Jerry was 62, which wasn't old. At least, he didn't think so. But it was old compared to when he was 22, which he still thought he was until the doctor sat him down in a small blue room at 61 and told him the bad news.
He had weeks left on this planet, and he knew it. He had so few joys left come the end. The main one was the visits from his daughter Mandy with his Granddaughter, Ellen. The other, was listening to Bob Dylan's 'Girl From The North Country' repeatedly. He'd always been struck by how beautiful the song was. As death knocked on his door, the meaning changed. It amplified.
"I'm a wonderin' if she remembers me at all." That lined killed him then, and it was literally killing him now. His time was up --- and she could be absolutely anywhere. Did she remember him? Did she think about him at all? "She was once a true love of mine," he thought. On his deathbed, he realised that life is not a romantic comedy. He also realised that it's not because life is harsh, but because he never told her how much he loved her.
Her 14th birthday was not a great one. Jerry, whom she loved more than anything, was gone. She hid in her bedroom -- refusing to talk to anyone. She had secretly stolen his CD collection from the hospital. She was desperate to find that song that he kept listening to again and again. She needed to hear it, it was the only way to be closer to him.
When she found it, she recognised it immediately. It sounded like life itself. The opening lines -- "Well, if you’re travelin’ in the north country fair, where the winds hit heavy on the borderline" -- they sounded like heaven to her. She didn't know what the North Country Fair was, but it was where she imagined Jerry being.
She put it on a CD for Thomas. He'd ignored her last two CD's, but now she understood: boys don't want to hear lots of love songs, it freaks them out. She decided, with this CD, to keep it cool. The boys at school had been teaching her all about indie music, so this time she felt a lot more confident and in the loop. She knew that, if he gave it a chance, he'd listen to it. She just hoped he made it as far as 'Girl From The North Country', because then he'd know who she really was.
Ellen handed him the CD and he said "thank you", awkwardly. Why she kept giving him music, he didn't know. And it always sucked. Why was she always pestering him? He didn't have a clue.
When he got home from school, he put on the CD. The tracks flew by - it was a mixture of cool and predictable indie rock songs that Thomas was barely paying attention to. He was too busy messaging Jennie Fendell on Facebook, asking about her bra size.
And then 'Girl From The North Country' came on. "What the fuck is this shit?" Thomas screamed. He took out the CD and threw it across the room.
I was looking for my shoes, the ones that go with my pink dress. They were, of course, in my brother's room. It's not that he likes wearing girls shoes (at least I don't think so), but that my Mother has a bad habit of putting shoes in only the wrong places.
The shoes happened to be place on top of a CD, which had a lovely drawing on it -- which I think was done by his girlfriend, Ellen. He doesn't admit that he has a girlfriend but I think he does. She always looks at him really funny and I think the way she looks at him means she loves him. It's like the look the girls gives the boys in the movies just before they end. You know that look?
Anyway, the reason I am writing to you is that I discovered a song! It's called 'Girl From The North Country' and I am almost completely sure it was written ABOUT ME! The first time I heard it, I cried for seven whole minutes and at least nearly all of the tears ended up on my shoes.
My parents love me, but they don't understand anything about me! Bob Dylan does. If you don't believe me, listen to the song. I want to be in love with him but I just looked at a picture of him and he is a ugly and probably a bit old. But I think maybe he could afford to buy me a lot of shoes.
If you don't mind me being completely honest with you: I am almost always completely depressed and alone. But this song makes me feel understood. It feels like he's singing about the world I dream about.
(Girl From The North Country)
Yuusuf was in England for the first time. The trains were big, and packed full of people who knew what they were doing. Yuusuf didn't know what he was doing. He was insecure about his English. He was great at reading it, and writing it -- he just wasn't very good at speaking.
He tried his best to fit in. He noticed a bizarre thing happening on the tube. It went like this: a man would read a newspaper, and when he was finished, he'd place it on the little space between the back of the seat and the window. And then someone else would pick up the newspaper, and begin reading it. He thought that this was lovely and kind and the exact opposite of what his brother had told him about English people on the tube.
