Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door

The last thing the world needs is another boring analysis of this classic Dylan tune, and I don’t have any tales of drunken debauchery linked to the song.
The title only sets the right tone for what follows.
Read on…

Oh Mother, I can feel…the soil falling over my head.

The Smiths

States of bewilderment, momentary confusion or disorientation usually produce a range of facial expressions. The correct technical or medical term for one of these expressions, is ‘dogface’, (from the Latin – Loquitur Equus Excrementum).
The way a dog cocks it’s head and stares wide-eyed at you when you squeeze your lips tight and blow squeaky air through them – that’s ‘dogface’.
If I’m at the shops and I ask a floor assistant to direct me to the condiment aisle, I’ll definitely get ‘dogfaced’. It’ll persist until I say, “Tomato Sauce, please?”
Not too long ago, I approached the till at our local Food Lovers Market. As I was reaching for my debit card, before she scanned my purchases, the lady at the till casually asked, “Are you a pensioner?”
When I eventually snapped out of ‘dogface’ mode, I replied with a curt, “No.”
Then, dazed and confused, I went back to my car and wept softly. It’s happened a few more times since – I don’t even go ‘dogface’ anymore. Pretty soon I’ll just nod and accept whatever pensioner deals are on offer.

On the 17th of August 1977, both of my parents were struck down with an acute case of ‘dogface’. It was a Wednesday morning, a normal work/school day in our house…until it was announced on the radio that Elvis Presley had died the previous day.
One minute they were buzzing around the house, preparing to leave for work, the next they were both rooted to the spot, completely stunned. It was as though something had reached inside both of them and whipped out their batteries. All daily routines and plans had just been bounced into limbo. My Mom stood in the kitchen doorway, ‘dogfacing’ my Dad in the dining room. My Dad stared back.
The house was silent except for the muffled indifference of a small radio. The world stood still.
Off in the distance, a car hooter honked.
It was a rare and unprecedented occurrence of, ‘double dogface’.

On that day I was 12 years old. Elvis had been a constant feature throughout my life. There’s no doubt that I was listening to ‘Jailhouse Rock’ in-utero. My folks weren’t just fond of him…they adored him. In my house, he was so revered and familiar, to me he was like the rich and famous uncle who’d never been over for a visit.
My Father also spoke affectionately about Jerry Lee Lewis and Gene Vincent, but they were only pretenders – The King was The King.
One of my all-time favourite movies is The Commitments (1991). In one scene (around 01:06:30), a trumpet player named Joey ‘The Lips’ Fagan is regaling the Rabbitte family with dubious tales of his exchanges with Elvis during his visits to Graceland. Like devotees at the sermon on the mount, the Rabbittes surround him and hang on his every word. As he launches into a story, the camera reveals a framed portrait of The Pope hanging on a wall. It then pans upwards to reveal another picture, this one of Elvis, hanging on the same wall, above The Pope.
To me, this made perfect sense. We weren’t church people. Apart from my Mom’s weird mixture of lapsed Catholicism and crazy superstitions, there was no deference to religion in our house. No miracles, no divinity – Elvis was our only deity.

Along with poor social skills and a predisposition to kidney stones, my Father also gifted me with a healthy dose of skepticism. Thankfully, the sum total of all religious encouragement I received from him, was an Elvis gospel album that was bought and never played. Cheers, Jimmy.

Somehow, down the years I’ve managed to hold onto a bag of my parents’ old photos. Here are a few pics of my Father as a young man. I think it’s safe to say that Elvis had some influence. What do you think?

The question I ask myself is, ‘who’ll be the Elvis of my generation?
Whose death will knock the wind right out of me like a punch in the gut?
Whose death will give me a case of the dreaded, ‘dogface’?

