RICHARD BURTON: To begin at the beginning –
FIRST VOICE: Is the first line of Rhodri Miles’ Burton, a self-critical, self-analytical deconstruction of a self-destruction. Richard Walter Jenkins, self-styled roaring boy of Pontrhydyfen, just eleven years the junior of the self-styled Rimbaud of Cwmdonkin Drive.
BURTON: He was the master, I was the follower.
VOICE: This is the first of the Dylan Weekends. Poetry and Theatre. September will bring Radio and Comedy, Music and Film. Dylan is everywhere and nowhere.
BURTON: His mellifluous voice, telling stories in bars.
CAITLIN MACNAMARA THOMAS: What a voice!
BURTON: Art imitating life imitating art.
VOICE: Friday night. Rhodri Miles imitating Burton imitating Dylan.
BURTON: Dylan and I were kindred spirits.
VOICE: Saturday afternoon. Phil Bowen’s A Handful of Rain. Reprised for the first time in a decade.
PHIL BOWEN: Peter Reid is Dylan Thomas. Many people have played Bob.
DYLAN THOMAS: It doesn’t matter what I say or do… people say I said and did it anyway.
VOICE: Sunday night. Helen Griffin becoming Caitlin.
CAITLIN: I was never fond of his long, rambling, shaggy-dog stories.
VOICE: Dylan has become a collage of quotations.
DYLAN: Eighteen straight whiskies – I think that’s a record.
CAITLIN: Famous last words.
DYLAN: The dying of the light.
VOICE: Come closer. Listen. In the back room at Browns, Jeff Towns – the Dylan Thomas guy, he of the bookshop in Swansea and a van in a layby in Laugharne, is showing films from the archives. Black-and-white crackly imagery; the sound of wind and waves. And Richard Burton in a London pub…
BURTON: Best, Dylan loved small towns by the sea and small towns by the sea in Wales best of all. One day he found Laugharne and that was it.
DYLAN: Got off the bus, and forgot to get back on.
VOICE: Inside the castle –
NICOLA HEYWOOD-THOMAS: A joint broadcast between BBC Radio Wales and WNYC, public radio in New York.
DYLAN: A terrible, beautiful dream and nightmare city.
JEFF TOWNS: In the years after Dylan died, he was denigrated in Britain but cherished in America.
VOICE: At least two former Presidents claim him as their favourite poet.
JIMMY CARTER: He was the greatest of all in my opinion.
VOICE: In ugly, lovely Townhill, Swansea, he is being rediscovered.
BENJAMIN ZEPHANIAH: I always think of Dylan Thomas as the Bob Marley of Wales.
VOICE: On television, on radio and all across this –
DYLAN: Timeless, beguiling island of a town –
VOICE: In the Millennium Hall, in Browns Hotel, in the Congregational Chapel and the Fountain Inn, Thomas is being hailed in a lineage running from the Bible and Shakespeare through Kerouac and Ginsberg, the Beatles and Bob Dylan to Tupac Shakur.
KEVIN POWELL: Dylan Thomas is the only writer on the cover of Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band.
PETER BLAKE: I treat illustration in the same way I do fine art.
JEFF TOWNS: Peter doesn’t like to talk about it.
DAVID BOUCHER: The Sergeant Pepper’s cover was pop culture’s confirmation that Dylan Thomas and Bob Dylan are two –
BOB DYLAN: I did more for Dylan Thomas than he ever did for me.
DAVID BOUCHER: That line up of influences on The Beatles is like a male – and female – voice choir.
CAITLIN: He was a typical Welsh nonconformist at heart.
DYLAN: I first heard the rhythms of language from the pulpit. From the King James Bible.
PETER BLAKE: I don’t like cutting up bibles.
JEFF TOWNS: I feel the same when I’m breaking up a book – any book – for the plates. That moment of cracking the spine –
PAUL FARLEY: This next poem has a swear word in it –
PETER BLAKE: I don’t believe in heaven any more, but I’m still sort of Church of England –
PAUL FARLEY: I don’t know whether I should read it in a church –
WOMAN IN AUDIENCE: Go on!
