Thursday 14 August 2014

burning the house down

I have been reading Dylan on Dylan, a fine collection of interviews with Bob Dylan from the early 1960s until 2001. Dylan is intriguing throughout: always astute and thoughtful, mercurial, contradictory, sometimes grouchily deflective - and often genuinely hilarious. Sometimes he deals with inept interviewers' questions with playfully unravelling jazzy riffs that bust things right open. This is the only way to keep himself sane, it seems, in a culture that just won't let him be who he is becoming. Repeatedly it constructs the versions of 'Dylan' it needs, then expresses outrage at his having changed.

During a 1966 interview for Playboy with Nat Hentoff, for example, when asked 'What made you decide to go the rock'n'roll route?', Dylan replies:

- 'Carelessness. I lost my one true love. I started drinking. I wind up in Phoenix. I get a job as a Chinaman. I start working in a dime store, and move in with a 13-year-old girl. Then this big Mexican lady from Philadelphia comes in and burns the house down. I go down to Dallas. I get a job as a "before" in a Charles Atlas "before and after" ad. I move in with a delivery boy who can cook fantastic chili and hot dogs. Then this 13-year-old girl from Phoenix comes and burns the house down. The next thing I know I'm in Omaha. It's so cold there, by this time I'm robbing my own bicycles and frying my own fish. I move in with a high school teacher who also does a little plumbing on the side, who ain't much to look at, but who's built a special kind of refrigerator that can turn newspaper into lettuce. Everything's going good until the delivery boy shows up and tries to knife me. Needless to say, he burned the house down and I hit the road. The first guy that picked me up asked me if I wanted to be a star. What could I say?'

- 'And that's how you became a rock'n'roll singer?'

- 'No, that's how I got tuberculosis'.


In the same interview, Hentoff asks Dylan whether 'jazz has lost much of its appeal to the younger generation', and off he goes on his own surreal, free-associatin', free-tootin', jive improvisation:

'I don't think jazz has ever appealed to the younger generation. Anyway, I don't really know who this younger generation is. I don't think they could get into a jazz club anyway. But jazz is hard to follow; I mean you actually have to like jazz to follow it; and my motto is, never follow anything. I don't know what the motto of the younger generation is, but I would think they would have to follow their parents. I mean, what would some parent say to his kid if the kid came home with a glass eye, a Charlie Mingus record and a pocketful of feathers? He'd say, "Who are you following?" And the poor kid would have to stand there with water in his shoes, a bow tie on his ear and soot pouring out of his belly button and say, "Jazz. Father, I've been following jazz". And his father would probably say, "Get a broom and clean up all that soot before you go to sleep". Then the kid's mother would tell her friends, "Our little Donald, he's part of the younger generation, you know"'.


Later Hentoff tells Dylan that one 'adult commentator' has referred to him as "self-consciously oddball and defiantly sloppy", then asks his thoughts about 'far-out hair styles'. After bad-mouthing the 'adult commentator', and then explaining that essentially long hair's about warmth ('People with short hair freeze easily'), Dylan's off again, his critical-poetic mind runaway:

'I guess if you figure it out, you realize that all of one's hair surrounds and lays on the brain inside your head. Mathematically speaking, the more of it you can get out of your head, the better. People who want free minds sometimes overlook the fact that you have to have an uncluttered brain. Obviously, if you get your hair on the outside of your head, your brain will be a little more free. But all this talk about long hair is just a trick. It's been thought up by men and women who look like cigars - the anti-happiness committee. They're all freeloaders and cops. You can tell who they are: they're always carrying calendars, guns or scissors. They're all trying to get into your quicksand ...'

Jonathan Cott (ed.) (2006). Dylan on Dylan, London: Hodder

Thursday 3 July 2014

mother ship

Just three from Glastonbury Festival 2014: Courtney Barnett on the Park Stage, the arrival of the mother ship, flying shoe

Wednesday 21 May 2014

asleep in sodium

'Television. Maybe it was all a study in the art of mummification. The effect of the medium is so evanescent that those who work in its time apparatus feel the need to preserve themselves, delivering their bodies to be lacquered and trussed, sprayed with the rarest of pressurized jellies, all to one end, a release from the perilous context of time. This is their only vanity, to expect to dwell forever in hermetic sub-corridors, free of every ravage, secure as old kings asleep in sodium'.

Don DeLillo, Great Jones Street (1973)

Thursday 15 May 2014

Saturday 25 January 2014

becoming dovecote

'I've spent my whole life walking around these places ... I feel like I'm looking for somebody ...' 
(Nick Papadimitriou, The London Perambulator)

'Breakspear is being broken into separate living spaces, all way beyond my pocket. A riding instructor jiggles her jodhpured buttocks down by the composting shed, but it is the Tudor dovecote that draws me and as I recover from the rigours of my climb out of the valley I feel myself passing into its brick walls and upwards through the timbered cupola to its ornate and timeless clock face. Circling, minute by minute, I am dialled through on-off heat, cold, light, dark, rain and sleet, watching a movement from pantaloons and merkins through to these luxury flats and slug-like cars.

Slip, Motorway, round my ankles if you must; drag me into your petroleum future. You will pass too, ending crotcheted by red leaves of herb Robert, stars of cow thistle. I see your car crashes. I see economies collapse. I sense the unspoken family secrets; I see the white cow-gate lit by sunshine. I am the centre. I am buttressed stone walls. I am oak rafters and the soft flap of doves' wings in cool corners. 

See the de Haviland Mosquito, Hatfield bound. See sweet Brian Connolly sitting and playing guitar in the meadow. He's out of his rocket on mushrooms, his hair as fair as hay. Now his face grows furrowed and worn as he ages into knock-knees and long-johns. Now his corpse is laid out and still I stand. 

See my thrust through time, my doves flown high in circles over tall oaks I knew as saplings. I am the pivot around which it swings, the spigot through which it all flows. I push down to worm-holes and into the moist darkness beneath your bullied present day. Now there are Kindles, now you are wired to Androids. Now there is a white flash and everything is swept away'.

From Nick Papadimitriou's exquisite book Scarp (London: Sceptre, 2012, 48-9), a 'deep topography' mapping-through-walking of the North Middlesex/South Hertfordshire escarpment, 'edgelands' and 'interzones' largely overlooked by the nearby northern suburbs of London. (He conceives of the suburbs themselves as 'the momentary dream of a mushroom god', a place of eerie beauty, sadness and loss - depending on one's temporal perspective, either 'a huge storage vat of regional memory' or 'just a momentary film, a suggestion of a possibility that will be replaced by other possibilities in due course'. Whichever, they offer 'rich pickings for the deep topographer'). 

Brian Connolly, lead singer of the Sweet, who died aged 51, went to school in Harefield close to the Breakspear dovecote.

For Nick Papadimitriou's 'Middlesex County Council' website, see here

For a full-length version of The London Perambulator, John Rogers' fine documentary film about Nick Papadimitriou, see here

'I'd like my work to be found in a skip - in Southgate or somewhere - in 40 years time' (Nick Papadimitriou). All quotes in these end notes are from The London Perambulator