10 May 2021

Happy Birthday, Mr Zimmerman.....

Forever Young!

As with a lot of things about Bob Dylan, there is even doubt about his age.....  Received wisdom has his birthday as May 24th, 1941, but as this picture:

shows, which is borrowed from the cover of the official booklet issued with:

there is a possibility that in fact the man will enter his eighty-first year on May 11th, 2021.....

At least the year is consistent....

Just another story?  Like his early 'travels' as reported here:

At ten he ran away.....?

During his first nineteen years, lived in Gallup, New Mexico; Cheyenne, South Dakota; Sioux Falls, South Dakota; Phillipsburg, Kansas.....


He was brought up in Hibbing and attended college in Minneapolis for around six months..... As Robert Shelton wrote in No Direction Home: The Life and Music of Bob Dylan (1986), Dylan didn't actually run away from "good ol' Hibbing" at all, except in his mind, where he kept running for years......

However, by the time Bob Dillon, or Bobby Dylan, or Bob Dylan as he became, was twenty he was making waves in New York City, and it was there that the late Robert Shelton first met him at Gerde's Folk City in June 1961.  

On Friday, September 29, 1961, The New York Times published Mr Shelton's review, in which he wrote: Mr Dylan is vague about his antecedents and birthplace, but it matters less where he has been than where he is going, and that would seem to be straight up.....

And the rest, as they say, is history.....

My earliest connection with Dylan was around '63/'64, though I cannot be quite sure.  Tim Binding (later the well-known novelist) lent me Another Side of Bob Dylan.....

And I bought the sheet music, to strum and wail with my cheap guitar.  And I also bought my own copy of The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan (see above) on September 16th, 1965.

By which time the man was a global megastar.....

Well you don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows, and those amongst us who worship at the altar will already know most of what we want (or need?) to know.  Those who could never quite get past the whine and the vocal obscurities (my parents would never understand a word - I now marvel at the extreme clarity of his diction) will not thank me for going on.

However this is a birthday tribute and I want to  tell how much I am indebted to my friend, and I would like to impress on all unbelievers how sainted the Bob might be.  He's not perfect, but then nor am I (nor you, I suspect).  Check Joan Baez, Diamonds and Rust:

Now I see you standing
With brown leaves falling around
And snow in your hair
Now you're smiling out the window
Of that crummy hotel
Over Washington Square
Our breath comes out white clouds
Mingles and hangs in the air
Speaking strictly for me
We both could have died then and there

Now you're telling me
You're not nostalgic
Then give me another word for it
You who are so good with words
And at keeping things vague
Because I need some of that vagueness now
It's all come back too clearly
Yes I loved you dearly
And if you're offering me diamonds and rust
I've already paid

There isn't the time, nor is this the occasion, to catalogue all the achievements, nor some of the failures, of a sixty plus year career, which include, among other things, a Nobel Prize for Literature (2016).... (Wasn't he the guy that invented gunpowder?)

October 3rd, 1987

Me and Bob go back, way back. As I said, we were first acquainted around 58 years ago, though we didn't actually meet then....

It was on June 20th, 1989.  It was in Rome, when we were both trying to paint our masterpieces, that we actually coincided.  He was about to perform at The Palazzo della Civiltà Italiana, and I was an audient, but wandering backstage before the performance, I encountered a strangely garbed misfit, who could easily have passed for a Dylan lookalike.  

Hi Bob, I offered, tendering a pack of MS.  

Thanks, the figure rasped, taking a cigarette and waiting for me to offer a light.

I flicked my Zippo and took in the guy's outfit.  Some kind of hound's tooth, deeply knitted, or was it made of felt? A tight fitting suit with braided edges and stripes and a blazon on the breast.  

What you doin here? he asked.  Haven't seen you in a while.


I'm just keeping on keeping on.  

Smoke wreathed and eyes furtive.  I shifted slightly.

You know how you said, in San Francisco, in '65, in response to the question, Do you think of yourself primarily as a singer or as a poet?

