I am standing outside one of Dylan Thomas’s favourite pubs in a “cliff-perched toppling town” on the west coast of Wales. It is true that many a hostelry claims the notoriously thirsty Welsh poet as a regular. But this is New Quay, the picturesque fishing village on Cardigan Bay that Dylan often visited as a child. He and his wife Caitlin also made it their home and writing-base for a year during the Second World War.
So Bob Dylan is ‘thinking positively’ about playing a centenary gig in honour of his hard-drinking near namesake, the Welsh poet Dylan Thomas. And if you don’t believe me check out Hansard. For the matter has already been discussed in the House of Commons.
Talking about the concert, which will be part of a series of events being staged in Swansea next year to mark Dylan Thomas’ 100th birthday, local MP Geraint Davies said: “I have asked Bob Dylan whether he would be prepared to give a centenary concert in Swansea, in order that he could blend his music with Dylan Thomas’s poetry. Sony Music has come back and said that Mr. Dylan is thinking very positively about the idea.”
The honorable member for Swansea West added: “Bob Dylan named himself after Dylan Thomas.” This isn’t strictly true. It is well documented that the singer songwriter, whose real name is Robert Allen Zimmerman, actually named himself after the fictional Dodge City lawman Marshal Matt Dillon, hero the 1950s radio and TV cowboy drama Gunsmoke. However it widely believed that he changed the spelling after reading Dylan Thomas’s work.
It’s easy to see why the young Bob would have been impressed by Dylan Thomas’s extraordinary sense of literary rhythm and extravagant use of language. The Welshman was a larger than life character, writer of groundbreaking poems like Do not go gentle into that good night and radical plays like Under Milk Wood.
He was also a notorious boozer who died in New York after several reckless binge-drinking sessions during a poetry tour. He had lived fast and died young. In that respect he fitted neatly in with other tragic heroes of the era like Hank Williams and James Dean.
The end came for Dylan Thomas after he returned to the famous Chelsea Hotel very much the worse for wear after a heavy session at the Manhattan drinking hole, The White Horse, proudly claiming “I’ve had 18 straight whiskies. I think that’s the record!”
Unfortunately instead of just sleeping it off he became ill and within two days had been admitted to the emergency ward at St Vincent’s Hospital where he slipped into a coma. He was diagnosed as suffering from alcoholic brain damage and died a few days later on 9 November 1953 – just two weeks after his 39th birthday.
It’s noticeable that Bob Dylan has done markedly better commercially than his Welsh namesake. Despite enjoying considerable fame in his lifetime Dylan Thomas was invariably broke or looking for a loan. He died leaving just £100.
Bob Dylan meanwhile has a multi-million dollar fortune bolstered no doubt by deals with Starbucks and Victoria’s Secret. Remarkable for a man who once wrote:
Advertising signs they con You into thinking you’re the one That can do what’s never been done That can win what’s never been won Meantime life outside goes on All around you