Tambourine Man

When I first heard Mr. Tambourine Man, I still lived with my parents in a small northern Swedish town called Hudiksvall—though I was soon to move to Stockholm (temporarily cum permanently). It was early evening in June of 1965 and the song wafted out of the always “on and alive” kitchen radio just as I was about to leave the house and head downtown (though you’d be hard pressed to put your finger on a downtown in a town with less than 10K people) on my 30 km/hour-top-speed moped.

 For the last hour, I had been listening to a Swedish Radio Top-Twenty program called “Kvällstoppen” (literally, “The Evening Top”) which aired every Tuesday evening on its P3 (Program 3) channel, the newfound radio home for what was then still spoken of as “Pop Music.”

The reason I was about to leave the house (and almost missed the song) was that the program was pretty much over; they had covered all twenty slots and the program host was wrapping up with some thoughts on what songs might make the chart next week (movers and shakers as it were); and one song that apparently was both moving and shaking was Bob Dylan’s version of his own Mr. Tambourine Man.

I heard him mention Bob Dylan just as I crossed the threshold of the open front door and into the warm evening (sun still high in the sky this far north). Being a huge Dylan fan at the time, I froze in my tracks to catch what he was saying about my hero. Well, what he had to say was that Mr. Hero was expected to break into the Top-Twenty chart next week with a new song called Mr. Tambourine Man.

And here it is: Well, almost. Before the song started he added, by way of apology, that he would not be able to play us Dylan’s own version (since Swedish Radio—still a pop music neophyte at this time—apparently had yet to track down a copy of Dylan’s version of the song, either as a single or on his “Bringing It All Back Home” album), but would instead play us a cover version sung by a new American band called The Byrds.

Damn, I thought, I wanted to hear Dylan’s own version for nobody does his songs better than he does himself; and who were these birds anyway? Disappointed to be sure, but I was still curious and still listened for what was to come. And then what was to come, came: for then: here came the first strands of the Byrds’ now famous opening riff:

Oh, my Lord. I think mesmerizing is the word I’m looking for. To my ears, this really was pure magic, and to this day, some fifty odd years later, The Byrd’s version of Mr. Tambourine Man remains one of my favorite songs of all time; though that is not what I’m here to tell you about (yes, I know, shades of Alice’s Restaurant).

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A month later I had fled my parents’ home and moved to Stockholm where I had landed a job in the mail order department at KF (a large Swedish retail group—see Katarina Elevator) and a year after that I had been thrown out of one place to live (by a cousin of my mother’s whose apartment I had kinda wrecked in his absence), had voluntarily left another (my by-then ex-girlfriend’s parents’ attic of all things), thrown out of yet another abode (a KF provided furnished rental which I had managed to not necessarily wrecked but seriously disrupted with a party that involved hospital grade alcohol with the vomit-inducing ingredients very much in working order) and so, again, for the third time, and counting, I found myself homeless.

Possessing not even a molecule of shame I walked into the KF housing office again and told the very nice man behind his rather nice desk that I needed another place to live. He (diplomatically) didn’t ask me what had happened with the apartment he’d found for me, the furnished rental—he obviously already knew.

Well, bless his heart—and to this day I don’t really know why he simply didn’t ask me to take an extended walk on a not-so-long pier—he looked through his files and came up with an address and a key to go along with it: my very own apartment.

I remember the address very well: Brännkyrkagatan 35nb (nb stands for ground floor). I walked, nay, ran from the KF housing office to my new apartment (one short block up from the Maria Square in the south part of Stockholm, not very far from Slussen (with its Katarina Elevator) as it happened.

Yes, the key worked fine with the building’s entry door, and equally well with the apartment door. I stepped:

Into a four meters by eight meters (by almost three meters to the ceiling) single room with a with a sink and a gas stove (with two burners) to my right and a small paraffin heater beyond that (no other heating). There was no bathroom in this place (a communal toilet, with an outside hallway entry, actually encroached my northern wall like a geometric swelling), and, I came to discover, it did not have AC (Alternating Current) but DC (Direct Current—strictly 19th Century—with its near-meter-thick outer walls).

But, but, but, I’m seventeen years old and this was mine, mine, mine.

The next few days rush by in a bit of a blur. My mom arranged some furniture for me (a bed, a lamp, a table, a small sofa) which were to arrive soon. And me, waiting for the furniture to arrive, what did I spend some of my scant money on to spruce up the livability of this place? Answer: a small, battery-operated (DC remember) record player (mono) and an album (both stereo and mono, it said): The Byrds, Mr. Tambourine Man.

In the image I’m looking at (and in a sense am re-living) Mom’s furniture have yet to arrive, but I had found a stool somewhere and a milk crate to serve as a small table; and the happy—almost ecstatic—image that remains with me, and so very vividly, is me sitting on my stool in this mine, mine, mine apartment, with the little record player that could on the crate in front of me and me placing the stylus on the first track of side one of this glorious, glorious album: “Hey, Mister Tambourine Man, play a song for me…”

That, in case you’re wondering, is the definition of happiness.

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