Today is the day when the Red Sox Nation celebrates the centennial of Fenway Park, and it had been in my mind to blog this morning about this ‘lyric little bandbox of a ballbark’ and its importance in my life.
But then Levon Helm died yesterday.
The importance of Levon Helm in my life is far greater, far more central, even than the Sox. I can’t count the number of times I have sung “I was feelin’ about half-past dead” in my head over the years: his soulful singing is part of the soundtrack of my life.
He wasn’t there in 1966, when Dylan toured with the Hawks – he had already had enough of the hostility of Bob’s folkie fans. But he was there with Bob at the Isle of Wight Festival on my 20th birthday in 1969 and he was there when The Band played Wembley in 1974.
Thinking back, I’m astonished by the fact that I have only actually seen him on stage twice. Because from the moment The Band released Music from Big Pink, Levon’s voice was everywhere. In a band of vocalists, his was the voice which defined the sound of The Band. And his loss of that voice, and subsequent death from throat cancer, is one of those cruel tricks that life plays.
It’s not ironic; it’s tragic.
For once, I have no words to explain further why this is such a profound loss to me and to all who love music. So, I hope with his understanding, I’m going to quote the estimable Rick Hough from Boston, who posted this morning:
“Levon Helm felt like family for most of my life, like some wild cousin you only saw sometimes but whom you knew all about. In some way he constituted the raw matter at the core – the undifferentiated components of the soul – within he and his boys’ mighty volume of work.”
Thanks Rick. You’ve said it better than I could. RIP Levon.
Today’s listening: Music from Big Pink, The Band, Rock of Ages
I was at The Somerville last night to see The Swaps, their last gig before they play Wilde’s next Sunday (7pm, bar opens at 5pm).
James Knight, the singer-songwriter in the band, was discussing the new songs in the repertoire, and mentioned the new book by Jonah Lehrer: Imagine: How Creativity Works. Lehrer uses Bob’s song-writing breakthrough which culminated in Like A Rolling Stone as a case study, arguing that in the creative process the left hemisphere of the brain is working logically and literally, but it is the right hemisphere which produces those eureka moments of ‘intuition’ or ‘inspiration’ by exploring illogical and non-literal associations.
I find this intriguing – and not solely because of my fascination with Dylan and his work. Rather, because I have earned my living as an advertising ‘creative’ for forty or more years, and for 23 of those years, I have had a golf ball-sized hole in the right hemisphere of my brain; specifically, in the hypothalamus. Two operations by the late Professor Hitchcock saved my life, but the hole remains, together with significant numbness on my left side.
Reading a digest of Lehrer’s work, I begin to understand how I have been forced to change my way of working by the right hemisphere damage.
Whereas Bob and James, it seems, can rely on the right brain to make those sudden nuanced connections, I cannot – or at least not to the same extent. So, I realise now, I have tried to develop my denotative left brain in order to compensate for the failure of my connotative right brain.
Given that the most commonly used example of right brain activity is the use and understanding of metaphor, this should make life a tad difficult for a writer. And it does. But there are ways in which the literalness and attention to detail of the left brain can be forced to produce a result which is akin to that of the intuitive leap, or reads as if it may be intuitive.
This is what I have been doing for a couple of decades now. And this is why my writing will never rank with that of Bob or James or millions of others. (I realise that even my sole recorded song was a simple linear narrative in ABAB quatrains.)
But hey, at least I can still string a sentence together.
Today’s listening: The Velvets, Live at Max’s Kansas City. Probably a right brain connection with last night, The Swaps, Live at The Somerville.
In its wisdom, the management of the Leamington Spa Apollo did not consider that Moneyball the movie would fill even the smallest of their screens, so it was only last night that I eventually got to see it. On DVD at home. Half way through my phone bleeped with the news that Bailey had injured his thumb and would be out for three or four months: “Won’t be back until after the All-Star game” said Bobby V, “but don’t which All-Star game yet”.
Good timing, with the first game of the season tomorrow at 6pm UK time.
If I was optimistic at the beginning of spring training, I am pretty pessimistic at the end. The last news I heard of Beckett was his dissing of Schilling who was dissing Bobby V. Last night, we managed to blow a 6-0 lead but hung on to beat the Nationals 8-7, with Choye Spoone closing – just.
I don’t know the truth of the reports and rumours which have been emanating from Florida over the past few weeks. If it’s true that the players have major issues with the style and substance of the new skipper, then maybe we have serious problems ahead of us. Mind you, this time last year, we had lost 10 or more games and went on to lose the first six of the regular season with a skipper that we all admired, although – it subsequently transpired – the players had little respect for him.
They liked him, sure. But Tito had lost the dressing room, and in retrospect it happened in Fort Myers before the season started.
This year, I’m not going to be around to sort things out when the Sox open at Fenway, so I’m happier with a skipper that the players listen to, even they don’t like what he’s saying. And watching Brad Pitt as Billy Beane demanding silence in the locker room and telling his players that “this is what losing sounds like”, I thought that maybe a guy who loses his temper now and again might be a good idea at Fenway.
One thing is for sure: I shall be glued to my screen for the first pitch in Detroit and, at that moment, I will believe that the Sox can do it.
And here’s a reminder for all of us of what it feels like. Go Sox!
Thanks to the Globe.
Today's listening: New Order, Closer.