As we both approached our days-apart 60th birthdays, I thought about getting in touch with Ian. In the past we’d at least commiserated with each other about our mutually-advancing years. But I didn’t.
Lot of water under the bridge, lot of other stuff too...
Mostly to do with the referendum, I think. The curious thing is, although I knew Ian for 25 years, although we met, drank, ate, corresponded, we never really talked about politics. Which may seem strange, given he was Scotland’s pre-eminent political columnist. But it was all music, newspapers, family, books, dogs and a bit of religion. Gossip. Dylan and Springsteen, publishers and editors and...other stuff too. We just kind of got on.
Don’t get up gentlemen, I’m only passing through
We shared a publisher, Mainstream, the same employers at different times. There was a memorable year of very sociable brainstorming sessions at STV as members of a ‘cultural think tank’; some evenings and lunchtimes I can only remember patchily (“there’s jellyfish on this menu...jellyfish”), calls and letters and long emails about this and that. The thumb drive he sent me, containing an enormous selection of extremely obscure Bob bootlegs, still sits on my desk.
We rarely met, once I moved to Shetland. Eyemouth is a long way, even in this small country. There was the occasional rendezvous in Edinburgh or Glasgow. A Book Festival gig which ended with me making dreadfully ill-judged jokes at a terribly serious Amnesty International event, a drink or three after interviewing him about his wonderful, magisterial Dylan biography. I could never keep up, not remotely, not in any sense.
People are crazy and times are strange
The referendum. I wrote a couple of heated columns, blogged, sometimes intemperately, wrote and published some songs and poems which I thought were entertaining and not too offensive, though with hindsight, they were. I argued against borders. Ian was of course the most trenchant, eloquent and committed supporter of independence.
There was no confrontation. Just a sudden absence of communication. We both had a lot to say, and suddenly nothing to each other.
Things changed. And now we’ll never speak again.
I’m locked in tight, I’m out of range
Like so many others who knew him, I’m absolutely devastated.
(Things Have Changed by Bob Dylan)