(The Final Countdown)
by J. R. Stokes

Not a brilliant year by a long chalk on the home front. Hospitals are not my favourite places and we certainly saw enough of those this year to (hopefully) keep us going for many moons to come. I do not however intend to dwell on the matter of physical deterioration, which is inevitably happening to me as I type this and to you as you read this, but I’d rather take my cue from The Pythons with their philosophy of always looking on the bright side of life. Te dum, te dum, te dum, te dum. Before Marilyn’s first spell of hospitalization, we had a fantastic holiday in Italy and this is where I start my top ten, which comes in no particular order of preference or occurrence.

1. ‘Visions of J’ in Numana

Summer fun, something’s begun but oh! oh! those summer vines! Set in an ideal location in the rolling countryside about a mile from the sea, the vineyard that produces the Montepulciano ‘Visions of J’ and the Merlot ‘Planet Waves’: the latter having Dylan’s signature on the label.  On the day we visited we had wall to wall sunshine and a nice chat with Antonio, an ardent Dylan fan and now in partnership with Mr. D. What a wonderful day that was, something that was made even more special when I found a bottle of ‘Planet Waves’ under the tree at Christmas. With many thanks to my daughter Jess and Antonio himself for bringing the vines back home.

2. Burying the Hatchet with Michael Gray 

Being an A grade Cancerian, when The Mighty Michael had a real go at me in his Song & Dance Man 3 I scurried into my shell with his book and found no favour with most of it. I always thought that as he had got it so disastrously wrong with me he had probably done the same with others. Then, in September I heard someone tap, tapping on my shell with an olive branch. It was Mr. Gray himself: 

‘Dear John

I write to ask if you and I might bury the hatchet, after all these years? I should welcome it, if you're willing. If it would help, I'm happy to admit that it was probably my fault in the first place.  

All best~


Following a subsequent exchange of emails, in which I informed Michael that it wasn’t ‘probably’ but almost certainly his fault in the first place, we rode off into the sunset like The Lone Ranger and Tonto. It was a very generous gesture from Michael – it just goes to show that you can’t judge a book by its author. And talking of books:

3. Chronicles Volume 1 

Oh what a delight. It is rich beyond our wildest dreams. There have been so many good reviews about this book but a stance that I particularly like is that taken by Hans Peter Bushoff from Germany. This followed an exchange of emails to the Eli group of Dylan people when someone questioned a factual moment recorded in Chronicles. It prompted me to respond: 

‘Probably best not to get too hung up on what is real and what is not in Chronicles. Seems to me that Dylan takes a giant leap from the way things actually were to how he imagines they could have been! Which is what makes the book so wonderfully unique. Like with most of his work, Dylan milks the abstract in order to churn out the best cheese board on the planet. 

Problem is, some people don't like cheese...


Hanns then replied:  

‘I totally agree. I'm currently reading Chronicles for the second time, first in English back in November, now in German (the German translation is excellent this time!). I see the book not like a matter-of-fact biography, but more like a movie or like a song. Some parts I'm sure are invented (who believes the extra lyrics to the Oh Mercy songs?), but all in all everything comes together beautifully. On many pages I can actually hear Dylan read the lines, it's so authentic. I don't care whether some parts might be invented. I never understood Desolation Row word-by-word, but I sure know (or I feel like I know, and that's enough) what he means when he sings it.’ 

I really do like that idea of Chronicles being like a movie or a song, I can relate to that. Apparently there are another two volumes in the pipeline, so perhaps like the Lord Of The Rings movie trilogy, we will get one every year at Christmas for the next two years. Roll on the next one!

