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?)
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....
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.....
We met, erm, forty, or so, years ago..... Briefly.... You know?
Yeah, well. Have a great birthday.
The Traveling Wilburys, c 1991
May your heart always be joyful
May your song always be sung
May you stay forever young
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