Chronicles – Bob Dylan

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This is Bob’s life, volume 1, published in 2004, and though I don’t think volume 2 is out yet, press cuttings from 2012 say it’s on its way!

If you’re reading this post, probably, like me, you’re a bit of a sucker for words. Shakespeare, the Bible, poetry  – it can really hit you hard in the heart and the head.

I’ve made a life and a living out of reading and first began with the words on the HP sauce bottle.  One side was in English, the other in French – un melange de toutes sorts de fruits – you don’t get that on the modern plastic bottles, but aged 7 the language didn’t matter to me – I was just decoding print – a habit formed early and never lost.

In the sixties Dylan’s songs were a revelation – Hard Rain’s Gonna fall, Farewell Angelina, Don’t Think Twice – he rewrote the rules and made himself a myth.

Dylan was a master of the daring metaphor – words that struck a chord – mysterious visions and strange imaginings. In Chronicles the voice is older, muted, more prosaic, obviously, but he can still touch a nerve.

A Chronicle might be considered a narrative account with some sort of chronological dimension, but Dylan slips time zones, beginning and ending with his debut as a recording artist, and in between times ranging freely in five distinct sections.  He describes his attempts to escape from fame, to demythologise himself, to spend time with his kids, intimate and personal in style and subject.  Other sections focus on music making and the impact of a wide range of folk and blues artists.  Brecht gets a mention as a crucial step in his later development.  We see the man before fame came along – interesting.

One whole section entitled Oh Mercy is about just that – a CD of that name released in 1989 and produced by Daniel Lanois.  I’d never heard it till today, so reading this section was a bit mystifying – Dylan goes into detail about each track – almost tediously, it’s certainly quite exhaustive – but this period seemed to mean a lot to him, as he rediscovered some element of creativity.  The CD is ok too, very good musically – mellow I’d say.  It was a bit much though to be faced with page after page – a series of recordings – I almost skipped, and then, in a moment, it changed direction.  Fed up of the tedium, the concessions and compromises of recording in a group, Dylan and his wife took a tour on his Harley Davidson through the swamp land surrounding New Orleans.  Here was a different Dylan – lyrical almost, with a sure descriptive touch – those few pages alone made the whole book worth while.

I’ve come to this book late – you’ve probably read it already.  If not – well you probably should.  Just so you know!

Guardian Review 2004

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