November 20, 2004
Just Read: Bob Dylan - Chronicles: Volume 1

I just finished reading Bob Dylans autobiography, a nice if not completely perfect, experience. The good: Dylan does not treat us to a longwinded biographical nightmare ("Then I moved to that place. I met that guy. He took me along to this place. Then I moved to this other place. I was writing this song"), but rather a few short, intense, impressions of very specific episodes in his past. Dylan is a good writer, his prose vibrates with scenic detail and the 60s scenery (as well as explicit mention by Dylan) automatically makes one think of first person fiction a la Kerouac. The stories really come to life in a way that is much more like present-tense fiction than like outlived memory.
Chapter 2 of the memoirs seem to hold the key to why Dylan wrote these memoirs in the first place. It's takes place in the late '60s and Dylan is on the run, trying to escape the moniker "Protest singer" as well as sperstardom. He just want's to live, know about life and sing about it, but everywhere he is being misunderstood, trapped inside his personal myth. Chronicles comes off as having the same ambition. Dylan just wants to tell us about being a young unformed artist in his teens in late '50s New York. He wants to tell us about being trapped in a myth and he wants to tell us about struggling to make music when you've run out of gas after 25 years of making music and writing songs.
Part of this debunking of the myth is a lot of time spent describing what it was like struggling to find your own thing, back before Dylan was a recording artist. It seems so odd to read about the artisitic struggle of a man who had released 6 masterpiece albums by the time he turned 25. How is it possible that could have never not known what to do and then go out and do so much so soon?
At times the writing is so good that it is hard to believe that it is really autobiographical and not just fiction. The notable example of this is a brilliant description of a motorcycle ride Dylan took with his wife while recording Oh Mercy. They meet this semi-mythical southern character called Sun Pie, an old man married to a young woman, who runs a little shop by the side of the road. Dylan takes a lot of time telling us about his conversations with Sun Pie, a story with no consequence - just pure experience.
For me personally, the more traditional biographical stuff, Dylan accounting for his musical roots and influences, works less well - and if the book has a flaw it is this odd mix of a few snapshots of experience combined with lengthy descriptions of other musicians Dylan has known or feels connected to. I liked the snapshots the best.

Posted by Claus at November 20, 2004 09:29 PM | TrackBack (0)
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