I am aware that every book I have read about Bob Dylan seems to raise more questions than answers. That includes this charming and well presented publication that takes us on a tour of Dylan’s time spent in London over the years. It’s full of amusing and interesting anecdotes and a remarkable level of detail for what amounted to a relatively short time in the city. In fact, it proves the point that London, and the people he met there, had a profound and important influence on Dylan as a songwriter. It’s set me on the quest to find out more about many of the things mentioned. Fortunately, it includes a map and a comprehensive locations list, so that’s a good start!
The book begins in New York 1962 when a young Dylan was spotted by Philip Saville, a producer from the BBC, and offered a part in a TV play Madhouse on Castle Street. Dylan was to play “an anarchic young student who wrote songs”. It should have been a breeze as it was a role he had been playing, more or less, since he first arrived in New York City in 1961 (along with “travelling hobo and itinerant singer”), but Dylan found the acting and reciting his lines really difficult. He ended up being given one line and singing four songs, including Blowin’ in the Wind which hadn’t been released on record yet. Not a bad gig since he received £500 (about £12000 in todays’ prices) plus expenses for it (and got a free trip to England!).
More importantly, Dylan became familiar with the London folk scene especially folk singer/guitarist Martin Carthy who drew his attention to some remarkable English folk songs including Lord Franklin and Scarborough Fair which he used in his own songs Bob Dylan’s Dream and Girl from the North Country. During his short time there he also met legendary author Robert Graves who he had a walk around “Paddington Square” with and tried to talk about The White Goddess, but couldn’t remember much about it!
He also did a few performances around London folk clubs and venues and even met up with some American friends and did some recordings at Dobell’s Record Shop in Charing Cross Road. He wasn’t particularly well known then and wasn’t very well received by some English folk club audiences especially the friends and associates of brilliant, but narrow-minded, Ewan McColl and the Singers Club. He did better at the coffee bar venues like Bungies, Les Cousins and The Troubadour where he tried out some of his new songs that would appear on his ground breaking second album The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan in June 1963. This album actually refers to Martin Carthy on the sleeve notes. He also jokes about his time in London in the 1964 album Another Side of Bob Dylan. In the song I Shall Be Free No.10 he says about the guitar riff he is using “it’s nothing. It’s something I learned over in England”.
The following year Dylan was back in London with his own concert at the Royal Festival Hall. This time he was much better known, with two acclaimed albums behind him. Freewheelin’ had gone to No.1 in the album charts. Dylan was astonishingly prolific and influential. Many people were covering his songs and the concert was a triumph. It contains one of his best performances of all time and shows how he had matured as a writer. Astonishing that the entire concert wasn’t available on CD until 2015 and then only in a limited edition!
When he returned to England again in 1965 he was a big star. This time the London concert was at the Royal Albert Hall. The tour was filmed by D.A. Pennebaker in cinema verité style and has become one of the most acclaimed music documentaries of all time Don’t Look Back. It also contains what some consider to be the first “pop” video Subterranean Homesick Blues, filmed on the steps near the Savoy Hotel. This video features beat poet Allen Ginsberg who a week before had been part of an important and revolutionary poetry reading at the Albert Hall. After this concert the managers banned poetry readings at the hall for the next ten years! Interestingly, this concert was filmed by Peter Whitehead (Wholly Communion) who it is also claimed made the first pop video. Some commentators assert that these two events were so influential that they actually kickstarted the English Counterculture (Underground) that became so influential in the late 60s. American writer and critic Greil Marcus goes even further and suggests that the release of the single Like a Rolling Stone actually created the global youth counterculture! Certainly, by 1966, when Dylan toured again, he was considered by many to be the “voice of his generation”, a label he came to resent (as he also did the label “protest singer”).
Dylan didn’t return to London until 1978 twelve years later when he did the hugely successful Street Legal tour and performed several concerts at the Earls Court Exhibition Centre.
I really enjoyed Jackie Lees and K G Miles book. There is a wealth of information in there and it is a great starting point for discovering Dylan and the times he lived in. I will certainly be visiting some of the places, especially Flukes Cradle, a café on Camden High Street. This was where the cover of World Gone Wrong was taken with Dylan wearing an elegant top hat. The painting behind him has got a wonderful story of it’s own! Get the book!
“Old John”is a famous “folly” at Bradgate Park, Leicester well known to people in the East Midlands. A great place to visit.It is built to look like a beer tankard!
