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August 4, 2020 | Rome, Italy

Chronicles: Volume One

By | 2018-03-21T18:34:09+01:00 October 1st, 2008|Recent Reviews|

By Bob Dylan

Simon & Schuster, 2004. 320 pages.

Sliced, diced or dissected to suit the gossipy cravings of rock mavens and learned critics, Dylan’s vintage recollection can run you down Social Science Boulevard.

But don’t go there. Dylan proves a point: he can write. Songwriters are easily lured by conundrum, bad poetry, and snippy phrases more cool than apt. None of that applies to Dylan. He tells a story that happens to be his own and does it well. He crams page after page with generously observed anecdote, wide-eye plundering from the dank city that gave him his early-60s charge. His is a New York City divided equally between loquacious panhandlers and eccentric word-merchants.

Dylan’s ear is big on detail, bless him. Early on, for example, he meets Izzy Young, “proprietor” (not owner) of the Folklore Center. “Young was an old-line folk enthusiast, very sardonic and wore heavy horned-rimmed glasses, spoke in a thick Brooklyn dialect, wore wool slacks, skinny belt and work boots, tie at a careless slant. His voice was like a bulldozer bad always seemed too loud for the little room.”

Dylan pays itemized homage to his influences, with Robert Johnson king: “Johnson is serious, like the scorched Earth. There’s nothing clownish about him or his lyrics. I wanted to be like that, too.” You get Dylan down-and-out, successful, emotionally and sexually irresponsible, and finally uncomfortable with shaman status. Candor? Try this: “I had very little in common with and knew even less about the generation that I was supposed to be the voice of.” His favorite politician: Barry Goldwater. News as fodder for his songs? “Even the current news made me nervous. I like old news better. All the news was bad. It was good that it didn’t have to be in your face every day. Twenty-four-hour news coverage would have been a living hell.”

You think Dylan’s washed up? You never liked him? Fine. Forget the music, ignore the railroad voice. Read instead about a Midwest boy called Zimmerman whose boyhood heroes were Robin Hood and St. George the Dragon Slayer. “I was more of a cowpuncher than a Pied Piper,” he says at one point, and you believe him.

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