The Last Time I Heard Dylan


Sounds Inside My Mind

by Martin Stein

So here it is, Merry Christmas – No, I mean my first and last article for Freewheelin’!

When did I last hear Dylan? Well I guess that would be this morning. You see, like all us Freewheelers, I must replay at least one Dylan song in my head each and every day. And most likely have done since I ‘discovered’ him in December 1980. That was the date when I heard my first Dylan album – Greatest Hits. My brother, who is 12 years older than me, had bought the album upon release. 

The impact on me was instantaneous and immediate. I recall playing that album endlessly and I loved every song from the off. When something like that happens to a fifteen year-old it must be true love at first sound.  I used to memorise song lyrics and sing them (in my head) as I walked to school. Blowin’ in the Wind, The Times, They Are A-Changin’, It Ain’t Me Babe, Mr Tambourine Man, It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue, Just Like A Woman and Like A Rolling Stone (all complete with hummed harmonica breaks) would just about last the 45 minute walk. I never could quite get word-perfect on Rainy Days Women, but then I’m in good company! 

Funny thing is that I seemed to recognise, or ‘remember’, Baby Blue from earlier times.  Interestingly enough my brother recalls playing Greatest Hits whilst baby-sitting me when I was a toddler.  Now I don’t think that the song was released as a single, so the memory had clearly served me well. OK, not quiet listening in the womb but something about Dylan clearly struck a match in me. The original version remains a personal favourite. 

But this is more “when did you first hear Dylan”. So back to my newest morning song. The strangest thing about hearing Dylan in your head is that you can never predict which song it will be.  For some reason today’s was New Pony! Either a line or phrase comes into your head or a memory associated with a song. I guess Dylan is so much a part of my psyche that I’m constantly on-line to a Bringing It All Back Home page and his songs pop up like unexpected e-mails. 

Further proof that I’m a latter-day Joan of Arc comes from hearing Dylan’s voice, or more correctly one of his phrases, suddenly speaking to me. Many times I’ve often sprayed a quote into unknowing ears. And I know from reading countless articles, letters, reviews and pages that I’m not alone in this. Remember the psychedelic sixties poster of Dylan that read ‘Blowin’ in the Mind’? 

Now, you see everything changes and as I re-read this article each song started to play in my mind. Try it for yourself and I’m sure the same will happen. This piece is a mental Dylan jukebox. And ain’t that a joy? 

When John first asked me to contribute to Freewheelin’ I was unsure whether I had anything to offer. When I suggested that I should write a pilot column for his editorial approval he explained that he collated the magazine and that articles were always included unaltered. And of course the penny has only just dropped. That a Freewheelin’ publication, in name and spirit, should not have an editor. 

I have enjoyed reading every issue of Freewheelin’ that John has sent. It is / was more companion than compendium. 

And yet despite John’s continued encouragement, my self-doubt meant that I never did deliver a series of articles – First Time Around – to cover my recollections of first hearing Planet Waves, Shot Of Love and Empire Burlesque. 

I hoped to offer insight into these three minor gems. Planet Waves was an early purchase in my Dylan career. I thought I’d bought a bootleg at first, the Island label throwing me off my CBS guard. The crude liner notes, “stools that stank from sweating pussy” in His handwriting was heady stuff!  Then the songs. I so disliked the opening track that for years I omitted it from tapes of the album for friends and myself. But then Dirge, the signpost and curtain raiser for what was to come with Blood on the Tracks. Has he ever sung with more honesty? I wonder whether the song is unique in its lyrical symmetry? It starts with 

I hate myself for loving you, and the weakness that it shows 

and closes on 

I hate myself for loving you, but I’ll soon get over that

Am I alone in hearing the piano begin to play Angel in the Morning at the fade out of Never Say Goodbye? Probably. 

Shot of Love was my first ‘new’ Dylan album and with a UK tour to boot (literally!). I returned two copies before realising that the volume jump in Trouble was not a faulty pressing. After reading John’s recent piece on roses, I wonder why he didn’t mention the photograph on the back of the album sleeve? 

Empire Burlesque came out in the middle of my student days in Newcastle and height of my Dylan activity. I thanked Dylan for making Dylanology easy with simple-to-follow songs such as Something’s Burning Baby and Trust Yourself. To this day I still believe the Wembley story behind the final verse of Dark Eyes! 

Well, I guess as long as there are readers there’ll be writers, so I may get round to finishing these projects. But there never was a better opportunity than Freewheelin’.