“The ghost of ‘lectricity howls in the bones of her face
Where these visions of Johanna have now taken my place.” – ‘Visions of Johanna’ by Bob Dylan
Bob Dylan is certainly an open-minded soul. He trailblazed the sixties into motion, went through a turban-wearing phase and chanced his hand at rapping. This adventurous view of the world is something that underpins his artistry and indeed his worldview in turn. And aside from the incomparable music, it is an attitude that has certainly thrown up a wild story or two over the course of his long life in the limelight.
It would seem that one of Dylan’s more broadminded views once pertained to an interest in ghosts. Whether it was initially just a passing flirtation with the intriguing spirit world through the dark Edgar Allan Poe stories and poetry that he liked is hard to know, however, as Muff Winwood writes in his memoir, Dylan’s interest soon became a fervent belief owing to a comical run-in in England.
Winwood was the bassist with the R&B-inspired rock band the Spencer Davis Group. They formed in Birmingham in 1963 and three years later Dylan arrived in the city in need of some escapism at the height of his electric Judas phase. Thus, the musicians all met up and Dylan mentioned his interest in ghosts. The American troubadour for some reason figured that there’d be “some good ones in England,” because, as we all know, there are inexplicably more ghosts from Victorian-era Britain than from any other place or period in the long history of humans dying.
Luckily for the band eager to impress the star from the States, they knew of an old, abandoned house nearby, and as fate would have it, the locals believed that it was haunted by the ghost of a dog. Naturally, Dylan is chomping at the bit when he hears this enticing tale and they all hotfoot it over to the typical delipidated spectre abode for a curious poke around its darkened dominion.
Now, as Winwood writes in Wanted Man: In Search of Bob Dylan, at one point during this auspicious evening, they hear a dog bark. “Now this is likely to happen in the countryside in Worcestershire,” he humorously and, indeed, correctly remarks. “But Dylan is convinced he’s heard the ghost of a dog! He was like a little kid running up to you, grabbing you by the arm, going, ‘This is unbelievable!’” Unbelievable certainly being the operative word.
As Bob Dylan later recalled: “Stevie Winwood, he came to see us in Manchester. Last time we were in Manchester… That was 1966. Or was it Birmingham? His brother – he’s got a brother named Muff – Muff took us all out to see a haunted house, outside of Manchester, or Birmingham, one of those two. Or was it Newcastle? Something like that. We went out to see a haunted house, where a man and his dog was to have burned up in the thirteenth century. Boy, that place was spooky. That’s the last time I saw Stevie Winwood.” So, clearly, the ghost dog proved to be a very memorable experience for Bob…
Whether or not the howl from the Worcestershire underworld/countryside affirmed a lifelong belief in the undead for Dylan is unknown, but it’s categorically confirmed that he caught a bad case of the Pomeranian home spooked blues that evening.