So What Are You Reading?

Reviews of Books.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Chronicles: Volume One. Bob Dylan

Bob Dylan's Chronicles: Volume One is a chance for Dylan's fans to hear a part of the story of his life from his own point of view. What appears to be the first volume of an autobiography consists of five chapters. The first two and the last one tell the story of Dylan's early career in New York City in 1961 and 1962. He names lots of names and provides a deep recall of details that will satisfy the interested reader.

Dylan talks about how he lived on other people's couches, listened to their records, and read their books. His description of his relationships with Dave Van Ronk and his wife, and Suze Rotolo are high points for me. Dylan's respect for John Hammond, his producer at Columbia, shines through his narrative about their meetings.

The two middle chapters describe later periods in his life and are centered around the production of two of his albums: New Morning (1970) and Oh Mercy (1989). While initially a jarring break in the continuity, these two chapters are wonderful insights into the man learning to cope with the destructive aspects of fame. He talks a lot about the songwriting process and the dynamics of the recording studio.

Dylan is more of a poet than a biographer and, while providing exciting and descriptive details, he skimps on the logical flow that most people expect from a biography. For example he tells of hearing Jack Elliott records in Minnesota but never mentions meeting him in New York. Also, in the two middle chapters he makes reference to his wife but never mentions her name even though she is a different person in each chapter. There is no index in the back of the book, which one would expect to find in a biography.

Overall readers who love Dylan's songs will find this a rewarding and revealing glimpse into his thoughts. Those looking for an autobiography may feel short-changed by the episodic nature of this work.


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