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Bob Dylan details the road
less travelled in

Bob Dylan
Chronicles, Volume One (Simon & Schuster)


Bob Dylan is an incredible writer – big revelation, right?

I’ve always admired the direct yet disconnected power of
his songs. Anyone who doesn’t feel moved by “Simple
Twist of Fate” or “Not Dark Yet” should probably check
their chest to make sure their heart is still in working
order. But great songwriters do not necessarily make
great prose writers, and vice versa, of course. This is not
the case here. If there were any (could there possibly
be?) lingering doubts as to the pure genius of Dylan
before the release of
Chronicles, Volume One, they will
be erased. Bob Dylan is not just a great singer, great
writer, great musician – he’s an amazing communicator.

And to think I wasn’t even initially interested in reading

I figured I had the story of Bob Dylan down pretty well. I’ve
Time out of Mind and Love and Theft almost as
many times as
Blood on the Tracks and Blonde on
Blonde. I’ve seen the lyric anthologies, read Behind the Shades, interviews, heard everyone from Joni Mitchell to
Tom Petty to Neil Young speak highly of him. I was not unfamiliar with Dylan – Newport, the motorcycle crash,
Rolling Thunder, the Christian rebirth, the boos, the cheers, I know this guy’s back story, right?

Wrong. I didn’t have a damn clue, and if you haven’t read this, then neither do you.

What makes
Chronicles work so well is the indirect approach he takes to his life. He does not paint a Point A To
B picture for the reader. Through select episodes in his life – arriving in New York City, writing
Oh Mercy in New
Orleans, making country albums to confuse critics – Dylan communicates to the reader how he felt in given
situations and surroundings, painting a picture of what drives him as an artist and a man. He doesn’t put the
same weight on events that anyone and everyone else would. For example, when describing his much
ballyhooed motorcycle crash that most music historians point to as changing both his music and life, Dylan has
this to say about it:

“I had been in a motorcycle accident and I’d been hurt, but I recovered.”

That’s it. And that, in short, is what makes this book such an incredible read. Dylan, notorious for either shunning
interviews or lying in them for years, has, very generously, offered a glimpse into what makes the most important
musician of our time tick, and VH-1 specials have not been the most reliable sources of information on this guy.

Oh, and about that whole “spokesman for a generation” thing, Dylan doesn’t appreciate that much either.

“The press never let up. Once in a while I would have to rise up and offer myself for an interview so they wouldn’t
beat down the door. Usually the questions would start out with something like “Can we talk further upon things
that are happening?” “Sure, like what?” Reporters would shoot questions at me and I would tell them repeatedly
that I was not a spokesman for anything or anybody and that I was only a musician. They’d look into my eyes as
if to find some evidence of bourbon and handfuls of amphetamines. I had no idea what they were thinking.”

The greatest attribute to Dylan The Autobiographer is his wit, the way he tells a story. His style is just as casual
as anything, stories about Teddy Roosevelt are mixed in with tales of John Hammond effortlessly, and everything
has a wry wit about it. But underneath all that, there seems to be a sense of sadness, weariness, that shows the
toll the spotlight and pressure has taken through the years. Not that it’s a bad thing, though – he seems to be
totally at peace with everything that’s happened. It’s his life, after all.

Chronicles is great, though, because they’re his words. Everything is on his terms, and you can’t help but think
that he’s nothing but completely honest throughout this volume. He’s found a medium through which he can
best tell the story of his life, so why wouldn’t he want to be? And if he is lying again, then that might just be the
funniest damn joke of all time, stringing along the press who have hounded him for years for 200+ pages of
blabber which he knew would be (and since has been) declared a masterpiece.

That’s not the case here, though. He’s just too earnest, he believes too much in what he does and who he is,
and he’s just as mystified as the rest of us by what has happened in his career, his songs.

“A song is like a daydream, and you try to make it come true. They’re like strange countries that you have to
enter. You can write a song anywhere, in a railroad compartment, on a boat, on horseback – it helps to be
moving. Sometimes people who have the greatest talent for writing songs never write any because they are not

Dylan moved. He moved walls with his songs. Now his words get to do some heavy lifting.