Thursday, 30 August 2007
"Money doesn't talk, it swears"...
You must leave now take what you need you think will last,
But whatever you wish to keep you'd better grab it fast...
Bob Dylan, 'It's all over now, Baby Blue'
We re-watch Don't Look Back, D.A. Pennebaker's film of Bob's Dylan's 1965 British tour. There's a scene in it where Bob finally gets to meet Donovan, the much-heralded 'British Dylan' as he's been touted by the media and pretty much everyone who's crossed the path of the American original, much to the latter's wry incredulity. "He's a great guitar player, mind", a well-intoxicated Alan Price tells Dylan; "better 'an you".
I'd always read the famous meeting between them as having been a humiliating one for Donovan. He'd sung and played for the visiting folk poet and done so nicely enough, only for Dylan to rub the cavernous gulf between their two talents right into the nose of the Scottish folkie; every syllable and strum of Bob's performance making his rival's fire appear punier, paler in comparison. But now I'm not so sure. I hadn't noticed before that it's Donovan himself who quietly requests the song. Dylan seems happy to acquiesce, performing 'It's All Over Now, Baby Blue' as the young pretender has asked him to. Listening, Donovan's cheeks don't appear to redden as they would if this were really some abasement. No, he's spellbound like the rest of the room, enraptured by the song, its singer unimpeachable. The little nods he gives are not those of resignation; no, empathy perhaps. It's the sheer power of the song that's slapped him in the face, not the egotistical toying of the man who is performing it.
And Dylan's face is not, as I'd previously inferred, gloating so much as disbelieving. He nods and grins as he sings with all the sagacity of someone telling a brand new joke, one that no one else has ever told before. His face has the hilarity of power, the smiling wisdom of the only man in the room who knows the punchline to the joke; the strange tingle returns, the one he must have felt when he wrote it, back then, when he was the only person in the world who knew what was going to happen next;
Yonder stands your orphan with his gun,
Crying like a fire in the sun...
That "awe-fan" bit still cracks him up; he can hardly keep a straight face as he sings. It's as if he cannot quite believe it himself and so he smirks, perhaps slightly ashamed that he's getting away with it; that such playfulness could be mistaken so readily for revelation.
No, any smugness isn't aimed at Donovan, whose repose is that of the trance-waker as the song concludes. "I had a girlfriend once, called Baby Blue", he mumbles sleepily to himself as the spell the song cast eventually breaks. And so did Bob Dylan. Her real name was Joan Baez and she's even now in this same room with them, was there when Dylan sang; sardonically mouthing along with his yonders, his crying, his orphans, his fires and his suns. Of those listening as Bob sings, she alone in the room, you feel, could fully understand the moment, hear the portent of the song. She must leave now. He already has. And pretty soon she did, not looking back. But that breakup is frozen now in time, in song, in film; for all to see, to hear that final brush off line; "strike another match, go start anew". Frozen apart for good, estranged for ever. Now that's humiliation.
There's another fabulous scene that captures Dylan's manager Albert Grossman (Wol from Winnie the Pooh) and a British theatrical agent (who looks exactly like Bruce Forsyth) as they run rings around the BBC and Granada TV performance bookers, playing them off against each other like two mischievous uncles, inflating the purse for exclusive broadcast rights to Bob's only television appearance well beyond what they know they'd originally have settled for. The only shame is that Pennebaker doesn't tie this in with Dylan's performance of 'It's Alright Ma, I'm Only Bleeding', segueing from their avuncular ruthlessness to the bit in the song where Dylan sings "while money doesn't talk, it swears".
Usmanov: "I won't keep you in suspense..."
"Money doesn't talk, it swears"...
And right now, former Arsenal vice-chairman David Dein has a cool £75 million in his pocket, every last tenner and twenty of it mouths a gleeful "fuck you" at the boardroom of the club he left in April of this year.
I'll try to keep this brief. David Dein (Mike from Mike and Bernie Winters) bought 14.85% of the club's shareholding for £292,000 in 1983. Dein proceeded to transform the club, modernising its structures and building the platform for a new era of championship winning sides to be developed at the club; first by George Graham, then even more spectacularly by Arsene Wenger. Wenger was Dein's surprise choice as long term replacement for the stopgap manager Bruce Rioch in 1996. As the man who sought out Wenger, regardless of what the markets might say, his stock will always be high at Arsenal. Not bad going for a man who, at the time he bought into the club, was described by Chairman Peter Hill-Wood as being barmy. "There's no money in football", he's supposed to have said. But fortunes can change. Dein now has one himself, and to the tune of 75 very, very big ones.
