Extract from ‘Farther from the Sun’ – The Rock Music Class

The Rock Class is killing me. They are all avid experts who expect me to know everything inside out, after all, I’m the one being paid. In order to justify this income, I have to be the font of all knowledge and lead them further than the known. It is not enough to trot out the obvious, one has to reveal the obscure and tell the tale. Not only that, but the obscure has to be wonderful and the tale revealing and captivating. I have to illustrate it with personal insight, experience and whatever else comes to hand.

I thought I knew it all but I have to delve and research. My lessons at school I can teach standing on my head but this is taking effort. Each week I prepare handouts with biographical details, influences and explanation. These show a professional in-depth expertise. I purchase records and scour the second-hand shops. I buy books to provide me with even more background. I’ve accumulated enough to do a dozen PhDs. I’m really getting into it but it is taking over my life. I don’t have time for anything else.

The problem is that there are very few gems to be found in the obscure and it is very hard to come up with insights that satisfy someone whose life seems extraordinarily tied up with a particular artist or genre. I’m expected to shed further light on someone they know inside out.

I come across the Dylan freak. He actually publishes a magazine with a worldwide readership. In the magazine are in-depth articles on the use of the word ‘blue’ in Dylan songs. He invites me round to see his collection. He has an impressive 1000 albums or so. They are all Dylan. Here is the first album original US pressing, British Pressing, German, Japanese, reissues. There are 40 copies of the first album. Likewise, we go through the rest until we get onto the bootlegs. I am staggered.

He opens some drawers and they are full of audiotapes, hundreds and hundreds of audiotapes, all meticulously catalogued. Chronologically organised live performances. Dylan farting in 61, coughing in 62. He begins playing me snippets to show me the way he substituted a word in this song in 64 and rearranged it in 65. He not only has them but has listened to them all and seems to know them inside out. It is depressingly impressive.

We finish up with his video collection. I find myself looking at a little dot in the centre of the screen. It is about the size of a fifty pence piece. It wavers about and if you use a lot of imagination you can see it is actually Dylan in a spotlight on stage. The soundtrack is distorted to hell and barely recognisable. There are hundreds of them. He spends his life exchanging tapes to complete his collection. Quality does not seem to be a requirement. We are looking at fanatical completism here.

I return home to review my hour input on the significance of Dylan to the development of Rock Music. I am dealing here with a topic that, in his eyes, could not be adequately covered in anything under 5 years of intensive analysis. My bootleg recordings of the fabled electric Newport Festival and the Judas exchange at Manchester Trade Hall are obviously lightweight.

I become aware that it is not likely to satisfy my Dylan nut.

Another of them has a similar obsession with Pink Floyd. His bootleg collection exceeds my entire album collection.

I despair.

When I mention the object of their adulation I can feel their eyes burning into me with something verging on patriotic zeal. They analyse my words and gestures. Am I doing justice to it? Does it reveal the essence? Do I eulogise sufficiently? Am I correct? Do I make a gaffe over some biographical detail? Do I understand the music, the lyrics, the soul of the artist? We are talking religion here. I am messing with the bible.

I toy with bringing them in. Involving them in presenting the class on their idols. I toy with asking for their advice. Neither option is viable. I am being paid. They also want to hear me give just significance to their idols. I get by. Somehow I always manage to do justice to the band in question and can fall back on time limitations.

They seem happy.

29.10.01

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