Friday, March 20, 2009

Bob Dylan Chronicles: Volume One

I'm reading Bob Dylan's Chronicles, Volume One right now, and its wonderful. Its just about the perfect subway book - interesting, quickly paced, and broken down into a series of colorful, easily digestible vignettes and anecdotes. Its sort of . . . bloggy. Chronicles: Volume One is not anywhere near authoritative enough to be considered an autobiography, and its narrative jumps around too much and isn't linear enough to even be considered a memoir. It is best read as a collection of stories from his life that illustrate his change from the confident-but-naive Robert Zimmerman to the celebrity and rock star known to us as Bob Dylan. He spends ample space discussing the songs he loved, the books that influenced his writing style, the people he met, and the singers he looked up to. It gives the reader an insight into what Greenwich Village looked like in Mad Men-era New York, and what the music business looked like in the post-Elvis, pre-British invasion no man's land of the early 1960's.

Some paragraphs read like Dylan lyrics in paragraph form. Consider the description of Izzy Young, the proprietor of The Folklore Center, a periodical that covered folk music:

"Young was an old-line folk enthusiast, very sardonic and wore heavy horn-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 and always seemed too loud for the little room. Izzy was always a little rattled over something or other. He was sloppily good natured. In reality, a romantic. To him, folk music glittered like a mound of gold. It did for me, too . . . I couldn't imagine what Izzy's battles were. Internal, external, who knows? Young was a man that concerned himself with social injustice, hunger and homelessness and he didn't mind telling you so. His heroes were Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. Moby-Dick, the ultimate fish story, was his favorite tale."

And who wouldn't enjoy this description of Chloe Carter - June Carter Cash's cousin:

"She was cool as pie, hip from head to toe, a Maltese kitten, a solid viper - always hit the nail on the head. I don't know how much weed she smoked, but a lot. She also had her own ideas about the nature of things, told me that death was an impersonator, that birth is an invasion of privacy."

Paragraphs like these show that Bob Dylan wrote this book himself - who else could write like that? Its a remarkable book, written in a remarkable voice - and one of the best books about music I've ever read.

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