THOUGHTS ON BOB DYLAN

The word enigma doesn’t come close to describing Bob Dylan. For a start he’s a Gemini – the sign of the twins. Duality. He once said he wakes as one person and goes to sleep as another. And that’s before we add all the different masks he’s worn, and the myths that have been woven by others, and by himself. This is no doubt an attempt by him to protect his true self – Robert Zimmerman. Bob Dylan was his invention and as such even his own autobiography “Chronicles Volume One” contains numerous things that are fictional. Again, adding to his own myth as a means of throwing people off the scent of this fiercely private man. He writes about Bob Dylan like the old Wild West reporters wrote about Billy The Kid, Davy Crockett or Jesse James. “When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.”

There must be many hundreds of books published about Bob Dylan. And why is that? Because he continues to fascinate us. We can’t work him out. Scratch the surface and you just come up with another surface. But I think this has always been his masterly plan. In the words of the late, great Alex Scott after seeing the movie about the life (or lives) of Bob Dylan, the aptly titled “I’m Not There,”  Alex said, “I knew more about him before I saw this movie!” Precisely. Or did you? I’ve had the good fortune to know quite a number of people who have known Bob for many years as a friend. And the words they use about him are “kind,” “sweet,” “gentle,” “loyal,” and “sensitive.” And those qualities are precious and need protection. “They say every man needs protection.”

Last Monday and Tuesday nights in Melbourne, a troubadour playing the role of Bob Dylan took to the stage at the Margaret Court Arena. No grand entrance. He merely sauntered on as a member of his band and found his designated place at the piano. No hello and no goodbye. Just two hours of brilliant songs, some old, some new, that any writer would give their soul to have written just one of them. But here is a small man trapped in the spotlight that has a catalog of so many classics they are too numerous to name. He has given us so much, and continues to give, thank God. When so many of our music heroes are gone, some cruelly taken from us who had so much more to give, we truly should be thankful that Bob is not only still alive, but continues to spend the majority of each year on the road performing for our pleasure.

Some people complain that he just stands there and sings his songs. There are no “showy” effects. No scripted witty repartee. But I continually have to remind some disappointed patrons that that’s all he’s ever done.

Bob was once asked if he still gets nervous before a show, to which he replied, “No. Never be afraid of disappointing people.” At first when I read this quote, I laughed thinking it was just another example of Bob’s very dry sense of humour. But the more I thought about it, the more I realised the heart of what he was truly saying. There is no point worrying about a performance. It will either soar or it won’t. He is not slick, nor does he want to be. He is an improv artist. A method actor. He has the same inspired, spontaneous genius as Brando. Always reaching for that unplanned moment of pure magic. The trouble with being that bold is that sometimes you miss the mark totally and run the risk of being ridiculed and walked out on. All of the greatest innovators have at one time or another been ridiculed and hung out to dry. But they’re the ones we remember. The brave ones. To be totally unique is a very heavy cross to have to carry. A lot of people will not “get” what you’re doing. Or what you’re attempting. But if everyone played by the tried and proven formula, where would the excitement be?

Bob has literally never looked back. The range of material he has tackled is extraordinary and at the age of 77 when most artists are happy to coast on their back catalog, Bob is still taking chances. Spare a thought for the huge risk he took in attempting, at his age, five albums of crooning the American Songbook. Yet those albums have been big hits and in some cases even named among the Top Ten Jazz Albums of that year.

But this is the same man who, just as he reached the pinnacle of the folk music world, went electric and angered the majority of his then fans. Next, just as he won most of those fans back with the electric mercury sounding masterpiece that was “Blonde On Blonde,” he goes country music. More angst from fans. Then he rebounds with introspective “Blood On The Tracks” about the pain of his divorce. Then Jesus popped into his life and we had the Gospel Years! Then, just when everyone thought he was no longer relevant, and running on empty, he comes back with arguably his best album, the multi-Grammy Award winning “Time Out Of Mind.” Then the Christmas Album. Then the Sinatra inspired saloon song standards. This man deserves a medal for bravery.

Oh, and when people say they don’t like his voice, I always ask, “Which one? He’s had about 6 different voices over the journey.”