Wanting to join in, he reached behind his head to pick up a newspaper. Unfortunately, it wasn't a newspaper. It was more like a notepad, a journal of some kind. He opened to the front page. 'Maggie's Secret Journal'. He knew immediately that it was private, and that he should not read it.
He flipped to the final page. It was a girl's diary. Some kind of love letter about a pink dress and shoes. Yuusuf was bored. But then he read the bit about her finding a song. He loved the romanticism of it. That the poor little girl thought the song had been written just for her.
He felt a strong urge to hear the song. But how? He didn't have a computer or an iPod or a CD player. He needed an internet cafe.
They tried to kick Yuusuf out of the internet cafe. They thought he was trying to cause trouble. It was Najwan who saw what was really going on -- the guy was just frustrated. Najwan lent Yuusuf his headphones, and everything worked out okay.
Everything apart from the fact that Yuusuf ran out of the internet cafe while crying his eyes out. What the hell was that guy listening to?
Najwan looked at Yuusuf's screen. 'Bob Dylan - Girl From The North Country'. Interesting. He put the headphones on and had a listen. It was hard to get into, at first. This was not Najwan's type of music at all. But he kept listening.
But then a line GOT him. "Please see if she has a coat so warm, to keep her from a howlin' wind."
Then he found another version on YouTube, it was Bob Dylan with Johnny Cash. And that line hit home even more. "Please see for me if she's wearing a coat so warm, to keep her from the howlin' wind." It reminded him, of course, of Haneen, his beautiful ex-girlfriend. He couldn't handle the break-up, even from such great distances. The line brought home all the complexity he was feeling in his heart. He had this painful feeling that kept him awake every night. It was the feeling that Haneen was only a day or two away from meeting someone new - and that broke his heart. The anticipation, of someone else who would make sure she was staying warm -- how could he live with that?
Tanja was annoyed with herself. For all of her liberal beliefs and 'love everyone' attitude; she really hated the Pakistani guy she was sharing a hostel room with. He was loud, and he insisted on having two hour phone calls in the room that always coincided with when she was trying to read. She caught these prejudiced thoughts flying through her head and she hated herself for it. Maybe everyone is a little racist, deep down, she tried convincing herself.
But she hated that Pakistani guy.
And then one night; something unexpected happened -- Najwan decided to read, as well. Peace in room 14b! Tanja sunk into her Bill Bryson book and Najwan sunk into 'Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows'.
It was a perfect night. And then Najwan put on some music. Why does he have to ruin it? wondered Tanja.
And then she listened. She'd never heard anything like it. It was like an honest confessional - a bitter love letter to someone long gone. She imagined it was how Marta would sing to her. That's what was so tough about the break up -- she had no idea what Marta felt. No idea what any of it meant.
She didn't have her girlfriend, but she had this song. It was filling the gap better than anything else she'd found.
"What do you think this song is about?" asked Tanja.
"The love of my life," said Najwan.
Tanja smiled. She had the feeling she had just found a soulmate.
"She's amazing. You have to come to the gig," typed Caren.
Sarah knew she would have to go. Caren was good at not really giving her a choice. It would be yet another average gig by an over-hyped singer song-writer. BORING!
The hype surrounding Tanja De Vries was bordering hysterical. Hysterical, at least, within their social circles. Sarah was comforted by the fact that even if the three song set sucked, at least the performance was in a book shop, which is Sarah's favourite place to be.
It didn't take long for Sarah to admit the truth: this girl was good. The first two songs were original compositions, 'Me Hidden Under Me' and 'Truthful Lies' - and they were beautiful.
"I'm going to end with a cover," said Tanja. "This is for anyone who's ever lost a true love who is no longer their true love but who is actually still completely their true love."
It was a solo acoustic rendition of a song that Sarah knew very well. She never liked it all that much -- but Tanja was reinventing it, making it her own. Tears began rolling down her face. How could one song capture everything about life?
She thought about everything she'd lost. Everyone who was gone. Everyone who meant something to her that she'd allowed to walk out.
'See for me if she is wearing a coat that is warm, to keep her from the howling wind'. What a beautiful line. She couldn't help but think of her husband, wherever he was. She was comforted by the fact that, whatever woman he was with now, he was probably too selfish to make sure she had a coat to wear.