"I'd come from a long ways off and had started a long ways down. But now destiny was about to manifest itself. I felt like it was looking right at me and nobody else." So writes Bob Dylan in Chronicles: Volume One, his remarkable book exploring critical junctures in his life and career. Through Dylan's eyes and open mind, we see Greenwich Village, circa 1961, when he first arrives in Manhattan. Dylan's New York is a magical city of possibilities -- smoky, nightlong parties; literary awakenings; transient loves and unbreakable friendships. Elegiac observations are punctuated by jabs of memories, penetrating and tough. With the book's side trips to New Orleans, Woodstock, Minnesota and points west, Chronicles: Volume One is an intimate and intensely personal recollection of extraordinary times. By turns revealing, poetical, passionate and witty, Chronicles: Volume One is a mesmerizing window on Bob Dylan's thoughts and influences. Dylan's voice is distinctively American: generous of spirit, engaged, fanciful and rhythmic. Utilizing his unparalleled gifts of storytelling and the exquisite expressiveness that are the hallmarks of his music, Bob Dylan turns Chronicles: Volume One into a poignant reflection on life, and the people and places that helped shape the man and the art.
Bob's book has a little "how I got my groove back" to it, but you will find it generally devoid of the kind of name-dropping you might expect (he doesn't even talk about the time he and John Lennon threw Phil Ochs out of a taxi!), and very little dishing of any kind really.
What Bob has written here is basically a kunstlerroman, a sort of artistic coming-of-age story. He tells you how he started out, what drew him to folk music and what he found there; he then skips the most fruitful artistic period of his career to tell you how and why he got so burned out in the early 70s, and how he rekindled his creative fire in the late 80s. He tells you what he thought of a lot of novelists and poets he read, what musicians were important to him, and why.
For a music lover like me, that's infinitely more interesting than the average showbiz autobiography, and it really elevates this book far above what you'd generally expect. I'm not sure I'd recommend it to everybody, but if you're a Dylan critic, a music lover or a songwriter especially, give it a shot.
Then his descriptions of libraries. He devotes 12 pages to a personal library he visits (Library thingers....what effect is your library having on others that you do not even know about ?). There is even a wonderful description of the New York Public Library,
Too bad there is no index to this book. Once Dylan became well known he met a lot of famous people and has interesting observations...Archibald MacLeich, John Wayne and of course Joan Baez and other musicians.
Excellent, excellent, a book to dip into from time to time.
Although Dylan is known for his social conscience, in this work, he eschews that he ever aspired to dabble in contemporary politics. He claims - over and over - that he only wanted to be a true folk artist. Although he was popularly known for running away from the public spotlight, he claims that the press forced him to live this life. In so doing, he claims his persona is false - or at the very least, misguided.
Dylan would not be the first artist to claim that popularity hurt his/her life. I'm sure there is a solid nugget of truth in that claim. Nonetheless, Dylan appears to have nurtured this persona in his public portrayal of himself in pursuit of his artistic vision.
Either way, Dylan's passion for songwriting comes through in this work. Most of this book dwells upon how Dylan's unique and brilliant style came about through the deep study of others' poetry and lyrics. Songwriters and poets will find it well worth the time to read, muse, and develop their own styles from Dylan's brilliance.