(On All Things Bright and Beautiful)

 by J. R. Stokes


1.  With Music In My Ears

So many things made the John Green weekend special this year. Meeting up with friends, old and new, is always a very special part of the weekend as is seeing John’s family, and in particular John’s mum being so proud of her errant son that it should come to such a celebration of his life for this fourth year. I always stand in awe of our right wing fascist pig of an M.C., the totally un p.c., Keith Agar with all his marvellous works and the pulling together of Freewheelers going about their duties, on and off stage, makes a wonderful link  between what we put on and the people that we are putting it in for. And, talking about links, what about that physical link of the Freewheelin handshake? In Mr. Agar’s engine room, where the rules of his road were being lodged, we stood in a circle with one hand waving free. Yes, Mr. Punch: that’s the way to do it. 

There was however something else that permeated the entire weekend, something that was always there whether in the background or up front and in your face. Whenever you stopped for a second to think, it hit you: there was literally music everywhere. There were of course the organized musical interludes from the stage with Homer and CP interspersing their talks with some melody; and during the evening we had Cold Overture, Peter Stone Brown, and Steve Gibbons giving it up with their instruments: we even had audience participation in the form of a Johnny Cash singalong. Music from both sides of the footlights. 

It wasn’t just the planned performances that got to me though, it was equally those unplanned moments: whenever I left the main function room music could be heard from the Trader’s stalls or from the video room. Then some pure magical post agenda moments in the bar when jingle jangle chords accompanied a ragged choir. Steve Watson and Steve Gibbons on guitars at one end, Trevor and Peter at the other; Paul and the band played along and everyone who knew the words (and some who didn’t) joined in the never ending performance of Dylan song after Dylan song. I left the bar at 5.30am BST just as Trevor had turned his attention to the piano and the two Steves were into something from Street Legal. As I got in the lift, I still heard them from a distance and the music was still in my ears. 

It didn’t end there: next morning after breakfast two guitarists sat in the corner of the bar and continued their performance to anyone who wanted to linger and listen. It really was a musical weekend. 

I didn’t purchase a great deal of merchandise at the Trader’s stalls but one of the items I took home with me prolonged the theme of the weekend and brought more music to my ears as I took the opportunity whilst at Northampton to purchase the now officially released Halloween 1964 concert from the Philharmonic Hall. I first had that concert on tape about 25 years ago, then I remember getting a deluxe vinyl bootleg box set edition of All Hallows Eve before, some time later, I got the concert again on a double bootleg CD. The man is right, those bootleggers really do make some pretty good stuff but it is nice to have an official version of the concert and also to know that some royalties will at last find their way into the artist’s pocket (please don’t say he doesn’t need the royalties because  that’s irrelevant). 

One of the things that intrigues me about the ‘64 Halloween show is the difference in pace of the patter and the performance. There must have been a canister of laughing gas at the side of the stage from which Dylan took mighty gasps as in between his songs that contain expressions of, and are performed with, the utmost seriousness, he fools, he jibes, he jokes and he just…well, giggles. Although he appears supremely confident in the delivery of the epics ‘Gates of Eden’, ‘It’s Alright, Ma’ and ‘Hard Rain’ for instance, this between-song laughter adds an edge of nervousness and wonder to the show: it is as if he doesn’t really want to be taken seriously and that he is singing songs that have been written by someone else. The question can be put again: will the real Bob Dylan stand up please? 

The standout track for me in the entire set is the hollering version, in the second half of the show, of ‘Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right’. Who the hell is he shouting at and why does he shout so loud? My goodness, they would be able to hear him all the way from New York to his home town in Minnesota. But then perhaps it was the attitude of his folks back in Minnesota, rather than some local floozy, that was the real reason for him to be ‘trav’lin’ on’. The delivery to me sounds like the rebellious cry of youth from someone who could write the anthemic: 

‘Come mothers and fathers
Throughout the land
And don't criticize
What you can't understand
Your sons and your daughters
Are beyond your command
Your old road is
Rapidly agin'.
Please get out of the new one
If you can't lend your hand
For the times they are a-changin'.’ 

