Brisbane, Queensland, 1989
“Hey Scott, listen to this!”
I sighed as my brother, a drummer and musician of some note (to those who knew him) fumbled with a cassette. Here we go again, I thought to myself. More heavy metal?
I grew up listening to music, quite simply because my family listened to it. Mum used to listen to Bread and Rod Stewart, my oldest brother liked Bruce Springsteen and Judas Priest, the brother in question, rock and roll and heavy metal, and my sister, well, I can’t quite recall.
However, I can say with confidence that I was not a fan of music at all. I preferred to write! My poetry, though erratic and immature, was an outlet I indulged in quite frequently.
The clunk of the cassette player brought further irritation as it began to rewind, but before I could give up on the moment its thud echoed and a click of the play button meant that at least the song was easy to find and I wouldn’t have to wait much longer.
It was mid-morning, the weekend as we weren’t at work. I had better things to do than to listen to another song identified by my music-obsessed brother as worthy of listening to. Yet, I was polite, I was always polite. You see, I’d been through this process before.
“Are you ready?” he asked in anticipation.
I nodded my readiness and sat close to the cassette. I waited restlessly as the sound, that only a cassette can make, hummed quietly, a second or two later…
Standing on the waters casting your bread
While the eyes of the idol with the iron head are glowing
Distant ships sailing into the mist
You were born with a snake in both of your fists while a hurricane was blowing
The next six minutes took me on a journey. I was cast amidst the colour and form of a world foreign to me, until this moment, a world that didn’t exist. The lyrics spoke to me in a way that words hadn’t before.
When the song finished, I reached out to take the cassette cover off my brother. The album was called Infidels. Bob Dylan. And the opening song was Jokerman. I leant in close to the cassette and pressed rewind. I waited impatiently for the thud of the cassette and when it found itself at the beginning I pressed play. I listened to the song again and this time the journey was different as new lyrics swung my way. Images overlapped, faded, emerged.
Well, the rifleman’s stalking the sick and the lame
Preacherman seeks the same, who’ll get there first is uncertain
Nightsticks and water cannons, tear gas, padlocks
Molotov cocktails and rocks behind every curtain
I didn’t know what to think or how to act. I just sat in silence and listened.
It’s a shadowy world, skies are slippery grey…
The lyrics seemed to echo my existence until that point. They rang true, somehow. Aged 18, I was a self-reflective and introspective young man, I guess at a time in one’s life when life just didn’t make sense. I believe that on the day in question music found me. I was, as the song says at one point, shedding off one more layer of skin.
A moment can change a life and that moment opened my eyes not only to the beauty, majesty and power of lyrics, but also to the realisation that my way of thinking didn’t only belong to me. I began to read and write in earnest, I wasn’t trying to be anyone, it just felt right. Jokerman set me on a path of self-discovery that I have continued on for the last past twenty-seven years.
I devoured one Dylan album after another: Highway 61 Revisited, influential, Blonde On Blonde, insightful, Blood On The Tracks, the list goes on and on. All the while entranced by the lyrics that have and continue to give my life so much meaning.
I read poetry from Wordsworth and Keats to T.S Eliot. I indulged in philosophy from Plato to Aristotle and Descartes. I was inspired to make sense of this shifting world and my place in it. I articulated my thoughts in poetry, and throughout my university days, philosophy. I read Edgar Alan Poe, Dostoevsky and Shakespeare.
Though the journey of self-discovery continues, as it must, I embrace the future with the same intent I began with in 1989. I don’t know what the future holds or where the journey will take me next, but I do know that all that has transpired has made me who I am today, and I owe it all to one song.
Recent investigation has lead me to understand where the Infidels tape originated. My brother was given the cassette by a friend in 1985 who bought it for himself but, handed it on because he didn’t take to it. Though my brother still enjoys a wide range of music he has settled primarily on The Allman Bros, Lynyrd Skynyrd and The Band. Though he got me on to Dylan he never took to him as keenly as I. Still, he texts me all the time with suggestions of songs to listen to.
More Stereo Stories, by various writers, inspired by Dylan songs