Ha! And I said, Well I think of myself most as a song and dance man, y'know.....

And you also said you dig Rimbaud, W C Fields...

Yeah, he asked What poets do I dig?  Rimbaud, W C Fields.....  Ah, the family, you know the trapeze family, in the circus.  Um..... Smokey Robinson, Allen Ginsberg, Charlie Rich......

I will not say he was brilliant that night.  I've seen him perform several times and this was not his greatest night.  The guitars were too loud, his voice was shot; he mumbled and fumbled and failed (I would say) to engage with the crowd, and he went too fast....  But it was not a wasted evening.  Like bumping into Van Gogh in a field of sunflowers, my moment with his genius was a moment off guard, a few moments shared in a dark space.  We cannot all know each another, and ultimately the human race is just one of the many many viruses that plague this planet. But, from that particular happenstance, Bob and I were firm friends.

June 6th, 1991

On the above occasion we didn't actually meet face to face, though he did lean out of a car window, waving, as he was driven up to the Palaeur. And, in fact, we have continued in the same way, missing each other in many places from Scotland, to Key West. 

I remember calling on him a few years ago at Aultmore House, an Edwardian mansion near Nethy Bridge, in the shadow of the Cairngorms.  I was working at the time for the RSPB at nearby Loch Garten, where ospreys had an iconic nest.  I called at the house, waiting, as one does, for the echoes of the doorbell to die away.  Heavy footsteps approached, the door opened, and a man in a ten gallon hat blinked up at me.

Is Bob home, David?

Sorry buddy.  You just missed him. I believe he could be in Malibu..... If you want to call.....

Ah well.  I know we will catch up again soon....

An overview of his career tells that he hit the world stage in the early sixties.....

In 1969 he starred in a Jann Wenner interview in Rolling Stone:

In which he told all....

Or nothing.....

Is that the story?  

I mean, I just can't be spending my time reading what people write.  (laughter).

In 1973 he produced the sound track for, and had a significant role in, Sam Peckinpah's Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid.

He's been written off.  He's come back.  He's produced art works to fill the Museum of Modern Art in Shanghai.  He's sold over 100 million records; produced 38 studio albums (at least....); written a novel (sort of); hosted a radio series; written part one of his memoirs.....  He owns 17 homes worldwide (at least that was the count once) and is worth $375 million - though who knows?

And he is still going.  Sixty years on.

Eighty years on.....

And for many of the millions like me he has been there at significant times in our lives....    Some lines touched us for no reason (The pump don't work 'cos the vandals took the handle....)  

Then I remember Kath Owen, from Pontypridd, yelling, I'm going back to New York City, I do believe I've had enough....! in an M6 underpass at Bailrigg....

My chosen moment, just now, relates to The Basement Tapes, which, when they emerged, were rough and unpolished.  One song, I'm not there.... later the leitmotif of Todd Haynes's 2007 film, now spins awkwardly in my mind.  As Greil Marcus wrote in Invisible Republic, The song is a trance, a waking dream, a whirlpool...... The progression in the melody is unnoticeable and unbreakable, the sympathy between Dylan, Rick Danko, Garth Hudson and Richard Manuel absolute.

In the last lines of the song, the most plainly sung, the most painful, so bereft that after the song's five minutes, five minutes that seem like no measurable time, you no longer quite believe that anything so strong can be said in words: "I wish I was there to help her - but I'm not there, I'm gone."  There is a singer and a woman in the song; he can't reach her, and he can't reach her because he won't.  They might be separated by years or by minutes, by the width of a street or a thousand miles; there are moments when the music is so ethereal, so in place in a world to come, that the people in the song become abstractions, lovers without bodies: "She's my own fare thee well."

Now, remotely and unhappily, there is something of my life in these words, in this song....