The stance of this ‘Don’t Think Twice’ from the Philharmonic Hall is so emphatic and so underlines the situation that this particular son is way beyond the command of his mother and father. All they did was criticize when they didn’t really understand and they didn’t do too much talking anyway. Well grown ups and kids don’t do they? So Mum and Dad, as a child I was told to toe the line: but things have changed: your old road is rapidly agin’ and I’m on a new road. I love you and all that and I’ll be fine. Don’t think twice about it. It’s all right…Ma. (Don’t be fooled by the call to ‘babe’ throughout the song – if you discount the first letter of the word you get ‘Abe’ – the name of Dylan’s father!). 

2. Gathered from Coincidence 

Just an update really on my article in Freewheelin 222 about the Gemini twins from Minnesota, Bob Dylan and Prince Nelson. On the 15th March 2004 at the Waldorf Astoria in New York City Prince was inducted into the Rock n’ roll Hall of Fame. Another inductee at the ceremony was George Harrison and the artists who promoted these inductees were Jeff Lynne and Tom Petty. So: George Harrison, Jeff Lynne, Tom Petty and Prince. Strange line up … and of course un Lucky for some. 

Further on the matter of links, and following C.P.’s Beach Boys wonder words last month, at the third induction ceremony, held in 1988, Bob Dylan was inducted into the Hall of Fame together with – you guessed it: The Beach Boys. Whether this has any meaning, God only knows. 

3. Thong & Danth, Man?

You may recall that towards the end of last year, that great bathroom conversationalist Jim Gillan told us that he had discovered some kind of truth. Jim reported on the result of that discovery – the linking of faith and underwear -  in Freewheelin 220. This is part of what he wrote:

‘Faith is like underwear, in that it is something that many folks take for granted, perhaps regard as essential, simply assume that it has to be there and cloak themselves in it just in case the unexpected and unwelcome happens.  Stick with me, there is a point to this.  I hope. 

Faith, like underwear, comes in lots of different labels, though arguably all of them do substantially the same thing, which is offer support, provide some control and act as something of a safety net. And the parallels have barely begun! Try this: Faith, like the underwear that might be found on any one shop may appear undifferentiated, but the wearer soon customises it. To explain: Faith gets interpreted to suit the conscience of the individual (if this is done by clerics it’s called theology, if by the laity it’s called heresy), whilst underwear is inevitably stretched and/or tucked to fit where necessary.  Both are equally elastic! And like Faith, underwear needs to be looked after if it is to remain pure and unsullied. 

For some, Faith is as practical as a pair of boxer shorts. For others it’s as uplifting as a balcony bra. Some may find it as constricting as a fully stiffened corset, or as uncomfortable as a too tight thong, whilst others find it as comforting as the famous Playtex eighteen hour girdle (now THAT really takes some believing). But ultimately it’s an entirely personal matter for the individual, who may of course choose to let one or maybe others (some folks have more involved social lives than others) in on the secret. Victoria’s Secret for US readers.’

I am not quite sure of the exact sequence of events but, some time after Jim’s article, the somewhat astonishing news broke that Dylan was in Venice to be filmed for an advert for the American underwear giant Victoria’s Secret. This news prompted my email to Jim that he mentioned in his article in Freewheelin 222 and  for those voyeurs among us the ad. can be seen if you follow the link from item number 4 on the Expecting Rain website page for 3rd April 2004. Apparently Dylan’s appearance is to advertise a new range of lingerie called ‘Angels’  and,  as will be seen from the advert, the scantily clad beauties who appear with Bob are all wearing pretty blue bras …and wings.

Item number 3 on Expecting Rain for the 3rd April comes from a poetry magazine and spouts some conjecture about why Dylan appeared in the advert:

‘Just more musings on the Dylan Victoria's Secret ad. After talking to a friend at work, I've decided that Dylan did it for the women, song, and Venice. And after all, the product being sold is ‘love’. 

‘The women, the song and Venice’? No, surely it was a test of faith! 

