Pain in a postcard...

before venturing from the mountains
of Madrid to the coast of Barcelona

by Trev Gibb



Well it’s a wonderful day here in Newcastle. The sun is shining, I've just had what was, very, very long hair almost completely shaved off; I’m listening to Frank Sinatra’s “September of My Years” and the second year of my degree in English Literature is pretty much over - with just two essay’s to complete by Wednesday J. I feel like a new man.

I hope you will forgive the conversational tone of my piece for this months Freewheelin’, but it’s been a very hectic two months and I've been trying to jam everything I possibly can into the hours that my eyes and my mind will allow me to enjoy. In fact it is only today - as I write this piece - that I’m beginning to feel some form of relief. 

I’ve just put in for some holiday time, ten days from work, so that I’m given room to go to Dylan’s shows at Newcastle on the 22nd  and Glasgow on the 23rd, as well as travel to Genoa, Italy on the 25th of June for two weeks with some musician friends of mine. There’s been a lot of money outgoing and as usual a lot of bills incoming, so at the back of my mind I’m hoping it all levels out and I wont regret going to Italy. Heck! You never know, if Dylan swoops close by while I’m there I may well have to break the bank and catch a show. 

As you all know the subject of my ‘first’ and previous piece for Freewheelin’ was on the issue of Dylan and selling-out to commercial interests. It was something I found fun to write about even though we now know (and probably knew anyway) that the American-Idol rumour was just a rumour and thus nothing to really worry about. However, I must admit as much as part of me was really looking forward to Dylan appearing, part of me was thinking “No Bob! It will be a shambles, don’t do it!” 

This month so far has seen quite a few changes: Pool’s server keeps shutting down, almost all of the time nowadays – but there again, that’s nothing new – Guitarist Freddy Koella has gone and has been replaced by Stu Kimbal, who actually played on Empire Burlesque back in 1985, and supposedly - according to various reviews I've read from the likes of Peter Stone Brown at – Dylan’s voice is back, with the infamous wolfman vocal (almost as universally hated as the sing-song vocal) having almost completely disappeared. 

Ok, so all sounds well, all sounds good. Another tour, another set of changes. This of course nips in the bud my plan to write a piece on the ever growing contributions of Freddy Koella.  Oh well, who knows, its rumoured he will be back on the UK tour, though many are saying that Stu Kimball is so promising that having Koella back would be a step backward for Dylan’s band which – even with only 3 shows having being played as I write this – appears to have improved almost instantly, and one could say, miraculously. 

The word ‘painful’ is the key word here actually, because it brings me to a point I’ve wanted to discuss for a while. 

Dylan said back in 1975, in reference to Blood on The Tracks, “how can anyone enjoy that kind of pain?” And so I ask the question - based on discussions I've had with friends, regarding the importance of pain and its translation and expression through Art - 

Does pain inspire the creation of a greater and deeper ‘Art’ more than that of joy and happiness? I want very briefly sketch, in a kind of free-form manner, my feelings on this; in reference to Dylan.

OK, so I’ve taken on board quite a question, but its an area I got quite a lot of satisfaction discussing with people in the past few weeks. And considering the limit of my time its something I want to talk of, if even very naively and unformed. 

‘Great Art’ for me can come from many things and ‘Pain’ isn’t necessarily any more significant and special in inspiring Art than joy, however there are still interesting points that can be made and discussed from both sides. 

However, some people are more inclined to gain some form of satisfaction and inspiration from listening to, or feeling/experiencing ‘Art’ translated from pain, because they can internalise it and relate it to their own reality. If they have the courage to do so that is… And so much of the time it depends upon the person as to how the Art affects you. Sometimes pain into Art is a very self indulgent thing, something the artist and the person on the receiving end (the listener) can share in, can wallow in it even. And I like to wallow in it too. 

I tend to be inclined more towards pain reflected and regurgitated through Art, I don’t know why, but there’s just something so profoundly deep, mystical and emotional about that sort of Art, that I find compelling, because it isn’t necessarily a happy distraction from the toils of a life we often bury underground. That’s probably why I love ‘Standing in the Doorway’ so much, or most of Blood on the Tracks, Oh Mercy and Time out of Mind. I'm attracted to mysticism, which I guess is Art, expressed through some form of sublime - divine even - escapist pain. 

The great thing with Dylan however, is his ability to often take expression of pain to another level, by adding a double-layer and aligning it with joy. Look at the song You're Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go, that song on one level is very painful, yet it’s expressed so joyously. You listen to that song and you feel the essence of a lazy summer day, things moving fast... That’s an incredible thing to do, its genius… That’s brilliant art! ...Aligning joy and pain like that! Wow huh? Things seem so happy outside, there’s “Flowers on the hillside, blooming crazy,” a “blue river running slow and lady”, yet “You could make me cry, if you don’t know”. 

However I do believe that great Art can also come from inspiration and feelings of pure joy and celebration. Some of the African world music that isn’t inspired by pain and repression, but by a joy, nature and a rhythm of existence is an example of incredible joyful art in music, and yet it’s pure celebration, a release, a relief and very uplifting… Not the utmost indulgent and inward. However, if we go deeper can we say that this release is loosely related to pain? ... Are they just both two sides of the coin anyways? ... Have I started contradicting myself yet? J

Perhaps joy into art is a very ‘fluent’ and ‘giving’ expression because it expresses a universal joy that all can share in a way that perhaps pain cannot. People fear pain and ‘true reality’ and that’s perhaps why Dylan doesn’t appeal to the masses, because he doesn’t pull no punches with reality or escapism, he isn’t necessarily going to sing you a simple song of joy so that you can get on the bus and forget who you are and what’s happening around you, he doesn’t necessarily subscribe to that. 

His songs are deep and people are scared to swim in deep water. It takes courage to listen to Dylan; it takes a courage that involves opening up your own soul, your own wounds. So sometimes for people it is easier to listen to ‘Brown Eyed Girl’ or ‘Take It Easy’ because on one level it’s easy, it doesn’t confront you, it just keeps you happy within the distractions of consuming and denial. Don’t get me wrong however; I'm a huge fan of Van Morrison and of Jackson Browne who both have in many of their songs ploughed into the depths of mysticism.

Although I think people often misinterpret the brilliance of a lot of joyous songs or joyous works of Art because there is a multitude of it in the masses and in our pop/kitsch culture, which serves to fuel our pain-distraction culture... People are scared to feel their pain, a pain they try to ignore by listening to or feeling that sort of joyous escapism, But does that stop it being Art/Artistic?.

"Nobody feels any pain, tonight as I stand inside the rain"

...But I at least when listening to Dylan, stand inside of the rain, I get lost in the fragments of meaning and meaningless, of truth and of pain… wet droplets of time lost in confusion falling from a sky full of mysticism… I get something from it, I feel it, it is painful yet in some crazy way it’s joyous in being painful… But still nobody feels any pain tonight... you choose… you choose your own path and perhaps your own pain, you choose to listen, you choose to feel, when you can bear it, if...

Anyway, I digress...

Will see you all again in textual form in a month. I’ll send a postcard during my trip.