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Sunday, September 11, 2005

Collisions of Johanna

One of those nightmare trainwrecks that make for hindsight hilarity and wonderful dinner table legends, but which at the time simply tax ones temper and credulity.

Time ground to a halt and the whole grisly spectacle seemed to take place in slow motion. The expressions on my fellow audience ranged from outright bafflement to rictus grins of barely concealed dismay. None dared consult our watches but the wall clock tracked the farce, minute by minute, second by agonising minute.

2140 hrs, Seabold Second Saturday, Sept 10: Everything running slightly late all evening but at last we're about to be treated with the featured act, the noble Larry Dewey.

Once again, I'd miscalculated how long it would take to get through the open mic acts. But there's still time to catch a few songs before my 10pm deadline to be en route home.

One more act before Larry, a youthful newcomer. We like youth and we like newcomers; they are the veteran regulars of tomorrow. We listen politely, remembering our own salad days of eagerness and enthusiasm.

  • Tune #2 is a bottle-neck chanson, delivered with understandably wide and 'whitey' vowels, plus that statutory gargly voice to give it that final imitation blackness.
  • What the voice lacks is more than compensated for by the snappy finger picking and slick slides. The song ends, we applaud. From the audience comes a polite jokey hint in the form of a request for the "world's shortest blues". Apparently, there *is* one, our singer knows it, and it goes "I didn't wake up this morning."
  • Offering #2: a brief preamble about Indiana being no place for the friendless, and the lad launches into nothing less than Dylan's Visions of Johanna, by no means a short ditty and even less one to be tackled in public without a great deal of thought and practice. It's a sacred text with deep meaning and memories for each each and every one of us.
  • The rendering we sit thru is accompanied by a surprisingly ineffectual thumb-strum considering the expert finger-work on the previous blues.
  • The vocal delivery comes across as both turgid and ornate, a combination normally impossible to pull off but accomplished here with ruinous ease. It dawns on me how lethally Dylan booby-traps certain songs, and what a grotesque mess awaits all concerned when someone gets it wrong.
  • I brave another look at my fellow audience; the expressions are not pretty.
  • We are the boobies and we are trapped.
  • On and on it goes, a-rhythmic and awry. Favorite and belov├Ęd lines hobble by, barely identifiable. It's a mortuary feeling: like watching mangled body parts being wheeled by and praying not to identify them as someone once living and loved.
  • On the clock ticks; on plods the rendering - this composer of all composers, this of all his songs.
  • 2158 hrs: I can take no more. Time is up. Unquestionably, the highway calls.

    As I gun the Volvo down the 305, I find a glimmer of humorous healing in the thought that this is exactly the sort of thing that Dylan himself would have put in song and thus begun the purging process.

    The question is, would it have been a short and witty composition, or an interminably *long* song, remembering and sharing the agony with the audience?

    Years back, some be-jeaned troubadour popped up on my television screen announcing that he'd suffered for his music and now it was my turn.

    I finally get it.


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