November 28, 2004

Chronicles, Volume One

Author: Bob Dylan | First published 2004 | Amazon

This was also a birthday present, from my brother Andrew. We saw a Dylan concert in Elmira together two years ago, and I think we both saw him at Canandaigua in 1989. I think he's fonder of the current Dylan, and I tend to be one of those horribly nostalgic people who wishes he'd seen him in '67 or '77. (The Elmira show was pretty amazing.)

After reading Tarantula a few years ago, I wasn't sure I'd want to read anything more that Dylan wrote except for lyrics. While Chronicles isn't too particular about telling things in the order they happened, it's structurally a much easier book to read. It's not a straightforward "this happened then this happened" autobiography, and sometimes he shoots forward or backward. Most of it is about his time starting out, but then suddenly the third and fourth chapters are about making the albums the chapters are named after - New Morning and Oh Mercy.

Dylan's style is distinctive, lots of long flowing thoughts often forced into short sentences. I'm not sure why they chose a font that feels all bold all the time, but maybe it's appropriate to the stories. He's pretty blunt about his opinions throughout, and every now and then I had to shake my head. Some of the people, especially the people I've never heard of before, are memorable. Sun Pie, who expects the Chinese to take over America as they've been planning since the Bering land bridge was open; Jon Pankake, who seems to tell him not to be one kind of folksinger without quite giving him a direction; and Ray Gooch and Chloe Kiel, who give him a place to stay and all kinds of conversation.

The message I get most strongly from the book is that Dylan wants to be Dylan, and he's intensely frustrated when other people tell him what that should be or not be. He's exasperated by people who wanted him to lead a revolution, by people who think folk should just be one kind of music, and (reasonably) by people who invade his property and walk all over his roof. Reading this, I get the sense that he's still Bob Dylan and he's not done changing yet.

Posted by simonstl at November 28, 2004 07:37 PM