PETER BLAKE: Yes I do – now – sometimes cut up bibles.
JEFF TOWNS: Some of the illustrations are magnificent.
BOB DYLAN: Jesus said: ‘You gonna follow me?’ I said: ‘I guess’.
DYLAN THOMAS: We’ve got common themes.
BOB DYLAN: We’ve got very common themes.
OWEN SHEERS: But with writers and poets, they just want the life story.
VOICE: The Dylan Weekend has reinvented Dylan Thomas as a progenitor –
JEFF TOWNS: The founders of the Beats were Charlie Parker and Dylan Thomas.
CAITLIN: A poet who defined the word poet.
MIKE SMITH: There’s this overlap.
BOB DYLAN: We’re all doing our best to deny it.
PHIL BOWEN: The Chelsea Hotel.
DAVID BOUCHER: Gregory Corso went into Dylan’s room when he was in a coma.
JEFF TOWNS: Allen Ginsberg met Dylan at a bar called the San Remo.
ALLEN GINSBERG: I have seen the best minds of my generation.
JEFF TOWNS: I have only ever seen two operas. One was a version of Under Milk Wood. The other was Tommy by The Who.
GINSBERG: Destroyed by madness.
CAITLIN: We all like to dip our hands in the mess.
VOICE: She’s right, of course. Helen Griffin’s one-woman show, a virtuoso performance of Caitlin closes proceedings in the Millennium Hall, and it is here – perhaps the only time this weekend – that we sense the ghost of Dylan. He is close now. His jacket hangs on the back of a chair. It is the only prop save a bottle of whisky that Caitlin has already demolished.
CAITLIN: I drink because he drinks.
VOICE: As Helen Griffin turns and calls to Dylan in the bath –
CAITLIN: Is it hot enough for you, love?
VOICE: For a moment, we imagine, Dylan might answer.
CAITLIN: Booming and mumbling, muttering and intoning –
VOICE: Like he does when Caitlin passes the shed. The Writing Shed.
BURTON: That mellifluous voice.
CAITLIN: I never disturb him.
VOICE: But the moment is gone. And instead we are left with a litany of placenames far, far from Laugharne and far too near to the madding crowd.
VOICE 2: The White Horse Tavern.
VOICE 3: The Chelsea Hotel.
VOICE 4: St Vincent’s Hospital.
VOICE: Latter day stations of the cross.
CAITLIN: In the hospital, I took a crucifix from the wall – and I smashed it on the floor. Into pieces.
CAITLIN: And then I cry. Because I have loved him so much. Christ, I mean, not Dylan.
ELI JENKINS: We are not wholly bad or good.
CAITLIN: I had to bring him back to Laugharne. I had to bring him home.
OWEN SHEERS: It’s a verse-drama about different kinds of homecomings.
CAITLIN: That’s why you’re all here now, isn’t it?
OWEN SHEERS: The Odyssey. Y Gododdin.
CAITLIN: Isn’t it?
OWEN SHEERS: It’s also about and girlfriends and mothers.
VOICE: They that pick up the pieces.
OWEN SHEERS: Coping with the aftermath.
BURTON: Slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.
VOICE: In Dylan’s jacket pocket there is a letter.
CAITLIN: He made no attempt to hide it.
VOICE: Dylan has shown his real self –
CAITLIN: His poet’s self, his poetry –
VOICE: To a woman in America. To Pearl. There is also a poem, which Caitlin rips into pieces, and throws out of the Boathouse window.
PETER BLAKE: Collage.
WILLIAM BURROUGHS: Cut-up.
CAITLIN: But Dylan’s poetry is sacred.
VOICE: She creeps out, down to the mudflats.To pick up the pieces. She finds every last muddy piece, and lays them on the kitchen table. And for once –
CAITLIN: Dylan doesn’t say a word.
Illustration by Dean Lewis