I first heard songs of 22-year-old Bob Dylan on BBC Radio in 1963. At that time, music critics described his voice as having a nasal twang.
The lyrics of several of the songs he penned captured my imagination. Outside of folk music, most songs focussed on personal relationships.
Folk music seemed too light and breezy for my taste. Until Dylan. He wrote edgy songs written for people like me protesting the system we live under, along with songs of poetic beauty about love and anguish.
The following year, I bought my first Dylan album THE FREEWHEELIN BOB DYLAN (his second album) with the cover showing him walking down a street in Greenwich Village, New York, near their flat, with the beautiful Suze Rotolo, his 20-year-old girlfriend from an Italian family. She had both her arms linked through his arm on a cold winter’s day with snow on the streets. I loved the title of the album.
I had the determination since a child to enjoy a freewheeling life. It seemed a lovely gesture of Bob to invite Suze to be on the cover with him. The two of them looked very much in love. In the summer of 1965, I hitched hiked around continental Europe and again the following year with a determination to spend time freewheelin through six countries in 15 days.
As a London reporter, I interviewed Bob Dylan in a room in the Mayfair Hotel in London in 1965 with a handful of other reporters. He said little at the press conference. Bless him. As he wrote in his song about Suze: “We never did too much talkin’ anyway.” In a suitcase in the loft at home, I have the newspaper cutting of the interview along with loads of other cuttings in my days as a reporter.
In the Spring of 1967, I set off for India and the East arriving back home ten years and ten days later. Extended freewheelin time. And it continued….
For my 65th birthday, the beautiful Dominika and I went to see Bob Dylan in concert in Birmingham, England. I came away thinking he appeared low in spirit, utterly disinterested in being on stage. He stood sideways, playing keyboard. A quarter of the audience did not see his face while he never turned his head to look at the audience. “How many times can a man turn his head …...” In a couple of breaths, he named the four musicians on stage with him without a word of appreciation for them. I suspect it is not easy to be in his company.
FAVOURITE SONGS IN THE FREEWHEELIN BOB DYLAN ALBUM
Here are my favourite songs on the album with some of the lyrics. Bob wrote them all. In my view and of many, he offered a creative language of a high order. Links to Youtube with lyrics on screen.
BLOWING IN THE WIND
Dylan addresses freedom, peace and war while most ignore what is going on. He reminds us to face the world as it is and not turn away from it. If I may say, generations of us have spent much of our lives saying the same. The signals are all around us. The answer is blowing in the wind.
Yes, and how many years must a mountain exist
Before it is washed to the sea?
And how many years can some people exist
Before they’re allowed to be free?
Yes, and how many times can a man turn his head
And pretend that he just doesn’t see?
The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind
The answer is blowin’ in the wind…
GIRL FROM THE NORTH COUNTRY
Singing with Johnny Cash, a good friend of Dylan
A song about Suze Rotolo and the fading of their relationship after three years.
I’m a-wonderin’ if she remembers me at all
Many times I’ve often prayed
In the darkness of my night
In the brightness of my day
So, if you’re travelin’ in the north country fair
Where the winds hit heavy on the borderline
Remember me to one who lives there
She once was a true love of mine
MASTERS OF WAR
A fierce and damning critique of Presidents, Prime Ministers and the powerful who go to war.
How much do I know
To talk out of turn
You might say that I’m young
You might say I’m unlearned
But there’s one thing I know
Though I’m younger than you
That even Jesus would never
Forgive what you do
Let me ask you one question
Is your money that good?
Will it buy you forgiveness
Do you think that it could?
I think you will find
When your death takes its toll
All the money you made
Will never buy back your soul.
A HARD RAIN’S A GONNA FALL
A song with a prophetic vision. A song offering a religious and global revelation of what the future will hold. One of the greatest songs in the history of music.
And what did you hear, my blue eyed son?
What did you hear, my darling young one
I heard the sound of thunder that roared out a warning
Heard the roar of a wave that could drown the whole world
Heard one hundred drummers whose hands were a blazin’
Heard ten thousand whisperin’ and nobody listenin’
Heard one person starve, many people laughin’
Heard the song of a poet who died in the gutter
Heard the sound of a clown who cried in the alley
And it’s a hard and it’s a hard and it’s a hard hard hard hard
And it’s a hard rain’s a gonna fall
DON’T THINK TWICE ITS ALRIGHT
Another song about his relationship with Suze. Her parents were communists. She had a major influence in the political message of Blowing in the Wind and Masters of War. During their time together, she decided to return to Italy to study at the University of Perugia. She said she refused to be a ‘string on his guitar.’ Dylan tried to reconnect with her in Italy. They moved on from each other. Suze, an artist, jewellery maker and civil rights activist, died in February 2011, aged 67, from lung cancer. As a young woman, she bravely defied the US government and visited Cuba with three others. She wrote a much-appreciated book about life in Greenwich Village in the early 1960s. She was married for 41 years. Her Italian husband, Enzo Bartoccioli, died later the same year, aged 81.
And it ain’t no use in a-turnin’ on your light, babe
The light I never knowed
And it ain’t no use in turnin’ on your light, babe
I’m on the dark side of the road
But I wish there was somethin’ you would do or say
To try and make me change my mind and stay
We never did too much talkin’ anyway
But don’t think twice, it’s all right
THANK YOU, BOB. THANK YOU SUZE.