Here’s a new recording of a song I have written and recorded about a building on a hill at Bradgate Park in Leicestershire, England. It is a strange building (known as a folly) that is built to look like a beer tankard. My friend Al Owens wrote the lyrics and I did the music. It was built as a memorial to a miller who’s name was “Old John”
A FOLLY CALLED OLD JOHN
Lyrics: Al Owens Music : Kenny Wilson
Old John worked at the windmill
On a hill in Bradgate Park.
John was there when the mill collapsed
In a storm; the night was dark.
Too long it took to lift the beam
That threatened certain death
And no-one in that howling gale
Heard John breathe his last breath.
Later on in that same year
The owner of the lands
Built a tower from the scattered stones -
He and his farmyard hands.
They stuck an archway on the side
Of that folly on the hill.
From the left and right Old John looks quite
Like a tankard you could fill.
Bradgate house has become a ruin -
Crumbling, ghostly, stark.
No Lords or Ladies dwell there now
And the public own the park.
Footprints of those darker days
Have faded out and gone.
Yet upon that hill upright and still
Stands a folly called Old John.
By the late ’40s of this memory Century the people I knew best and loved the most had already broken through the crust of old Reason & were dowsing for some Supreme Reality, Christmas on Earth Rimbaud said, Second Religiousness according to Spengler’s outline of civilization declining through proliferation of non-human therefore boring technology; Blake had called “O Earth O Earth return!” centuries before, echoing the ancient gnostic prophecy that Whitman spelled out for America specifically demanding that the Steam-engine “be confronted and met by at least equally subtle and tremendous force-infusion for purposes of spiritualization, for the pure conscience, for genuine aesthetics, and for absolute and primal manliness and womanliness —” Ezra Pound’s mind jumped to diagnose the dimming of the world’s third Eye: “With Usura the line grows thick.”
One scholar who transmitted Blake’s kabbalah, S. Foster Damon, can remember his sudden vision of tiny flowers carpeting Harvard Yard violet before World War One, an image that lingers over 60 years in mind since his fellow student Virgil Thomson gave him the cactus Peyote to eat. Damon concludes that rare beings like Blake are born with physiologic gift of such vision, continuous or intermittent. William James, whose pragmatic magic probably called the Peyote God to Harvard in the first place, had included shamanistic chemical visions among the many authentic “Varieties of Religious Experience.” His student Gertrude Stein experimented in alteration of consciousness through mindfulness of language, an extremely effective Yoga since mechanical reproduction of language by XX Century had made language the dominant vehicle of civilized consciousness; her companion Alice B. Toklas contributed a cookbook recipe for Hashish Brownies to enlighten those persons over-talkative in drawing rooms unaware that “the medium is the message.”
This synchronism is exquisite: William S. Burroughs also once of Harvard shared Miss Stein’s mindfulness of the hypnotic drug-like power of language, and collaborated on cut-up rearrangement of stereotyped language forms with friend Brion Gysin, who had originally given Miss Toklas the recipe for her famous Brownies. Burroughs among others had begun experiments with drug-shamanism after World War Two — for the author of “Naked Lunch” it was a pragmatic extension of his Cambridge interest in linguistic Anthropology. That same gnostic impulse broke through to clear consciousness simultaneously in many American cities: Gary Snyder realized the entire universe was alive one daybreak 1948 in Poland when a flight birds rose out of the tree stillness in a gully by the city river, a natural vision — The masters of the Berkeley Renaissance read Gertrude Stein aloud and practiced Poetic kabbalah (charming synchronism that psychologist Timothy Leary met poets Jack Spicer and Robert Duncan in that same 1948 student scene) — Neal Cassady drove Jack Kerouac to Mexico in a prophetic automobile to see the physical body of America, the same Denver Cassady that one decade later drove Ken Kesey’s Kosmos-patterned schoolbus on a Kafka-circus tour over the roads of the awakening nation — And the wakening began, some say, with the first saxophone cry of the new mode of black music which shook the walls of white city mind when Charles Parker lifted his birdflightnoted horn & announced a new rhythm of thinking, and extended breathing of the body in music and speech, a new consciousness. For as Plato had said, “When the mode of the music changes, the walls of the city shake.”
