Pix Theatre, Geelong West, early 1970s
There’s Bob Dylan, up on the screen at the Pix Theatre in Elizabeth Street. The theatre opposite Sparrow Park. Just off Autumn Street.
And there’s George Harrison. And Ringo Starr. And Eric Clapton. And Leon Russell. And Ravi Shankar.
It’s the 1971 Concert For Bangla Desh. Dylan’s face fills the screen. The shoulders of his denim jacket, too. And that mop of curly hair, like a halo, like a sun-lit planet in the dark sky of the cinema.
He’s up there singing A Hard Rain’s A Gonna Fall; It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes A Train To Cry; Blowin’ In the Wind; Mr Tambourine Man; and Just Like A Woman.
Four of the five songs I understand well enough at the time, if only at a superficial level, but what is a 14 year old boy to make of Just Like A Woman? What does he know of fog, amphetamines and pearls? What does he know of standing inside the rain, of dying there of thirst, of a long-time curse?
What would he know of making love just like a woman, of aching just like a woman? Of breaking just like a little girl?
He sits there in The Pix Theatre, not knowing much at all but hearing something: anguish perhaps, ache, bitterness, sadness, vulnerability.
I used to listen to the triple album of the Concert For Bangla Desh in the front room of our middle-class fibro-cement house. Home to our family of eight, the house had plenty of space, including a good-sized backyard and a front garden with a large cypress tree.
The front room of the house had been an entrance hall, a sun room, even a bedroom. When the records and the stereo took pride of place in there we dubbed it, with great 1970s imagination, The Sound Lounge.
Its walls had been bare but bit by bit, story by story, I covered those walls. With album reviews and concert reviews. With music stories cut out from newspapers. This was before I knew of Rolling Stone, and Australian publications like Go-Set, Juke, Ram and Roadrunner.
When I moved out of home I took down all those stories and stuck them, one by one, into a scrapbook fashioned from a small telephone directory. The 450-page Colac & Geelong districts telephone directory bulged with articles about local performers such as Ariel, Skyhooks, The Dingoes, Renee Geyer and Marcia Hines and internationals artists such as Melanie , Kris Kristofferson, Lou Reed, Rodriguez, Jackson Browne, BB King, Joe Cocker, Wings, Van Morrison, Linda Ronstadt, Maria Muldaur, the McGarrigles and dozens of others. And Dylan.
A review of Planet Waves (‘Dylan out of the wilderness’) is on page 41, beside Barbarella’s Beauty Boutique Ladies Hairdsr Anglesea 63 1693.
A review of Blood On The Tracks (‘a welcome return to form’) is on page 35, just below Allen’s Typing and Photocopy Service 62 Lit Malop 9 2781.
A review of Desire (‘it’s dazzling’) is on page 172, beside Russell Noel Home Improvements 58 Barrabool Rd 43 5384.
A critique of Dylan (‘Hard Rain Bob Goes Soft’) is stuck in the middle of an index listing concrete reinforcements, confectionery manufacturers and curtain cleaners.
In a full-page story from The Australian Women’s Weekly (January 16, 1974) Dylan says “I hate performing in front of big audiences. But I guess I have to, ‘cause I don’t have anything else to do.”
That scrapbook has survived for 40 years. As has the triple-album Concert For Bangla Desh, bought by one of my older brothers. Silverfish have eaten away some of the front cover, and the box has tape around the edges to hold it together. The large-format colour booklet of concert photos is still in good shape.
There’s Dylan, from pages 44 to 57. The shoulders of his denim jacket. The curly hair. The embroidered guitar strap. The images of him performing Just Like A Woman include George Harrison and Leon Russell singing harmony, a classic side-on-playing-harmonica- profile and, lastly, arms raised in triumph.
The concert is, of course, available on DVD these days. I’ve been tempted several times to buy it but you’ve got to be careful with memories: what looks large from a distance close up ain’t never that big. I’m happy to play the record (usually just the Dylan side) and to look through the photos but to sit down and watch the concert?
Would it be like visiting your home town and discovering the streets are smaller, narrower? The Pix Theatre, built in the 1950s, stopped screening movies in the 1990s and is now a church. My old home is still standing too, but the cypress tree out the front is gone and the backyard, where we played cricket and had a Clarke above-ground pool, is now apartments. I’d be surprised if The Sound Lounge is still a haven for a teenager’s blossoming love of music. Probably an entrance hall once again.
Hopefully it is not mere nostalgia that draws me back to the Bangla Desh version of Just Like A Woman. The songs layers and possibilities have not diminished over the years, even if I’ve only really understood it on a superficial level. In terms of love and heartache I don’t know of standing inside the rain, of dying there of thirst; I don’t know of how a long-time curse hurts, but what’s worse is this pain in here. (Thank you, Julie, for 30 years of togetherness.)
But in hopes and dreams and grief and sorrow and this thing called life I guess, like all of us, I have sensed what I glimpsed on the screen at the Pix Theatre: anguish and ache, bitterness, sadness, vulnerability.