arena and, following certain spooky coincidences, I was prompted to create something to express my views. I started the article by putting things right concerning how Prince got his name: 

‘Contrary to popular understanding, Prince is his real Christian name, his father, John L. Nelson was a pianist in the jazz band, the Prince Roger’s Band, and the pianist’s son was named after his boss.’ 

I then set up the back ground to my train of thought: 

‘I first started listening to Prince in the early 80’s after being intrigued by the apocalyptical track 1999’; where Armageddon is seen as something almost to be welcomed as a cleansing spiritual force ("tonight I'm gonna party like it’s 1999”). Thereafter, for some silly strange reason, I started to become aware of certain coincidences between the life and career of Prince and Dylan’s own life and career which, of course, I knew pretty well’… These are some of the coincidences that struck my mind up to about 1993’: 

                       Both

               Dylan

             Prince

 Are Geminis

Born 24/5/1941 

Born 7/6/1958 

 Born In Minnesota

St. Mary’s Hospital, Duluth

Mount Sinai Hospital, Minneapolis

First bands had initials G.C.

The Golden Chords 

Grand Central

Debut albums bearing their names only

Bob Dylan 

Prince (In the UK) 

Have recorded at Sound 80 studio, Minneapolis

Blood On The Tracks – new version 

Session musician 

Have released albums with the words Times and Rain in the title

‘The Times They Are A-Changin' and ‘Hard Rain’ 

‘Sign of the Times’  and ‘Purple Rain’ 

Have written songs using sexual innuendo relating to automobiles 

Dirty World 

Dirty Mind 

Appeared in concert, in London, in 1981 

Earl’s Court 

The Lyceum 

Have appeared as rock stars in feature films and, during such roles, have watched their female co-stars ‘skinny dipping’

Watching Fiona in ‘Hearts Of Fire’ 

Watching Apollonia in ‘Purple Rain’ 

Have had top 50 albums in the consecutive years 1988, 1989 and 1990

‘Down In The Groove’, ‘Oh Mercy’, ‘Under the Red Sky’ 

‘Lovesexy’, ‘Batman’ (soundtrack) and ‘Graffiti Bridge’ 

Have had residencies at London concert halls during 1990 

6 nights at the Hammersmith Odeon 

19 nights at the Wembley Arena 


I then recounted that I had recently purchased a Record Collector magazine and found this on the first page: 

Contents


For The Record  ………………………………… 4

Information Station  …………………………. 16

 

FEATURES


Bob Dylan  …………….………………………….. 24

Prince   …………..……………………….……….. 36
 

before going on to recount further coincidences and firing a shot against my readers doubts: 

‘Both artists subsequently entered the charts. together with albums in 1994; when I read about Dylan’s CD Rom recently the article stated that the people who put this CD Rom together also were responsible for Prince’s CD Rom; apparently there is a book coming out giving details of Prince’s first two hundred bootleg CD’s; and here we are in March 1995: Dylan has a twelve date tour of the U.K. and, at more or less the same time, Prince has a thirteen date tour of the U.K., performing in the same Counties. 

Now it is all very easy for people to say (and they have said) that these coincidences between Dylan and Prince could be applied to Dylan and any other major artist of his time; but I'm afraid that this is just a lie. The truth of the matter is that these coincidences do actually exist - just like you and me. O.K. So what? Well I agree. So what that you and me exist; so what that you go about your daily routine and I go about mine; so what that we have put our heads together in this Freewheelin’ thing once a month for almost ten years; we all know that there is something more to it all than a mere “so what?” but to attempt, or even think about, an answer to that question means that you have to cross a border line. And a howling beast stalks that border line, a beast that separates man from man.’ 

I then returned to what prompted me to write the article i.e. seeing Prince in concert  and, in my conclusion, dealt with some similarity in lyrics and some universal truths: 

‘There was however a fundamental similarity between the Prince show that I saw at Wembley and the shows that Dylan performed in the States in 1979. The first coincidence here is that Prince is currently in his mid thirties (he will be 37 in June) and in 1979 Dylan was also in his mid thirties (the songs he performed in 1979 had been written in his 37th year). The second, and far more importance coincidence is that both these artists, at round about the same time in their lives, became “born again”. 

Before Prince took the stage at the Wembley Arena in March 1995, a video screen showed a montage of his career to date followed by a confirmation that the ‘Artist Formerly Known As Prince’ was now dead. From now on, everything was going to be different; indeed Prince didn’t perform any of his very extensive back catalogue. Every song performed in the two hour show was post the ‘born again’ period and not yet committed to formal album release. Apparently he is no longer going to perform any of his old songs again. (Well, doesn’t that sound somewhat familiar?). 

We all know that the reason given for Dylan being ‘born again’ in his mid thirties was as a result of his struggle with religion. A somewhat short-lived struggle which came to a head in early 1979 and appears to have lasted for just a couple of years. The reason given for Prince being ‘born again’ in his mid thirties is as a result of a struggle for artistic freedom between him and his Record Company. This condition of being ‘born again’ has been referred to in the lyrics from songs of both artists: Dylan from ‘In The Garden’: “Master, tell me why a man must be born again”. Prince from ‘Sign Of The Times’: "some say a man ain’t happy unless a man truly dies’. 

