IT WAS THE YEAR OF THE BEATLES, GERRY and the Pacemakers and Freddy and the Dreamers. We ironed our hair and hitched up our gym slips to expose solid legs in American Tan tights. We sang She Loves You at the bus stop. We listened to Radio Caroline as we worked for our O levels and practised The Twist and The Shake in front of our bedroom mirrors. Our ideal couple was Paul McCartney and Jane Asher. Somewhere deep in our suburban souls we longed for more.
The voice crackled from the pink transistor radio like a bolt of electricity.
‘It ain’t no use to sit and wonder why babe
If you don’t know by now.’
He sounded odd, nasal, un-Liverpool, mesmerising. The words revealed a new world, a world of moving on down the highway, of relationships which were honest and brutal and based on freedom. We would never be like the girl in that song, we vowed. We would never give anyone cause to say he gave us his heart but we wanted his soul.
We threw away our skinny rib jumpers from Neatawear and let our hair flow free and unironed, just like the girl from the north country.
Bye bye, Jane Asher. From now on we would be Suze Rotolo, the one on the cover of The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan (how we loved the dropped ‘g’), who had long hair and boots and a kind of duffle coat and would never wear a Dollyrocker dress.
There seemed to be very few of us. “Bob Dylan? Call that singing?” was a common response to our attempts to share the faith. He didn’t even look right, young, shy, unsexy. We searched the dime stores and bus stations for others who would speak the same language. Someone wearing a leather peaked cap and carrying a guitar was rumoured to be a a party in Walton-on-Thames but he was gone by the time we got there. We were tantalised by glimpses of girls, older than us in every way, who were artists and wore Egyptian rings and knew too much to argue or to judge. We found it difficult to speak like silence, but practised looking enigmatic and mysterious, and nodded a lot, as if
You could group Dylan fans: the real Dylanologists; the stubbornly pre-electric faction; the Earls Court 1978ers (ticket stubs from that concert sell for £20 on ebay); the Isle of Wighters; the Blackbushers; the Never Ending Tour followers and so on. How big a group are we, lifelong fans in a less than obsessive way, who haven’t been to hundreds of concerts, haven’t even bought every record, may even have forgotten about Bob for brief periods of time, but who see him as part of our lives? All the embryo Beat Girls who knew that something was happening and weren’t quite sure what it was, but who scoured the streets of suburbia for one-eyed midgets, blind commissioners and motor cycle black madonnas. Where are we tonight?