on the steps of the caravan, the sun is drawing circles of light over
my closed eyelids. I have still not awakened from the dream that last
night ended a long, conclusive journey, my consciousness tries to
fill in the last stage of the return when a magenta voice makes me
open my eyes. Rick, smiling.
Hiya, Nar! Long time no see! Where've
It´s a long story...Ya could say I've been a pilgrim, visited a
couple of places, got back last night. How 'bout you?
All good, enjoying the summer, basement's getting better all the
time. There's a good vibe and Dylan's super inspired, ideas pouring
out non-stop...A couple of days back he gave me some more lyrics he's
almost finished: “Give
it some rhythm”
he said, so that's what I'm doing.
So, what's it about?
The truth is I'm not sure myself...Well, there are verses
which talk to a 'you' and they rise up around a wheel...It's on fire
and about to explode. And I'm trying to shore up that feeling
of imminent danger with the bass, so he can ride it with his voice.
Anyways, if you come by the basement tonight, you can hear what it is
sounding like at the moment.
And what would Dylan say if I turned up again?
Nothing, I suppose. You're lucky he likes you. Yes, it does happen
sometimes! Why the face!?
How can you be so sure?
Well, the other day he asked about you...And once I heard him say you
have the “right attitude”,
that you too prefer “old news”.
What did he mean?
You'd better ask him. Here he comes.
is walking past the kitchen entrance. He stops for a moment, at the
door, as if looking for something or someone. Walking now towards the
caravan his dark glasses hide the tracks of his eyes.
From inside the
caravan, I watch Dylan arrive in a cobalt blue Chevrolet. I tune my
and let a long while pass before heading to the basement. From the
top of the steps I listen to them play a couple songs. I gather my
strength to begin the descent. I inhale deeply and start to go down,
as if submerging. Rick sees me first, he hails smiling before I even
get to the bottom.
- Hey there,
Nar! Cool. You brought your guitar.
Dylan has his
back to me. He´s talking to Garth. He takes what seems like forever
to turn round and face me.
well... the famous Salvador Ibáñez. Turns out these guys were
telling the truth after all...
I lift the
instrument in my left hand, holding it out towards him. He does not
move, just asks sarcastically,
- Are you just a
collector or do you actually play?
- Well... I´m
not too bad, they say. And yes, I´ve got a few guitars, but this is
my favourite. I won a bet, a long time ago, in Spain.
- Quite a story,
I´m sure. You might wanna save it for another day. OK? Now, let´s
listen to this Ibáñez. I wanna carry on with the songs we got
planned for today – old, mysterious, even tragic... that´s the
vibe. Know this one?
twelve-string acoustic he starts strumming a melodic wave ridden by a
whaler I know well: Bonnie Ship
the Diamond. I respond by
joining in and a surprised look fleets across his face. Without a
word, he looks at the band, indicating that they should follow suit.
One by one they come in with their instruments, except Richard who
remains seated in silence at his drums. So intense is the feeling
from hearing us together on the deck of that ship that I am about to
lose time when Dylan - his voice aflame- gets on to the chorus a
So it's rise
up my lads
hearts never fail
bonnie ship the Diamond goes
We finish up and
Bob looks at me for a few seconds, his head cocked to one side. Rick
smiles, giving me a thumbs up. Standing next to his drums, in
silence, Richard takes a photo.
newspapers, and for months now, space ships like flags have been
taking off in a race to set foot on the moon. In the basement, just
this evening, on board his ship, I have just landed.
has come round and announced I can go back down to the basement this
evening to hear them play. We´re sitting outside the caravan, on a
blanket spread out on the floor. Whilst we drink our coffee he tells
me about the traditional Irish and Scottish songs they’re working
with along with a few from the vast American repertoire – which
includes Canada he emphasizes – and he´s telling me how he flips
out adding a bass line to melodies which may be hundreds of years old
whilst Dylan tries out arrangements which not everyone finds easy to
follow. I let him talk, as if I didn´t already know a large part of
what he was telling me just from listening through the open windows
of the basement.
