by Jim Gillan



Bobby’s in the bathtub, reachin’ for the rubber duck /

Jim’s in the doorway, he’s mumblin’ what the fu

Ha! If only I knew more about how ‘Page Setup’ works, I would have had more space at the end of the line. Wonder how it would have ended? Says Ros, “be grateful for small murkies.” 

Now, where am I?  Yeah, that’s right. It’s a little after 3am and we’re at home, in Dewsbury, West Yorkshire, with a Dylan sitting in the bath. Despite being waterlogged and splendidly bedraggled, he has retained his enormous dignity, astonishing presence and interest. Right now, he’s seemingly interested in Ros, as he’s squinting thoughtfully at the lace detail round the neckline of her admittedly distracting silk nightdress. 

Let me ask you one question: Even by my eccentric standards, is it too silly to contemplate Bob in the bath? Surely the voice of a generation, the recipient of countless awards and accolades, the writer compared favourably with the likes of Shakespeare, Keats, Lear et al, the subject of learned (or at least weighty) tomes and painstaking analysis by world authorities (those too serious to fool) merits more respectful treatment… 

Well, maybe so – but why then is Bob in the tub? I’ll ask him in a minute or two, but it’s worth remembering that a) he might not choose to answer; b) even if he does, it may not inform – though may illuminate; c) Bob in a bath isn’t as far-fetched and silly as Bob at the St Andrews shindig, though the ridiculously gushing Corcoran comfortably took the top prat prize. The do with the king of Sweden also had Bob looking silly, though this was at least relieved by his unabashed leering at the women. Plus ca change, as Ros might say, the alluring minx. Venice too was not his finest hour – though maybe that’s just my dislike of Victoria’s Secret tat, which for all the voluptuous loveliness of the model, is to lingerie what latte is to proper coffee.  And then there was Live Aid.  Or his Chabad appearance with Chopped Liver. And Stuttgart, 16th June 1991, which the perceptively economical Clinton Heylin described as “one of the most shambolic, rambling performances ever given by a major artist.”   So, no Bob, in the scheme of what was, what is and what might yet be, I don’t think that it’s either strange, or silly, to have you in our bath. Why, there’s a whole web of Freewheelin’ readers (and many, many others) who would love to have you in their tub. 

As it’s late and as we’re not looking for answers, there’s a good chance that all Bob will get from us is a quick conversation, assuming that he’s come for a chat, rather than a wash. Lots of people who were close to Dylan have commented on his lack of personal hygiene (though without saying anything about their own habits), so this may make a natter more likely. This will make a change for the poor bugger, who usually has to suffer people either talking at him, or about him.  It’s easy to see this as the inevitable price he pays for being who he is, although in truth, none of us (and maybe even Bob himself) has a clue about the whole man.  The truth is, it’s convenient to reduce his life and art to a series of clichés, and for writers/commentators to justify their output by pointing to his ambiguity and reclusiveness – although for all their academic or other qualifications, this doesn’t explain why they are equipped to interpret anything he might do. Sadly, writing Chronicles won’t stop the blather. 

Nor will it necessarily show the charlatans for what they are, as anything that Bob says, does, or fails to do only encourages them to trot out yet another stream of guff masquerading as insight. Admittedly, some of it is quite fun – personally I like Heylin’s work, enjoy Paul Williams’s enthusiasm and am occasionally diverted by some things that others offer, Andrew Muir being one example.  But I do try to keep a distance from anyone described as a ‘Dylan scholar’ or ‘Dylan authority’.  What the hell, whilst some are in it for the earnings opportunities, others because they are bursting to say something and still more because they simply enjoy the discussion, ALL of us are ultimately talking/writing about ourselves. 

At the best part of 1,000 pages, Song and Dance Man 3 reveals quite a lot about Michael Gray and practically nothing about Dylan. It, like others of its kind, is OK, even helpful, on some of the specifics, but can never be anything more than a perspective of what it all might mean, what the motives were, how they might have changed over time and so on.  And the Gray, being overly inclined to bile, is much less impartial than his self-appointed role requires. Go instead to the music: Girl From The North Country is a different song every time it is performed and listened to. Depending on the date of recording/performance, Dylan is older/younger, whilst we the listeners, are chronologically older, though not necessarily emotionally and/or cognitively so.  Does it matter who Bob might have had in mind when he wrote it, or what he was thinking about during any one performance? Do you really think that anybody, even Dylan, is going to shed any light that matters?  Have we changed? 

With one exception, that of making yet more money, writing Chronicles does seem like a foolish move. It’s not going to be any more accurate, helpful or revealing than any (auto)biography ever is; it’s not going to add anything to the myth, or disguise the elusive truth, but may well set a few hares running.  If so, this last might amuse Bob and perhaps some others, but it’s of less significance than the falling leaves outside my window. They herald a change in the season, a change in the weather, something that has huge implications for all life forms. We take the falling leaf for granted, yet treat the coming of Chronicles as somehow significant. It’s an event alright, but in itself, a relatively unimportant one.  And, as I hope I’ve briefly shown, is a lot less useful than the music itself. 

Dylan’s ability to assemble words and phrases into something that resonates is already widely acknowledged to be something special.  Rightly so, though he’s not the only one to do it, nor necessarily the one who does it best.  It’s all subjective, a matter of individual perceptions and insights. I don’t for a moment think that Dylan believes that writing Chronicles will end the stream of Dylan-related commentary, or reveal the charlatans, or bring him priceless anonymity, but I’m not really bothered about what his motives might be – indeed I’m not sure I’ll even bother reading it, especially as the phenomena of finding Bob in the bath gives him the opportunity to really come clean. Off for a coffee and a quick bite. 

HA! Just back from reading the latest outrages perpetrated by Bush, Blair and their acolytes. Makes Chronicles and indeed Dylan seem very small beer.  These people talk piously of legality and rights, whilst all the while exploiting, abusing and destroying all around them, save in those areas that bolster and support them. Bob once sang “To live inside the law you can’t be honest, ” words which do indeed ring true and glow like burning coal. To those who hear it differently, all I can say is that he improvises and mumbles a lot – besides, it’s what I hear that matters to me, rather more than someone else’s sense of things.   Hang on, he’s reaching for the flannel…To be continued.