The new consciousness born in these States can be traced back through old gnostic texts, visions, artists & shamans; it is the consciousness of our ground nature suppressed & desecrated. It was always the secret tale of the tribe in America, this great scandal of the closing of the doors of perception of the Naked Human Form Divine. It began with the white murder of Indian inhabitants of the ground, the theft and later usurious exploitation of their land, it continued with an assault on all races and species of Mother Nature herself and concludes today with total disruption of the ecology of the entire planet. No wonder black slaves kept for non-human use into this century in tear-gassed ghettos of megalopolis were the first Aliens to sound the horn of Change, first Strangers to Call the Great Call through Basilides’ many Heavens. Amazing synchronism again, that Mr. Frank Takes Gun, Native American Church amerindian Peyote Chief, invited the brilliantly talkative silver-haired psychiatrist who directed a Saskatchewan mental hospital in the early ’40s to participate in a Peyote ritual, and that the same Dr. Humphrey Osmond having recognized a wonder of consciousness thus experienced passed on the catalyst in Mescaline synthetic form to Aldous Huxley; and that Huxley’s 1945 essay on the chemical opening of the Doors of Perception found its way to the tables of Bickford’s Cafeteria Times Square New York & the couches of Reed College and Berkeley, where artist persons, having heard the Great Call of the Negroes, already initiated themselves en masse to subtle gradations of their own consciousness experienced while smoking the same Afric hemp smoked by Charles Parker Thelonius Monk & Dizzy Gillespie.
Dr. Timothy Leary takes up his part of the tale of the tribe in a Mexican hut and brings his discovery to Harvard harmoniously — and there begins the political battle, black and white magic become public visible for a generation. Dr. Leary is a hero of American consciousness. He began as a sophisticated academician, he encountered discoveries in his field which confounded him and his own technology, he pursued his studies where attention commanded, he arrived beyond the boundaries of public knowledge. One might hesitate to say, like Socrates, like Galileo? — poor Dr. Leary, poor Earth! Yet here we are in Science Fiction History, in the age of Hydrogen Bomb Apocalypse, the very Kali Yuga wherein man’s stupidity so overwhelms the planet that ecological catastrophe begins to rehearse old tribe-tales of Karmaic retribution, Fire & Flood & Armageddon impending.
It would be natural (in fact deja vu) that the very technology stereotyping our consciousness & desensitizing our perceptions should throw up its own antidote, an antidote synthetic such as LSD synchronous with mythic tribal Soma & Peyote. Given such historic Comedy, who could emerge from Harvard technology but one and only Dr. Leary, a respectable human being, a worldly man faced with the task of a Messiah. Inevitable! Not merely because the whole field of mental psychology as a “science” had arrived at biochemistry anyway. It was inevitable because the whole professional civilized world, like Dr. Leary, was already faced with Messianic task of accelerated evolution (i.e. psychosocial Revolution) including an alteration of human consciousness leading to the immediate mutation of social & economic forms. This staggering realization, psychedelic, i.e., consciousness expanding & mind-manifesting in itself, without the use of chemical catalysts, is now forced on all of us by images of our own unconscious rising from the streets of Chicago, where teargas was dumped on Christ’s very Cross in Lincoln Park AD 1968. The drains are backing up in the cities, smog noise and physiologic poison in food turn us to insect acts, overpopulation crazes the planet, our lakes corrupt, old riverways become dank fens, tanks enter Prague and Chicago streets simultaneous, Police State arrives in every major city, starvation wastes African provinces, Chinese genocide in Vietnam, Alarm! Alarm! howls deep as any Biblic prophecy.
Ourselves caught in the giant machine are conditioned to its terms, only holy vision or technological catastrophe or revolution break “the mind forg’d manacles.” Given one by-product of the technology that might, as it were by feed-back, correct the berserk machine and liberate the invertor’s mind from captivity by hypnotic robots, Dr. Leary had in LSD an invaluable civilized elixir. For, as Dr. Jiri Roubichek observed early in Prague (“Artificial Psychosis,” 1958), “LSD inhibits conditioned reflexes.” And this single phrase, for rational men, might be the key to the whole gnostic mystery of LSD and Dr. Leary’s role as unique, alas solitary, courageous, humane & frank Democratic Boddhisatva-teacher of the uses of LSD in America. For he took on himself the noble task of announcing the evidence of his senses despite the scary contumely of fellow academicians, the dispraising timorous irony of scientific “professionals,” the stupidity meanness self-serving cowardice and hollow vanity of bureaucratic personnel from Harvard Yard to Mexico City to Washington, from the ignorant Sheriff’s office in Dutchess County NY to the inner greedy sanctums of the US Treasury Department in D. C., our whole “establishment” of civilization that defends us from knowledge of our own unconscious by means of policeman’s clubs, and would resist the liberation of our minds and bodies by any brutish means available including teargas, napalm & the Hydrogen Bomb.
