Will Brown


by Michael Crimmins


The Freewheelin’ William  Brown!

He’s small, scruffy, rebellious and wears a continual frown upon his face! Sound like anyone you know? This particular ragged clown is not the creation of Robert Zimmerman, not then Bob Dylan. He is of course Richmal Crompton’s William Brown. William never combs his hair. His shirt is invariably hanging out, and he fancies himself as a bit of a poet, the comparisons are endless really. 

It all started when JRS our collator requested from all that contribute here, an update of likes and dislikes for the Freewheelers Stars and likes page. In my reply to him where I informed him of my penchant for the song writing of, perhaps unsurprisingly, Bob Dylan, I conveyed to him also of my, continuing from boyhood, passion for the adventures of William Brown.  This reminded me that in my first Freewheelin’ article some ten months back I had promised that I would introduce myself to the Freewheelin’ readership at some point in the future. The above comparison between my two heroes seemed like as good a way as any to get this underway because it was, among other things, the rebellious nature of  the fictional William and, the only part fictional, Bob Dylan that drew me close to both in the first place. 

I was born in Coventry in Warwickshire and had a thoroughly unhappy childhood. No other way of putting that I’m afraid! I had good parents and was given everything that I needed. My school life was from whence my unhappiness stemmed. Being quite good with some subjects, i.e. Religion, and absolutely hopeless with others, i.e. maths, especially Algebra, was totally unacceptable, and only one of the gripes of the Gestapo minded thugs (Colin Jordan taught at this school) who passed themselves of as my teachers at the all boys school that I attended. Thank God then for people who really reach out and touch our lives, real teachers who can provoke thoughts and smiles.

Richmal Crompton rescued me, and I suspect many other children, from a completely miserable existence! ‘William the Rebel’ was the title of just one in the William series. The character of William Brown was one that a lot of children, although predominantly boys, could relate to.  A little later, enter Bob Dylan. I was fourteen and I was relieved that there was somebody else who viewed the world as a complete madhouse!

My first Dylan album was ‘The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan. ‘Blowin’ In The Wind’ came at me, fresh breathed, not a chronological second version. I had not heard of Peter, Paul and Mary!  One line from that song got to me on a personal and therefore comforting level, perhaps a little while before I realised what its global implication was

“How many ears must one man have before he can hear people cry?”

It is of course a very powerful observation, as is the whole of the song. It made a deep imprint on my young mind and Blowin’ was only one song more away from “Masters Of War” and two songs more from “A Hard  Rain’s A-Gonna Fall”. This song starts in with a question: 

“Where have you been my blue eyed son?” 

If Dylan, as has been suggested, had the audacity many years later to equate, align or whatever, himself with Jesus Christ with lines such as “She walked up to me so gracefully and took my crown of thorns” and “In a little hilltop village they gambled for my clothes” from “Shelter from the storm”, I can honestly say that this question and answer exercise from “A Hard Rain’s A Gonna Fall” had me thinking that this was, at least, no ordinary song. I did not know that Dylan had blue eyes back then, and though I rather suspected that Jesus Christ did not, the possible nuclear holocaust predicted in the songs title, and talk of reflecting from mountains so all souls can see it, along with the standing upon water did not so much make me think that Dylan had grand images of his own being, more that he in some way could relate to us certain material dangers. Could this Bob Dylan be a real teacher? Was his perception of things, and perhaps to understate a little, shall we say - a little above average! So concise and to the point did I find certain lines in ‘Hard Rain’, such as: “I saw a highway of diamonds with nobody on it”, that I did at least, one day finally conclude that Dylan is, at least, no ordinary song writer. If messages come through him, as he has said, like it is as if the songs were already written, then a strong message came to me. I found empathy and comfort within the bands of Freewheelin’. 

In “Bob Dylan’s Blues” Dylan relates to childhood heroes with the Lone Ranger and Tonto, although unlike William Brown the dynamic two fail to lift Dylan’s blues. I suppose  someone musta tol’ em that he was doin’ fine. 

“Lord I ain’t  goin’ down to no racetrack see no sports car run,
I don’t have no sports car and I don’t even care to have one,
I can walk anytime around the block”

These words, and indeed those of the whole record, along with the cover image of a dusty looking couple, actually walking around the block and looking all the happier for it, freed me from a continuance of the misery I experienced in school and set me on a completely different path to the one that my parents would have liked me to have taken.  “I shall be free” was the thirteenth and last track. I never have been superstitious, but I have been free. The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan was an education! Not of the academic kind, but of the real kind-it was street wise!  It invited me to have my own opinion. It invited me to read. It invited me into romance and every connotation that the word evokes. 

I am a musician. That is what I do. I like to think that I do it well. If I sound a little proud- well maybe I am, after all I have spent my life doing what I have wanted to do and that in itself is an achievement. Hopefully my pride does not lead me in to the easy disease of conceit. I have never written a really good song! So the next best thing is to sing the best songs. Bob Dylan says that the songs are his lexicon! He doesn’t mean his songs, but I do! His songs are my reference. 

Song is a funny commodity when you think about it. The emotion of happiness and sorrow expressed, being sung out, is very spiritual thing. When a musician speaks of ‘just going through the motions’ being on automatic pilot, as it were, that is in my eyes the time when he severely abuses his gift.

People are often amazed at the freshness and intensity of Dylan’s shows these days. With the exception of perhaps only one period it can be argued at least that this has always been the case. In my opinion Dylan does not rearrange his material and write new, to avoid falling into the trap of going through the motions! He does what he does because he loves to do it, can’t help but do any other. It is a mission! 

On the 24th of September at The Holiday Inn in Cambridge, the Cambridge Bob Dylan society celebrated 20 years of meetings with an anniversary party. It was a grand affair and very well attended. I, along with a few friends, was asked along to perform a few Bob songs. It was an honour that I really enjoyed. Thank you to everybody involved. 

Just a thought! If Bob Dylan is only Bob Dylan when he has to be! What of ‘Chronicles’ by Bob Dylan?


William trudged off to the fancy dress ball “why does everyone want you do what they want to do”, he thought “Why does everyone want you to be just like them!”


For information on Michael's band "Dylanesque", including a gigs guide, go to his website.