There’s nothing short of dying: an exhibition


I’d been listening to Bob Dylan talking about the song, ‘Sunday Morning Coming Down.’ It’s a great song and beautifully outlines the character of a Sunday. The song tells us about a man who awakes with a hangover and who then goes on to describe the distinctive feel of a Sunday. It’s an American song so there is the scent of frying chicken, a sidewalk, the distant sound of a church bell – and then there’s a small kid ‘cussin’ at a can that he is ‘kickin.’

But here’s the mood told by the singer – that Sunday mood:

‘… There’s something in a Sunday that makes a body feel alone –
And there’s nothing short of dying half as lonesome as the sound
On the sleeping city sidewalk – Sunday morning coming down.’

Perhaps, then, Sundays are always touched with a kind of reflective melancholia – of sobriety and of virtue on trial.

In fact, I don’t mind Sundays here in England. I don’t mind hearing the church bells and thinking about all the people who look forward to their special lunch – and I like pausing a bit – of stepping out and away from the ebb and flow of life. I like Sundays because I can live more easily in the company of my imagination. (It’s as if I switch off to switch on.) And one of the best aspects of my Sunday is the fact that, just down the road, the Oxfam Books and Music store is open all day. Along with the Art College and the old crumbling brick walls, the store is just about the best thing there is in the town in which I live.

Over the years I’ve found some enchanting music in the store. I picked up Mississippi John Hurt’s wonderful vinyl double album and Nina Simone’s ‘Little girl blue’ – and several ‘Blue Note’ records and lots of Neil Young and Bob Dylan. But the store is also packed full of terrific books. Most recently I bought Richard Ford’s ‘The lay of the land’ and Primo Levi’s ‘If Not Now, When?’ along with Janosch’s perfect ‘A Letter for Tiger.’ There are sofas in the store so anyone can choose a book, sit down and read whatsoever they wish. There’s a turntable too …

But on this most recent Sunday (14 July 2019) something different was there to delight me: I discovered that the Oxfam store had teamed up with the illustrators’ course at the local Art College to work on a really attractive project: The brief for the student illustrators was to take an old book – something with a plain and non-descript cover – and create a new design that would both reflect the content of the book and speak to a more contemporary audience. And the shop had a display featuring all the books along with the new designs created by the illustrators. I thought it was wonderful.

Each book had become a unique work of art. And each book cost 5 pounds sterling. I couldn’t make up my mind which out of several books to buy. So I will return to the store tomorrow. But, in the meantime, the photograph shows some of those designs. For me, this is a lovely example of how best to make use of the resources that we already have. Imagine: beautiful works of art for just 5 pounds.

Post script: Bob Dylan chose the song ‘Sunday Morning Coming Down‘ for an edition of his unusual radio show, ‘Theme time radio‘. It was broadcast a number of years ago. The song itself was written by Kris Kristofferson. It was recorded in 1969 by Ray Stevens before becoming a number one hit on the Billboard US Country charts for Johnny Cash.

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