Dr. Leary conducted himself fairly & equitably, given the extremity of his knowledge; it took an innocent courage to explore his own unconditioned consciousness, to take LSD and other chemicals often enough to be well balanced in praxis as well as explanation, and to attempt to wed the enormity of his experience to Reason. An heroic attempt to communicate clearly and openly through civilized technologic media to his fellow citizens, despite centuries of identity brainwash accelerated now to mass paranoia and Cold War Apocalypse, required Dr. Leary the proverbial wisdom of serpent & harmlessness of dove.
Timothy Leary tells the tale of his tribe in book aptly titled “The Politics of Ecstasy,” & events enlarged since he wrote his book and chose its title charge the author’s handiwork with prophetic enormity. The battle of generations that erupted this year simultaneously in Prague, Chicago, Mexico City, Paris, New York (and Moscow underground) — everywhere the State’s electronic consciousness is interlinked — transcends antique battles of Cold War and Race. We witness planetary confrontation wherein controlling Elders trapped in a suicidal mechanical consciousness deploy their destructive technology against their own children in the streets of their own cities. ‘Tis Blake’s Urizen tormenting tender Los in Eternity! New generations have risen spontaneously with new consciousness and a mutant politics of flower power that is rooted in the ground of human consciousness itself: an acceptance of human identity as one with living nature on a living planet where all creatures are living God. The public philosophies and technologies of all civilized Governments at present are are at war with this God, and the planet itself is within decades of destruction. No wonder there is sudden appearance of Adamic hair. Eve walks naked in the streets; ancient body rhythm beat out thru the airwaves in eclectic mantric Rock from Bratislava to San Francisco, & youths ingest shamanic elixirs to recover consciousness of planetary Archetypes. Hare Krishna!
One politic synchronism that concerns this text should be gossiped forth contextual. Timothy Leary quit public life to write a book in Mexico some years ago, but he was searched by Agents of Government as he went to cross borders, arrested for possession of some herb, and thus forced to interrupt his writing, return to public action, and defend his person from attack by the State. So he traveled to academies and lectured to the young, & thus he paid large legal fees required by the State & thus maintained an Ashram of fellow seekers well known in Millbrook. Agents of Government raided and repeatedly abused the utopia, whereupon Dr. Leary was obliged to be Dr. Leary and lecture more to raise money for his family of imprisoned friends. Agents of Government concluded this phase of prosecution with a piece of Socratic irony so blatantly echoing an old Greek injustice that the vulgar rhetoric of a Tyrannous State would need only be quoted to be recognized, were it not for the fact that these States are by now so plagued with Tyrannously inspired chaos and public communication so flooded with images of State Atrocity from the alleys of Saigon to the parks of Chicago that official public conscience here now, as memorably in Russia and Germany, is shocked, dumbed & amnesiac. I quote from the Spring 1968 State Document in any case for the delectation of gnostic Cognoscenti, that is to say myriads of the present young:
“To Hon. Edw. W. Wadsworth Clerk, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit Room 408 — 400 Royal Street New Orleans, LA. 70130 “Re: No 23570 Timothy Leary vs United States of America
“… We are applying for an order from the District Court requiring the Defendant to surrender to the United States Marshal…
“The appellant continues his publicized activities involving the advocacy of the use of psychedelic drugs by students and others of immature judgment and tender years and is regarded as a menace to the community so long as he is at large …
Very truly yours, Morton L. Sussman, United States Attorney.
