Who does Bob Dylan support in the World Cup?

The obvious answer is the United States, as they're one of the thirty-two finalists, but why would anyone, even an American, want the USA to win the World Cup?

Before we get started we should address the question of whether Dylan supports anyone in the World Cup or if he's interested in the sport at all. After all a recent edition of his radio show, Theme Time Radio Hour, was devoted to the theme of baseball, and at one point during the show Dylan called baseball the greatest game in the world. This proves nothing. Theme Time Radio Hour is sent out on satellite radio and available exclusively in the United States, and if history has proved anything, it's that Dylan will always pander to a particular audiences' taste. We also have to get around the fact that he wrote a song named after a baseball player, Catfish, all about the late great A's and Yankees reliever Catfish Hunter. It's almost certain that Dylan didn't write the song out of any love for baseball though; he just liked the name Catfish. Who wouldn't?

Back to the World Cup then. If Dylan isn't going for the USA, maybe somewhere with a family background. In his memoir, Chronicles, Dylan says his grandmother was from a small town in Turkey, near the Armenian border, but neither country made it to Germany this year.

Maybe he'd choose to support a country whose playing style he could relate to. The likely candidates- Brazil, too obvious. They're probably going to win anyway and if they do, Dylan, along with the rest of us, will be hoping they do it with the style of their 1970 (Blonde on Blonde) or 1982 (Highway 61 Revisited) sides. Unless you've got a very good reason never go with the favourite, you'll look like a bandwagon jumper and Dylan's' never been one of those.

Holland are a possibility but they've traditionally been an argumentative bunch- think of Dylan's difficulties with his record producers as described in a 2001 Rome interview. Speaking of Rome, Italy could be in his thoughts. In the same interview Dylan expressed an admiration for the country but, with a cloud of scandal hanging over the current squad, he will probably want to distance himself from any controversy.

No one really likes watching England play soccer, not even the English. They don't keep the ball long enough to establish any recognizable style of play and without Wayne Rooney they'll struggle even more this time around. However England tend to provide the most memorable and emotionally draining performances in major tournaments. This is comparable to Dylan's "born-again" period, best experienced by listening to the Massey Hall bootleg concert. Raw, committed and unapologetically passionate, but you wouldn't want to live there.

Now Dylan has always supported the underdog throughout his life so we'll have to consider the case of the Ivory Coast or Angola. The closest we can get to any possible impulse towards these teams is in his song Mozambique, where Dylan expressed the desire to visit that country but we can't be sure if he ever made it or was even serious. Besides, neither team is expected to go far in the tournament and there's no point in choosing to support a country that's likely to go out before the knock-out stage. The World Cup is a long event and you need to be backing a side that will take you to the final rounds if you're going to get the most out of it.

This is all speculation, we've got to get to the facts. The only known Bob Dylan song mentioning soccer is Goin' to Acapulco from the Basement Tapes, recorded with the future members of the Band. The boys join in with Dylan on the chorus, which goes

Goin' to Acapulco
Goin' on the run

Goin' down to see soccer

Goin' to have some fun


Goin' to have some fun

In the first edition of Dylan's Lyrics this is rendered as Goin' down to see some girl. Some girl? Dylan and the Band are going down to see some some girl? What, all of them? Who would write that? In a more recent edition the lyric has been changed yet again. This time they're goin' down to see fat gut. This is just idiocy. Listen to the damn thing. It's definitely soccer and that's the end of it.

Incidentally, we might like to ponder at this point the role of the Band in this saga. We don't know if Levon Helm is playing on this particular song. He wasn't present on all the Basement Tapes recordings and as the only American in the Band, he probably wouldn't be pre-disposed to soccer. Unlike the rest of the group, who were all Canadians, and would have had more of a grasp of the sport. Dylan himself is nearly, if not secretly, Canadian, being from northern Minnesota.

