Well, no sooner do I announce that I have become a Welshman than everybody wants in on the act. Now it is being reported that Bob Dylan is considering playing a gig in the city of Swansea, Wales, during 2014, to honor the centenary of the birth of the Welsh poet Dylan Thomas.
This is a little bit of a turnaround for Bob, as he used to push back aggressively at the idea that he took his name from Dylan Thomas. However, he seems to have relaxed about that whole thing, even reading some Dylan Thomas poetry on his “Theme Time Radio Hour” show a few years back. Yet, Dylan Thomas might stand as one of the few poets Bob has never actually “borrowed” from (unless I’ve missed it along the way). Their work doesn’t share much in the style department. I take as accurate Bob’s account (I think in Chronicles) that he was set to name himself “Bob Dillon,” but then it occurred to him that spelling it as “Dylan” just plain looked better. And I think we’d have to acknowledge that he was right about that.
Bob may not have been a particular fan of Dylan Thomas’s poetry back then, but that has little to do with whether he is one now. Another intersection of their lives was the Chelsea Hotel in New York City, where Bob Dylan spent a fair amount of time in the 1960s, and where Dylan Thomas, sadly, spent his final days in 1953.
I like them both, both Dylans, and, for that matter, almost anyone named Dylan, because I am, after all, a Welshman now.
If Bob does play Wales for the Dylan Thomas centenary, the odds are very good that he’ll just do the same gig he always does and leave without any special acknowledgement of the occasion. At least half of those attending will walk away going, “What the hell was that?” and some displeased reviews will be written. Should Bob wish to avoid this—although I don’t think he cares to avoid it at all—let me give him some advice, as I have been Welsh now for several weeks and I know a little about these things.
Bob can have the crowd in the palm of his hand should he sing the old Welsh tune “Cwm Rhondda.” The melody was written by John Hughes, and it is most commonly sung with a lyric in English (by William Williams) known as “Bread of Heaven.” All Welshmen know it well (I know it myself now like the back of my hand) and if he wants to utterly vanquish the audience and be coronated on the spot he’ll bring on the Treorchy Male Choir to sing it with him. (Only he’d better turn his own microphone up a fair bit.) See below for a clip via YouTube of the choir in action with this very song (though here actually with a Welsh lyric).