by Jochen Markhorst
Older New Yorkers probably remember the terrible screech the BMT Broadway train made as it turned east near 59th Street and Seventh Avenue. Almost three miles from West 4th Street, but on quiet evenings and with a north wind and an open window, Dylan must have heard it too.
It is probably no consolation, but on the other side of the ocean the suffering was, and unfortunately sometimes still is just as great. The Central Line’s tubular hell’s screeching in London, between Liverpool Street and Bethnal Green is at times ear-shattering. Our German friends in Berlin, who invented the wonderful word Kurvenquietschen (“curve squeaking”, pronounce coor-ven-kweet-shen) for it, suffer at the corner of Friedrichstraße/Unter den Linden, within earshot of the former Führerbunker, and Parisians on Boulevard Diderot (XIIe) have been going insane for decades now because of the enfer acoustique, the acoustic hell of the metro line 5, when it makes the turn between the Quai-de-la-Rapée and Gare-d’Austerlitz stations.
For me it is music, though. I can even tell you exactly which music: “Visions Of Johanna”. And not for some high-brow, erudite reasons, I might add. Not because Dylan sings escapades out on the “D” train there, or because it can be associated with a ghost of ‘lectricty’s howling, or because the nightly, screeching wagons are corroded empty cages, or anything like that. No, it’s more prosaic.
I am from September 1964 and Dylan, quite literally, rocked my cradle. My parents, like everyone in the family and friends circle, had bought the first Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits somewhere in the spring of ’66. Spring 1966, so still before Blonde On Blonde, so a Greatest Hits with a different track list than “the” Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits which is still Dylan’s best-selling record of all time – the American CBS version, with “Rainy Day Women”, “Just Like A Woman”, “Positively 4th Street” and “I Want You”. In Europe, we had to make do with “Bob Dylan’s Blues”, “Maggie’s Farm”, “Queen Jane Approximately” and “Highway 61 Revisited”. Not too bad either, obviously. That first, European compilation even had two more songs than the ten songs on the American bestseller (also “Don’t Think Twice” and “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue”).
So “Highway 61 Revisited 61” really rocked my cradle. Still, Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits was not really the soundtrack of my earliest youth. That would be Rubber Soul and Georges Moustaki, Creedence’s Willy And The Poor Boys and Freddy Quinn, Help! and James Last’s Beat In Sweet (with “Like A Rolling Stone” and “Mr. Tambourine Man”!), the records my parents used to play and that were on the turntable at every family gathering between Hanover and Amsterdam. The Dylan lightning strike came later.
The Kinkerstraat is a long straight street north of the Vondelpark in Amsterdam, connecting the ring of canals with the Rembrandtpark. Three tramlines have been running through this long, straight street for more than a hundred years: Line 7, Line 17 and, since 1921, Line 23. There is only one bend in this long straight street: at the end, where the Kinkerstraat branches off to the Kinkerbrug, the bridge over the Kostverlorenvaart.
And in that bend lived my Aunt Joop. Kurvenquietschen.
From 1973, 1974, I was considered old and wise enough to travel alone by train to Amsterdam, to stay with one of my beloved aunts. Free-spirited, unmarried aunts without educational principles, but with stacks of comic books and even higher stacks of gramophone records. Tommy. Lou Reed’s Berlin. Harvest. American Pie. Ziggy Stardust. But above all: Blonde On Blonde.
Mind you, I think I already knew Dylan. But that’s Dylan pre-Blonde On Blonde. “Rainy Day Women” is familiar – it comes on the radio often enough. “Pledging My Time” is nice. In the closing seconds, I hear Line 7 approaching the Kinkerbrug. The inner sleeve tells me that the next song is called “Visions Of Johanna”…
Ain’t it just like the night to play tricks when you’re trying to be so quiet? screeeeeeech
We sit here stranded, though we’re all doin’ our best to deny it queeeeeeeek
And Louise holds a handful of rain, temptin’ you to defy it krcheeeeetsch
You only experience that excitement, that kind of lightning a few times, maybe just once in your life – and with this intensity only in those receptive years of early puberty, it seems. But it never leaves you.
Like it was written, no, like it was screeched in my soul.
Happy birthday Bob