If there was no death, life would be pointless, like an eternal carousel ride. You enjoy it, because you know it will come to an end.
Robert Allen Zimmerman’s teacher talks with the student’s father.
“Your son does not have a flair for knowledge” he says. “He’s …more of an artist.”
“An artist is the one who paints, isn’t it so?”
The teacher laughed. “Perhaps it would be better to find him a place at your job, because I don’t think he is capable of making it in anything else”.
“An amazing man” says Robert about him many years later. “But he never saw me.”
Woe to all the children who are so conventional to be understood by their parents.
Zimmerman graduated from high-school, went to the University and after a semester he dropped out to become Dylan.
We moved from the village. Uncle Alexis, the black sheep of the family, came with us to Patra.
In the early 70s, when he was twenty years old, he made a quick buck, enough to buy half a taxi in those days. Alexis took the money and left to live as a hippie. He went to Matala, to Ios Island and then he wandered somewhere in Germany.
He returned ten years later burned-out and with his stomach almost destroyed. He didn’t understand much. Ηe was admitted to the hospital and half of his stomach was removed.
“Why?” I asked, as twelve-year-old are wont to fire away so many questions.
“Too many fried eggs”, my father told me.
Ever since he stayed at the village till his death, depressive and suicidal. He had a guitar that he wouldn’t even touch any more. My brother and I strummed it, till it broke.
So one day we took him with us, him and his half stomach, to see Dylan at a local team’s football stadium.
“Who is he?” I asked him in the car.
And he sings, while looking at his reflection on the window’s glass:
“I ‘m a man of constant sorrow, I’ve seen trouble all my days”
The audience is waiting for Bob Dylan, the legend of folk music, who since he was 22 years old has written some of the most important protest songs, most notably Blowing in the Wind.
They expect to see him with his acoustic guitar and harmonica, just like they are used to, wearing clothes that his grandmother could also wear.
Dylan enters the stage in jet-black leather clothes, sunglasses and high-heel boots. He opens his guitar-case and grabs a Fender Stratocaster.
The audience boos him, calling him Judas having betrayed folk music.
Dylan pressed on: ”How does it feel – How does it feel – To be on your own?”
I open the envelope Peter sent me from Corfu. I see two tickets for Bob Dylan’s concert in Thessaloniki.
“I bought them without giving it much thought” writes Peter.” I cannot attend it. You go and see old-Bob”.
I break the news to Nelli.
Her laughter makes me sing: “Ι want you, I want you, I want you, so bad”.
The nineteen-year-old Zimmerman arrives at New York and he plays music, initially at squares, and then in folk bars of Greenwich Village. His friends put him up, he barely makes ends meet. He reads avidly.
“I read Machiavelli, Nietzsche, and many other great writers” he writes in his autobiography “but the greatest of all was Thucydides, that’s right Thucydides was the best.”
He has acquainted himself with the poetry of Rimbaud, Elliot, Pound, the prose poetry of Dylan Thomas. Influenced by them, he begins to write himself, too.
And what did you hear, my blue-eyed son?
And what did you hear, my darling young one?
I heard the sound of a thunder that roared out a warnin”
I heard the roar of a wave that could drown the whole world
I heard one hundred drummers whose hands were a-blazin”
I heard ten thousand whisperin” and nobody listenin”
I heard one person starve, I heard 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, it’s a hard, it’s a hard, it’s a hard
And it’s a hard rain’s a-gonna fall
Two years later Columbia releases his first record.
Dylan enters the stage at the port of Thessaloniki. I look at him thinking: “That man created rock music.” It’s just like seeing Charlie Chaplin, alive, before your very eyes.
Or T.S Elliot.
The history of music of the second half of the 20th century is up there, dressed in a suit and a stetson .
He plays none of his old songs. At the end, he comes forth with his band, they bow to the audience and leave the stage.
Inside the bus on the way back, people are complaining.
“He didn’t even say good evening”.
“Not even thank you”.
“Not even hello Thessaloniki”.