Yeah, she's gone like the rain
Behold the shining yesterday
But now she's home beside me
And I'd like her here to stay
She's a lone, forsaken beauty
And it don't trust anyone
And I wish I was beside her
But I'm not there, I'm gone

I rang him, Mr Dylan, the other day. To catch up. To thank him. To offer him upcoming birthday wishes.

He didn't answer. 

Maybe he was in Nethy Bridge?



Happy birthday Bob!

You hear me?

Hey!  It's me.....

You remember?

We met, erm, forty, or so, years ago.....  Briefly....  You know?

Yeah, well.  Have a great birthday.

Yeah,  Whenever.....

The Traveling Wilburys, c 1991

Not everyone makes eighty.....

May your heart always be joyful
May your song always be sung
May you stay forever young

8 May 2021

Strictly for the birds.....

Come, Fly with me.....

Words fail me.

[If you can access dropbox, then this is a link to a high resolution video clip:]


[But if that doesn't work, then this is the same sequence but at a lower resolution:]

{which you can watch on full screen but which, because of the resolution, doesn't look as good as the dropbox file - sorry!.....}

But birds don't.....



We look before and after,
And pine for what is not:
Our sincerest laughter
With some pain is fraught;
Our sweetest songs are those that tell of saddest thought.

P B Shelley
To a Skylark

30 April 2021

100 Years of Solitude

Well, it seems like 100 years.....

It seems about a century ago that I first read Gabriel García Márquez's novel One Hundred Years of Solitude.... 

However I actually read it on a steamer from Patras to Ancona on the 11th and 12th of April 1980, (which, I suppose, is almost as good as a hundred years ago.....)

It is a book that has had a profound effect on me, though, in true magical realist style, I would not realise that for almost forty years.

If we don’t ever sleep again, so much the better,” José Arcadio Buendía said in good humor. “That way we can get more out of life.” But the Indian woman explained that the most fearsome part of the sickness of insomnia was not the impossibility of sleeping, for the body did not feel any fatigue at all, but its inexorable evolution toward a more critical manifestation: a loss of memory. She meant that when the sick person became used to his state of vigil, the recollection of his childhood began to be erased from his memory, then the name and notion of things, and finally the identity of people and even the awareness of his own being, until he sank into a kind of idiocy that had no past.

In Chapter 3 of the book, an eleven year old girl called Rebeca arrives at the Buendía household in Macondo.  Her entire baggage consisted of a small trunk, a little rocking chair with small hand-painted flowers, and a canvas sack which kept making a clock-cloc-cloc sound, where she carried her parents' bones.

They kept her, because there was nothing else they could do.

However, she carries disease with her and in due course the family lose the ability to sleep and, They had indeed contracted the illness of insomnia.....  But what followed was worse.

One day he (Aureliano) was looking for the small anvil he used for laminating metals and he could not remember its name. His father told him: 'Stake.' Aureliano wrote the name on a piece of paper that he pasted to the base of a small anvil: stake.  In that way he was sure of not forgetting it in the future.  It did not occur to him that this was the first manifestation of a loss of memory.....

So they begin to label things with their names so that they won't be forgotten. They attempt to pin down reality with language, but it is a forlorn battle. 

They mark everything with its name: table, chair, wall, bed....

Aureliano went to the corral and marked the animals and plants: cow, goat, pig, hen.....

Little by little ...he realised that the day might come when things would be recognised by their inscriptions but that no one would remember their use..  Then he was more explicit. The sign that he hung on the neck of the cow was an exemplary proof of the way in which the inhabitants of Macondo were prepared to fight against the loss of memory: This is the cow.  She must be milked every morning so that she will produce milk, and the milk must be boiled in order to be mixed with coffee to make coffee and milk. Thus they went on living in a reality that was slipping away, momentarily captured by words, but which would escape irremediably when they forgot the values of the written letters.....

In January this year we moved house.  Amanda had been registering the number of years we had lived in our old house:

And had no recognition of our impending move to Norfolk.  Since the move, it has been difficult for her to reconcile events with her perceptions, and she has been confused and disturbed.

