Bob Dylan 80th year recollections and anecdotes


Today there have been many interviews, editorials and the like extolling the talent and the life of Bob. While I was listening and reflecting on these reports, I began to recall recent and distant events where he and his work intercepted with my life and more and more memories came flooding in. So below here are a few of mine – they are nothing special but I think it shows how an artist can cross and influence our lives. I am certain that many of you will have similar experiences.

The portrait above is my rendition of Bob in acrylic inspired and based upon one down by Joan Baez. I confess to some form of mimicry here. Joan, of course, must have a special insight into his character and I think she brings it out in the portrait.

My first exposure to Bob was when I was probably around 9 or 10 in Liverpool (UK) when my sister and her best friend, who were 3 years older, starting playing his albums and on the record player in my sister’s bedroom. They were so taken and enthralled with this young man. I did not take to the music at that stage but by osmosis those tracks fro his first 3 to 5 albums were indelibly imprinted.

Then I recall he came to Liverpool twice to play concerts and my sister and friend went to see him live – that must have been in 1965 and maybe a year or two after that. In later life I was a little jealous that I missed those early events. Many years later, upon watching the excellent documentary by D.A. Pennebaker of Dylan’s 1965 UK tour, I really got a kick of the scenes in Liverpool when he staying at the Adelphi Hotel downtown and he invited some fans (young schoolgirls) up to his suite. They were the same age as my sister and her friend, and for a moment I thought i was going to see my sister in the documentary – but no. The story goes that Dylan liked Liverpool as a city and felt it had a similar vibe to NYC. Who knows if that is true.

In 1999, my wife and I were in NYC and see knowing that I had never seen Eric Clapton live she had treated to me to a ticket to see him in Madison Square Garden. It was the Eric Clapton & Friends To Benefit Crossroads Centre Antigua concert, and one of his (suprise) guests was Bob. That night I finally saw Clapton and Dylan in one show. Part of the show is below. Thrill!

Over the last decade I came across a couple of anecdotes from friends. The first was told to me one of my art instructors, Tom, who mentioned that one of the check out guys at Trader Joe’s used to be friend of Bob’s before he became famous. They would go camping, hang out, etc. Just a regular guy. I think he is still at TJ’s.

My friend David used to live in the same neighborhood as Bob in Hibbing, MN and was a teenage friend. David recalls Bob being distressed about a girlfriend and David trying to give him advice on the right thing to do, etc. Keep in mind, however, that human memory is flawed…

Finally, while living in Washington State last year, I ended up in a productive painting period and decided to listen to all of Bob’s discography post Blonde on Blonde. I had never really spent much time focused on his portfolio after that album. So I spent many an hour listening two or three times to each album – an enormous body of work. So glad that I did this as it opened up a new world of the many changing styles of Bob to me. I doubt that I would have done this without the lockdown. Nobel prize well justified.

Keep on truckin’, Bob.

http://www.cliffordholmesart.com

Beatles 50 year Anniversary Visit to ‘America’— Something on John Lennon and Quarry Bank Grammar School for Boys


beatles_hero20101116report bookJohn attended Quarry Bank – which was, at the time, considered one of the top two High Schools in the city of Liverpool.  The other one was the Liverpool Institute where Paul and George both attended – there was always a rivalry between the two schools jockeying for first place.  If you visit the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, you can see the following page from John’s school report book (below) which has comments from each teacher, with their initials, and semester rating for each topic.  This particular page shows John’s report at age 15 at the end of the Christmas term.  The year was 1955.

report-cardTwelve years later, I was 15 and at the end of the Christmas term with a report card that looks remarkably similar (below).

