Podcasts will soon be like porn. Every interest, desire or idle flicker of curiosity will have been anticipated and catered for. Whatever you’re into there’ll be a podcast devoted to it, waiting to make itself heard. That’s easy for me to say because I’ve already found my perfect match: Is It Rolling, Bob? in which ‘Actors Kerry Shale and Lucas Hare talk to interesting people about Dylan’.
Since nothing is more interesting than Dylan it follows that there is nothing more interesting than this podcast. I was alerted to it by my friend the writer Rob Doyle who had heard about it from his dad. (My friends, increasingly, are the children of my contemporaries; is this what Bob meant by staying for ever young?) I barely even knew what a podcast was back then but as soon as I got to the webpage, or whatever it’s called, I could tell that we — this podcast and I — were meant for each other. At the top there’s a row of books about Dylan: a photo that might as well be a mirror of the Dylan section of my own library. For a while I was content to listen to David Morrissey and Jude Rogers et al. saying interesting stuff about Dylan, but things changed after I saw the Scorsese documentary about the Rolling Thunder Revue at the Prince Charles in London. It’s on Netflix and, in the unlikely event that you’ve not already done so, you can watch it tonight. But to see it on the big screen in a packed cinema on a Thursday afternoon in June was… Well, it was a lot better than waiting for similar footage to crop up in the course of the four-hour bloat of Renaldo and Clara as I’d had the stamina to do — twice — in the late 1970s. After a storming version of ‘Isis’ everyone in the Prince Charles burst into applause and thereafter there were frequent eruptions of clapping as we sat, stunned by the force of Dylan’s delivery.
Emerging afterwards into the daylight horror of Leicester Square, I realised that it was no longer enough to listen to these interesting people blahing on about Dylan. I wanted to hear myself blahing on about him too. I contemplated asking my agent to get in touch with Kerry and Lucas in order to give my request added gravitas but that seemed contrary to the spirit of the project so I just emailed and told them the truth. My only ambition in life, I wrote, is to be on your show. They wrote back, a date was made and I began to prepare.
There was nothing to prepare. My entire adult life had been preparation. I had so much things to say, as another Bob put it. I was aware of the temptation to speak entirely in quotes from Dylan songs and I knew that this had to be resisted (though I want to emphasise, now, that I am quite capable of doing so). I was worried that I might just blurt out everything I’d ever felt about Dylan in an extended torrent of verbal circular breathing but Kerry and Lucas are sufficiently steeped in Dylan to hold their own against all-comers. That’s what makes the podcast so engaging.
A few of these comers have actually met Dylan, most have seen him play a number of times (I was at Blackbushe!) and some, bizarrely, would still pay to see him now. He’s playing here in LA in a few weeks and I am thoroughly looking forward to not going. We spoke about this, about the debatable quality of ‘late’ Dylan and I left the studio in a swirl of ecstasy and regret about all the interesting things I’d not said, conscious of how I’d blown it in a ‘Guess it’s too late to say to you the things that you needed to hear me say’ kind of way. Why didn’t I talk about that song, about ‘Shooting Star’? Why didn’t I say that if he’d cut the third verse about bells, ‘the last firetruck from hell’ and all that eschatological bollocks, then the entire song would have been as transient and beautifully mysterious as a shooting star? Maybe that’s the most amazing thing about Dylan: the way that almost everything he’s done, no matter how great, could so easily be greater still — and, overall, probably diminished as a consequence. That’s the key to — and true measure of — an achievement which, in spite of my not having had the gumption to say this at the time, has really only created the conditions for my own: I am an interesting person and I’ve talked about Dylan. I’ve got nothing more to live up to.