Sometimes Dylan feels like trying out his 12-string acoustic or
letting Richard add random percussion or use his Rickenbacker lap
steel, which sounds goddamn good. Oh, by the way, on the subject of
guitars, Bob didn´t believe me the other day when I told him you had
a Salvador Ibáñez. He thought we had made it up. He said it
couldn´t be an original, that if it was, you wouldn´t have it lying
around in your caravan which half the time you leave open. And, you
know what? When he says stuff like that it makes me think… I can´t
imagine him talking like that a couple of years ago. It seems to me
that time is making him distrustful, I don´t know…
Well, if what you say is true, he must have his reasons, don´t you
think?, I say half-respectful half-smiling.
replies without looking at me. He´s picked off a branch from one of
the elm trees, and is drawing something in the damp earth. We join in
a reflective silence for a long while until suddenly I hear myself
I have an idea! How about I bring my Ibáñez down to the basement
great! - Rick´s laughter lights up his eyes -, I can´t wait to see
Dylan and Robbie’s faces! Got to go, talk later, I need to go down
to town to buy some stocks. See you !
leaps up and runs off towards one of the cars parked outside the
front of the pink house. He´s left the elm stick on the blanket.
Next to it, etched in the earth, is a picture of a boat carrying an
octahedron, a diamond as big as a whale.
I´ve just been
trying to remember my conversation with Richard on the night I
discovered a new flavour and he made up a new name for me. We´d also
shared some secrets and even a couple of surprises like when I told
him I´d decided to miss Monterey because just the possibility of
being allowed down into the basement was a much bigger thing for me
than going to the festival.
I´ve just been flicking through Dylan´s brown notebook again,
re-reading my reflections from the beginning of this journey on
losses and goodbyes which the passage of time has woven into a story
at times resembling a landscape in ruins. I say to myself there would
be something undignified about avoiding the place one writes at. But
equally it would be disloyal to let dust dull
gleam of a shared treasure.
I am lazily tapping
out that last sentence – one needs to measure the precise calibre
of adjectives as lethal as these- when my computer screen announces
that an email has just come in. Sometimes, whatever it is that we
call providence comes disguised as half a dozen words:
Dylan on Tour : Upcoming Dates“
check tour dates and locations, smiling widely now till I realise
I´ve been looking out of the window for quite some time. On the
other side is the locked door of the garage, and beyond, the caravan
that used to shine in the evening sun round the back of Big Pink in
the summer of 67.
force my gaze back to the screen to look through my files for Lo
I put on my headphones, turn up the volume ... And then I also
count up to thirty.
I´ve surfaced from
the basement and sat down on the steps of my caravan, trying to
digest my experience of the last couple of hours. A huge, yellow moon
rises over Overlook, making the mountain appear as an animal lying at
My ears still ring
with the chords of Waltzing
played half-way through the session, twice no pauses, and at times –
I´m thinking now, didn´t really notice it then- the voice of Dylan
had an almost outlandish aplomb for someone who has just turned
eyes have been etched with a series of images of men and instruments
assembled in a camaraderie which blots out the outside world. The
basement has become through their music a sonic submarine navigating
the waters of joy. I´ve spent a couple of hypnotic hours there, and
having just emerged – forgive myself my brimming with stressed
words- and not having quite caught my breath, I hear Richard´s voice
call out behind me.
- Good evening,
Nar. How was the trip today?
- Hi Richard. It
was fabulous. Sad you weren´t there....
- Well, I stayed
upstairs, sleeping, and then went out to the woods, you know, to
think about my „Upstairs, Downstairs“ ...
- Yeah, how are the
lyrics coming on?
- So so. It´s
difficult to capture that nebulous image, I was telling you about the
other day, in words, you know, Dylan going up and coming down and
sometimes apparently suspended between two levels ... He has a way of
floating the rest of us can only dream of doing … How about getting
that guitar of yours out?
- Alright. You want
something to drink?
- I´ll go. I´ll
get us a bottle and some paper. Back soon.
unsteady and nimble on his bare feet, he walks over to the house and
returns with an amber coloured bottle with a pretty red sash.
- Here´s the
guitar, I say, handing it to him whilst he passes me the bottle.
- Grand Marnier.
You like it?
- I don´t know,
never tried it.
- Well, from now on
you´ll always be in my debt, you´ll see, he says with conviction
and more than a little irony, whilst he starts strumming my guitar.
I go into the
caravan and bring out my two best glasses and some ice.
- Serve it as is,
it´s better without.
So I do. He takes
his glass, looks at it for a moment and then lifting it, proposes a
- To „Nar of the
Caravan“, chance visitor to a surreal basement!
We both laugh
before our first sip, which delivers into my mouth the dense and
bitter essence of oranges from another world.
- Fuck, that´s
good!, I exclaim in surprise.