OK, so Dylan and his gang are heading south to see some soccer and, if they're going to Acapulco, unfortunately they didn't think ahead. They would have found on arrival that Acapulco doesn't have a Primera Division soccer club. They would have had to have settled for a lower league game or even an amateur match, but there's no disgrace in that. In fact supporting a lower league club is often a more morally uplifting endeavour (see I took you close I got what I deserved somewhere else on this blog). There's evidence from other Basement Tapes songs that the trip was a good one- Hills of Mexico, Spanish is the Loving Tongue and The Spanish Song, an outrageous piece of drunkenness, where Dylan and the boys chase the girls around the cantina.

A few years after recording these songs Dylan would go back to Mexico to act in a Sam Peckinpah movie, Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid, and the experience inspired him to write the song Romance in Durango (hot chilli peppers in the blistering sun) which appeared on his album Desire (see above). My vinyl copy of Desire is dedicated to Peckinpah, Allen Ginsberg and Emmett Grogan. Throw Dylan himself and violinist Scarlet Rivera into the mix and you've got a pretty tenacious five-a-side team.

So there it is- Bob Dylan will be supporting Mexico in the World Cup and, after England go out, so will I.


I took you close I got what I deserved

The first thing to get out of the way when describing Queens Park Rangers season is the story of the boardroom. From where I was sitting (Ederslie Road Stand, Block T. Seat 93) no one really wanted to talk about it in any depth. Roll your eyes sure, shrug, curse briefly when the kids were distracted by Jude the Cat but let's just leave all these depressing events, dismal flash suits and the Sheperds Bush Serious Crime Squad investigators to their own alternative universe. We're gazing at the field of dreams, at the familiar Hoops and thinking...it's been worse.

Then at the end of the season legendary fanzine A Kick Up The R's comes out with the real low-down, all the dirt and they name names. It's too long to go into here but basically it's a cheap power struggle between old-school, muddling through, lifetime supporter chairman and Italian ex-football player agents, "Monaco based holding companies" fronted by former Brazil captain Dunga (too boring a personality for this twisted movie, should have been Edmundo), North London heavies with guns and envelopes stuffed with cash, murky agents fees going on deals for players no one wanted, low-rent shakedowns in the executive boxes, threats, beatings, extortion, "can't talk about it because it's before the courts" and Jesus Christ you'd cry if you cared enough about it.

OK we can't even talk about what happened on the pitch yet because while all that was going on we changed managers. Sort of.

Ian Holloway took us up. He's a legend and a borderline comic genius. But the new chairman and board wanted him out and the non-English speaking Argentinian Ramon Diaz in. One of the former agents, now QPR director, used to be Diaz' representative. You couldn't say Holloway was losing the plot exactly but at some point around mid season the team started playing with fear. Whether this was because of the off-field shenanigans or the creeping discontent coming off the terraces, who knows? Suddenly Holloway was given premission to talk to Liecester about becoming their manager. Really? says Ollie, well OK if that's what you want, sure. Oh well, says the new board, if you're going to look elsewhere, you're sacked. No, wait. Not sacked, we can't afford to pay you off. You're on gardening leave. And assistant Gary Waddock is in charge. Gardening leave. He's still on gardening leave. A cover of a recent Kick Up the R's put his face on the poster of the movie The Constant Gardener.

What did we look like this year? Mostly we played longball. Our wingers Lee Cook and Gareth Ainsworth were good. Potential midfield maestro Martin Rowlands and captain Kevin Gallen were almost always injured, young players coming up through the academy barely got a look in, loan players came, played indifferently, and went. Attendences were bad. Half the games this season seemed to be mid-week evening kick-offs for reasons no one could explain. The burgers in the Crown and Sceptre deteriorated as badly as our midfield creativity. We finished fourth from bottom, never close to a relegation battle.

Ah well, Cookie re-signed this week, maybe to be followed by the promising Shabazz Baidoo. Waddock says he wants to play it on the floor and use the youngsters. Might be fun next year. World Cup starts soon. While I was watching the FA Cup Final I remembered that when I was kid in Canada my first English football game on TV was the 75 Cup Final and I loved West Ham. I could have gone West Ham but didn't for some reason. I moved to London twenty years ago and started supporting QPR. Why? The whole experience was drifting into a kind of inert misery.

