"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.