In attempting to make sense of the excess baggage that we have brought with us, it has come to light that Amanda had been preparing for her future in a variety of ways.  Not only do we have reams of aides memoire such as this:

And lists of friends with details of their families.  And lists of our family, with notes about her parents and our children.  But also pages such as this one, which record where she liked to go:

And notes about music:

And practical notes, such as this:

And, possibly the most touching of all the evidence that she could tell that her mind was deteriorating are the boxes of cards she has made and addressed to all the people close to her, from her daughters to her old school friends.  All neatly packaged in plastic sleeves within boxes, as in this picture - look away now if you are of a sentimental disposition:

Yes.  Amanda has written cards to friends and family for Christmas, and for birthdays, up to and including 2028.....

In One Hundred Years of Solitude, the episode of memory loss is only an episode.  Eventually, a man appears at the Buendía home.  He was a decrepit man.  Although his voice was broken by uncertainty and his hands seemed to doubt the existence of things, it was evident that he came from the world where men could still sleep and remember..... 

He gave José Arcadio Buendía a drink of a gentle colour and the light went on in his memory.  His eyes became moist from weeping even before he noticed himself in an absurd living room where objects were labelled and before he was ashamed of the solemn nonsense written on the walls, and even before he recognised the newcomer with a dazzling glow of joy.  It was Melquiades.....

Regrettably, I don't have a friend called Melquiades.

And there is no magic drink of a gentle colour to restore the light in Amanda's memories.....

Before reaching the final line, however, he had already understood that he would never leave that room, for it was foreseen that the city of mirrors (or mirages) would be wiped out by the wind and exiled from the memory of men at the precise moment when Aureliano Babilonia would finish deciphering the parchments, and that everything written on them was unrepeatable since time immemorial and forever more, because races condemned to one hundred years of solitude did not have a second opportunity on earth.

Vaya con dios.....

20 April 2021

Making new friends

 If only.....

Two jackdaws stare at me from their perch in a beautiful stand of spring-tipped silver birches.  They are suspicious of me, but I mean no harm.

A jay looks, slightly myopically, in my direction, not sure if I will pass by....

A red kite surveys me from the safety of his thermal, then zooms away, uninterested.

Geese - Canadas:



And Egyptian:

Fly past in formations, oblivious to, or just unconcerned about, my insignificance. 

I walk, with my wife, quietly - with little conversation - every morning.  I carry a camera all the time.  One time I may see a Barn Owl dropping in on some busy rodent:

Another time I may glimpse an angle-poised heron cruising above the fish he will invite to dinner:

I use the camera to record the lives I witness, and also to help identify my fellow creatures.  Sometimes it is hard to distinguish one little bird from another, and only when I magnify the pixels can I be sure of who I have pictured.

Here, for example, are a few tiny souls whose paths I recently crossed:

Meadow Pipit
Linnet (f)
Chiff Chaff
Chaffinch (f)
Stonechat (m)

But they have all kept their distance. I cannot reach out and touch them. Our friendship, if you can call it thus, is distanced. What does it take to make a friend? What is it that makes us all so detached? I mean them no harm. I have no axe, nor grinder. We breathe the same air, eat, if you like, pretty much the same organic produce, and certainly need to drink the same water. 

I am not bathed in an aura of loving everything and every body - for example, I have no desire to spend my time in the company of woodpigeons with their monotonous phone-dial croonings or their huge appetite for my broccoli. And if push came to something like a shove I could probably live without mallards.....  But, for God's sake, why is it so difficult to be friends with your neighbour?

Here are a few more snaps taken recently, from a distance, of beautiful things who really don't want to associate with me, or others like me.....

Yes, the world is full of life, for the moment..... And though we don't all speak the same language, we do all breathe the same air. 

I just wish we could be friends..... 

Especially as life is so short.  We must make the most of every ray of sunshine,

For tomorrow is another day, and some friends have already gone.....