By: James R. Gough, Asst. U.S. ATTY. Chief, Appeals Research Division”
Thus requesting revocation of Dr. Leary’s bail’d liberty while his political-religious defense for possession of an herb approached Supreme Court, Agents of Government checked further conversation with the young. The Millbrook Ashram having been simultaneously dispersed by Agents of Government his immediate financial responsibilities lightened, Timothy Leary retired back home to Berkeley with his mate and completed his description of “the Politics of Ecstasy.” ❖
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on October 21, 2020
Here is my second recording in the Romantic Poets series. It is “A Poison Tree” by William Blake. I intend to do a few more from the “Songs of Innocence and Experience”. They are obviously intended as songs and are just the right length. Blake is a particular inspiration to me. In 2019 I went to an exhibition at the Tate Gallery, London of Blake’s art and poetry. It displayed the work in it’s original context, in book form. Some of the books are tiny, which is something I wasn’t expecting. Seeing the words and pictures together, in print form, really enhanced their meaning for me. It was probably the first time in my life that I really understood these poems. It has encouraged me to undertake far more original work of my own, a real inspiration!
I was angry with my friend; I told my wrath, my wrath did end. I was angry with my foe: I told it not, my wrath did grow.
And I waterd it in fears, Night & morning with my tears: And I sunned it with smiles, And with soft deceitful wiles.
And it grew both day and night. Till it bore an apple bright. And my foe beheld it shine, And he knew that it was mine.
And into my garden stole, When the night had veild the pole; In the morning glad I see; My foe outstretched beneath the tree.
Here is a remix of the song. I have taken out the drums and harpsichord and added accordion. Which do you prefer? Let me know!
I have started a new project setting works of the Romantic Poets to music. Here is my first attempt “La Belle Dame Sans Merci” by John Keats. I visited his grave in the Protestant Cemetery in Rome. It was a strange and spiritual experience! I recorded this at home using Cubase 9.5 and various instruments and plug-ins!
O what can ail thee, knight-at-arms,
Alone and palely loitering?
The sedge has withered from the lake,
And no birds sing.
O what can ail thee, knight-at-arms,
So haggard and so woe-begone?
The squirrel’s granary is full,
And the harvest’s done.
I see a lily on thy brow,
With anguish moist and fever-dew,
And on thy cheeks a fading rose
Fast withereth too.
I met a lady in the meads,
Full beautiful—a faery’s child,
Her hair was long, her foot was light,
And her eyes were wild.
I made a garland for her head,
And bracelets too, and fragrant zone;
She looked at me as she did love,
And made sweet moan
I set her on my pacing steed,
And nothing else saw all day long,
For sidelong would she bend, and sing
A faery’s song.
She found me roots of relish sweet,
And honey wild, and manna-dew,
And sure in language strange she said—
‘I love thee true’.
She took me to her Elfin grot,
And there she wept and sighed full sore,
And there I shut her wild wild eyes
With kisses four.
And there she lullèd me asleep,
And there I dreamed—Ah! woe betide!—
The latest dream I ever dreamt
On the cold hill side.
I saw pale kings and princes too,
Pale warriors, death-pale were they all;
They cried—‘La Belle Dame sans Merci
Thee hath in thrall!’
I saw their starved lips in the gloam,
With horrid warning gapèd wide,
And I awoke and found me here,
On the cold hill’s side.
And this is why I sojourn here,
Alone and palely loitering,
Though the sedge is withered from the lake,
And no birds sing.
Here is a recording I have just made in my home studio of Fats Waller’s classic jazz hit “Aint Misbehavin'”. I actually played all of the instruments on this which turned out to be a bit of a trial and more difficult than I thought. A good learning experience though. I play with a band called Parisian Swing and look forward to recording with them in the near future. You can’t beat the feeling of playing with others but it can sometimes be hard getting people together!
Here is a song I have just recorded in my home studio. An old song of mine given a new treatment. All existential angst and swirling accordion, mandolin and guitars. I wrote it when I was 23 and it was a breakthrough for me. Previously my songs had been quite restrained and rather bland. With this I made my voice higher and tried to be more expressive. I developed a kind of method of unconscious writing. I was pleased with the result. It is still capable of shocking some people with it’s raw pessimism. It was inspired by the song “Father of Day, Father of Night” from the New Morning album by Bob Dylan although the meaning of my song is almost the opposite.
Dylan’s lyrics are:
“Father of night, Father of day Father, who taketh the darkness away Father, who teacheth the birds to fly Builder of rainbows up in the sky”.
I kind of reversed it. My favourite verse in my song is:
“Father of Nightmares, Father of Dreams, Show me an answer, say what it means. I have been searching, I could not find, I have been living deep in my mind”
This verse still speaks to me from my subconscious mind.