28 October 2016

Louis Eksteen

The times they have changed

I follow a variety of Bob Dylan-inspired social media feeds. (Instagram is proving to be a treasure chest of rare and previously unseen pictures and videos.) As it is in these days of news-snippet overload, I can’t clearly remember where I saw it (reckon it must have been in my algorithm-cluttered Facebook newsfeed), but someone said our modern day bard had an outside chance of 50-to-1 to win this year’s Nobel Prize in Literature.

“Darkness at the break of noon
Shadows even the silver spoon
The handmade blade, the child’s balloon
Eclipses both the sun and moon
To understand you know too soon
There is no sense in trying”

It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding), Bob Dylan, 1965

So it came as a great delight and bewildering surprise when a friend WhatsApped me a link to the literature story of the decade. The Shakespeare of our time, Bob Dylan, won the highest accolade in the world of written thought. Although Bob is probably not the first surprise winner in the history of the Nobel Prize in Literature, the fact that an American songwriter received the top prize for writing confused some and enchanted many.

“Come gather ’round people
Wherever you roam
And admit that the waters
Around you have grown
And accept it that soon
You’ll be drenched to the bone
If your time to you is worth savin’
Then you better start swimmin’ or you’ll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changin’ ”

The Times They Are A-Changin’, Bob Dylan, 1965

For me, I was stunned, overwhelmed and infinitely grateful. Being a Bob Dylan fan has its ups and downs. He can be frustratingly enigmatic, as his refusal to acknowledge winning the Nobel Prize attests. But through all the highs and lows, with great albums and almost-great albums galore, his mostly unseen presence has loomed large in my understanding of our world. The Dylan I see before me is a man of great renown, a juggler of our collective consciousness and a troubadour of mighty prose.

“Hey! Mr. Tambourine Man, play a song for me
I’m not sleepy and there is no place I’m going to
Hey! Mr. Tambourine Man, play a song for me
In the jingle jangle morning I’ll come followin’ you
Though I know that evenin’s empire has returned into sand
Vanished from my hand
Left me blindly here to stand but still not sleeping
My weariness amazes me, I’m branded on my feet
I have no one to meet
And the ancient empty street’s too dead for dreaming”

Mr. Tambourine Man, Bob Dylan, 1965

As it is when you’re a fan, you have many stories to tell. A favourite of mine is the one when my fellow Toaster Kim Browne and I learnt about an upcoming live Dylan performance at London’s O2 Arena. A UK-based friend of Kim’s organised tickets for the event a year in advance. But how to get there for our first live Dylan experience?

“The bridge at midnight trembles
The country doctor rambles
Bankers’ nieces seek perfection
Expecting all the gifts that wise men bring
The wind howls like a hammer
The night blows cold and rainy
My love she’s like some raven
At my window with a broken wing”

Love Minus Zero, No Limit, Bob Dylan, 1965

Our partners at the time were London-based, so what better time to organise our quarterly board meeting than for the Friday before the Dylan concert on Saturday? The fact that the meeting was postponed at the last minute did nothing to detract us from our mission. We still had to “touch base” with the London office, right?

“People starving and thirsting, grain elevators are bursting
Oh, you know it costs more to store the food than it do to give it
They say lose your inhibitions
Follow your own ambitions
They talk about a life of brotherly love show me someone who knows how to live it
There’s a slow, slow train comin’ up around the bend”

Slow Train, Bob Dylan, 1979

So the evening arrives and we’re in the queue early as free seating demands. David and friends join us as we munch on Nando’s (felt a bit weird to be having Nando’s in London in the Bob Dylan concert queue), as we wait. When the time comes Dylan does not disappoint. He plays electric piano and some songs are hardly recognisable, but Bob Dylan and his Band bring it all back home.

At the end of the warm winter night he acknowledges the crowd, looks us in the eye and whispers “see you again soon my friends”.

That’s what I heard, anyway.

“Twas in another lifetime, one of toil and blood
When blackness was a virtue and the road was full of mud
I came in from the wilderness, a creature void of form
“Come in,” she said, “I’ll give you shelter from the storm”

And if I pass this way again, you can rest assured
I’ll always do my best for her, on that I give my word
In a world of steel-eyed death, and men who are fighting to be warm
“Come in,” she said, “I’ll give you shelter from the storm”

Not a word was spoke between us, there was little risk involved
Everything up to that point had been left unresolved
Try imagining a place where it’s always safe and warm
“Come in,” she said, “I’ll give you shelter from the storm”

I was burned out from exhaustion, buried in the hail
Poisoned in the bushes an’ blown out on the trail
Hunted like a crocodile, ravaged in the corn
“Come in,” she said, “I’ll give you shelter from the storm”

Suddenly I turned around and she was standin’ there
With silver bracelets on her wrists and flowers in her hair
She walked up to me so gracefully and took my crown of thorns
“Come in,” she said, “I’ll give you shelter from the storm”

Now there’s a wall between us, somethin’ there’s been lost
I took too much for granted, got my signals crossed
Just to think that it all began on a long-forgotten morn
“Come in,” she said, “I’ll give you shelter from the storm”

Well, the deputy walks on hard nails and the preacher rides a mount
But nothing really matters much, it’s doom alone that counts
And the one-eyed undertaker, he blows a futile horn
“Come in,” she said, “I’ll give you shelter from the storm”

I’ve heard newborn babies wailin’ like a mournin’ dove
And old men with broken teeth stranded without love
Do I understand your question, man, is it hopeless and forlorn?
“Come in,” she said, “I’ll give you shelter from the storm”

In a little hilltop village, they gambled for my clothes
I bargained for salvation an’ they gave me a lethal dose
I offered up my innocence and got repaid with scorn
“Come in,” she said, “I’ll give you shelter from the storm”

Well, I’m livin’ in a foreign country but I’m bound to cross the line
Beauty walks a razor’s edge, someday I’ll make it mine
If I could only turn back the clock to when God and her were born
“Come in,” she said, “I’ll give you shelter from the storm” ”

Shelter From The Storm, Bob Dylan, 1979