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 Love and Affection

by Richard Lewis

 

 

In “Mississippi” Dylan sings 

I’ve got nothing but affection

For those who’ve sailed with me

This is beautifully illustrated in the absolutely marvellous “Chronicles” where Dylan writes about some of his fellow travellers with a touching generosity. 

We first meet John Hammond “an extraordinary man” who Dylan obviously respects not only for what he did for others but for his faith in him as a young man. Dylan then paints us miniature portraits of people he meets, other artists who he hears or sees but avoids telling us much about his own family. Although we do hear a little about his father. 

At the CafeWha? the mc is Fred Neil of whom Dylan says “Freddy had the flow, dressed conservatively, sullen and brooding, with an enigmatical gaze, peachlike complexion, hair splashed with curls and an angry and powerful baritone voice that struck blue notes and blasted them to the rafters with or without a mike.” 

Hearing Ricky Nelson on the radio he notes “he was different than the rest of the teen idols, had a great guitarist who played like a cross between a honky-tonk hero and a barn-dance fiddler”. The guitar player was of course the now legendary James Burton. Dylan carries on describing Nelson who “had never been a bold innovator like the early singers who sang like they were navigating burning ships. He didn’t sing desperately, do a lot of damage, and you’d never mistake him for a shaman. It didn’t feel like his endurance was ever being tested to the utmost, but it didn’t matter. He sang his songs calm and steady like he was in the middle of a storm, men hurling past you. His voice was sort of mysterious and made you fall into a certain mood.” 

These descriptions are in the first dozen pages and they carry on throughout the book. I’m sure you have all noticed them just like me so I just want to share a few more now and the let you go back for another reading of this extraordinary book. 

Dave Van Ronk was “passionate and stinging, sang like a soldier of fortune and sounded like he paid the price. Izzy Young was an old-line folk enthusiast, very sardonic and wore heavy horn-rimmed glasses, spoke in a thick Brooklyn dialect, wore wool slacks, skinny belt and work boots, tie at a careless slant." We meet Ray Gooch and Chloe Kiel who put Dylan up for a while and hear about Roy Orbison on the radio. “His stuff mixed all styles and some that hadn’t even been invented yet. He could sound mean and nasty on one line and then sing in a falsetto voice like Frankie Valli on the next. With Roy, you didn’t know if you were listening to mariachi or opera. He kept you on your toes.” 

There is a vivid portrait of Gorgeous George, the wrestler who sees Dylan playing in Minnesota in the 50s and seems to wish him good luck. Whether he said it or not doesn’t matter…………….and I never forgot it………..Crossing paths with Gorgeous George was really something.” 

He meets Bobby Neuwirth for the first time. Right from the start, you could tell that Neuwirth had a taste for provocation and that nothing was going to restrict his freedom………………..He could talk to anybody until they felt like all their intelligence was gone. With his tongue, he ripped and slashed and could make anybody uneasy, also could talk his way out of anything.” 

There is a wonderful passage about Joe Hill and we find out that Johnny Rivers recorded Dylan’s favourite cover version of any of his songs. There is Mike Seeger, Ritchie Havens, Woody Guthrie, Harry Jackson, Cisco Houston, Irwin Silber, Harry Belafonte, Bobby .Vee, Liam Clancy, Len Chandler, Frank Sinatra Jr., Elliot Roberts, Mick Jones, Marianne Faithful, Daniel Lanois, Sun Pie, Rambling Jack Elliot, Carla and Suze Rotolo, Bertolt Brecht, Kurt Weill and Joan Baez. 

Each and every one is remembered with a beautiful description that goes way beneath the surface and gives them all the respect and dignity that they so thoroughly deserve. 

In another song on “Love and Theft”, ‘Po’ Boy Dylan sings 

‘He did a lot of nice things for me
And I won’t forget him’

Some twenty, thirty and even forty years after meeting these people Dylan shows us that he not only has not forgotten them but is able with just a few well turned and highly original phrases to bring them all to life. 

There are lots more to “Chronicles” but my first impression is that Dylan has still within him a marvellous generosity to those he met on his incredible journey from Hibbing to now.

 
 
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