Dylan’s memoirs are a lot like his song lyrics: plain-spoken but literate, free but structured, devout but jaded. Through this veil of opposites, one thing Dylan makes clear is that the constant arrow of his life — from his earliest childhood awakenings, to an unwanted coronation as The Voice of His Generation, from his calculated efforts to shed that crown, right up to his recent albums and perpetual touring — is music. Music was and still is his path.
|Chronicles by Bob Dylan|
©2004 Simon and Schuster, publishers
Here’s Dylan on Hank Williams, “When I hear Hank sing, all movement ceases. The slightest whisper seems sacrilege.” His first reaction to Woody Guthrie’s songs, “It made me want to gasp. It was like the land parted. It was like the record player itself had just picked me up off the floor and flung me across the room.” Accounts like these are pretty typical.
A reader who picks up this book up expecting a confessional tell-all, or glittering reminiscences of golden career moments, should put it back down and look for something a lot different. (Keith Richards’ Life, also a fantastic read, might be better for you.) Dylan never mentions his most famous songs, albums, or performances. There’s nothing in Chronicles about “The Time’s They Are A-Changin,” “Like A Rolling Stone,” Blonde on Blonde, or Highway 61 Revisited. There is no talk of Newport or Royal Albert Hall. While we might identify Dylan with these monuments, and historians may partially ascribe the transformations of the post-war society to Bob Dylan’s music and messages, in Chronicles, Dylan barely even alludes to them. The only album (of his own) that he discusses in much detail is 1989’s Oh Mercy, produced in New Orleans by Danial Lanois. And I think the main reason he talks about this one so much is that it marked the end of his past and a musical rebirth of sorts. So I do think it’s useful to know ahead of time that Chronicles is mighty thin on revelry, and it’s completely devoid of nostalgia and gossip. This is more of a true literary work. But it’s a really good one and it happens to let us glimpse into to mind of one of the twentieth century’s great artists.
Review by Josh Steans