The undead looked doleful as they dawdled in a disorderly queue in the drizzle for Dears Pharmacy. The neo-brutalist 70s architecture of the Glamis Centre, Glenrothes had never looked so dreich, I was reflecting from the back, when a now-familiar voice interrupted my musings.
‘Pardon me. Is this the line for the drugstore?’
The use of American English rather than the native Fife patois (‘drugstore,’ ‘line,’ but especially ‘pardon me,’ instead of the standard UK ‘sorry, but…’) would have alerted me to the otherness of the scruffy character who had sidled up to me; but I had by now become used to encountering Bob Dylan (for it was he) in my home town.
Regular readers of this blog will recall that I last encountered the Greatest Living Songwriter in my local Morrisons supermarket, in the fruit and veg area to be precise, in hot pursuit of some turmeric. Then, he told me how, having sold his soul to the Devil not once, but twice, he was condemned to cycle through the whole gamut of musical styles at His Satanic Majesty’s pleasure, and was desperate to try out turmeric’s alleged life-prolonging qualities so that he could last long enough to escape the Great American Songbook and all those sub-Sinatra standards he was currently locked onto.
Ah, those happy days! When one could casually encounter Nobel Laureate singer-songwriters among the fresh produce and converse with them on Faustian contractual arrangements whilst standing within six feet of each other! And now here we were, in a queue literally as long as a shopping parade, for our prescription medication as the drizzle summoned up the confidence to call itself proper rain. ‘How are you doing, Bob?’ I said, jauntily enough. ‘Are you keeping well?’
‘Uh, sure,’ Dylan said, blowing his nose distractedly with a crumpled hankie. ‘I just need a little, uh, y’know, pick-me-up, from here, so the doctor says.’ He had the same habit of emphasising words for no apparent reason in real life as in his recorded vocal performances, I noticed.
‘How’s the turmeric thing going?’ I asked.
He looked at me in a more focused way than before. ‘Oh, I thought I recognised you,’ he said. ‘The guy that didn’t write the song, right?’
This referred to our earlier encounter, when he had confused me with my friend, guru and fellow musician, Norman Lamont, writer of ‘the Ballad of Bob Dylan,’ which His Bobness had expressed approval of at the time.
‘That’s right, in Morrisons. Although I do write songs myself…’
Dylan shrugged and looked around, hunkering against the cold wind that had begun to pick up. ‘Sure. Who doesn’t these days?’
I followed his gaze up the line. There weren’t any obvious candidates, but that might have been my prejudices. Who knew that, amongst this shuffling line of elderly Fifers, there wasn’t the next Hank Williams lurking? After all, there was Dylan…
‘So, what,’ I said, having to ask. ‘Did you get stuck here when the flights went down? Glenrothes isn’t a premier tourist destination, after all, is it?’
His Bobness shifted from one foot to the other. ‘Well, not exactly, I suppose. But there was this woman at Morrisons…’ he trailed off for a second, mumbled something about ‘that not going so well,’ and then suddenly fixed me with those eyes bluer than robin’s eggs, as Joan Baez once had it.
‘Listen. You seem to be appreciative of my work. I’m kind of looking for a place to hole up for a while, just till this virus thing blows over. Don’t suppose you have a spare room at all, do you?’
Regular readers of this blog (if such creatures exist) may recall that, more recently, I did a piece called ‘Location, location, location: where Bob Dylan and I record,’ in which the conceit was that I recorded my songs in the spare rooms of domestic dwellings and that that had something in common with Bob Dylan, who had recorded one of his best albums, Oh Mercy, in a house in New Orleans.
Little was I to know that the connection was to become so much more real: that, in the midst of a global pandemic, my long-term musical hero was going to self-isolate in our spare bedroom. Nor that, playing my guitar in a rough and ready kind of fashion, he would fashion some new songs he needed my help in recording.
He’s not, I may say, the perfect house guest. We’re still waiting for him to do his turn at the washing up; and whilst I may still be in awe of his songwriting abilities, my wife’s never been that keen on his singing style, and my normally good-tempered neighbour even less so, judging by the amount of banging on the wall that goes on. And although I had recently acquired a bottle of Dylan’s own bourbon as a leaving present from work, he seems to prefer our red wine collection, which is dropping at an alarming rate given that supermarkets are now limiting purchases to three bottles a trip.
However, I can report that work on the new Dylan album is going well. Although no one was more surprised than me when he engineered the release of a previously recorded track, ‘Murder Most Foul,’ the other day, to the amazement of a locked-down world. He’s suitably vague about when and how it had been committed to tape.
Although I do remember one of the check-out girls at Morrisons telling me once she played violin.
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