Thursday, 3 December 2020

Like A Rolling Stone

 Has a song ever really affected your life? 


I suspect it has since I get many emails about such matters at Celtic Crush on SiriusXM – especially in the month preceding Christmas.


Something about this time of year tends to stir the embers of memory. It’s usually to do with an old romance, instantly resurrected at the first notes of some musical “blast from the past.”


My song has no such romantic connotations; yet, I might still be living back in Ireland if I hadn’t heard it at a certain point in life.


I was an adolescent living with my widowed grandfather in a big barracks of a house in the heart of Wexford town. His once large family had dispersed leaving only his oldest son who spent most nights in the lounge bar of the County Hotel.


Since my grandfather was hard of hearing I could blast the old cloth-covered wireless in my bedroom to my hearts content.


I must have been much smarter back then for I could read Shakespeare and listen to ear-rattling music at the same time. Now I have trouble enough doing either.


Anyway, I was tuned into Radio Luxembourg – “the station of the stars” – and reading to my heart’s content when the first chunky chords of a Fender Stratocaster blasted forth, shaking the dust off the glowing tubes of the wireless on their exit.


Of course I didn’t know a Strat from a hole in the wall back then, possessing only an acoustic guitar of dubious vintage that I had purchased from “Jap” O’Brien’s furniture store on the never-never system.


Nor did I recognize the B6 Hammond Organ that swelled through my bedroom but I was in no doubt as to whose caustic voice declared:


“Once upon a time, you feel so fine

Threw the bums a dime, in your prime

Didn’t you?”


It was Bob Dylan at his sneering best, ripping apart the pretentions of whatever girlfriend was causing him problems back in 1965.


I cast my book aside and sat bolt upright - all ears in that frigid, damp bedroom.


By the time Mr. Dylan had reached the first chorus I was hooked forever, as he whined in outraged accusation: 


“How does it feel to be on your own?”


Up until then singers were either falling head over heels in virginal love or bemoaning the heartache visited upon them when they were inevitably dumped by the object of their affections.


Like A Rolling Stone, on the contrary, was like a Rock ‘n’ Roll Nuremburg Tribunal. The very skin was being flayed off Bobby’s offensive paramour.


And the seething lyrics only intensified over six glorious minutes and 11 seconds. Even back then, musically unlettered as I was, I could tell that this track had been recorded red-hot live as Mike Bloomfield on lead guitar and Al Kooper on Hammond organ struggled to keep time with Dylan’s impassioned performance.


No one in this crack band knew what was coming next as Bob spat out the words in fury while skidding around “the pocket” of the beat; by the same token I recognized that each musician was playing at their instinctive best.


And that, in a nutshell, is what great Rock ‘n’ Roll is all about – spark and spontaneity.


Finally it was over and some pop inanity followed. I switched off the wireless for fear the magic would dissipate.


Those six plus minutes had synthesized so many thoughts and dreams, and I knew I’d never experience any of them if I stayed in Wexford.


I followed that song to New York City and sang it in every band I’ve played with – always at night’s end when the whiskey is flowing and inhibitions are few.


Was it worth the journey? Well, there have been a lot of ups and downs, but never a dull moment.


I heard the song recently; it stirred all the same emotions, and I thought what a perfect song for this “time of pause.”


Give it a spin and sneer along with Mr. Dylan – it’s therapeutic and puts this damned pandemic in context. C’mon now, give it a shot, there’s no one listening, and so what if they are!


 “How does it feel
To be on your own
Like a complete unknown

Like a rolling stone.”

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