Saturday, 15 October 2016

There was the inevitable clip of Bob Dylan

playing guitar on the news last night.
Earlier in the day I had told the Senior Cat about the Nobel Prize. He had looked at me in a puzzled sort of way and said, "Who's Bob Dylan?" 
I explained and, in my best yowl, gave him a the first couple of lines of "Blowin' in the wind."
"That doesn't make sense," he told me
I realised I had sung it with the German words and tried again in English. Oh. Right. Yes. He thought he had heard it before.
But why had I sung it in German?
"That's the way I first heard it I suppose - really heard it," I told him. He still looked puzzled.
"I was at camp."
He nodded. It was explanation enough.
And I remembered the occasion with extraordinary, painful clarity. I could feel the grass I was sitting on, smell the campfire smoke, feel the slight chill in the air. I remember the boy who has been snuggled in to me earlier in the evening.
It was a Guide camp, but not the ordinary sort. We had takensixty children with disabilities to camp...and most of them were very severely disabled. The little boy who had been snuggling into me had muscular dystrophy. He could still, just, walk. 
My friend O had her guitar out and we had been singing camp favourites the children liked, songs like "Old Macdonald had a farm" and "The wheels on the bus". 
We put the children to bed and regathered and O started to play some old folk songs. Being Guides we knew these. There were a few more recent songs from groups like "The Seekers" but they were more like the old folk songs. And then, one of the local farmers came over. He had given the children rides on a tractor earlier in the day. He was a kindly but rather taciturn man of German origin. 
He sat and listened for a bit and then said something to O. She nodded and he sang Blowing in the Wind for German. A version by Marlene Dietrich had just been released.   
I was fortunate. The first time I heard that song it was sung by a man with a magnificent voice. I And, that night, he taught us to sing the song in German rather than English. 
The next year the little boy with muscular dystrophy was in a wheelchair. The following year he didn't come. We knew what had happened. The progress of the condition had been very rapid for him.
The farmer gave children rides on his tractor again and, as he passed one child back to me, he asked me if I could still sing the song he had taught us.
I could remember the first lines...and I have never forgotten the refrain, "Die Antwort Mein Freund Weiss ganz allein der Wind"
I looked up a list of Dylan's song titles to see how many I recognised. There were more than I thought there might be. Worthy of a Nobel Prize? I'm not sure. Perhaps it is time to recognise a more popular culture.
That one song though made a great impact on a group of girls. O still sings it today - and I can still remember the words, words from another language and another culture. 
And I can still see the blue numbers tattooed into the wrist of the farmer. 


Anonymous said...

Your post, particularly the last two paragraphs, answers your question, surely? That song has affected many people in many ways, over time and cultures, and we are listening to it, enjoying it, and discussing it still (literally, today).


jeanfromcornwall said...

Sure is literature. When I think back to when we first heard those songs, we knew what really mattered was the words. Never mind his terrible voice - he really, really couldn't sing, and the dreadful harmonica too. I just wonder how many teenaged hours were spent listening over and over and writing down the words because they were what we wanted to know.

Anonymous said...

How do you do it Cat? That reduced me to tears. Ros

Miriam Drori said...

The sign of a brilliant writer: knowing when to hold back information and when to reveal it. I have a lot to learn. Bob Dylan wasn't bad, either.

Katherine Langrish said...

Wonderful, moving. Thanks, dear Cat.

Nicola Morgan said...

Great writing, Cat. Beautiful!

catdownunder said...

Oh, just caught up with these. Thank you everyone. It just sort of came out!