This hefty 736 page tome is an utterly engrossing encyclopedia which represents the fruits of over 30 years' assiduous research by that doyen of Dylan writers, Michael Gray.
As well as detailed analyses of many of Dylan's songs and albums there's an astonishingly wide range of entries from Blind Willie McTell & Sleepy John Estes to Arthur Rimbaud & William Blake.
'The Bob Dylan Encyclopedia' is an entertaining and illuminating guide to Dylan's universe which, in the words of the author, will "open up a wider world, to be sent down a thousand boulevards".
Anyone with the slightest interest in Dylan should get hold of a copy of this magnificent, literate and endlessly fascinating book which also includes a searchable CD-rom of the entire text.
on 29 June 2006
Michael Gray's 'The Bob Dylan Encyclopedia' is that increasingly rare combination of the beautifully-written with the beautifully-produced book. A 736-page tome bound in black leather, with Dylan's visage emerging in a silvered photo-negative format on the front, the initial attraction demanded by the book's appearance is sustained when you hold, open and begin to read the entries in this superlative assessment of Dylanology. For make no mistake, this is no mere category by category listing, but a partisan, opinionated and, above all, informed and informative series of interpretations of Dylan's life and career ouvre, and those who touched and were touched by its progress.
The author is the most amenable of companions on the journey upon which he takes the reader. He is witty to the point of inducing laugh-out-loud moments. He is also capable of great depth, and his insight into the lyrics is astonishing. Gray is, of course, an established Dylanphile; but he is no sycophant. He can be as critical of Dylan where he sees this as merited as he can be of collaborators and contemporaries such as Robbie Robertson and the Rolling Stones. In the entry for Rubin 'Hurricane' Carter, for instance, Gray concludes of Dylan's 'Hurricane' that "[a]lmost every line of Dylan's song is inaccurate, from its depiction of events and who was where when through to its depiction of Carter." He adds the rider, however, that "None of this makes any difference to 'Hurricane' as a creative achievement, any more than the facts of Pretty Boy Floyd's life can have any power over the life of Woody Guthrie's song about him. Dylan's record has a blazing vivacity, a life-affirming generosity of sweep; it's a scintillating rendition of a skilful, affecting narrative crafted with great skill, not as a 'message' but as lines of song shaped as a series of cascades and sung with much verve, alertly expressive in its detailing, its ability to change mood and pace, and to dart in, paint a quick and vivid picture and move on. It's cinematic and celebratory." In other words, Dylan was duped by 'Hurricane' Carter (who'd sent a copy of his book 'The Sixteenth Round' to Dylan), but such is Dylan's art that the facts (rightly) don't get in the way of a great song.
Elsewhere, in the Rolling Stones' entry, Gray writes of how 'In middle age, decades after their prime, the once-incomparable rock band the Rolling Stones toured with Bob Dylan, rather briefly, in South America, in April 1998. On the 4th and 5th, during the Stones' sets in the River Plate Stadium in Beunos Aires, Argentina, Dylan came on stage and shared vocals with Mick Jagger as the Stones played Dylan's 'Like a Rolling Stone.' The on stage collaboration was repeated in Brazil, on April 11 in Rio de Janiero and two nights later in San Paolo.........Three years earlier, on July 27, 1995, they had tried this out at a Rolling Stones concert in Montpellier, France, though on this occasion Dylan had sung only the second verse of the song and Jagger all the rest. This was eight days after the Stones had studio-recorded the song themselves with stupefying dullness.........."
The volume is as up to date as anything can published can be, with an informed look at Dylan's song 'Cross the Green Mountain' and the accompanying video featuring him for the Civil War movie 'God's and Generals' (elsewher Gray gives a learned expose of Dylan's involvement with Sam Peckinpah for the latter's 'Pat Garret and Billy the Kid'). Gray also includes a wryly humorous look at Dylan's acceptance of an honourary doctorate at St Andrew's University in 2004.
