“Creativity has much to do with experience, observation and imagination, and if any one of those elements is missing,
it doesn’t work.”
You could say that I was challenged to read Bob Dylan’s autobiography. Sure I have listened to his albums, went to one of his concerts, and have always appreciated his talent and the way he can carry a tune and a lyric, but I have never been a fan. That’s the plain truth. And I’ll tell you this: I was even puzzled when he won the Nobel prize last year. But my brother was, too, and he is a fan. In fact, it was my brother who suggested I should read Chronicles: Volume One. “I think you’d like it,” he said. I did. More than I had expected. And although there are still other musical autobiographies that I loved more, like Born to Run, Life and especially Morrissey’s, I was relieved that I liked this one, too. I was relieved that Chronicles is so honest.
Sometimes rough, sometimes brilliant, the book is largely an evocation of Dylan’s first year in New York city (1961), with flashbacks to his boyhood in Minnesota, with the chapters in the middle concerning the making of two later albums (I was hoping they were about Highway 61 or Blonde on Blonde, but they’re not, and maybe that’s how it should be). The writer switches from one chapter of his life to another in a meandering narrative – wasn’t looking for anything too conventional anyway – and yet it all hangs together. I didn’t expect Dylan to divulge too much and he doesn’t. That’s perfectly fine with me. It isn’t the kind of book written to set the record straight or tell the real story of how things happened. Bob Dylan shares his observations, inspirations, crisis, an amazingly detailed journey of a man, of an artist finding his own voice – a journey involving loss as well as discovery. And given the many creative changes during his career, one of the most influential cultural figures of the 20th century, this is quite a journey to get to partake in.
“The road out would be treacherous, and I didn’t know
where it would lead but I followed it anyway. It was a strange world
ahead that would unfold, a thunderhead of a world with jagged lightning edges.
Many got it wrong and never did get it right. I went straight into it.
It was wide open. One thing for sure, not only was it not run by God,
but it wasn’t run by the devil either.”
“There was nothing easygoing about my the folk songs I sang.
They weren’t friendly or ripe with mellowness.
They didn’t come gently to the shore,
I guess you could say they weren’t commercial. …
They were my preceptor and guide into some
altered consciousness of reality, some different republic,
some liberated republic. …
I just thought of mainstream culture as as lame as hell and a big trick.”
“As far as I knew I didn’t belong to anybody then or now.
I had a wife and children whom I loved more than anything else in the world.
I was trying to provide for them, keep out of trouble,
but the big bugs in the press kept promoting me as the mouthpiece,
spokesman, or even conscience of a generation. That was funny.
All I’d ever done was sing songs that were dead straight
and expressed powerful new realities.
I had very little in common and knew even less about a generation
that I was supposed to be the voice of.”
photo by me