My automatic answer is, Bob Dylan.
Without doubt, he’s the finest songwriter I’ve ever encountered.
This presents a bit of a problem though. Although I’d love to claim him as an artist from ‘my generation’, I think that would be cheating. Dylan’s talent and prolific song writing have kept him in the public consciousness for almost 60 years. Arguably, some of his finest work was recorded after I became a die-hard fan, but he was also in the charts before I was born.
He was born only 6 years after Elvis, so as much as I’d like to, I can’t count him as ‘one of mine’. If I did, I fear an angry mob of really old geezers carrying torches might turn up at my gate to lynch me.
In my experience, his music has always had a polarizing effect on listeners. People I’ve known were either fanatics, or they, ‘just didn’t enjoy his whiney voice’.
Also, in his early career, his anti-war/anti-establishment position didn’t endear him to a large chunk of the population.
As I write this, Dylan is 79 years old. This year, he released an album called, ‘Rough and Rowdy Ways’, his 39th studio album.
We won’t have him for much longer, and I hate to think of a post-Dylan world, where I can’t anticipate and enjoy his new material.
Who wants to live in a world without the guy who wrote, ‘Sweetheart Like You’ and, ‘Blind Willie McTell’? Fuck that – I don’t.

Another artist I wish I could claim is Bruce Springsteen. Like Dylan, his quality and career longevity has been phenomenal, and he’s stayed at the top of the game for nearly 50 years.
His debut album ‘Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J.’ hit the charts in 1973.
By the time his breakthrough third album, ‘Born to Run’ was released in 1975, I was only 10 years old.
With Springsteen, it’s a tight margin – the mega-selling album, ‘Born in the U.S.A.’, was most certainly of, ‘my time’, but I can’t help thinking he belongs to a crowd slightly older than mine. If, ‘Born to Run’ had been released even 5 years later, he would have been in our camp – unfortunately, it wasn’t.  

 John Lennon, another ‘generation-bridger’ could also have been a potential candidate, were it not for the delusional Mark Chapman.
Again though, even though I consider, ‘(Just Like) Starting Over’ a song from my youth – he belongs to the generation before mine.

Sadly, we’ve already lost a bunch of music artists who were definitely of, ‘my generation’. Here’s a list of the ones I enjoyed and have missed, in varying degrees:

Ian Curtis of Joy Division, an early pioneer of electronic dance music, died in 1980.

Bon Scott was a wild-man and the early voice of AC/DC. He died in 1980.  

Ricky Wilson was a founding member of The B52’s. He gave us ‘Rock Lobster’ and ‘Planet Claire’. He died in 1985.

Freddy Mercury of Queen sang, ‘Another One Bites the Dust’, before he did, in 1991.

Kurt Cobain and Nirvana unleashed Grunge on the world. He died in 1994.

Stuart Adamson of Big country was one of my all-time favourites. He died in 2001.

Joe Strummer of The Clash – this one hurt. Should’ve stayed Joe. He died in 2002.

Most of Robert Palmer’s stuff was simply irresistible. He died in 2003.

I’ll always be grateful to Michael Jackson for ‘Billie Jean’. He died in 2009.

Amy Winehouse flared bright, burnt out and then tottered off in her Fuck Me Pumps. She died in 2011.

Prince dripped sex all over us with the gloriously obscene, ‘Peach’ and ‘Cream’. He died in 2016.

George Michael wrote ‘Everything She Wants’ and ‘Father Figure’. Say no more. He died in 2016.

Malcolm Young was the diesel engine driving AC/DC. He died in 2017.

Dolores O’Riordan of The Cranberries breaks my heart every time I watch the video to, ‘When You’re Gone’. She died in 2018.

Mark Hollis of Talk Talk was a genius songwriter. This one also stung. Such a shame – He died in 2019.

Eddie Van Halen brought out the hard-rocking head banger in me. He died earlier this year, 2020.

Elton John gave us classics such as ‘Rocket Ma…’ – No, sorry… I just checked, he’s still alive. Oh well, not long now.

