Caught by the River


Jeb Loy Nichols | 27th April 2019






By Jeb Loy Nichols – a follow-on from his 2016 piece

Walking slowly upwards, I say good morning to the hedgerow. The day is not bright and not crisp, the fields not green, not pleasant. Winter is upon us. The morning is unsteady, the minutes not of any set length, the hours expand and contract, there are birds in them and light rain, unleafed trees, airplanes too, double winged, that growl along at impossible heights. I tell the hedgerow I’m sorry.

I’m sorry, I say, to be one of those who scramble around the place making your life impossible.

I stop and watch a finch emerge from the tangle of branches.

I pull my coat around my shoulders and say, I had a thought last night. A rather dull, small minded thought. The kind of thought that comes along unasked for. That should be dismissed before it ruins your evening. I thought I might go see Bob Dylan in Hyde Park next summer. A friend had told me that he and Neil Young were playing a gig in July. I thought I might buy a ticket and float around looking more at the audience than at Bob and Neil. I thought maybe this is what guys of my age do. I thought it might give me some kind of insight as to who I am and who it is I’m living alongside. I went to the website and had a look.

I walk for a while in silence and then shake my head.

The cheapest ticket, I say, is two hundred and five pounds. Two. Hundred. And five pounds. They go up to five hundred and thirty-seven pounds, some of which come with a VIP pass and are sponsored by Barclays.

Sponsored by Barclays, I repeat.

The hedgerow, and the inhabitants therein, say nothing.

Is there anything worse, I ask it, than the constant whoring around for ever more money by the already obscenely rich?

I continue on my walk thinking of mice and rabbits in their burrows, their silent, non-aquisitory lives. Their indifference to horses and cows and other quadrupeds that share their fields. Their worthlessness.

What we have here, I tell the hedgerow, concerning Mssrs Dylan and Young, is a Brotherhood of western liberal hubris – a willingness to engage with the worst of the market place, to let the market place call the dance and set the tempo.  A decision to not think about things.  A decision to be dumb.  To say it’s OK to be sponsored by banks and whiskey. It’s OK to get richer everyday. To say constant growth and greed is not only acceptable but inevitable. What kind of people think like that?   

I stop and watch an uneven group of rabbits. There’s nothing human about them. They regard my walk with indifference, their minds full of rabbit thoughts. The world, I realise, is garbage. The world of secondariness, of trifles, of baubles. Mercedes and Tescos and frosted corn flakes. Adjuncts and perfume and roof top dining and endless login passwords. The rabbits do those things innate to rabbits. They have neither false motives nor hopes. They are brownish grey with white bellies and dark feet. They have long ears. They are incredibly quick. They have whiskers and live in burrows. They eat grass. They have extended families. They sit up in the sun and multiply. They hibernate. They are without ambition.

The thing about Dylan, I tell the hedgerow, is that he gets away with it. He gets away with making something that was once a force for difference into a defence of smug capitalism.  He’s committed himself to the wrong side of the argument.  He is, now, officially, on the side of Trump.  There are only two sides when it comes to power – those who have it, who want it, who are shielded by it, who are complaisant in it – and those who are sceptical of it, who fight against it.  There’s no position that’s simply neutral, no one is benign, certainly not when you’re selling out Hyde Park. You’re telling the world exactly what kind of person you are.  You’re saying which side you’re on. You’re also saying, to the thousands of people who gave you their money so that you could be infinitely richer than them, thanks and fuck you. You made me rich now make me richer.

They could, of course, do the gig for free but they choose not to. They choose to be greedy.

The smell of fresh manure comes across the field. Sheep and crows and darkened stones dot the hills. My boots are water stained. I turn to the hedgerow and apologise again.

I realise, I tell it, how I sound. Ernest and humourless and overly serious about something that doesn’t matter. I know Dylan would stare at me with his half closed eyes and say hey, it’s nothing to do with me, I’m just a guy with a guitar. And I’d say, yea. A guy with a guitar who’s richer than any decent person ever should be. Richer than any decent person needs to be. Not, I’d tell him, that your decisions in any way change my relationship with your music; good music is always made by damaged people.  I don’t dislike Wagner’s music because he was an anti-Semite; I don’t hate Bob Marley’s music because he was a homophobe. People do what they do in their private lives and I don’t give a shit.  But a public concert isn’t private.  It’s a statement of intent.

It was, I remind myself, the winter solstice last night – wet and grey and intermittently starry – the night full of those things which we do our best to destroy. I turn and start for home, talking just loud enough for the hedgerow to hear me. I tell it:

To live well is to form a structure that is poorly built.

One should try and live just on the very edge of entropy.

To be outside the realm of commodity and merchandising and purchase.

Live a life made of that which is most likely to fall apart.

Paper, herbs, sticks, mud, skin, oats, grass.

Folding and gluing should be present.

Water marks and mistakes should be present.

Be unpatriotic. Always. In all ways. Be unwholesome.

Nothing wrong with things stupid and banal.

Pretend you’re 23. Now 73. Now dead.

Don’t ask for or expect approval.

Have no credentials, no authority, no suit, no certainty.

Wallace Berman said: Support The Revolution.

I think I know what that means.

Eat ice cream, of the local, handmade variety.

The rule is to do away with rules.

Include grace and poise and nobility.

When I near my house I slow down, turn to the hedgerow and apologise for apologising. I tell it I have no right to apologise for my fellow humans.

Who do I think I am?

I say that people do what people do and who am I to say they’re wrong? They write songs and wear hats and own dogs and ice skate and eat cheese and plant trees and get fat and recycle and work in dull jobs. Some of them live in the hills. Some of them don’t. Some live in Texas. Some don’t. Most are a mystery to me.

Certainly Bob Dylan is a mystery to me. Certainly his motives are a mystery to me. What isn’t a mystery to me is my refusal to give him and his bankers two hundred of my hard earned pounds. He doesn’t need it and shame on him for wanting it.