Wednesday, September 28, 2005

The Non Blue Eyed Son

Watching four hours of Dylan on the telly recently sparked vivid memories for me from thirty years ago and more.

In those days, as a seventeen year old living with his parents, listening to music was not like it is now. Turn it off, for God's sake was a parental reflex action, unlike today where teenagers are often disgusted to find their acts of high decibel rebellion can be trumped by pretty much anything from the parental back catalogue.

"Guns and Roses? You should listen to Led Zep. Greenday? Where would they be without the Clash? Dance Music? I remember when New Order invented it"

Thirty years ago there was no such overlap, it was a rare parent prepared to walk the line from Pink Floyd, The Beatles, Black Sabbath, the Stones, Fairport Convention, The Grateful Dead and the Mahavishnu Orchestra to blues, jazz, R and B (in the old sense) traditional folk, country, older popular song etc and find some common ground. And it was an even rarer teenager prepared to walk it with them.

My old man was a curmudgeonly old bastard, funnily enough, and I was a not untypical arrogant, selfish up his own arse teenager, so in our house tensions ran high at the best of times. Added to that, my father held a bizarre conviction that evil entered Britain with Bill Haley and the Comets, so the various drug addled long hairs adorning the covers of my records or strutting their stuff on the Old Grey Whistle Test were guaranteed to send him into apopletic rages.

But once he walked in on me listening to A Hard Rain's Gonna Fall and he did a sort of double take. The insistent guitar played and those mesmeric words tumbled forth:

Oh, what'll you do now, my blue-eyed son?
Oh, what'll you do now, my darling young one?
I'm a-goin' back out 'fore the rain starts a-fallin',
I'll walk to the depths of the deepest black forest,
Where the people are many and their hands are all empty,
Where the pellets of poison are flooding their waters,
Where the home in the valley meets the damp dirty prison,
Where the executioner's face is always well hidden,
Where hunger is ugly, where souls are forgotten,
Where black is the color, where none is the number,
And I'll tell it and think it and speak it and breathe it,
And reflect it from the mountain so all souls can see it,
Then I'll stand on the ocean until I start sinkin',
But I'll know my song well before I start singin',
And it's a hard, it's a hard, it's a hard, it's a hard,
It's a hard rain's a-gonna fall.

My old man didn't say anything, but he picked up the blue cover of More Bob Dylan Greatest Hits and perused it until the end of the track. Then he put it carefully back on the table and left. We never spoke of the moment again and it didn't herald the beginning of a new understanding or anything like that, but my copy of Song and Dance Man, the Art of Bob Dylan went missing for a few days and I like to think that he read it.