One would not anticipate a conventional memoir from Bob Dylan
--indeed, one would not have foreseen an autobiography at all from the pen of the notoriously private legend. What Chronicles: Volume 1
delivers is an odd but ultimately illuminating memoir that is as impulsive, eccentric, and inspired as Dylan's greatest music.
Eschewing chronology and skipping over most of the "highlights" that his many biographers have assigned him, Dylan drifts and rambles through his tale, amplifying a series of major and minor epiphanies. If you're interested in a behind-the-scenes look at his encounters with the Beatles, look elsewhere. Dylan describes the sensation of hearing the group's "Do You Want to Know a Secret" on the radio, but devotes far more ink to a Louisiana shopkeeper named Sun Pie, who tells him, "I think all the good in the world might already been done" and sells him a World's Greatest Grandpa bumper sticker. Dylan certainly sticks to his own agenda--a newspaper article about journeymen heavyweights Jerry Quarry and Jimmy Ellis and soul singer Joe Tex's appearance on The Tonight Show inspire heartfelt musings, and yet the 1963 assassination of John Kennedy prompts nary a word from the era's greatest protest singer.
For all the small revelations (it turns out he's been a big fan of Barry Goldwater, Mickey Rourke, and Ice-T), there are eye-opening disclosures, including his confession that a large portion of his recorded output was designed to alienate his audience and free him from the burden of being a "the voice of a generation."
Off the beaten path as it is, Chronicles is nevertheless an astonishing achievement. As revelatory in its own way as Blonde on Blonde or Highway 61 Revisited, it provides ephemeral insights into the mind one of the most significant artistic voices of the 20th century while creating a completely new set of mysteries. --Steven Stolder
From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. After a career of principled coyness, Dylan takes pains to outline the growth of his artistic conscience in this superb memoir. Writing in a language of cosmic hokum and street-smart phrasing, he lingers not on moments of success and celebrity, but on the crises of his intellectual development. He reconstructs, for example, an early moment in New York when he realized "that I would have to start believing in possibilities that I wouldnt have allowed before, that I had been closing my creativity down to a very narrow, controllable scale...that things had become too familiar and I might have to disorient myself." And he recounts how, in that search for larger reach, he actually went to the public librarys microfilm archives to learn the rhetoric of Civil War newspapers. Skipping the years of his greatest records, or perhaps saving those years for the second volume of his chronicle, Dylan recalls the times when he was sick of his public persona and made more lackluster albums like "Self-Portrait" and "New Morning." He then skips again to his comeback work with producer Daniel Lanois in the late 1980s. Dylan emphasizes that he was "indifferent to wealth and love," and readers looking for private revelations will be disappointed. But others will prize the display of musical integrity and seriousness that is evident in his minutia-filled accounts of his influences in folk and blues. Ultimately, this book will stand as a record of a young mans self-education, as contagious in its frank excitement as the letters of John Keats and as sincere in its ramble as Jack Kerouacs On the Road, to which Dylan frequently refers. A person of Dylans stature could have gotten away with far less; that he has been so thoughtful in the creation of this book is a measure of his talents, and a gift to his fans.
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