Under Milk Wood is Dylan Thomas’s “play for voices” (i.e. intended for radio rather than the stage), a quite wild and sometimes soaring portrait of the inhabitants of a fishing village in Wales, the fictional Llareggub, depicting both their dreams and a day in their lives.
I’ve always liked the radio. There’s a visceral affection I have for small transistor radios that transcends any feeling I could ever have for any vulgar television set. I think of all the wonders that can come out of that little box with the grilled speaker—all that I learned about music and about the world while listening to it as a young ‘un; and in the here and now, there is this love I have for radio as a medium where one’s own mind and imagination are still in play, versus that televisual medium where so much (way too much) gets hurled at you in the way of stimulation, like it or not.
Oh, indeed, we are still very much on our Welsh kick, and with St. David’s Day fast approaching, who knows what may be in store?
This, however, is something very special which recently came to our attention. In 1957, some coal miners from the Welsh village of Rhosllannerchrugog—Welsh is such delightful language!—made a one-off recording, which has now been restored and remastered and re-released by “Moochin About” records. From the official write-up:
When the singing miners of Rhos Male Voice Choir came to London to make this record in St. Mark’s Church, St. John’s Wood, some of them wore bandages. The previous night there had been an accident—fortunately a minor one—in the colliery where they work. Others carried the scars of a more distant date. All of them carried tragic memories of the Gresford pit disaster which shocked the nation in 1934 and resulted in the loss of 266 lives.
The mayor of London, England, Boris Johnson, wrote a widely referenced column the other day on the possibility that a “mini ice age” is upon us, due to a diminution in the activity of that yellow thing you see sometimes in the sky, known as the sun. He cited the theories of an astrophysicist named Piers Corbyn. And he cited his own personal experience of the last five winters in his locale. Reading his colorful descriptions of the unusual snowiness these past few years, I was reminded (naturally) of “A Child’s Christmas in Wales,” by the great Welsh writer and poet Dylan Thomas.
Near the beginning of that classic and wonderful work of modern literature, the older narrator is speaking of how it used to snow in Wales, and a small boy interjects with a comment about a recent snowfall he had experienced. The narrator is quick to correct the boy’s idea that there is any valid comparison to be made.
“But that was not the same snow,” I say. “Our snow was not only shaken from whitewash buckets down the sky, it came shawling out of the ground and swam and drifted out of the arms and hands and bodies of the trees; snow grew overnight on the roofs of the houses like a pure and grandfather moss, minutely white-ivied the walls and settled on the postman, opening the gate, like a dumb, numb thunderstorm of white, torn Christmas cards.”
(If you’ve never read the whole thing, you really should treat yourself and pick up a copy someplace.)
What Dylan Thomas is doing is perfectly evoking the magical powers of human memory; in particular, he is illustrating its wondrous power to distort the “truth” by magnifying that which we remember fondly. If you grew up anywhere where it snowed at all, the odds are that you recall the snowstorms of your childhood in some similar manner, as great and overwhelming blizzards, every day a perfectly frozen Christmas card image of a winter wonderland. Winters these days just don’t compare. (Must be something up with the climate.)
Boris Johnson, the mayor of London, is deliberately doing the precise opposite, of-course, in his column. He is perceiving the recent winters in England as being much more severe and snowier than those that are traditional. Somewhere there are numbers to be compared and verified, naturally, but that’s not what I’m about here today.
There is another kind of distortion of memory, typical of humans, whereby we attach greater weight to recent perceptions, and discount knowledge of the past. So it is that we might experience a few hot summers and think: “It’s never been this bad —the world must be about to boil over.” Likewise we might imagine there have never been so many hurricanes as there have been in recent years, without checking the actual stats. Some will argue that Boris Johnson is overreacting to a few recent cold winters in the same way. Continue reading The Mini Ice Age Cometh→
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. Continue reading Bob Dylan to play Wales in honor of Dylan Thomas?→