Pat Garrett & Billy The Kid by Bob Dylan

1973

Arthur kindly texted to me to say that he had enjoyed the blog about Kathleen Edwards and that he had an old album of hers called “Asking For Flowers”. I have played this two or three times recently and it’s also very good. In fact, even Roo likes it. While it was on this afternoon, she asked “How can you make a career out of being consistently pleasant.” My wife isn’t often lost for words but when I replied “Well, I seem to have managed it quite well”, she spluttered so hard that she couldn’t speak.

My Mum always used to tell me off for taking a joke too far. I’m afraid I haven’t really grown out of the habit and being a pillock (and just a little unpleasant) seems to be hard wired into my DNA. Most of my sparring tends to be vocal and not physical. For example, I never tried to play “Knock Down Ginger”. Still being a small child at heart, I could see the enjoyment in this game but was probably too scared to try it in case I got caught.

For the last few years that I taught at Oakmeeds, I had a great office. It was large, it had a desk, a coffee table and five chairs. There was so much space, it was like heaven. When I moved to BHASVIC, I was given one desk and no storage space to work with. It often felt like I had to prepare lessons in an airline seat with my elbows tucked in. I called my office at Oakmeeds “The office at the end of the universe” because it was quite a long walk from the hurly burly of mayhem that normally ensued at lunchtimes as children ran around inside when they should have been outside. I normally worked through my lunchtime and the peace and quiet was brilliant.

Of course, things are never perfect and one lunchtime there was a loud knock on the door. I called “come in” and nothing happened. I got up and opened the door and there was nobody there. Knock Down Ginger. I see from Wikipedia that this game has many names including “Knock Knock Ginger”. “Ding Dong Ditch” or even “Chap Door Run.” Apparently, the name comes from an old Enlgish poem: “Ginger, Ginger broke a winder/Hit the winda – crack!/The baker came out to give ‘im a clout/And landed on his back”. Over the next year, I came out of my office many times, not waiting to give someone a clout because that would have been stupid but desperately trying to catch whoever it was that thought that I was a good target for this game. Some lunchtimes, I stood silently, right behind the door with my hand on the door handle waiting for the perpetrator but to no avail.

However, one lunchtime, I hid in the classroom that was next door to my office and, “Eureka”, I heard footsteps approaching the door and just as I heard a loud knock, I stepped out of the classroom and saw a boy banging on my office door whilst two others watched, giggling. I stood in the way of them and asked them what they were doing. They didn’t reply, but one of them, the chief door knocker (let’s call him Ginger), brushed past me to run away. He didn’t exactly barge into me but it was more than a casual touch. In normal circumstances I would have been knocked back a pace or two. At that point, I made a mistake that was borne out of frustration and probably my ridiculous over-sensitivity. I guess I felt that playing Knock Down Ginger on my door was an indication of the contempt that these boys felt for me. I had never taught any of them although I did know Ginger’s real name because he was often in trouble. My mistake was trying to inflict revenge on the boys by getting them into serious trouble. As he brushed past me, I was knocked back a pace but then I exaggerated the severity of the contact and fell backwards onto the classroom door. To quote the poem, I landed on my back. The three boys looked at me and ran off, scared at what had happened.

I was still angry and immediately completed an incident form and handed it to one of the Deputy Heads. I neither lied nor told the whole truth about the incident. I’m not proud of this. A few hours later, the Deputy Head found me after he had questioned Ginger who had told the Deputy Head that it wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t kicked him first. This was, of course, a complete fabrication but quite a clever one. I bet he had got his mates to kick him so there would have been bruises. Luckily for me, the Deputy Head was on my side and didn’t believe Ginger’s story. A day later, Ginger confessed he had been lying.

I was very lucky and very stupid because that could have been a career ending moment. If Ginger had gone to the Headteacher, I would have been suspended pending an investigation. This had happened to other teachers who were falsely accused of hitting a child. Who knows what the result of this investigation would have been? “Every Child Matters” was one of the initiatives at the time and not one I would disagree with but I also felt that “Some Children Lie If They Can Wriggle Out Of Trouble”. I was also quite lucky that the Deputy Head wasn’t as vengeful and vindictive as I was because he and I had fallen out quite a few times in the past. My natural suspicion of people in authority had not made me an easy person to manage (even when I was right and he was wrong!) On the other hand, he did once re-design my job, giving me a portfolio of responsibilities on which I really thrived. Last year, seven years after I left Oakmeeds, I bumped into him in The Battle of Trafalgar in Brighton and I was so full of Harvey’s that I could barely speak.

I wonder if Ginger ever liked Bob Dylan? Maybe, he realised how happy I was in my office and he thought he would re-enact one of Bob Dylan’s most popular and well known songs? Almost certainly not.

I went to see Pat Garrett & Billy The Kid when it came out in 1973. I seem to recall that I went with some friends at Royal Holloway to Windsor and I have a vague memory that it was on a double bill with “The Wicker Man”. I found the detail of the story incomprehensible. This was, I learned later, because MGM had truncated and re-edited the film in such a way that the director, Sam Peckinpah, disowned the film. In 1988, a preview version of the film was released with the approval of Sam Peckinpah and when I watched that version, the film suddenly seemed to be very good. Of course, the only reason I originally went to see the film was because Bob Dylan had written the music.

“Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door” was used in the film to accompany the scene where Pat Garrett (played by James Coburn) shoots and kills Sheriff Colin Baker (played by Slim Pickens). The song with Bob Dylan singing was used in the 1973 film but in the 1988 film, an instrumental version of the song is used. However, in the 2013 reissue, the vocals are put back in.

There are several beautiful instrumental tracks on the album which was dismissed at the time by critics who despaired at the lack of more than two decent songs. It was released three years after “New Morning” which meant that anticipation was high. With the benefit of hindsight, it’s clear now that the musical themes running through the songs are clever, haunting and memorable. There are many great musicians on the album including Roger McGuinn, Byron Berline, Jim Keltner, Russ Kunkel and Booker T. Jones.

My own personal favourite song is “Billy 4” which tells the story of the pursuit of Billy The Kid by Pat Garrett and although some of the rhyming doesn’t bear comparison with some of the best of Bob Dylan’s work, it’s the singing that really captures my imagination. Bob Dylan may not have a good voice (he has used many different voices over his career but none of them have been classically “good”) but he is a brilliant singer and his performance on this song is as good as anything he has ever done.

Gillian Welch and David Rawlings have sung a fantastic version of this song.

So what did I learn from this incident. 1) That I sometimes take things too far. 2) That I sometimes do things that I think are clever but are misguided. 3) That Bob Dylan is a great singer. 4) That no original version of “Billy 4” exists on YouTube.

Published by wilfulsprinter

Music lover

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