Melbourne, December 2018
There are many ways to meet a song for the first time. I didn’t meet Angelina until I read a novel called The Best Of Adam Sharp, by Graeme Simsion.
The novel’s central character is a woman called, yes, Angelina. She is, of course, young and beautiful, and the novel’s narrator, piano-bar-playing Adam Sharp, can’t get her out of his mind, even though it’s 20 years since their brief, youthful affair, even though they live on other sides of the world, even though he’s long married.
Angelina, the song, was published by Dylan in 1981 but not released officially until ten years later, on Volume 3 of The Bootleg Series. Apparently it’s never been performed in concert. I’m a Dylan fan but no Bob-head and don’t mind admitting I hadn’t heard of the song until it was mentioned several times in Simsion’s 2016 novel.
Many songs are mentioned in the novel. Indeed, it is songs that soundtrack the narrative, from Hey Jude in the opening paragraph to The Times You’ve Come by Jackson Browne on the final page.
In-between there are references – sometimes subtle, sometimes not – to another 40 songs, mostly from the 1960s and 1970s. (The main exception is The Killers’ All These Things That I’ve Done.)
The other Dylan songs are Like A Rolling Stone; If You’ve Got To Go, Go Now; Tangled Up In Blue and Farewell Angelina.
There are also references to Angel (by Sarah McLachlan), Angie and Angel Of The Morning.
You get the picture. A romantic comedy with no shortage of signposts. (Simsion says in a short introduction that the novel ‘is a nod to the music and musicians that contributed so much to the life of my generation’.)
Adam Sharp, being a piano-bar player – in-between his day job as a database architect – knows the songs well. And plays many of them. Some with Angelina. Some to Angelina.
And, yes, he sings Angelina to Angelina – and her second husband – at the conclusion of a week-long ménage-a-trois in France. (Where do you draw the line between suspending disbelief – Yes, I know it is a novel, it is fiction – and thinking ‘Really?’?)
Simsion invites readers ‘to download the songs and listen as you read.’ I declined the invitation. Call me old-fashioned and one-dimensional but I’m either reading a book or listening to a song. One or the other. Not simultaneously. I didn’t want to interrupt the rhythm of reading, and the voice of Adam with the rhythms and melodies of the songs and the voices of the singers (Tom Waits, Nick Cave, Edith Piaf, Joe Cocker, Patti Smith….).
So I read the whole novel (it only took two days) wondering about Angelina, the song. After completing reading the novel I searched for Angelina. Dylan’s website had the lyrics. But YouTube? Never easy with Dylan. Spotify? iTunes? Sick of usernames and passwords. Call me old-fashioned again, but I wanted the album, the CD. Two nights before Christmas, the summer streets nearly empty, I pedalled over to a mate’s house.
He loaned me Volume 3 of The Bootleg Series and, 37 years after it was published and 27 years after it was released, I met Angelina for the first time. I look forward to further rendezvous. We’ve got a lot of catching up to do.
More details about The Best Of Adam Sharp by Graeme Simsion
Instrumental version of Angelina