As his dear friend George Harrison once described him, “He is a friend to us all.”

It filled my heart with warmth and my eyes with tears to see him perform such a spirited and brilliant concert last Tuesday night. It certainly was the inspired spontaneous magic he strives for.

And then, without a word of farewell, he was gone. But rest assured, he’s still on the road, headin’ for another joint.

(c) Frank Howson 2018

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LONELY MAN GOIN’ HOME

The night ain’t falling
It already fell
Every street lamp
Has a tale to tell
It’s so quiet
You can hear God’s breath
‘Tis the hour when every hurt
Feels like a death
“Chin up, Sonny”
His mother would say
Keep somethin’ for yourself
Don’t give it all away
He never thought
He would end up this alone
But love has a price
Lonely man goin’ home
You pretty young things
Who laugh behind his back
You think you got it made
Think your life’s on track
You got the latest clothes
And the smartest phone
But you find your amusement
At a lonely man goin’ home
You’re so politically correct
When it suits your need
You give to charity
To disguise your greed
You don’t know this man
You’ve never been alone
But he knows you
Lonely man goin’ home

 
(C) Frank Howson 2018

THAT LONG TRAIN RIDE

I was right
About all the little things that didn’t matter.
I was wrong about all the big things that did.
But youth is for foolishness and mistakes.
The concept being that you will eventually learn from mistakes and your heart will grow a harder layer of protection. This can be a lifelong education of regrowth if you don’t pay enough attention to details.
One theory is that we keep falling in love with the same person, over and over, like some weird drunkard’s dance in a Groundhog Day scenario. Even if that person was all wrong for us in the first place. So is it familiarity that attracts? The devil we know is better than the saviour we don’t? Perhaps we just tire from the waiting and settle for what we know. Attracted to those who remind us of ourselves? Or marry for money and security even though that brings in its train a lifetime of boredom and unrequited dreams and hopes? But surely that is not a living, but a dying? For money proves to be a cold companion and takes more than it gives. Doomed to buy all the toys and trinkets to impress others whilst your subsequent depression stemming from your inner knowledge that nothing purchased brings any lasting pleasure. You are a compromised person and although you can lie to your conscience your sub-conscious knows the truth, and forces you to spend most of your days sleeping. Hiding from life. Avoiding waking to the horror of who you really are. A prisoner trapped in a cell of your own making. Spending all your approved allowance on the best drugs to dull yourself to the harsh reality that you are already dead.
I took myself to Disneyland today.
Why?
I wanted to return to a simpler, safer time when I believed in dreams and heroes.
All around me was the sound of the laughter of children and the look of wonderment in their eyes.
They are years from cynicism and reducing the world to something they can understand.
I had a photo taken with Mickey but my idol Donald Duck was nowhere to be seen.
Disneyland was conceived and built by a sad and lonely man who acted childish at times. Because the truth is he was still a child and needed to build a romanticised version of his childhood town – a place where it was always clean, and wholesome and safe. And contained no tyrannical father. Ironic huh? Was he insane? In most people’s terms, yes. But at least his dreams were safer than those of young Adolf Hitler, a failed painter from Austria. Y’know, if young Adolf had’ve sold three or four landscape paintings the whole Second World War may have been avoided. I always say, “Be careful about pissing off creative people. That creative light force once turned back on itself can become very dark and destructive.”
On the other hand, all of the world’s great accepted visionaries were a little looney tunes. Some, very much so. Fortunately their insanities were focused towards something more publicly palatable than the Third Reich or the NWO. They risked everything thinking outside the box. Their own lives became secondary to their dream. And many died in their footsteps upon that lonely highway. They sacrificed romantic relationships, friendships, their dignity (as many were publicly ridiculed), their personal happiness, and a comfortable safe life. Why? And what for? A higher calling? Immortality? If there is no God and no afterlife why do people do this to themselves? If we’re just here marking time until the long darkness, why not just put the tools down and embrace the fairly interesting train ride to nowhere?
It’s the same with love. If it’s not a God-given gift to share then what exactly is it? Why care so much about it? Or anyone else?
I pondered all these things as I sat in my chair looking out the window that was shaped like Mickey’s head on the Disneyland Express on my train ride back to somewhere.

