Bob Dylan’s 80th Birthday.
Heavens. Even more than the way the trees on Pappert Hill have grown from knee-high saplings to 30 footers, this is a startling measure of the passing of time. Some of us have measured out our lives not in coffee spoons, like J. Alfred Prufrock, but in Bob Dylan albums. (We called them LPs in the 60s. Used to pass them round; I got ‘The Times They Are A-changing’ when it was my turn to buy the latest. I remember Mum shouting upstairs “What is THAT?”). I remember lying on the floor behind someone’s sofa in the dying embers of an all-night party listening to ‘Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands’ which, as every fan knows, took up the whole of one side of ‘Blonde on Blonde’. The gramophone’s needle returned over and over again to the start of the song. “With your mercury mouth in the missionary times/ and your eyes like smoke and your prayers like rhymes….” He saw us through the 70s with ‘Blood on the Tracks’ and Rang Them Bells in the 80s. We danced a slow waltz to ‘It’s Not Dark Yet’ in the 90s and the only thing that we done wrong in the 00s was stay in Mississippi a day too long. If the Nobel prize raised eyebrows just think how Philip Roth felt. I saw him in concert four times and he was awful two and a half times. Last time Larry and I abandoned him after half an hour, unable to determine what songs he was singing. Yet he is part of our lives, and it comes as a shock to think that he was 80 in May. And me still a boy.
Faraway Places Close to Home
On an April Fools’ morning I set out along the River. Blue skies, the promise of a beautiful day. I walked through Bellsmyre and over fields and a gate into the Barr Wood. Past one of the drinking dens that have flourished during lockdown. Then over marshy ground until I came across the bomb crater. Now a little pond, full of frog spawn. The legend is that during the Blitz of 1941 beacons were lit on the muirs above the town to draw the bombers away from the shipyards. There are at least three craters on the muir.
I had hoped to visit all three – but I encountered countless sheep and, it being lambing time, retreated. And made my way over a narrow stile surrounded by gorse and dropped down into the Hidden Valley. The stepping-stones across the burn were not to be trusted. I got my feet wet. Lingered awhile. No noise from human activities; no tractor on the farm, no distant rumbling from the quarry, nor hum of traffic on the A82. Just persistent song of the birds. Their dalliance was in flower, as was the gorse. I trudged back down the hill. Surprised myself by digging our (small) front garden.
Glasgow has seemed very remote for the past four months. I had not been since three of us had an alcohol-free lunch in Mora on 17th December. With a real sense of novelty, I met Willie and Bob in George Square. Quite reassuring to see that it still is as it was, a deserted film set waiting for the next production. Like extras in each other’s story, we walked by a deserted Buchanan Street, by the statue of La Pasionaria and along the Clyde-side walkway. Which as we walked grew busier and busier. We cut through Kelvinhaugh and through the cloisters of the University, by the very spots where Willie and I were arrested in 1968. No plaques. We have known each other long enough to be in Bob Dylan’s Dream. A beautiful day. Blue skies, brightness. I wore shorts long enough to cover the knobbly knees. Just as I was thinking that a beer in the garden was possible clouds rolled across the sun. I listened to solo piano by Phamie Gow, Jason Rebello, and Alfred Brendel. All good but it helps to have Beethoven on your side.
Yellow on the broom
Renton from Carman Hill.
Carman reservoir and woods in the sun. I sat on a wooden bench with the sun’s warmth on my face, two Canada geese for company and sunlight on the water like shattered diamonds. Only the whine of a model aeroplane being flown on the hillside took the edge off the day’s tranquillity. I did not mind, lost in a reverie of mindlessness. There was yellow on the broom and lambs in the fields. In town girls wore their summer clothes, a shift that always brings a wistful smile to the faces of old men. The cherry blossoms were ready to begin their annual dance, saying, as they do every year, “Be of good cheer!”
All was well in this little world. To celebrate I had a beer in the garden. Good luck and good health.