But how much consolation that fortune will be to a man who lost effective control of the club he so evidently loves, remains to be seen. Dein fell out with the rest of the Arsenal board over the move away from Highbury to the shiny new Emirates Stadium. The then vice-chairman was convinced that with his connections at the Football Association he could engineer the club's use of the new Wembley and thus be able to avoid hampering Arsene Wenger's activities in the transfer market by taking on the enormous debt building the new ground has necessitated. Whilst few would argue that there's no correlation between the financial straitjacket the club have imposed upon the manager and the slither down the league table, there are signs that the long term of the club is now rosier that any of its immediate domestic rivals. If that was the pain, it was relatively shortlived and we may be about to start experiencing some of the gain.
Nonetheless, without the benefit of such hindsight, Dein felt that Arsenal needed a big money backer if they were to be able to continue punching their weight in the face of big investments by foreign owners, first at Chelsea and Manchester United and now, it seems, pretty much everywhere else in the top flight game. There's big money in football. And there is a lot more still to come, once the clubs can negotiate their own rights and tap into the vast market of young Chinese who will soon be tuning in to Premier League football, watching it on their mobile phones in their billions.
Kroenke: "A banker is a fellow who lends you his umbrella when the sun is shining, but wants it back the minute it begins to rain."
That's why seemingly crazy sums are being bandied around by investors like Stan Kroenke (Mark Twain), who many thought best placed to buy the Gunners outright and ease Dein back into the Arsenal boardroom in return for his share in the club. Kroenke may still have a role to play, but as so much of this season, this story, is tending to do, Dein looked east, not west to find his route back in. Red and White Holdings, a company set up by Uzbek billionaire, Alisher Usmanov (Alfred Hitchcock), bought Dein's shares and now the pressure will be on the present board to shore up against these (or other) potentially hostile investors. Dein has seemingly ceded the power his stake in the club gave him, but he's a wily old bird. We have a saying at Arsenal that we trot out whenever there is talk of a crisis at the club; "Arsene knows", we say and Dein, don't forget, knew about Arsene before anyone else. Maybe David knows too. Perhaps Uncle Stan and Uncle Usmanov are just biding their time, waiting for the share price to go down before joining forces and cleaning up the club. Like Brucie and the Wol. Twain and Hitch.
"Events, dear boy, events..." The bane of Harold MacMillan's life, events aren't too popular with football supporters either. Contrary to popular belief, we don't like incident, excitement and all that. We like routine, stability, order and calm. Who needs all that goal match action, all those stirring fightbacks when surely it's preferable by far to turn up and see your side score three or four in the first five or six allowing you to relax and enjoy your players passing the ball amongst themselves, game comfortably over, for the remaining eighty-four minutes. Who needs action?
But writers are a different beast from fans. Born anglers, in both sense of the word, we can't get enough of events. We have to see all the angles, make our plays and sell our souls. We're devious anglers in that respect, scheming, plotting; every hook, every line. But we're patient anglers too; wading out into the stream of life, hoping for a disturbance, something trembling the other sort of line. We wait for things to happen, try to hook them, net them, weigh them, snap them and then we gently throw them back. So, sure enough, there's the writer in me, who feels the gentle tug and gently starts to play the reel, whose every impulse contradicts that of the fan. I worship the things, wish there were more if truth be told, my net bulging with them, all those wriggling, gasping, flapping events. And this is not only an event - well, I know it doesn't seem much, but it's probably the nearest we'll get to one on The Road to Moscow - but it's also that rare and mystical bird; an Event That Also Ties In.
The gods who script the season have been working overtime for me: the Moscow final, the Russian millions, the Belarussian star of the show. Then there's the draw for the Champions League; first one Prague, now another - and Sevilla, perhaps, still mourning their defender Puerta who we commemorated earlier. Steau Bucharest and Slavia Prague mean we'll have to make at least two trips to the former Soviet bloc before we go there for the final. You see, whatever else you might think, I really am a believer. Only now it might not just be the team who take The Road to Moscow; it might be the whole club.
L.U.V. on y'all,
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