David Leaver Shares His Views On Dylan and the Nobel Prize from “Across the Pond”

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Award Ceremony Program, courtesy Bill Pagel. Photo by the author.

The latter part of 2016 was more than a little exhilarating for Dylan fans, not only for those here in the Northland but for fans all over the world. Bob Dylan had just been selected for the Nobel Prize in Literature, “for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition.”

One of these was a Mr. David Leaver whom I met five years ago at the Ochre Ghost Gallery in Duluth where there had been an exhibition of Dylan-themed art. Appropriately, my painting “Don’t Look Back” was one of the pieces, the title pilfered from D.A. Pennebaker’s 1967 Dylan documentary featuring Dylan’s 1965 tour of England.

Mr. Leaver entered the small space where we were introduced to one another and I learned he was an Englishman who lived for most of his childhood in a small town near Blackburn, Lancashire, made famous by the Beatles’ “A Day in the Life.” It’s been a great delight getting to know him better since that first meeting. Here’s David Leaver’s story.

EN: Can you share a bit about yourself and how you came to be such a dyed-in-the-wool Dylan fan?

David Leaver: My mother died when I was one and my dad when I was 13. My Dad’s last job was as a gravedigger. I lived with foster parents for three years but then lived with my two older brothers after the age of 16. At 18, I went to Oxford University to study Geography.

My college was Christ Church, which is Oxford’s grandest college with 13 British Prime Ministers (out of 27 in total from Oxford). ‘Alice in Wonderland’ was written there and its current claim to fame was that much of the early Harry Potter films was shot there. I played for the College soccer team and my teammates included the nephew of a Prime Minister; the son of the Lord Chancellor and a future Field Marshall. Michael Dobbs creator of ‘House of Cards’ was a contemporary. It was certainly a different world to the one I had grown up in.

One of my courses at university was ‘The Economic Geography of Eastern Canada,’ which gave some insights into the Great Lakes. After University, I travelled, working on a kibbutz in the winter of 1971–2; a cartographer in Dubai 1972–3; soccer coach University of Liberia 1973–4. I married a Peace Corps volunteer in Liberia and went to live in Chicago 1975–6. I worked as a store manager for Woolworth’s, which meant I could watch the Cubs on my days off. One cold winter had me going back to England.

In England I worked for P+G on brands such as Ivory Snow and had a further 15 years in marketing with various companies. In 1992, I switched careers and became a University lecturer at Manchester Metropolitan University, one of the UK’s largest with 36,000 students. I teach Brand Management, and Sports Branding. Both involve thinking about how brands and organizations use emotion and social media to connect with consumers and fans. My children now live in the USA: one in Seattle and the other in Kansas City. I visit them regularly.

Becoming a Dylan Fan

My earliest musical interest was Buddy Holly and then The Beatles, Stones and Kinks. Dylan was slightly peripheral and it was cover versions from Peter Paul and Mary, The Byrds and even Sonny and Cher that got me interested in him.

The trilogy Bringing It All Back Home, Highway 61 Revisited and Blonde On Blonde was the real start. I particularly liked ‘Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands’ and on vinyl you could play it on repeat as it was side 4 of Blonde. I liked how he described things and his unusual phrasing.

EN: How many times have you seen Dylan live?

DL: Dylan played the Isle of Wight in the summer of 1969. Unfortunately, the week before I had gone traveling in Europe for the summer so missed my first real opportunity to see him. I have seen him 7 times. My most memorable were 1984 in the open air at Newcastle. Santana was on the bill and Mick Taylor (ex-Rolling Stones) on lead. Beautiful balmy summer evening and some of it is on Real Live. My other favorite was in Kansas City. When he sang “He made it to Kansas City, Twelfth Street and Vine” from “High Water (For Charley Patton)” the crowd went nuts.

Visiting the Northlands

EN: You visited us here in Duluth and went to Hibbing’s Dylan Days a few years ago. What did you enjoy most about that trip?

DL: I have been to Hibbing four times and Duluth once. As a Geographer, I was always fascinated by ‘place’, which can be characterized as a ‘meaningful location.’ I was just curious about how place might have influenced Dylan as he does reference place in many of his songs.

I am also interested in the notion of Dérive. For me this means ‘wandering about’ trying to get a sense of what makes a particular place. In Hibbing it is easy to do this as it is relatively contained and has such contrasts as the High School, the mines, and is the birthplace of Greyhound. For a small town it has a lot going on; but the locals seem so matter of fact about it, all which adds to the charm.

Meeting Mr Rolfzen, Bob’s English teacher was fantastic; having afternoon tea in Bob’s boyhood home (thanks Greg French) were a couple of standouts. And of course the Dylan Days stalwarts: Linda Stroback-Hocking and Bob Hocking, and Aaron Brown. In Duluth it was nice to see his first home (and what a great job Bill Pagel has done with the restoration there); and being taken to the Armory to stand on the stage Buddy Holly stood on (thanks to Zane Bale).

The Nobel Prize

EN: Were you surprised by Dylan’s being honored with the Nobel Prize for Literature?

DL: I was surprised but I think it is deserved. The book setting out his lyrics shows his range and Chronicles is a delight. I am sure a lot of dynamite has been used in Hibbing’s mines, too.

EN: Do you have a favorite period in Dylan’s career or favorite album? I realize this is difficult as he has produced so much great material.

DL: At present I really enjoy the Bootleg Series. Slightly rough and ragged. But the real treasures are on YouTube looking at his stuff from the 1990s and early 2000s. Of all of them, a version of Hard Rain backed by a full orchestra is my favorite. Passion and a mature reflectiveness. (Embedded below.)

A Word for American fans of Dylan

EN: Is there anything you would like to say from England to American Dylan fans?

DL: I met briefly LeRoy Hoikkala who played drums with the Golden Chords with Bob in the 1950s. At 14 he told LeRoy, “Believe in yourself and never give up.” A good way to go about things.

Originally published at pioneerproductions.blogspot.com

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An avid reader who writes about arts, culture, literature & other life obsessions. @ennyman3 Look for my books on Amazon https://tinyurl.com/y3l9sfpj

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