Last Thoughts on Bob Dylan…

Part One: When yer head gets twisted

by Bob Fletcher


A confession. I am not a writer by choice and never will be. Furthermore, I am comfortable with that statement. I have written a short story, designed to exorcise personal demons, but nothing more. Many have chosen to write extensively on the subject of Bob Dylan’s life, others have concentrated on his music. Some have caught a glimpse of a moment and, by adding conjecture, have absolved themselves of personal responsibility. They believe they are telling the truth but fail to recognise that it is not universal. The music of Bob Dylan has changed my life, but only because I wanted my life to be changed. Maybe that’s why I feel so protective of him – God knows he doesn’t need me to look out for him, but the songs and performances have given me so much that I should be able to offer something in return. That something is responsibility. For what I hear and how I hear it, for what it means to me and me only. For the emotions I chose to accompany a performance. 

The notion of writing anything relating to Bob Dylan has, until this moment, been just that. I will come to the whys and wherefores but beforehand, I need to confess again. Bob Dylan became a part of my personality many years ago, the obsessive component following at a later date. However, I know my limitations. I am not an expert; merely a spectator and I have no desire to engineer a meeting with him. I may return to this later but in case I don’t let me clarify. I don’t know him and he doesn’t know me therefore he owes me no explanation or insight. About anything. And anyway, we may dislike each other. Sadly I never met John Bauldie, but by all accounts he thoroughly deserved his reputation as the Dylan fans Dylan fan (having read the many tributes to John Green I suspect that those of you who knew him would argue the case). What troubles me is the suggestion by Q magazine that John Bauldie was at the forefront of a never-ending quest to discover who Dylan is. A note of caution: “All the truth in the world adds up to one big lie”. John was, I’m certain, intelligent enough to recognise his own limitations as well as the futility of such a journey. 

Back to the whys and wherefores. Many people have written many things and I have read many of them. Some have been informative and some not. Some have been hugely enjoyable; others contain nothing more than conjecture. Some are frightening. It occurred to me how I might feel opening a magazine and discovering that it was entirely about me. Furthermore, some of the articles profess to know who I am. I don’t even know that.  I have no problem with opinion. Take the following….." the song (Caribbean Wind), through this performance burns itself into the consciousness of every person who ever hears it. It becomes flesh; it breathes; even the mere memory of hearing it roars in the listener’s blood “. I have absolute faith in that description. It is perfect example of Dylan ’performing’ and Paul Williams’ opinion is certainly not conjecture. He hears it and then decides what it means to him. 

Here are some facts. By typing Bob Dylan into Google I can browse 1,630,000 sites. According to ‘notion’ appears once in a Dylan song. ‘Writing’, ‘anything’, and ‘relating..’ appear a total of 45 times. ‘Until’ emerges on 18 occasions. By far the most used word is ‘just’ with 217 mentions. And the really frightening thing? Somebody somewhere will read this and set out to prove me wrong. So be it. The following suggests that Bob Dylan has a similar outlook regarding those who take him a little too seriously: “These so-called connoisseurs of Bob Dylan music. I don’t feel they know a thing, or have an inkling of who I am or what I’m about. It’s ludicrous, humorous and sad. That such people have spent so much of their time thinking about who? Me? Get a life please. You’re wasting your own”. 

I care more about the component parts of the performances than the man. Bob Dylan performs I Believe in You during November of 1981 (Saenger Performing Arts Centre) because he chooses to. The performance is exquisite because, in all probability, he wanted it to be. This in itself is, of course, conjecture. There may well have been good reason for his treatment of the song but I don’t need to know. I choose to regard it as exceptional and others may not. I suspect Bob Dylan wrote (and subsequently performed: there is a difference) overtly political songs because he needed to. That’s a good enough reason.  I know Dylan has rewritten melodies and borrowed songs. He has also rewritten songs and borrowed melodies. On many occasions. I also know that he probably hasn’t been very nice to be around at times. Trust me, I work with people experiencing stimulant psychosis. But don’t let any of this distract you. As Paul Williams helpfully suggests “Don’t try to find out what Dylan is saying instead of listening to what he is saying”. 

When I bought the first album at the age of 15 I was (somewhat pompously) convinced Dylan would continue to divide opinion, mine included, that’s what made his music so fascinating. He is, as Jack Nicholson noted “a disturber of the peace” (Dylan certainly disturbs me). Since that first summer 24 have come and gone. The most recent found me listening to Nashville Skyline, revisiting the Johnny Cash/Bob Dylan sessions, discovering the New Morning acetate, enjoying Self Portrait immensely, and uncovering an excellent copy of the George Harrison/Bob Dylan collaboration. 

Back then I didn’t need to know when or where the songs were recorded. It didn’t matter to me. (It does now. Now it is entirely necessary to know that a matter of months after appearing at the Philharmonic Hall Dylan recorded further sessions of what would become Bringing It All Back Home and followed this by touring England because, all of a sudden, it makes complete sense) The Clash mattered a lot, the Buzzcocks interested me to a point. The Undertones were fantastic live and others came and went. Joy Division, and later New Order, held sway but, portentously, it was Dylan who came with me to London in 1983. As Sean Wilentz notes” Bob Dylan was leading (me) into new places, the whereabouts unknown but deeply tempting”. Dylan, in all his guises, was an invited guest in my flat so had to behave himself. Like many before me I had no idea that I was entering a long-term relationship. The music eased the passage. There are, of course, two sides to the arrangement. Blood on the Tracks has since seen me safely across the channel on several occasions. Seasickness was the alternative. 

Since I have introduced the sea it seems appropriate to conclude on an aquatic note, a water feature if you will – ho, ho, ho. Arlo Guthrie is of the opinion that “songwriting is like fishing in a stream; you put in your line and hope you catch something. And I don’t think anyone downstream from Bob Dylan ever caught anything”.

Until the next time, go in peace my friends.


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