(C) Frank Howson 2018

THE OLD MEN AND THEIR GIRLS

The old men with their girls
Seated at the best table
The young girls treat the waitress
With a haughty disrespect
Why?
Because they are seated beside
Old men with more money than God
They so easily forget where they came from
Who they are
Because tonight they are queens
Reinvented
Making a huge effort to speak in an accent that doesn’t give away their back street upbringing
And it seems the first thing that dies is empathy
For someone who struggles
And serves in an honest job trying desperately to please
For that much needed tip at the end of the night
So she can walk home happy to be greeted by her young children
Who love it when mommy is in a good mood
Back at the best table
The young girls laugh at everything
The old well heeled men say
Even the serious stuff
One wonders whether they will be laughing long?
Until next month?
Next week?
Perhaps until check out time tomorrow?
Sex is so easily given
When it means nothing
But care about certain women
Really care
And it is much harder to get them to part with their favours
Perhaps a kiss is way more intimate
Than sex anyway
And more revealing
Than nudity
Perhaps I don’t know anything
Anymore
Everything I thought I knew
Was a sham
A pantomime
A play acting
And I was too young
To hear the hollowness
At the heart of her laughter
She got what she wanted
At the end of the day
And I got what I deserved
A table for one
For believing in Hollywood endings
My thoughts are broken
By the sound of laughter at the best table in the best restaurant in town
These young girls are trying very hard
To appear to be sincere to the Moneybags on their way to Life Support
I order a coffee
No sugar
No milk
Just as it comes
I don’t want to disguise the taste of anything
Anymore
It is as it is
The old men and the young girls laugh hysterically
And I feel sad for them somehow
Their eyes contradicting their open mouths and perfect teeth
Like those scary clowns with those insane smiles and eyes of terror
I know how their stories end
I’m a writer
With all the wisdom of a fool
And a life misspent
And no one to impress anymore
It’s a great relief in some ways
I need no sugar or milk
And as such have become an acquired taste
Not pleasing everyone
Not wanting to
But pleasing those who matter
The other acquired tastes
Of humankind
I pay my bill and leave
Giving the middle-aged waitress a tip that I hope helps contribute to her happy walk home to be greeted by those who genuinely love her
I will take the long way home down alleys that go round in circles
No need to rush
I am keeping no one waiting

 

(C) Frank Howson 2018

SWEET ROSEMARY

My sweet Rosemary
She came to tea
In 1994
She showed me
A thing or two
Before I showed her the door
We met again
By new year’s end
We kissed beneath our tree
Call me a fool
But I ain’t cruel
So once more I set her free

From her sacred chalice
I’ll never again sip
All my golden chances
I let ’em all slip
Now I’d lay down my life
If I could only see
Once more the smiling face
Of my sweet Rosemary

My sweet Rosemary
Come back to me
I’m broken and alone
I lay here
Beside you dear
And your grave of icy stone

I remember her words
Devoutly now
She said, “We’ll always be together”
She knew that, somehow
You don’t know the cost
Till you’re hurt this deep
And cannot awaken
From the nightmare sleep

From her sacred chalice
I’ll never again sip
All my golden chances
I let ’em all slip
Now I’d lay down my life
If I could only see
Once more the smiling face
Of my sweet Rosemary

(C) Frank Howson 2018

(c) 2018 photograph by Raija Sunshine

BORN GUILTY

Some make a livin’ out of shootin’ people down
Some people burn down steeples
Others kill for crown
I was born guilty
For somethin’ I never done
I see my rejection
On the faces of everyone
If you don’t think like others
They’re gonna hunt you down
I hear they’re takin’ names
All over this town
This world’s an angry place
And it’ll kill you in time
And if you preach love
They’ll take you in your prime
So love the ones you love
No matter what the cost
And don’t try to save the world
Or what’s already lost
I’ll see you at the stop sign
You’ll pass me on the street
I’ll be with the nameless men
Discussing the finer points of defeat

(C) Frank Howson 2018

THE DANGERS OF SECOND HAND CITIZENS

It has been thought, up until now, that the 7th. Cavalry were committing a cruel and heartless genocide against the Americans Indians. An evil act. Not true. And we can’t believe that of the good guys, otherwise, where would we be? And good people are never confused about who they are. As anyone who knew him will testify, General George Armstrong Custer was a concerned citizen above all else. It has even been suggested by various world famous psychics that, in a previous life, at the trial of Jesus before Pilate, the nameless man in the crowd that started the chant, “Crucify him!…Crucify him!” was indeed the spirit of Custer again, our eternal concerned citizen.

