PIAZZA GRANDE (© Words and Music by Paul F. Cowlan )

Returning from Italy to Switzerland with Paul Rostetter, in October 1987, we stopped off in the Ticino for an open-air Bob Dylan concert. In pouring rain, Locarno’s Piazza Grande was only half full and the great man wasn’t on form at all; but afterwards in the back of Paul’s car, listening to Jennifer Warnes’ wonderful ‘Famous Blue Raincoat’ album as we climbed through the dark mountains, this song started to emerge.                 


Ascona was rainy, Locarno was too,
and the Lago Maggiore forgot to be be blue
on the day we drove through.

Blank, shuttered houses of ochre and stone,
and palms on the lakefront, forlorn and alone,
were each in their own way turned inward,
ignoring the rain that was drawing the day to a close.

On the Piazza Grande umbrellas and plastic bags
pressed close together to wait for the show;
but the square was half empty as we stood in the arcade
and listened to songs that we once used to know.

Is it lonely up there? Have you lost your direction?
Or are you just holding something in reserve?
You’ve been threatened before, but you always came through
with proof you can’t guarentee what you deserve will always be given to you.


And me? I took shelter beneath the umbrella
of a beautiful stranger with mischievous eyes,
but time was against me, and I left her while you sang
your sad Golden Oldie goodbyes.

And the lights of the valley drew slowly away
as we climbed to the clouds with the mist closing grey
round our tail-lights; and music, a woman’s voice
singing us over the mountain and seeming to say.

“Yes, it’s lonely up there if you lose your direction.
You can’t guarentee to hold back in reserve,
or get what you think you deserve.”


And the moon shone on my pillow,
peering through the rain;
and the sun shone on my window
when morning came again.
And the girl I hardly spoke to,
but who drew me with her eyes,
came to me at midnight in disguise.

And just what she told me I no longer recall,
Perhaps in the end it was not her at all;
but even the heroes must lie down to sleep,
and I just hope your dreams are as peaceful and deep
as you need them to be.

A brave, lonely sailor, far out at sea.