“I liked his performance, it was kind of theatrical” says Nelli and everyone gives her dirty looks. “He gave a show the way he wanted”.
“How was the gig?” I ask my uncle when I see him again.
“Perfect” he says. “Dylan played all the songs with his back turned to the audience.”
I was trying to figure out what was so perfect about it.
“It’s just Dylan” my uncle says “He does what he thinks, not giving a dime if he’ll be misunderstood. If he doesn’t like something, he won’t be bothered to conceal it; the audience sucked.”
A few years later he passed away. Just a couple of people attended his funeral.
If I could play the guitar back then, I would sing for him:
“There’s a long black cloud comin” on down
I feel like I’m knockin” on heaven’s door.”
The Beatles meet Dylan in New York. They are more famous than Jesus, but they are still the good boys from Liverpool. Dylan offers them marijuana and introduces them to poetry. The Beatles become something more than the pop idols who sang “I wanna hold your hand”.
They found the hippie culture with their yellow submarine and Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.
It’s the Vietnam War, the uprising of the Afro-Americans and the students, the May of ’68, the Prague Spring, Woodstock, Matala, the communes in Germany.
“For the times are a-changing”.
The day after the gig we watch the film “I’m not there”, an episodic narrative movie about Dylan’s life. It’s a far cry from a linear and poignant biography, as Gandhi’s. It’s a grotesque outcome, attractive and bizarre.
The director and screenwriter, Todd Haynes, communicates Dylan’s temperament successfully:
An unconventional man, stature 5’3, with a rooster’s voice and a griffin’s soul.
A bad-tempered creature, far from amiable and kindhearted, who would be sometimes folk, some others rock and some others he would praise Jesus in his songs!
He didn’t make any effort to be likeable. Quite the contrary; when he was classified into a category, as if possessing an innate aversion for labels, he went off the track.
Against the grain, sometimes self-destructive.
Yet he was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for his lyrics and he was nominated for the Nobel Prize.
His songs are perhaps the most covered ones since 1962.
This is more like the beginning of a career, not the end!
Here comes the story of the Hurricane
The man the authorities came to blame
For something that he never done
Put him in a prison cell but one time he could-a been
The champion of the world.
I’m in Jam Bar at Naxos island. We are ready for a jam session amongst strangers. A guy from Serbia on the drums, a middle-aged guy from Athens on the bass, an Aussie on the electric guitar. The acoustic guitar and the microphone are reserved for me.
“What do we play? asks Kostas with his ever-present sun-glasses and stroking his belly, just like Belushi from the Blues Brothers.
“All along the watchtower” I reply “but as Jimi Hendrix did it”.
The Aussie guitarist grins and cranks up the distortion.
We use the A minor scale and I sing a Greek rendition of the song.
John Lennon parts ways with the Beatles and his debut solo album contains God, where Lennon renounces his former self and all of his idols, including Zimmerman.
I don’t believe in magic
I don’t believe in I-ching
I don’t believe in Bible
I don’t believe in Tarot
I don’t believe in Hitler
I don’t believe in Jesus
I don’t believe in Kennedy
I don’t believe in Buddha
I don’t believe in Mantra
I don’t believe in Gita
I don’t believe in Yoga
I don’t believe in Kings
I don’t believe in Elvis
I don’t believe in Zimmerman
I don’t believe in Beatles
I just believe in me, Yoko and me…and that’s reality
I must wrap this Dylan-text up. It’s too long for the internet standards, as usual. But I don’t care about that. I must wrap it up and continue with something else, something different.
The biggest threat for an artist is repetition and applause. If you keep repeating yourself and you are applauded for that, it’s difficult to strike in a new direction which might displease the applauders.
That’s why Dylan is great. He went against his own audience.
An artist is not a football player. He isn’t trying to win the game. He loses himself in his passion. Because this is the only way of finding yourself; only by losing it.
The carousel ride lasts for a few years. Enjoy it, make it count.
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Translated by Alexandros Mantas:
Edited by Polytimi