When I was nine years old I should have been in the Third Year of Primary School. These days, it would be called Year Five. For reasons that were never explained to me, I was put up a year with a view to spending two years in the Fourth Year. Six other children (all boys), including Peter were also temporarily promoted a year. I’m guessing now but I think that maybe the class sizes were unmanageable and by putting seven children into the Fourth Year, it equalised the number of children in each class. It was a brilliant thing for us all because we spent two years with Mr. Ladlow’s class who was the only teacher that I ever had that I thought was brilliant.
Mr. Ladlow ran the school football team which was a combination of boys from the Third Year and the Fourth Year. The star of the team was a boy who was a year older than Peter, me and the other young ‘uns. His name was Anthony Hedges. He was good at all sports and subsequently had an aura about him because everyone admired him. We all wanted to be Anthony Hedges. (We all needed to be Anthony Hedges because we were a rubbish team and never won a game in two years. In fact, I think we only ever scored one goal. Peter was a great full back, once clearing the ball of the line with an extraordinary header which drew gasps of astonishment from the watching crowd).
In the Summer of 1964 I had a good idea. My Dad and I would often go into Grovelands Park on a Saturday or Sunday (or sometimes both!) to play cricket. Sometimes the whole family (Mum, Dad, sister and me) went in the car to Newgate Street to have a small picnic by the side of the adult match that was taking place. Dad and I would play cricket while my sister and my Mum would watch on admiringly. (I made that last bit up). I had just been given a new bat and ball for my birthday and I thought it would be good if I invited several boys from my class to go to Grovelands after school to play cricket one Monday afternoon straight after school. To my absolute delight, Anthony Hedges accepted my invitation along with a few others including Peter. I think the prospect of playing with not only a proper cricket ball but a new cricket ball was enticing. Obviously I had my parents’ agreement and I was a mass of excited anticipation all day through the morning lessons of mental arithmetic, mechanical arithmetic and English. After a wasted afternoon of Nature study and R.E. we all walked together to my house to fetch the equipment before the short walk to Grovelands. I told the boys that I would just get the bat, ball, stumps and bails from the garage and they waited outside.
I think what happened next has stayed with me for my entire life. I wrote a few days about spontaneity and planning. I am a bit of an inveterate planner and am fearful of not being prepared. This is because I am fearful that a situation will arise whereby some boys (including the great Anthony Hedges) are expecting me to emerge from a garage with a full set of brilliant equipment and all that happens is that I have to apologise and tell them that all the equipment is in the boot of my Dad’s car which is in Southgate tube station car park. We had been to Newgate Street the day before and forgotten to take the equipment out of the boot on our return. I just wanted the ground to open up and swallow me – I think that’s the cliché that is generally used in those circumstances. I really felt that the whole world was conspiring against me to make everything go wrong.
At that point, Anthony Hedges swore at me and took all my other friends off with him to kick a football about in the park. None of them ever spoke to me again apart from Peter who, to this day, frequently reminds me that I need to plan things better. At school each day I was taunted with calls of “Where are your balls?”
My Mum was very sympathetic and luckily there was a delicious cake to be scoffed and home made lemonade in the fridge. All the boys were very grateful to my Mum and luckily I found a football in the garage so we went for a kick around in Grovelands. No one seemed to mind that the planned activities were spontaneously changed.
I can’t actually remember which of those two scenarios is true. Probably neither of them although if I had to guess I’d optimistically plump for the latter. Nevertheless I haven’t forgotten that sinking feeling of the world going wrong and disappointing people who had expectations of me. I think this is why I liked to plan my lessons thoroughly. It’s why I like to plan pub walks around London. It’s why Dave and I have an agenda when we talk to each other on the phone. It’s why I have four planned Zoom calls at the same time each week. I want to avoid that feeling of looking for a bat and ball and realising that they are in my dad’s boot. World gone wrong indeed.
The quality of Bob Dylan’s recent albums has been consistently excellent. This wasn’t the case between 1983 and 1990. After the religious trilogy, he released four albums of variable quality before the outstanding “Oh Mercy” in 1989. However, 1990’s “Under The Red Sky” was mainly terrible. Two years passed before he released “Good As I Been To You” which was an album of traditional folk songs only accompanied by his own acoustic guitar. “World Gone Wrong” was the follow up, released a year later. A shame that there wasn’t another similar album made because then I could have included them in a post about trilogies.
It is commonly assumed that the reason Bob Dylan did not release any album of new material between 1990 and 1997 was writer’s block. The songs on this album were important to him in the early part of his career and were an inspiration to him throughout the Sixties. Arguably, all the songs on “The Basement Tapes” were in the tradition of traditional American folk music. As always, the sound of his voice is interesting. He has used many different voices through his career – for example, the sneering voice of “Positively Fourth Street”, the country voice of “Lay Lady Lay”, the bombastic rock star voice on “Before The Flood” and the Christian preacher’s voice of “Saved”. On his very first album “Bob Dylan”, released in 1962, he sounds like an old folk-blues artist from Mississippi and he adopts the same voice thirty years later on “World Gone Wrong” (and its predecessor).
The Mississippi Sheiks were a country blues group from Bolton, Mississippi who were popular in the Thirties. Two members of the group wrote the song “Sitting On Top Of The World” which is a song I only know because The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band did a version of it with “Doc” Watson. They also wrote two songs on this album, the title song and “Blood In My Eyes”. Bob Dylan is quoted as saying that the theme of their songs is “rebellion against routine”. The lyrics to the title song are not exactly lovely: “I told you, baby, right to your head, if I didn’t leave you I would have to kill you dead. I can’t be good no more, once like I did before. I can’t be good, baby. Honey, because the world’s gone wrong.” His voice is low key, neutral and straight to the point. Not impassioned, just telling it like it is. He’s got to go because things are terrible. End of. Goodbye.
“Stack A Lee” is also known as “Stagger Lee” or “Stagolee”. It refers to the murder of Billy Lyons by “Stag” Lee Shelton after a dispute in a St Louis saloon. Bob Dylan describes the meaning of the song as that “no man gains immortality thru public acclaim”. Possibly this resonates with his own view of himself.
“Jack-A-Roe” has numerous alternative titles including “Jack Monroe”, “Jack The Sailor” etc. It is a traditional song, probably originating from Britain around 1830. Bob Dylan reckons that the song “is worlds away from reality but ‘gets inside’ reality anyway and strips it of its steel and concrete.” That, to me, sounds like a good description of “Desolation Row”.
Alastair McKay, of MOJO wrote this: “It was a tear stained treasure map marking the route between Dylan’s future and the songs that inspired his past. It’s a rough-hewn track and he’s been travelling on it ever since.”
Certainly, Bob Dylan confounded expectations with “Good As I Been To You” and “World Gone Wrong”. I just hope that he doesn’t fret about how his world went wrong when people were disappointed in him.