Friday, September 5, 2008

Highway 61 Revisited

As John of the Cross says, one thought of a man is worth more than all the created universe. Materialists, possibly even evolutionists, hate to hear such reasoning, yet it happens to be true, simply because the intellect, and thought, is immaterial and therefore eternal, somewhat like the angels, even somewhat like God. Back in the early 80s I have a journal note about a five p.m. deadline downtown. I mean downtown Nelson. City mice like the movers and shakers of the big joints might not think that downtown Nelson means much on the global scale, but I've seen it flaring with visions like nothing I ever heard of in most of the big dumps, for all their otherwise usefulness and claims to fame. Cf our local paper, the Nelson Daily News, back in July of 82. Just west of the main intersection, Ward and Baker, stands a store called Eddy's music, once owned by a long dead violinist I once reviewed in the Nelson Daily News, Bob Eddy. He was half-brother of a very fine folkie from the Quaker community at the top of Kootenay Lake and also had a non-speaking part in the film Steve Martin made, in part, in Nelson, Roxanne. Now even in the darkest days of my strolls down Baker Street, when it seemed that Nelson, against my intentions, was totally in the hands of the orcs and the trolls, Eddys was always a source of the Muse's spark. A full-length front window full of instruments, recording gizmos, interesting texts. A constant sign of hope. One day, one day, one day . . . .
After Bob Eddy, one Don Stewart took over. He was the son of a local pianist and band leader, plays utterly wicked piano himself and also sings very well. Another graduate of Amy Ferguson's Choiristers. I don't go out much, but I've caught his playing a few times, and one amazing evening was there in the old Civic Hotel when he and his late brother Bobby, guitarist and vocalist, shut the joint down with some ripping great blues performance. Don's staff have always pretty much been musicians, so it's like going to music school and a party any time I, or MT and I, walk in, and as I think I made plain earlier, once the parental estate came through, we were in there often buying equipment and books.
When that five p.m. deadline idea came through, years ago, Don didn't own the store, anymore than I owned a computer.
But by the time my head had cleared this afternoon over a certain nag to do with preparations for recording Desolation Row, I looked up at the clock to see that it was cruising five, and phoned Eddy's. Accuracy, you see. Dylan takes great liberties with his own creations, sings and plays them pretty much as he feels moved from performance to performance, from recording to recording. Nothing wrong with that. Bach and his boys were very capable of variations. But I don't have a charted score to start with, even though we have at least three Dylan books around the place - speaking of libraries - and as an old school teacher and the resident fanatic on the value of the mathematical foundation of music, I want to know, I have to know, the structure of the original idea. How come this song didn't get into those books? Rhetorical question. Eddy's scouted the screen and found a Highway 61 text. It's on order, and so I'll listen to the different versions we have in the recording collection, and practice accordingly, but I'll wait for the score to make any final decisions. And the score will be good for reading practice.
Possibly the second cut will be Shooting Star. If it was that I reached for my git-fiddle on Desolation Row, she grabbed hers, this late morning, as Shooting Star cruised over the room. In spite of all the other studies she taken on, that to any other human being would threaten to obliterate her music, the old magic of the great lead picker was still there, and this time with the numbers.
She spelled out the riffs to me, in numbers, delighted, secure, maybe even excited. She's by temperment cool. Initially, a few years ago, she was sometimes hard to convince about the numbers. But, after all, I had taught her grammar, mystical theology, and her first guitar chords, so the math finally took hold and was seen to work. I got the feeling I might wear earphones so I can hear precisely what she's doing, while I'm at my part of the process, at least at the beginning.
In the days of the folk trio, Shawn was in the middle, getting all the benefits of the Tremblay genius in her right ear, harmonizing with me in her left, but I might get a bit selfish, at least some of the time, and take centre spot myself.
We always sang some Dylan, even when a very few of the old folks home audience resented it.
And one weekend in 76, when we did a big bar, without base and drums, which was probably suicidal, the best part of the two nights was the last hour of the Saturday, when some complete jackass of a heckling country and western customer left - the new owners of the hotel didn't have it to give him the boot - some friendly faced young lad at a front table said, "Wow. You guys do Dylan!"
Shawn smiled the smile that has launched more ships than Homer ever dreamed of, and it was with Dylan that we closed the place down. She sang, MT and I just followed on rythmn and lead. The next week, the new owners hired a stripper. It was that sort of place, a lot of the time, but for one weekend, poetry was in its glory. But we never went back to a bar. The old folks, the kids in schools, were our company. Bars need bass and drums, and I didn't know any bassists or drummers who were mystics.
Early in 79, we shut the trio down. There were a few reasons. By that time our oldest son was sixteen and the leader of a rock and roll band, largely trained by him, that had more time for pumping music into the community than we did. The lad also handled the folk idiom well as a solo act. For another, I was simply bloody annoyed at a Nelson City council which refused to understand my unique significance as a writer and a contemplative, especially such having to live, as a more or less docile Catholic, under a bishop who eventually pegged out to be an out and out criminal, although no one was actually successful in putting him in jail, so complete was the fog that bishops conferences generally have been able to spew over not only their own faithful but also organized society. And thirdly, we felt unanimously that we were getting into a rut, owing simply to the absence of a full understanding of musical and vocal technique. I went into my writer's cave, for one thing, and finally acquired the plot for hanging all my assembled characters in one gallery. There was also the opportunity of the revived Nelson Choral Society and its preferential option for the great oratorios, and acting roles for me to fill in NDU theatre, flourishing wonderfully because of mature downtown actors.
But the thought of one day recording, and especially recording some Dylan songs, always held its place. We're workin' on it. Keep on keepin' on.

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