- Told you it would
be, you´ll always thank me for it, he says draining his glass, with
a smile. And now, listen: „Upstairs, Downstairs“, umpteenth
The five chords of
the song I heard a few days ago have been adorned with arpeggios and
some changes of rhythm; the text is slowly shaping around a chorus
which brings out the bluer shades of his voice. When he finishes, he
keeps his eyes on the moon, which has left a narrow gap now over the
mountain. I dare not break the silence but pour another drink and
wait for him to return. When he does, he lights up a smoke. The flame
of the match lights up his bottomless eyes. After a couple of tokes,
avoiding comments on the song, he surprises me again with an
- That thing around
your neck, Nar... You were right, it does look like mine, he says
pouring himself another glass.
I need a few
seconds to come up with an unequivocal reply that does not sound too
- I am sorry, but
this time it´s me who doesn´t want to talk about it. It´s not the
right moment, you know?
- That´s Ok. I
understand. Better to share the good times, right?, he says offering
me a light and another almost full glass of that orange and affable
liqueur which – I somehow know- will always taste of longing for a
night such as this.
My first session
ends with Bells of Rhymney.
I haven’t moved an inch in my corner, my concentration quadrupled
– two eyes and two ears in solidarity with that tape recorder
custodian of a treasure- and I am still engrossed when Dylan decides
that that´s it for the evening.
- We’ll leave
it for today – he says looking at Garth whilst unstrapping his
guitar. That bass was good, Rick. What about you, Nar, how was it for
- I‘ve been
loving it from beginning to end! Quite a trip, from Big
River to Wales via a prison in
California! Thanks for letting me share it.
- I prefer not
to have an audience in the basement, but if you promise to behave as
well as you did today, maybe you could come back down from time to
time. Richard says you take good photos, from your accent I suppose
you‘ve travelled a long way to get here in that caravan that shines
to the evening sun. Maybe you too have something valuable to
- Well, I wish I
for me to finish, he throws me half a smile whilst, putting on his
hat, he starts to climb the stairs. He stops on the last step but
one, with a question directed at the band:
- How about one
of these days we get together with Badger Clark?
- That’d be
replies Rick lighting up a cigarette.
- Levon would
love that – adds Robbie.
- I suppose so
... It´s not a bad idea to miss one another, sometimes –
concludes Dylan, who is now disappearing vertically up the stairs and
into the darkness of the night.
From the basement
comes a light somewhere between marine blue and ochre. I stop and
take it in for a moment from the top of the stairs. They´ve finished
and are deciding on the next song. Robbie mentions a couple of Sun
Record titles and Rick jokes about one of them, whilst Dylan´s
acoustic guitar pushes its way out through the laughter: a simple
progression of chords and a jubilant humming into which the rest of
voices and instruments are gradually assembling.
What I´m listening
to as I tiptoe down the stairs, one step at a time, is kind of a
outlaw´s melody, rocking in a perfect rhythm, held in a semicircle
by a band of fellows who play to the beat of a common pulse. Wrapped
up in the hypnotic quality of the melody, they don’t seem to notice
that I´ve sat in a corner and am listening from the floor, with
bated breath and eyes open wide (as if underwater, I remark to myself
in surprise). And then, as the song is slowly brought to a close,
Dylan turns around and fixes me in his stare.
- So you are Nar.
- Yes, hello
everyone –I say standing up-.
Thanks for inviting me down here...
- Well, seems like
you didn´t need an invitation to make yourself at home outside …
And that shiny caravan of yours, well, it´s practically part of the
landscape now, isn´t it?
- I hope not to
bother anyone ...
- Do you mean
outside or down here? We´ll see. For now, stay on the floor or grab
a chair, as you like. Garth, ready to record the next one? – he
asks Hudson as he turns his back on me again.
- All ready
-answers Garth-. But what´s up with Richard? Shall I go up and get
- Let him sleep,
don´t need piano or drums for now. Let´s go with some of the songs
you mentioned before, guys ... How about beginning with I
forgot? Let´s make it more
Cash than Elvis, ok?
Garth connects the
tape recorder and Robbie starts up with a brief electric intro,
followed by the bass, the organ and the acoustic guitar ahead of that
longest of long first syllables which Dylan drags out as if resigning
himself to the persistence of memory:
I forgot to
remember to forget her I can't seem to get her off my mind I
thought I'd never miss her But I found out somehow I think
about her almost all the time
The day she went
away I made myself a promise
That I'd soon
forget we ever met
And here I am to
listen to it, leaning back against the wall, smiling … And
promising myself quite the opposite.