I’ve been listening to Bob Dylan’s Theme Time Radio Hour on my way to and from work for the last month or so. It’s a wonderful collection of almost-forgotten songs, mainly from the thirties to the sixties, and I like to think that these are the songs Bob grew up listening to, that this is the music which makes the foundations of his own musical identity. In between spinning records from Bob Wills & His Texas Playboys, Merle Haggard and The Carter Family, Bob gives random tidbits of information about the show’s theme. For example, in the ‘Hello’ themed show he told me that ‘Hello’ was considered a vulgar greeting and quoted a 1922 etiquette book which insisted it should only be used between very close friends, and never, ever shouted.
This being Dylan, it’s worth taking all these anecdotes with a grain of salt. Or six. But they’re entertaining and the kind of random information that I adore, true or not.
On his Classic Rock themed show, as well as telling us about the various layers of the planet Earth, the pet rock craze of the seventies and the story behind the band Rockpile’s name, he also offered the following story:
During the Stone Age, when someone died and was buried, a boulder would be rolled over their grave to prevent them from climbing out of it. Soon, people started wanting to know which boulders were covering graves and which were just boulders, so people started marking the graves. There was money to be made in this, so the markings became more and more elaborate. These days, we don’t use a boulder, we just use a tombstone.
(Not quoted verbatim.)
The story’s far too simple to be true, but it’s very attractive. I just wanted to make a note of it, because that’s the kind of thing a story grows from.
Hang on… wait, wait… I can feel it. It’s happening… It’s happening! Selling advertising space on tombstones! ‘If I’m In Heaven, I’m Drinking Coca-Cola!’. Everything from high-budget and stylish multinationals–‘Cadillac–the ride of your life’–to the local independent hardware store–‘I just died when I found out about Honest John’s deals!’ I’m actually gestating a story that could work very, very well with.
As for my headstone… Well, I’ve always said I’m not going to be in any position to care what happens after I’m gone. You can dress me up like a clown and use me as a cheap movie prop for all I care. But if anyone’s going to put up a marker, I think I’d like it to be blank. Or just say, ‘careful, there’s a corpse here’. All my life people have been trying to define who and what I am, and it’s a constant pressure I’m never free from. If you’re going to do anything, you can just let me be myself and not define me with names or dates or quotes.
And maybe put a boulder over my grave. You never know when the zombie apocalypse is going to start.