4. Dylan On Sixty Minutes 

Well never mind the width (it certainly wasn’t 60 minutes -more like 10), but there was some quality to Dylan’s first interview on screen for 20 years or so. Looking fit with a new shortened hairstyle and fidgeting uncomfortably throughout with a pen, Dylan did everything to avert the interviewers main aim: to get Dylan to smile occasionally. It was like Dylan was in the final of Mastermind and every question was a ten pointer. There were some great answers though, including about the ‘penetrating magic’ that surrounded Dylan when he wrote his early songs and also concerning his destiny. Although he was at pains (seeming literally on occasions) to distance himself from the art and achievements of his enemy within - the creative one of the twins – we did get a smile at the end which was worth the wait. It was a knowing smile and came as he confessed that where he is today is a direct result of the bargain he made with the Chief Commander ‘of this earth and in the world we cannot see’. Whatever the deal was I think it is us who have got the best of that particular bargain! So to Dylan’s official output, of which there was not a great deal, but:

5. Masked and Anonymous – the official DVD release and Live 1964 (The Bootleg Series Volume 6 – Halloween at the Philharmonic) 

The former worth it for ‘Dixie’ and Penelope Cruz and the latter worth it for the jokes, the jibes and the giggles … and of course the words. Now, on other matters closer to home.

6. The Rope and Twine 

We found a super new venue for our Cambridge meetings this year in a back room at a Cambridge City Centre pub. The meeting room has a lot of atmosphere and is reached by crossing a courtyard and going into a barn! The problem was that as soon as we had found this place and had our first meeting there, the pub closed down only to reopen later in the year under the name of The Sino Tap: combining the pub with a Thai eaterie of sorts. Fortunately the courtyard and the barn were still in existence and the pub had a friendly new manager who plays a lot of Dylan in the bar area. So, in November we were back at the pub. I can’t mention anything to do with Cambridge however without bringing the team into the limelight namely Chris Cooper, John Nye and Keith Agar. You are a pleasure to work with my friends. Which brings me on to:

7. The 20th Anniversary of the Cambridge Bob Dylan Society 

We sure went to town with this one and hired out The Holiday Inn in Cambridge for an evening of celebration to mark 20 years of our Cambridge meetings. There were cakes, live music (thank you Michael and Dylanesque), films and an after hours soiree with Keith and the gang. It was great to see Paula, Richard and Mark C in Cambridge and the gathering set us up nicely for the next 20 years. In fact we have now got to go on that long because we have purchased our own video projector and it will take us that long to pay for it! Whilst we are on the subject of meetings how about.

8. The Fourth Annual John Green Day 

Once more us Dylan folk descended on The Moathouse at Northampton for a do in memory of our late Freewheeler and to have a rare old time with his blessing. And this time there were no fire alarms! The day was very successful from all aspects but what was really nice was the gathering of  Freewheelers and that secret handshake. With the change of staff at The Moathouse and the incoming manager having just graduated from the Herman Goering School of Charm and Excellence I am not certain that the annual do will reach its 5th year. We will keep you informed.

9. Freewheelin 

One Freewheeler who wasn’t part of the handshake but who was actually in attendance as part of the audience at the 4th John Green Day was Bob Fletcher. As fate would have it, Bob and I got talking later in the evening and, upon learning that he had some things to say about Dylan, I cajoled him into joining the group. Bob has since written some inspired and thought provoking articles for Freewheelin and is now a well established member of the group.  Thank you sweet fate! Trevor Gibb also joined momentarily but, in view of his heavy workload as a Student and musician, his member ship is, ‘ow you say….on hold.  This December 2004 issue is Freewheelin number 232 which represents over 19 years of scribblings on, about, and relating to the man who says he was born to be Bob Dylan, and not Robert Zimmerman. Many thanks to all who have taken part in the project throughout the year: your words have been a delight to me and to others. Keep on thinking your thoughts and doing your things in whatever way you want to, for that is your part of the bargain.

10. Freewheelin-on-line 

It seems that the internet magazine has really caught on this year as more people have joined the ever increasing population of surfers. Our web counters show that, since the mag was made freely available in May 2003, there have been almost 14,000 visitors to the library at Freewheelin House (the main site has received almost 40,000 visits) where the mags have been viewed or downloaded. We all owe John Nye, who is our Webmaster, a great debt of thanks for all his hard work which has been carried out despite the continuing ill health of his wife, Phil. Let’s hope 2005 is a better year for John and Phil and also that this coming year will find us all in good health, no matter what changes or challenges face us.