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Dylan's Visions of Sin Hardcover – June 15, 2004

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Ricks, a professor of humanities at Boston University, allows his own musings about Bob Dylan to go "blowin' in the wind" in this love letter to the enigmatic bard. Focusing on the centrality of the seven deadly sins (pride, anger, lust, envy, sloth, greed, covetousness), the four virtues (justice, temperance, fortitude, prudence) and the three graces (faith, hope, love) in Dylan's writings, Ricks confirms Dylan's poetic genius and elevates the poet of the north country to canonical status alongside Tennyson, Shakespeare and Milton. Through a series of closely engaged readings of selected songs, Ricks demonstrates how each reflects a concern with sin, virtue or grace. Thus, "Lay, Lady, Lay" becomes an anthem of lust, "A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall" a paean to fortitude and "If Not for You" a tribute to love. In every reading of the songs, he compares Dylan's poetry to the work of other poets, often finding either explicit correspondence or structural echoes of earlier works. For example, Ricks contends that the structure of "A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall" mimics the structure of the early Scottish ballad "Lord Randal." Sometimes Ricks strives to be too hip and precious—as when he characterizes "Lay, Lady, Lay" as "erotolayladylaylia," and when he concludes that there are similarities between other poems and Dylan's by providing a list of one word correspondences, as he does with "Lay, Lady, Lay" and Donne's "To His Mistress Going to Bed." Nevertheless, Ricks's affectionate critical tour-de-force reminds readers why Dylan continues to encourage our "hearts always to be joyful" and our "songs always to be sung" as we remain "forever young."
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'Ricks's writing on Dylan is the best there is' Alex Ross, New Yorker 'A great case has been made by a great critic (Christopher Ricks) that a great lyricist - Bob Dylan - is, in fact, a poet.' Dan Chiasson, New York Review of Books 'The rewards are just as one would expect: a bracing attention to artfulness, a wonderful sensitivity to nuance, and a particularly brilliant sympathy with the purpose and effect of Dylan's rhymes.' Andrew Motion, Guardian --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 528 pages
  • Publisher: Ecco (June 15, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060599235
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060599232
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.6 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #980,802 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

39 of 44 people found the following review helpful By Steve on June 23, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Bob Dylan changed music (and the art of songwriting) forever in the 1960s. His continuing popularity is a testament both to the timelessness of his art, as well as to his uncanny ability to remake himself and his music, year after year. Dubbed the "poet laureate of rock-n-roll," Dylan's work has received more serious academic attention than any other folk/folk-rock musician out there, and for very good reason. Now comes Christopher Ricks, a well-known poetry scholar, to compare Dylan to some of the greatest poets ever: Wordsworth, Donne, Tennyson. The result is fascinating. I find it hard to believe that anyone could read this book and walk away from it without a renewed admiration for Bob Dylan and his music.
The book's structure has Ricks analyzing Dylan's songs according to the seven deadly sins, the four virtues and the three graces. This somewhat arbitrary classification feels sometimes strained, as Ricks struggles to pigeon-hole songs into one category or another. But far more fascinating than this academic chore is Ricks' exploration of the deep poetic and Biblical roots of some of Dylan's most popular tunes. With obvious love for his subject (and subject matter), Ricks shows, time and again, how Dylan makes use of the Great Poets in fashioning his unique and often haunted lyrics. Revealed is a musician who is not only a poet in his own right, but a well-read and thoughtful writer, who somehow accomplished the impossible: fashioning intelligent, thought-provoking music for a world obsessed with vapid vocals and meaningless "pop" standards.
Two minor flaws with the book. First: Ricks neglects a number of Bob's best songs--songs with fantastic lyrics and rhyme, songs that would seem to fit into his sin/virtue/grace framework perfectly (i.e.
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37 of 43 people found the following review helpful By R. Mumma on July 20, 2004
Format: Hardcover
You'll be a little jealous, of course, wishing you had the literary storehouse of information and insight that Christopher Ricks has at his disposal from which to gather literary parallels, borrowings, and coincidences. I have never been more impressed by ANY book of criticism written about a modern writer or musician. To be honest, I have not yet finished "Dylan's Visions of Sin," but I couldn't wait to comment here after reading the detailed comparison of "Not Dark Yet" and Ode to a Nightingale (yes, KEATS' Ode to a Nightingale) on pages 359-374. Sound ridiculous? It won't after you've spent the first 350 pages getting to this tour de force reading of a deceptively simple song from Time Out of Mind. But not only is the close reading of these lyrics/poems (the distinction won't matter after awhile in the author's pleasant company) impressive, but this is also a very funny and very warm book. There's nothing cold or academic about it. And there's no psychobiography, or any biography at all. This is Bob Dylan stripped to his most essential gift, his words. It's an absolute joy to read and I recommend it unreservedly, even to those of you (or especially to those of you) who may have been put off by the singer's voice, or his associations with Christianity, Victoria's Secret, and the Traveling Wilburys. I'm finding myself pulling out all my old LPs, even the scratchy bootlegs in their plain white sleeves, and listening to them with brand new ears.
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18 of 20 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on June 20, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Christopher Ricks is very well known for taking Dylan seriously as a poet and this is the long awaited product of many years of reflection. The basic idea of dealing with Dylan's corpus in terms of sins, virtues and graces is imaginative and promises a well structured and coherent work. Ricks' approach is clever and almost obsessive in searching for hidden meanings. It is the sort of obsession that Dylan himself finds futile and at which he frequently gets angry in interviews. There is great emphasis upon word-play and word association, and a great deal of reference to what a particular line in a song reminds the writer of in a poet like Shelley or Wordsworth. His approach, while very like that of Gray's, is much more sophisticated, but nevertheless slightly irritating at times because it says more about the cleverness of the author than it does about the subject of the book. The interpretations are idiosyncratic and largely imaginery, but nevertheless executed with grace and charm. I found Dylan and Cohen: Poets of Rock and Roll very clear in its criticism of this type of approach, which I think the author of it calls the concordance approach to literary criticism. Boucher explains why you just don't ask of some songs what they mean, such as Losing my Religion by REM or Whiter Shade of Pale by Procul Harem, you just 'delight' in the images. Nevertheless Ricks' book is a must for Dylan fans and well worth reading.
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37 of 45 people found the following review helpful By Marc Shaw on September 4, 2004
Format: Hardcover
As a die-hard Dylan fan, I tend to try and get my hands on new stuff as soon as it appears. As a lover of English lit. I thought this book would be right up my alley. And it is...sort of. The content is solid, an interesting take, even if I disagree with Prof. Ricks that the concept of sin is the best way to "get hold of the bundle" of Dylan's songs. The book is an interesting read nonetheless, although of course what we have here is Chris Ricks' vision of Dylan's vision of sin, and the seven deadly sin grid we have here, while interesting, reveals little of Dylan's vision of sin. The biggest qualm I have with the book is Ricks' language. As if to prove he knows all the songs, even though many seemingly appropriate ones are omitted, he frequently includes song titles in descriptive sentences about other songs. The language is all too frequently all too clever and obfuscates rather than illuminates the point being made. The book would be much more enjoyable were it written in a more straightforward manner. The good Dr. covers interesting territory with a wealth of background knowledge, especially revealing are the connections to Keats and Melville...yet you can open up to almost any page and cringe at the unnecessarily "clever" passages and excessive parenthetical asides (and no, I am not wearing Boots of Spanish Leather as I write this review). See what I mean? Annoying. Sooo, thanks Christopher Ricks...buuuut...
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