Wednesday, November 26, 2008

bob dylan, "chronicles: volume one" book review

if i had a blog in 2004, would certainly have reviewed bob dylan's "chronicles: volume one," years ago! i read it when it was a hardcover, still gracing the bestseller list. i just finished the paperback edition, which i picked up for a buck at the library book fair in september. it was a timely find since i had just heard dylan at propect park, brooklyn, a few weeks earlier!

if anything, the book was even more fascinating the second time around. dylan combined two versions of himself in chronicles: volume one - the young musician making his way in a cold (literal and figurative) new york city in the early 1960's and, then, the middle-aged, bottomed out, performer putting the pieces of his career back together - cutting the album "oh mercy" in the heat and humidity of 1989 louisiana. the contrasting images work well in telling his story - especially with dylan's stripped down, brutally honest descriptions.

my favorite part of the book was the vivid new york city sights and sounds he paints to start off his autobiography. he looks back at himself 40+ years earlier, and the images pour out as if he walked those same streets the day before. i found his recollections of the trips out to new jersey to visit woody guthrie in the hospital (and the rambling trip deep into brooklyn in search of some unrecorded guthrie song's, and meeting his young son, arlo) especially moving. but even his descriptions of the beat bars and coffee shops that he honed his trade were vivid portraits of yesterdays greenwich village scene.

it's a bumpy jump 25 years into his future, mid-way thru his concert tour with tom petty (and a snippet of his brief tour with the grateful dead) to learn how he re-figured his guitar technique, changed his attitude toward his long catalog of songs, and was reborn - so to speak - as a touring musician. ironically, once he has that epiphany, his hand gets torn up and he can't play, much less tour - which led him to start writing songs again! it's those very songs (which got a nod of approval from no less than bono) that he records in the "oh mercy" sessions!

then, just as he jumped from the 60's to the 80's, he returns to his pre-1960's (pre-nyc) life and talks about his family and childhood. this section, too, was filled with incredible nuggets of dylan history - especially his first encounter with woody guthrie records and the intense impact guthrie's music had on the young dylan. he described guthrie's impact on him in these words:

"one thing for sure, woody guthrie had never seen nor heard of me, but it felt like he was saying, 'i'll be going away, but i'm leaving this job in your hands. i know i can count on you.'"

for any dylan fan, this book is must reading. but, even more significantly, for any fan of music history, this book is also must reading. while there are plenty dylan biographies out there, nothing beats reading his own take on himself and his experiences. i honestly can't wait for the second volume of his autobiography (and, rumor has, it dylan was to have begun writing volume two of chronicles in may, 2008)!


Pam said...

Where do you find the time to 1) practice law 2) teach, 3) be a dad, 4) be a husband, 5)) run, 6) read, 7) go to movies and museums ... in no particular order? You must be wroking on the 30hr day program!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Ronster said...

Interesting...I would have never considered reading a Bob Dylan biography. But the early 1960s NY folk scene, as well as its art scene and jazz world are famous names and great artists. It sounds like a good read!