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the pioneer of Dylan Studies; writer, public speaker, critic; became a Doctor of Letters in 2015 (awarded by the University of York, UK)

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Wednesday, November 08, 2006


The night before last, one of the digital channels here in the UK - More4 - showed an astonishing, moving documentary about a group based in Northampton Massachusetts (a town that yields strikingly mixed audiences for the group's sell-out shows, making it look an exceptionally healthy, vibrant place to live). The group is Young@Heart. Their website is generously informative and user-friendly but it doesn't communicate anything of what an artistic sensation the group is, live, or how touching its component members' indomitability, or how admirable is its long-term leader, Bob Cilman, the guy who dreamt it up in the first place.

These very elderly people perform songs by Lou Reed, Talking Heads, Sonic Youth, Coldplay, Bob Dylan etc., and make you hear the words anew (to say the least). One of the more obvious, less transformative performances on the TV documentary was of 'Forever Young', performed live for prison inmates. It was a more emotional, more felt rendition than Bob Dylan ever manages. Half these prisoners were openly weeping by halfway through. I wish you could see it on YouTube right now.

The website's "Our Story" page begins like this:

When the Young@ Heart began in 1982 the members all lived in an elderly housing project in Northampton, MA called the Walter Salvo House. The first group included elders who lived through both World Wars. One of our members had fought in the Battle of the Somme as a 16 year old and another, Anna Main, lost her husband in the First World War. Anna was a stand-up comic who at 88 told jokes that only she could get away with. She sang with us until she was 100. We celebrated her 100th birthday with a parade downtown. We actually had to reschedule the parade for a year later when her family informed us that we had the date wrong and she was only 99. This initial group also included Diamond Lillian Aubrey who came on our first two European tours and wowed the audiences with her deadpan version of Manfred Mann’s “Doo Wah Diddy”. In later years she appeared “on stage” via video, performing the Stone’s “You Can’t Always Get What You Want”.

By 1983 our original group was ready to create our first stage production. We enlisted the support of Roy Faudree from No Theater to stage “Stompin’ at the Salvo”. No Theater was doing the most intriguing theater work in town and I was stunned when Roy agreed to stage the first show. That first production was memorable for the sensation and buzz it created in town. The show sold out four times...

For UK-based people, the whole programme will be repeated on More4 this Saturday, 11 November, at 9.10pm, and then repeated on Channel 4 on Wednesday 22 November at 9pm. In the interim, there's a very interesting description of the whole thing by the documentary's director here.

Bob Dylan, of course, at 65, isn't nearly old enough to join the group.


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