CJH report 2I was taught by several of the same teachers as John – they would occasionally refer to him, although usually not in a favorable manner at that time.  For me, this was the 1963 – 1970 era at Quarry Bank; so the Beatles were going from ‘growing UK fame’ through world-wide adulation.  Interestingly, discussion of John decreased over time at Quarry Bank by the teachers in contrast to the increase in the number of counterfeit carvings of his name in the wooden school desks……

Quarry Bank was a pretty fancy school for the times – you could only get into it based upon merit, my parents had no money and I entered based upon a “life make or break” examination system called the 11 plus that everyone had to take in that era.  The exam consisted of three written examinations – arithmetic, comprehension ( I think) and an IQ style test.  The last year of my Junior School was spent practicing over and over again for this exam – guided and driven by a ‘Mr. Wallard’ – considered a terror by many kids, but he was one of those pivotal people in my life that got me to Quarry Bank.   I have tried to trace this man – who he was, more about him – to thank him, but in vain.

The School was established in 1921, and the main building was a grand sandstone structure with multiple additions and large grounds for sports, bee-keeping (a little more on that later) and, by the time I attended, our own gym, wood and metal work shops, an indoor swimming pool, science laboratories and one of the first high tech language labs.  Class year photographs were taken at the end of the first year and this is mine below, that shows you the grandeur of the place.

Quarry Bank copy

Close to me on the back row, fourth from the right is Clive Barker of ‘Hellraiser Fame’ (and much more) – another famous, but not so famous alumni.  Notice the front rows of students all wearing short pants – in fact everyone will be, as this was the rule for the first year in the school – we were called ‘newts’ and you can imagine the persecution from the rest of the school of teenage adolescent boys who all wore long pants!

Below you will see a class picture at Quarry with John circled.  Notice the same main building behind the group, and the identical uniforms. You can see the front row boys with short trousers again, but I believe that this picture is part of a full school photograph so I am unsure of John’s age here. John does stand out with the ‘Skiffle group’ hair style in this picture.  The equivalent in my class picture at that time would have been a Beatle cut (over the ears) – but no one would even dare.

Screen Shot 2014-02-02 at 2.29.13 PM copy

Back to the report books.  You will notice on John’s report card that I have circled two teachers that taught both John and I.  The first initial is H.D. – the French teacher.  This was Harry Deutsch (spelling of surname may not be correct).  He was a charming individual, very kind with the boys, who had difficulty with controlling a class room full of adolescent males sometimes.  Well, most of the teachers struggled with that if I recall.  The second one is ‘K.I.L.’  This was the renowned Physics master – Mr. Leishman.  I noticed he was teaching Math in John’s era.  With initials K.I.L., it was inevitable in an all boy’s school that his nickname was “Killer”.  And he was pretty tough – and physics was not the easiest of subjects.  Killer’s reputation was enhanced by his lunch time activity of minding the beehives that were located in a corner of the grounds – he would smoke a pipe and ‘smoke’ the bees, often without head protection gear.  There was a rumor that his complexion was the result of a massive bee stinging attack, although I strongly suspect it was simply acne.

The School was very focused on testing and written exams.  Killer use to give us a short test every week or two and then re-rank the class, and let you know that on average the bottom 10 students out of the class of 30 would not pass the ‘Ordinary Level’ exams.  You will see on John’s report card his ranking for every subject and then an overall ranking.  I notice that his class size is 30 – the same as mine, so that did not change in between the 12 years between us.  I see that John was in Class 4C.  At Quarry the first year intake was 90 boys, divided into three classes of 30.  Everyone was taught at the same pace for that first year, after which the top 30 were placed in a fast stream class (becoming Class 2A, then 3A, etc).  This fast stream class took their ‘O’  levels a year ahead of the remaining other two classes at age 15 instead of 16.  Class 4C meant that John was not in the fast stream and looking at Harry Deutsch and Killer’s comments – John was just not interested in academic pursuit.

Strawberry Fields


I was born in the early ’50’s in South Liverpool, within walking distance of Strawberry Fields, Penny Lane, Paul’s and John’s childhood homes, Julia’s place.  I went to Quarry Bank Grammar School for boys (John’s school and the name derivative of the Quarrymen).  Strawberry Fields entrance gates is one that I took while visiting my mother and sister, who still live there.  Strawberry filed was close to where John lived with his Aunt Mimi – a short walking distance, just off Menlove Avenue.  I worked on a construction site as I teenager once during the summer right next to ‘Mendips’ (John’s house name).