The deaths of all those listed above produced tremors that registered on my personal Richter scale. Ultimately though, in the quest to name, ‘My generation’s Elvis’, and after extensive research and deliberation, (an hour on the internet and a 2 hour bicycle ride with my AirPods in), I whittled it down to the following three candidates:
One of them has already left us and gone to be with Elvis –
David Bowie’s death wasn’t just a tremor, it was a full-on earthquake.
Bowie had me early with, ‘Space Oddity’ and ‘Life on Mars’.
‘Sorrow’, ‘Fame’ and ‘Heroes’ kept me listening through the ‘70’s.
He hit his stride in the ‘80’s with ‘Ashes to Ashes’, ‘Fashion’, ‘China Girl’ and ‘Let’s Dance’.
‘Black Tie White Noise’ confirmed his genius into the ‘90’s and beyond.
Like Dylan, his creativity and ability to adapt, kept him on the cutting edge of modern music for decades. Bowie pushed every boundary he encountered, and in doing so, allowed many artists who followed him to do the same. His impact on modern music can’t be overstated.

Presley was The King because he was the total package. He had the music, the looks and the sex appeal.
Unfortunately for my next candidate, he has only the name and the music –
As a songwriter, Elvis Costello has very few equals. I also think his voice is one of the most under-rated in modern popular music. Have a listen to his cover of, ‘Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood’, and then tell me I’m wrong. The only similar voice worth comparison, is Caleb Followill from Kings Of Leon (listen to ‘Closer’ from Only By The Night).
I’m an atheist, but when I say I thank God for Elvis Costello, I mean it. In 1978/79, my sister’s Irish friend, a guy named Ken, succumbed to religion and then, on divine command, distributed his excellent (but sinful) record collection among his various friends. We were the grateful recipients of Queen’s album, ‘A Night at The Opera’, and a vinyl single by Costello called ‘Radio Radio’. Before this, I may have heard ‘Alison’ and ‘Watching The Detectives’, but with ‘Radio Radio’ he had me hooked and landed in his boat. Ken’s state of grace didn’t last too long, but when he eventually came to his senses, I held on to his records. If I didn’t say it then…“Thanks Ken!” (you too Big Guy).
Costello’s early, ‘angry nerd’ persona and his lack of movie-star good looks probably cost him millions of fans. During a 1979 tour of the U.S. he also self-sabotaged and nearly derailed his career following an altercation with Stephen Stills and Bonnie Bramlett at a Holiday Inn bar. In 1977, he was also banned from Saturday Night Live for performing ‘Radio Radio’ instead of the scheduled song, ‘Less Than Zero’. 
The cream always rises to the top though, and despite these early setbacks, he went on to have a massive career, and to write some of the best music I’ve ever heard.
Costello’s credentials include collaborations with Burt Bacharach and Paul McCartney. He’s also a Grammy Award winner and a Rock and Roll Hall of Famer.
The quality of his music speaks for itself – I firmly believe, that if he’d had the right looks and sex appeal, he would’ve been as big as Springsteen and Bowie. Maybe even bigger.

And so on to my final candidate, and winner of the very prestigious and coveted title of…’My generation’s Elvis’ – (drumroll please…)

It’s hard to say it…I hate to say it…but it’s probably Sting.
The first time I ever heard Sting must’ve been sometime in 1978 on ‘Roxanne’, with The Police. Their debut album, ‘Outlandos d’Amour’ also contained the singles, ‘Can’t Stand Losing You’ and ‘So Lonely’. The Police hit the ground running and all of these charted highly.
The album, Regatta De Blanc followed in 1979 with the monster hits, ‘Message in a Bottle’ and ‘Walking on the Moon’. I preferred the lesser hit off the album, ‘The Bed’s Too Big Without You’. By the time their third album, Zenyatta Mondatta was released in 1980, The Police were a household name.