In reality however, the struggles affecting both these artists were and are not external: Dylan was and Prince is struggling with himself: with his knowledge of life, with his experiences of what has been and his hopes of what is to be. Both artists have received the adulation of millions. Stood alone in front of audiences who hang on their every movement, every word. In flesh and blood they are just like you and me but their struggle to understand what sets them so far apart from so many other human beings, must be immense. 

It is so easy for us, we just hand over the money and take our seat in the auditorium. We then expect to be entertained; demand value for money; bay to be satisfied. We owe the performer nothing but his debt to us is enormous, and the bigger the audience, the larger the debt: the greater the burden. “Well” you may say, “they don't have to do it”. But of course they do: the gift is theirs to give and they had to give it. It’s no wonder that they seek to re-invent themselves from time to time - to escape from the pursuit and pressure of what is expected. But they probably are fully aware that they will never be able to run that far. 

One of Prince’s new songs which he performed at Wembley has the title, I think, of ‘Gold’. The song has not yet been released and indeed some say it never will. From what I heard, it is a tremendous song, the sense of which seemed to relate to the realization of a truth, in particular the lines “all that glitters ain’t gold”. Dylan found the same truth in ‘Abandoned Love’ with the lines:

“I’ve given up the game, I’ve got to leave,
The pot of gold is only make-believe.”

The Artist Formerly Known As Prince could easily have said:  “I've given up my name, I've got to leave etc.” 

And on the subject of truths, perhaps Dylan summed it all up best when he said that

“ there are no truths outside the Gates of Eden”. And what about these coincidences - are there really any truths in them? And how can you avoid such coincidences anyway? Well that's easy - you just don't think about them.’ 

So I got it off my chest, to a degree of ridicule really. Dylan and Prince? Soul mates and brothers? Absolutely bleedin’ preposterous. The misinterpretation was in that I was merely putting them together as artists who shared the same time and space and faced the same pressures with a similar response. I never intended to suggest that Dylan would take to the stage wearing baubles, bangles and beads. 

But why revisit this particular train of thought from the mid-nineties now in the mid noughties?. Am I heading for another derailment? Let me return to Dylan’s advice to Geraldine:

Here beginneth the second lesson:
‘it will not change. it will follow you the  rest of your life’.
 

It was the essential and Dylan life affirming Expecting Rain that started it off a couple of weeks ago. While sifting through the daily list of all things Bob I spotted the following: 

Prince still the party animal as he rattles the Fillmore - (SFGate) (link found by Cliff Warnken, BambooStickman)’ 

What the hell was a reference to Prince doing among all this important Bobstuff? I clinked the link whereupon, in an instant of electronic wizadry, I was taken to an article in the entertainment  section of the San Francisco Chronicle for Monday 16th February 2004. The article was written by one James Sullivan, the ‘Chronicle Pop Culture Critic’ and centred on Prince’s show at The Fillmore on the previous Saturday. The review was very favourable and then the following section hit me: 

‘To generations of R&B and hip-hop stars, Prince is Bob Dylan. Bear with me: Both are diminutive, well-coiffed originals who have subsumed fundamental lessons from the musical giants who preceded them (in Prince’s case, the molten guitar of Jimi Hendrix and the relentless groove of James Brown). Both have worked out their spiritual yearnings onstage, hauling their fans along for the search. And both are blessed with a profound watchability, even when they are muddling through phases of mediocrity.’ 

Did I read that correctly: ‘Prince is Bob Dylan’? Shades of the mid-nineties came flooding back. Didn’t I say something like that once? 

The next back stiffening event came in my local W.H. Smiths. I had heard from someone that the March edition of Mojo (which unlike Freewheelin is published in the month before the date shown on the cover) had a piece on Dylan and so I decided to search it out. And, just like that record Collector of 9 years ago, there they were together again, this time on the cover. If you glanced away from the chubby faced blue eyed Beach Boy looking out at you, you would notice those two names getting a mention in a supporting role: Bob Dylan and Prince. 

So is my ‘second lesson’ correct?  Will this theory never change? Will it follow me for the rest of my life? I will keep you informed. In the meantime, let me return to the San Francisco Chronicle and the review of Prince’s show at The Fillmore. Apparently Prince came back on stage for numerous encores and the gig didn’t finish until 3 am! This is how James Sullivan summed it up:

‘After the lights went up at 3 a.m., the band came out for one final jam. Led by Parker, they played a raucous, second-line instrumental version of the gospel standard ‘Down by the Riverside’.

It might have been taken as a subtle comment on current events – “Gonna study war no more” the lyric says … but Prince was busy slapping his band mates with a towel. He’s in his own world; fans are just happy to sneak a peek from time to time.’

Now that Dylan is on the road again his fans can sneak their own peeks as often as the want. But if, during the course of his wanderings, he starts trotting out that old gospel standard… well you heard it here first!
 

Dylan / Prince

 
 
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