Now I know that Jim doesn’t take these things seriously but he did ask (in Freewheelin 222) for any other suggestions linking a Dylan song to underwear. Always willing to oblige, I gave it some thought and came up with the ‘pants’ and ‘vests’ of Desolation Row (not to mention the ‘leather cup’  - 36BB no doubt, or something that is ‘strapped across their shoulders’). On the subject of the vest I did think for a long time that the lyric was ‘ she wears an ironed vest’  but that’s probably because I am the neat and tidy sort. With regard to the ‘pants’, of course the word ‘pants’ has a different connotation in the States – over there it also means trousers, over here it means underwear. Let’s stick to the English usage for a minute. The lyric is: 

‘Here comes the blind commissioner
They’ve got him in a trance
One hand is tied to the tight-rope walker
The other is in his pants’ 

To explore this lyric a little further, you have to establish the gender of the two participants. Clearly the blind commissioner is male (because ‘they’ve got HIM in a trance’) and if you continue the lineage sequence of participant followed by gender, the tight rope walker is also male (‘HIS pants’). But does this mean that the blind commissioner has one hand down the tight rope walkers pants? If it did, and if they are truly both males, then this would certainly sit appropriately with the reading of homoerotic references in other songs from Highway 61 Revisited, notably, ‘Ballad Of A Thin Man’.  We don’t however want to read it that way do we? We would feel much safer in treating the tight-rope walker as female and the blind commissioner’s other hand as being in his own pants, for whatever reason. 

So much for underwear and gender ambiguity. I reckon Jim should write to the Victoria’s Secret people and share his thoughts on faith and underwear. His thoughts may be treated with glory, even if only the knickerbockers kind! 

4. Taking My Wife To Italy 

“Can’t we get away from bloody Bob Dylan, just for once?” 

Some good friends of ours spent their summer holiday last year on the Adriatic coast of Italy, in the Le Marche / Abbruzio regions. They subsequently entertained us with some delightful stories of happy times spent under an Italian sun and, being grossly impressed, we decided to follow in their footsteps. Accordingly, earlier in the year we took advantage of the excellent Euro/pound exchange rate coupled with some good offers from Ryanaire  and we booked a holiday in a place called Giulianova, which is about 20 miles north of Pescara. We leave Stanstead airport on Monday 28th June and return a couple of weeks later. 

Just recently I have been reading up about this region of Italy and it seems that there are many places to visit, from the golden sandy beaches to the quaint little hill top villages, from the National parks to the ancient monuments, from the picturesque landscaped lakes to…the vineyards. So far as it could be, the holiday was gong to be completely Dylan free. Free that is until I spotted the following news item that was planted in the press this week: 

Legendary musician Bob Dylan is the latest in a growing band of celebrities to lend his name to a wine.

‘Planet Waves’ will be the new label of a ‘super-Marche’ release – in a joint venture between the American rocker and established winemaker Antonio Terni of le Terrazze estate.

‘Planet Waves’ 2002 is a blend of 75% Montepulciano d’Abruzzo and 25% Merlot.

"It’s a smooth, full bodied, structured red, similar to the Chaos label which, in 2001, was awarded Gambero Rosso 3 bicchieri award - but more upmarket," says Terni.

Antonio Terni comes from a line of winemakers based in Italy’s central eastern coastal town of Ancona in the Marche. Terni has always been a keen fan of Dylan, spending most of his free time following his gigs around the world. Last November he met Dylan’s drummer at a party in Milan and through him sent Dylan a few bottles of his top label "Visions of J", after the Dylan song Visions of Johanna. Terni was later contacted by Dylan’s manager.

"He liked my wine and said he would be interested in getting involved in a joint venture to produce a top Italian wine", says Terni. "I couldn’t believe my ears. Dylan has been my life-long idol - he has accompanied me though my youth and entire life. Who would ever think that one day we’d produce a wine together?," exclaims Terni.

An estimated 5,000 bottles of ‘Planet Waves’ 2002 will be released in October 2004. In the UK a small number will be available through Berry Bros. & Rudd at a sales price of £35.’

I quickly checked my map of the region and it looks like we are holidaying about an hours drive from Dylan’s vineyard. Not only that, Dylan performs near Venice on the 2nd July which is the first Friday of our holiday. (We booked it before he did!). He has Sunday 5th July off and as he is in Italy what is the betting that he visits his vineyard on that day?

So the trip that has been already inked in to our holiday itinerary is Sunday 5th July: explore the vineyards of the region and take home a bottle of wine. Just a little trip out in the rented car: for no particular reason and with no ulterior motives, dear.