Here, I need to pause for a declaration.
When it comes to sexual orientation, I’m as ‘meat and potatoes’ as they come. An unexceptional, boring heterosexual male – always have been, and I’m sure that’ll never change.
To me, modern terms like, ‘non-binary’ and ‘genderfluid’ sound very exotic and complicated. Forty years ago, you were either ‘straight’ or ‘gay’. I was born straight – never had a choice, I like the ladies.
That being said, I had a huge man crush on Sting.
I just Googled, ‘man crush’; – an intense and typically non-sexual liking or admiration felt by one man for another. See? Non-sexual – I didn’t want to bone him, I wanted to be him (although, I might have been agreeable to a bit of spooning. Maybe some tantric spooning?)
Anyway, it was no different to the man crushes millions of guys before me had on Elvis Presley or James Dean (so fuck off and don’t judge me).
I remember staring at the pictures on the back cover and inner sleeve of the Zenyatta Mondatta album, amazed at how impossibly cool Sting looked. If I’m honest, the picture of him on the back cover, sitting on a double bass, holding his bass guitar, is probably the main reason I have my own bass guitar today. The singles off the album were ‘De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da’ and, ‘Don’t Stand So Close To Me’. At 15, after seeing Sting on the video of, ‘Don’t Stand…’, I turned up at my girlfriend’s house wearing a jacket and tie over a plain white t-shirt. When I left, she said to me, “My Dad asked that next time, you wear a collar with your tie.”
I barked out a quick, ‘haha – good one!’ laugh.
Walking home, it occurred to me that she hadn’t laughed in response. I still don’t know whether the old guy was serious or not.
With Sting’s songs and Stewart Copeland’s brilliant, angry drumming, the album was their best so far. Copeland battering his drums at the beginning of ‘Driven to Tears’, sounds like a politician trying to break open a child’s piggy bank.
By the time they recorded ‘Synchronicity’, their fifth and final album, they were the biggest band in the world (by a country mile). This album was their masterpiece. The songs on side two of the record were; ‘Every Breath You Take’, ‘King of Pain’, ‘Wrapped Around Your Finger’, ‘Tea in the Sahara’, and ‘Murder by Numbers’. If there was ever a better side two on an album, I still haven’t heard it.

The Police won six Grammys, and were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2003.

I was in the army when Sting’s first solo record, ‘The Dream of the Blue Turtles’ was released in 1985. I bought the cassette tape at a ‘SAWI’ shop in South West Africa. As anybody who was ever in the army will know, I had loads of time to devour the album.
Coincidentally, I had just read, ‘Interview With The Vampire’ by Anne Rice, which inspired track 9 on the album, ‘Moon Over Bourbon Street’.

His next album, ‘Nothing Like The Sun’ was released in 1987. At this time, CD’S were a new and exciting music format. A friend of mine was house-sitting a huge mansion of a place somewhere in Houghton. One night, following a mega session at Busby’s pub, she invited everyone back to the mansion for a party (hey, we’re Alberton folk – it’s what we do). I have a few blurry memories of that evening. One is of a sweeping marble staircase going up a wall to the bedrooms, another is of becoming completely lost inside the house. I also remember seeing the CD of ‘Nothing Like The Sun’, on a table, next to a very hi-tech music system.
I can say with some confidence – If I’d owned a CD player at the time, I would’ve stolen that CD.

Sting has been delivering high quality music for over 40 years now. I think some of his songs; ‘Fragile’, ‘They Dance Alone’, ‘Shape of my Heart’, ‘Why Should I Cry For You’, ‘Fields of Gold’ and ‘Desert Rose’, are more than just quality – they’re exquisite.

He’s 69 now – I’m 55 and he still looks 10 years younger than me. Maybe I should swop running and cycling for yoga and tantric sex (if I could ever figure out what the fuck that is).
If he dies before I do, I’ll certainly mourn him and when it happens…I predict a ‘dogface’.
Like Elvis was to my parents, Sting has been significant to me for most of my life. Primarily for his music, but I’ve also admired him for his intellect and his humanitarian efforts. I’ve also been inspired by his discipline with regard to physical fitness.
Just a fucking shame he’s a Newcastle United fan.


3 thoughts on “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door

  1. Bloody brilliant Jimmy. Your best to date. I laughed, I cried and it’s almost made me reach for one of those Sting albums in my collection I’ve never managed to get into. Superb stuff, thank you Dogface !

    Liked by 1 person

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