An open letter to the Pope, found blowing in the wind, like a rolling stone, etc

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Dear Pope,

Until recently I had been toying seriously with the idea of going over to Catholicism, or at least of having a dramatic deathbed conversion to your faith in the manner of Oscar Wilde, but I feel I ought to tell you that if it is true, as I heard at the weekend, that you have just been to a concert given by Bob Dylan, then I may have to change my mind. Of course, I realise that you may not have intended to go to a Bob Dylan concert, and you may not even have realised that you were at one while there, but you must have read in the newspapers that you, the Pope, had just attended a Bob Dylan concert, and if you now realise this, I think you owe an explanation to those of us who feel we cannot join a faith whose chief executive is a Bob Dylan fan.

You probably thought that by going to a Bob Dylan concert you would win over the young people who are so in thrall to pop music these days. If so, I think you were badly advised. Bob Dylan has been around for a long time, and his heyday was in the 1960s, so most of his fans are middle- aged, and growing old along with him. It will cut no ice with the young crowd if you are seen to be applauding their parents' favourite singer.

As you may have guessed, if you have read this far and are having it translated into Polish, I am not a Bob Dylan fan. In my teens and twenties I had long and arduous arguments with my brother about this, as he was a fierce Bob Dylan fan and I couldn't stand his records. My position, briefly, was that I didn't like him because he couldn't sing very well, couldn't play very well and couldn't write very interesting melodies. (I was turning into a jazz snob at the time, and the jazz world usually likes to look down its nose at anything visible over the pop/jazz border.) My brother took the line, common to non-musicians, that none of that mattered because his message was so important, and because he spoke directly to his generation. As Bob Dylan was exactly the same age as I was, I felt that I was part of his generation and that Dylan had a duty to speak to me too, and was signally failing to do so, so over the years my brother and I have preserved our friendship by agreeing to differ on this one, though I have to say that I have met many other people of his age (and my age) who felt as pro-Bob Dylan as he did.

Indeed, I was once taken to a Bob Dylan concert at Earls Court or Olympia by one of these middle-aged believers, so anxious was he to convert me to the truth. I hated it. He still couldn't sing or play properly, and in addition he couldn't be seen properly because he insisted on standing so far away.

Actually, your Pontiffship, I think I may see why you liked the Bob Dylan experience. It may be more familiar to you than you think. You know what it's like when you're on holiday in Italy, and you're wandering along the street of some big city, and you pass the open front door of a big church, and on impulse you walk in ...?

Well, no, you probably don't know what it's like to be on holiday in Italy, just wandering along, so you'll have to believe me when I say that, once tempted into a Catholic church on a whim, you go inside and gradually let your eyes become accustomed to the gloom, and to the Catholic art which is piled up the walls like some bric-a-brac warehouse and then you become aware that there is some wild wailing noise coming from somewhere, and you suddenly realised that it is issuing from a priest at a microphone up in front of the altar, who, despite the fact that he is not a trained singer, is belting out his lyrics in a rough approximation to the tune even though the acoustics make it impossible to distinguish the words he is half-chanting, half-speaking ...

You see why it reminds me of a Bob Dylan concert? Well, maybe that is why you enjoyed the Dylan show, if you did - because it reminded you of a Catholic church service. I also understand that attendances at some services - though not of course yours or Bob Dylan's - are tending to drop off a little these days so it must be quite important for you to tempt middle-aged waverers like me inside the faith.

That is why I felt I had to write and tell you that your ill-thought- out pro-Dylan policy has just lost me.

However, I am quite happy to let you have my brother's address if you want it.

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