Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Happy birthday, Bob

Today is Bob’s birthday and he is 70.  That is something to celebrate.  Here are a few things I did today in his honour:

I thought a lot about the summer of 1964 when I would hitchhike to Toronto with my friend Cal on Friday afternoon and crash at an SCM summer project in the rectory of the Church of the Holy Trinity in Trinity Square.  As a young undergraduate from Halifax, it was my first opportunity to meet Trots, Leninists, and Marxists (the project was called a Peace Camp) and hang out with them on our weekends in the big city.  It was also the first time I heard Dylan sing, down in the rectory basement with the SCM radicals.  Cal was disdainful of Bob’s voice and did some pretty funny imitations, and I have to admit that I didn’t really get what everyone was blown away by.

And I thought about when I joined the Columbia Record Club in the fall of ’66 after moving to Vancouver and had my own apartment and a record player from a second hand store on Fourth.  My first order included Another Side of Bob Dylan, Bringing it all Back Home, and Blonde on Blonde along with nine other albums, all for one cent, and it was then that I began to understand what people who talked about Bob were talking about.

I remembered how Desire was for us the landmark musical event of the 1970’s and how our five year old daughter loved to sit in the front seat of our van and sing the first verse of Highway 61 Revisited at the top of her lungs as we drove across Canada in the summer of 1984.

Lol and I both listened to Rick Terfry this afternoon on Drive as he played old Dylan and Dylan covers and clips of people talking about working with Bob.

This evening we also both went to a reading by Andy Wainwright of a fiction piece he had recently completed called “The Old Master”.  It was about a 16th century Dutch painter, but the story of this painter’s artistic life and creative processes was clearly and subtly connected to the story of Bob’s life and work and artistic development and processes.  It was interesting to listen to the ways that Andy alluded to Bob through the painter’s imagery and actions and to follow the interplay between the two “old masters”, the painter and Bob, that Andy was exploring.

I made two notes during the reading, “discography” and “hagiography”.  Discography is pretty obvious, since so much of Andy’s story and of what we presume to know or understand of Bob is measured out by what we hear in his albums, the works he has made throughout the various stages of his life.  And hagiography is also obvious, since the age of threescore and ten suggests that a time has been reached for reflection and assessment and summing up.  Bob’s no saint and has steadfastly resisted sainthood; however, all of the hagiographers still struggle to come to terms with what he is,  though Bob himself will never easily be summed up; say what you will about him, you’ll usually find out that “he’s not there”, so to speak.

I particularly liked Lorraine’s comment/question after the reading as she asked Andy to reread the ending of the story where there were images of two women and then wondered aloud about the fact that though Bob grew up through the 60’s and the changes brought about in the status of women there seemed to be so little written about him by women.  Andy responded that he thought Bob was not a misogynist and mentioned the book that Suzy Retolo wrote recently about her relationship with Bob, but neither comment really touched on the fact that when it comes to writing about Bob and his work, he really is, as Lorraine put it, “a guy’s guy”.

Here is a fact Andy mentioned that is worth noting:  Bob has been quoted in more court decisions than any other artist.  I might have guessed Shakespeare for that achievement, which just goes to show how profoundly Bob’s words have shaped our age.

Here and here are a couple of commentaries, both by guys, about today that are worth noting.

And here’s a wish: Happy birthday, Bob, and may you be forever young.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Three bird stories

Two years ago, when we were having windows replaced and our deck rebuilt, I noticed a robin’s nest perched on top of the main carrying beam for the deck joists and under the deck itself.  I told P. the contractor about it.  He, it turned out, is someone who also pays attention to birds, telling me about the pileated woodpecker he has seen out behind his workshop and others he has noted in his travels, so he organized his work in order not to disturb the nest until the fledglings had moved out.  I appreciated that.

When we returned from Ontario earlier this month, I noticed that there were signs of three nests on top of the same carrying beam under our new deck.  It turned out that only one, the middle one, was occupied, and I would watch carefully from inside the studio to make sure I didn’t frighten this robin away.  She (or he) has been sitting on the nest for almost three weeks now, and I am sometimes scolded by one or the other parent if I wander too close, but so far as I can tell the nest and its occupant(s) have not been abandoned.

Last week I had found half a robin’s egg in the garden.  I figured that its neatly broken edge was a good sign, probably carefully chiseled open by the hatchling inside.  Then, a couple of days ago, I saw one of our neighbourhood red squirrels being chased by two ferocious robins up and down the shad bush next to the deck, more evidence that these parents still had something to protect.

When I checked just now there was no adult at the nest, so I waited a bit, watching one robin poking its bill into the wood chip pile and seeming to stay close to the nest.  Suddenly, from a different direction, I saw another robin fly up to the nest with a worm, feed at least one wide open beak, and nestle down over the young occupant(s) of the nest.  This made me happy. 

Something else that has made me happy lately is the return of our yellow-shafted flicker (you can see the yellow shafts of its feathers here).  It calls from the top of the power pole behind our shed, and sometimes flies up from the edge of our lane when we drive in, its bright white rump patch always a delight to see.  Last week Lorraine and I noticed it outside the dining room window, working next to the magnolia bush.  It was probably poking at the anthill, and we had plenty of time to admire its striped brown back, greyish head, and the bright red patch on its nape.

Many years ago when we lived in Maitland we found a flicker lying on the road out near the Mill Pond.  Its neck was broken, but almost every feather was in place, and its beautiful body was still warm in my hands.  We figured the car in front of us had hit it on one of the deep undulations of its flight and took it to our taxidermist friend F. where we had the opportunity to see it every time we went to his house, perfectly mounted and perfectly perfect. 

Last week we were planning to barbecue some steak.  There were three, and I cut them in half because they seemed big, seasoned them, and took them outside on a plate while I lighted the barbecue, which was on our back deck.  While the barbecue was heating I went back in the house to top up my wine and munch on some snacks.  A movement outside the front window caught my eye, and I saw a black crow racing off with a grey and white herring gull chasing it.  Interesting, I thought, and went outside to put the steaks on the grill, but where there had been six, there were now only five.

I admire the crows, their amazing flying ability, sharp beauty, and obvious intelligence.  They perch on I’s roof next door and in our trees and tell each other what is going on.  I didn’t see any crows around when I took the steaks out, but clearly one of them saw me, and the steak was gone, carried off by a crow.  The gull was bigger, but the crow was fast and deserved its prize.  We enjoyed our steaks and even had some left over, and I seriously hope the crow got to enjoy the one it stole.