In fact you can trace Custer’s previous lives quite easily through history. He triggered the French Revolution by spreading the lie that Marie Antoinette, when informed that most of the people in the street didn’t have bread to eat, responded with “Well let them eat cake.” Not the first time someone has been misquoted for political agendas, and certainly not the last. But let’s not blame Custer, our spiritual Everyman. He was just a concerned citizen doing what he thought was best for all.

The truth about the demise of the American Red Indians is this, and you’re reading it here for the first time, they were killed by a whole bevy of concerned citizens, concerned that the Indians penchant for sending out smoke signals was harmful to the health of non-smokers. Yep, that incredibly dangerous and toxic second-hand smoke theory. Of course it’s never been proven that anyone has ever died of second-hand smoke inhalation, well not unless they have lived their whole life in the smokers room at Hong Kong Airport, that is. But that’s beside the facts. In fact, facts confirm that concerned citizens throughout history have been more dangerous than second-hand smoke.

I remember when I lived in L. A and I was standing outside a restaurant on Main Street, Santa Monica, having a cigarette on the pavement, when a woman jogger saw me and started coughing about 20 metres away from me and continued to do so right until she passed and in doing so made the effort to put both her hands in front of her nose and mouth in case smoke from my cigarette changed course and veered into her breathing orifices. I watched this pantomime with bemused fascination for sometime before yelling out to her, “You are so concerned about your lungs, yet you choose to live in Los Angeles?…Oh, have a nice day!”

I shouldn’t have been angry at her. She was just a concerned citizen. And the product of a long line of concerned citizens. Just as the Klu Klux Klan will tell you they’re just a gathering of concerned citizens. Being aware of this trait, I am now, myself, very concerned when people around me get concerned. I have mental pictures of me hanging from a tree for the amusement of a mob of concerned citizens, or a judge washing his hands and sealing my fate rather than stand up to a crowd of angry and concerned citizens. Or having the cavalry run me off my land and turning to see my home in flames, and my family killed. Or what is left of them. But hey, the culprits weren’t blood thirsty killers they were concerned men who had families and homes of their own.

I have lived through the Civil Rights liberation (allegedly), Women’s Liberation (allegedly), Gay Rights Liberation (allegedly) etc. So, I’m using this forum to announce that I am starting the Smokers Liberation Movement. And at this stage we have not ruled out using violence to get our message accepted. Especially if we haven’t had a cigarette in a while. No longer will we be shunned as second class citizens. Banished from restaurants (even outdoor restaurants), bars, beaches, within 20 miles of a school, football stadiums (and fuck, do you need a smoke when your team is losing!), and planes. Trust me, if I’m on a plane and we’re going down? I’m lighting up. Fuck the fine.

We are told, in no uncertain terms, to go and stand in the rain if we want a smoke, or go up a dark alley (I once said to a waiter who instructed me to do so, “You must’ve misheard me, I don’t want to shoot up, just want a cigarette.”)

It even screws up personal relationships with people, because you are no longer a person, you are a “smoker” and in most cases that makes you as popular as Donald Trump at Hillary Clinton’a Birthday Party.

Even signs seem to scream at you. WARNING – SMOKING NOT ALLOWED!

They even give us our ridiculously priced (in Australia anyway) lethal weapon in packets displaying some of the most horrific images of gangrene feet, diseased black lungs. etc., etc., etc. These images are enough to traumatise you into 20 years of therapy. I now order the “Smoking may harm your pregnancy” – thinking at my age getting pregnant might be the lesser of the illustrated horrors.

One night a woman turned to me in a crowd and said, “You smell of cigarettes!” To which I replied, “And you smell of rudeness.”

I shouldn’t have blamed her. She was just a concerned citizen.

 

(C) Frank Howson 2018

sketch by Frank Howson