Then I read on a messageboard from some old-timer who was tired of scrolling through the moaning and said something like...

Look everyone, I've seen it all before, forty years man and boy, and yes this is bad but goshdarnit this is why we go for this club. We ain't the biggest, never been the best, more lows than highs, but there's a special feeling at QPR, it represents something good. We wouldn't support these clowns unless we loved them. It's always been like this. So stop whining and enjoy being QPR. You have no choice.

Amen and see you next year.


Bob and Ray and the Old Nice America

David Halbertstam's article in Vanity Fair last year about the US government's response to the New Orleans hurricane was a sober and devastating attack on the presidency of GW Bush and was also an opportunity for the great Journalist to expound, in his trademark ponderous style, on America's degraded self-image. "We are less generous with one another", he wrote, "especially with the vulnerable among us. We are prideful of things that all too rarely reflect our better qualities. we have become a harder people, more arrogant, caring only about a certain kind of material success, the norms of which seem increasingly excessive. We are Fortress America cheering our own deeds, values and opinions while ignoring the same of others. We strut, all of us, too much. Where did our modesty go?"

Halbertstam consoled himself remembering another America, represented in a speech given by Dwight Eisenhower in June 1945 at London's Guildhall after being made an honorary Londoner. For Halbertstam the speech symbolised America at it's best- "thoughtful, tempered and respectful of others. The voice of a generous and confident man who spoke for a generous and confident nation." A nice enough, nostalgic thought for a great historical figure, and let's not forget that the General, amongst his other deeds, coined the phrase "military industrial complex" in his last speech to the nation as president, warning his country and the world what would happen if the American economy became intertwined with the interests of the arms industry. Too late! But nice try Ike.

Another couple of generous, even innocent, voices from that era were Bob and Ray, Bob Elliot and Ray Goulding, really just radio comedians, but pound for pound two of the greatest examples of the twentieth century, white, American male you could hope to come across. They started out in the 40's as serious announcers on a small Boston radio station but began to play it for laughs, satarising the medium itself, it's endless soaps, man on the street interviews, and filling-up-time studio links and in a few years were in New York as authentic national celebrities.

As a comedy duo Ray was the big bluffer, Bob the more intellectual, pessimistic, easily disappointed one. Mostly improvising live on the mic, Bob and Ray spoke with a calm, deadpan New England assurance in the voices of characters like author Alfred E Nelson (were the creators of Mad Magazine listening?) who wrote a history of the US despite having only a grade 8 education ("I relied on my memory a great deal", he explained.) or Frank and Tabetha Worley, brother and sister reunited live on a reality show after 70 years only to find they had nothing to say to one another. Or Wally Ballou, roving reporter, forever last on the scene of a breaking story, forced to go on the air with nothing to say. Or the endless radio show parodies like the soap The Gathering Dusk ("the heartwarming story of a girl who hides behind a shield of indecision because it's the safest place to hide") Mary Backstayge, Noble Wife, Tippy the Wonder Dog (a poor man's Lassie sponsored by Mushies "the great new cereal that gets soggy even without milk") or Squad Car 119 in which "the unsung heroes of the police force never actually make it to the scene of a crime.

Kurt Vonnegut was a fan. He wrote that Bob and Ray "played it as though they were intellectually, emotionally and creatively bankrupt. Doors slam as bored people leave the studio. Bob and Ray themselves would obviously leave too, if they didn't need the money so much" The radio shows are still available on audiocassette and they haven't dated. Vonnegut points out that the material is "universal and timeless because so much of it presents itself as the same dilemma- how to seem lusty and purposeful when less than nothing is going on". Vonnegut declares Bob and Ray characters "third raters all".

If Halberstam’s Eisenhower was the voice of the generous American Winner Bob and Ray is the voice of the lovable American Loser, an archetype not heard from much these days. The American Fuck-up is everywhere but that's not the same thing.