Nowhere Boy (The Cornfield #3)

This week I happen to be reading Bob Dylan’s free-floating memoir Chronicles, which for no real reason I failed to read when it came out a few years ago. I’m not quite halfway into it but I have a strong suspicion it’s a masterpiece of personal reflection (and recollection – Dylan either kept a diary or has a near-photographic memory). The book has many autobiographical stories but is also rife with appreciations of songs, books, movies, the stuff of life for a young man finding himself.

Among other things the book quiets the whole “Dylan is enigma” strain of thinking. Or should. Dylan’s enthusiasms are sincere and whole-hearted, even if they are delivered with wit or the occasional curious metaphor. Makes me wonder if all these years people were taking Dylan’s many different modes and shifts as enigmatic because they just couldn’t handle the idea of an artist being so liberated he simply moves in whatever direction he wants, and isn’t worried about showing that to the world. That’s the opposite of enigmatic, actually. (In that sense Todd Haynes’ I’m Not There is misguided; what the hell is so mysterious about an artist who makes up characters and stories?)

Dylan’s contemporary John Lennon is memorialized in Nowhere Boy, which I connect here not because they are both about musical icons but because they depict the enthusiasm for art as a transforming event. Chronicles does this more than Nowhere Boy, which is a conventionally-turned melodrama, though nicely wrought and insightfully acted. Nowhere Boy lifts Lennon from his violent teen years and gets him to the point where music is going to be his way out, with a little help from his friends. If you are already a Beatles fan, the movie is going to prick your own vulnerability to the way art, and the love of it, can be sustaining. ‘Cause, I mean, Liverpool, late Fifties, Aunt Mimi, the church social where John met Paul – this is sacred text here.

When I was on KUOW-FM earlier this week I confessed my religious feelings about the Beatles (link is below) and talked about a couple of the ways Lennon’s icon status had crossed my life. Along with the stories about going to Liverpool in 1985 and coming across an impromptu Beatle-song hootenanny in Central Park in 2009, I was also going to tell about other stations along the way. Like the time my friend Tom Keogh and I went to the bar at the Edgewater Hotel on the tenth anniversary of Lennon’s murder, on the vague impulse to mark the occasion somehow but not having any sort of shrine to attend (the Edgewater is where the Beatles stayed when they played Seattle; it also figures in Led Zeppelin lore). Or the night of Lennon’s death, when I dropped off my friend Jim Emerson at his apartment after seeing a movie (I think it was Knife in the Head) at the Pike Place Cinema, then began noticing the string of Beatles songs on the radio, then heard the news as I was parking the car – because you remember those kinds of things.

When Lennon died I had just graduated from college, the age when you maybe want to do something with your enthusiasms about music and movies and books. It was a little hard to see how that was going to happen. I remember wandering around the back room of the Frankfurter, where I worked down on University Way, no doubt taking a bin of Kielbasas or cheesedogs out of the walk-in freezer, and thinking how lousy it was that Lennon was dead, and how great it would be to be able to do something as some sort of gesture, but how, being powerless, that was beyond me. And then it came to me that, despite living at my parents’ house and wearing a T-shirt that had an anthropomorphized hot dog on it, I was involved with the Seattle Film Society, which showed 16 mm. movies at a renovated church. We could do something. And I went over to the telephone on the wall by the timesheets and called somebody (it might have been Jim) and said let’s show a movie and two weeks later we were showing How I Won the War to a packed audience – by donation only, because you don’t really want to make money on something like that.

And the movie went over warmly, despite its caustic nature and despite the challenging acoustics of the former church, which were severely tested by the parade of accents. It was proof that you could do something, though not a lesson that stuck particularly well.

So Nowhere Boy, yeah, difficult to review. It goes in with The Hours and Times and Backbeat as illustrated tales from the scriptures. It shows nice discretion, genuine passion, and a minimum of foreshadowing. Tom wrote a nice review for the Seattle Times, without mentioning that we were once turned away from the Cavern Club for having the wrong kind of shoes, or something. But that sort of self-indulgent reminiscing is for blogs.

The KUOW thing is here, movie talk happening at the 16:25 mark.

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