Pick up this waspishly errudite, vastly informative, and lavishly produced volume and begin leafing through it and you will be hooked. It's a book to be dipped into to read, not just to look things up.
on 19 July 2006
This book is insightful and entirely enjoyable. It is a bit like having Michael Gray to talk to; as I read one entry, a question about what he might think about some related matter occurs and usually I can have that question answered too. I am finding it, in other words, a very companionable read. The Bono entry is very amusing, especially the bit about the end of the 1984 tour. I also liked Dylan's waspish remark to Led Zeppelin's manager; I hadn't heard that one before. I like the way Gray tries to track down what has happened to people now as well, making clear that being connected with Bob Dylan shouldn't be the only way to value people, even in the Bob Dylan Encyclopedia. The most exciting entry so far has been the 'Every Grain of Sand' one; I know it is largely 'Song and Dance Man' revisited but I have just started teaching 'Hamlet' for the first time so it was good to be reminded of Gray's thoughts. The Maynard Mack essay he quotes is a wonderful thing and I think the Hamlet connection goes further than the crucial reckoning with 'Providence' that is discussed. In Dylan's:
I hear the ancient footsteps like the motion of the sea.
Sometimes I turn, there's someone there; other times, it's only me.
I hear the ghost of old Hamlet, an echo of 'to take arms against a sea of troubles' and the complex sense of the unstable nature of the self which is so central to Shakespeare's play. The weighing up of the relative merits of Blake's 'concrete noun [of] abstract noun' figure compared to Dylan's deployment of it is typically judicious and, yes, the 'shoes of indolence' is great. The Encyclopedia's had me rereading Yeats' 'Vacillation' too and that's been inspiring.
The entry on 'Masked and Anonymous' embodies a great strength of the book. It is typically even-handed, but, most admirably, it is a prime example, among hundreds, of a dedicated attentiveness to Dylan's work. There is a line I cherish from the philosopher Malebranche - 'Attention is the natural prayer of the soul' - and the disciplined good faith of so many of the enquiring readings of Dylan's work offered here seems compatible in spirit with this remark. Gray denies Dylan the right to rest on his laurels and that is absolutely as it should be. Gray has, moreover, with typical clear-mindedness resisted so many of the horrible ticks of fandom - even while remaining courteous to Paul Williams, Williams writing represents the opposite pole to Gray's. (Although, to give Williams his due, he does share the Encyclopedia's strength of giving the later work as much consideration as the earlier.)
As Gray suggests himself at the beginning of the book, this work treats Dylan as an exciting creative presence in the world, and links Dylan's life and work to a fine array of cultural concerns. The Bob Dylan Encyclopedia finds so many new lights in which to ponder the uneven brillaince of Dylan's songs that I can feel only gratitude that it exists.
on 20 July 2006
Nobody, it seems to me, has better documented the life of Bob Dylan more accurately and exhaustively through the years than Michael Gray. That he has done so in his latest book, 'The Bob Dylan Encyclopedia', in a way that goes far beyond mere dates, listings and minutiae is a remarkable achievement.
I defy anyone not to be enthralled, enlightened and entertained by this essential volume. A wonderful book. Dylan deserves no less.
on 17 July 2006
It is difficult to understand how anyone could not appreciate some aspect of this intelligent, multilayered book. Its scope is so vast and so detailed and yet it is so readable and witty. The research project must have been of epic proportions. Gray has already given us Song & Dance Man - the Dylan reader - but in the encyclopedia he also looks at the people around Dylan; his influences; his sources; the people he has influenced and the culture of his times. This will be regarded as an important book, encompassing as it does many of the movers and shakers of the 20th Century. Although its primary focus may be the century's most important artist, this is guide to much much more. Read it - you'll like it.
on 17 July 2006
Michael Gray has done it again! After the brilliant Song & Dance Man III, The Art Of Bob Dylan, here is another masterpiece. The book is just fantastic. It's a great thrill to read it and the information is just mind blowing! I love everything about it : it starts with the shape of the book... to grab it in your hand and to look at the great black cover with that beautiful profile, and then you open it and it's an ocean of pleasure and information. Brilliant, informative, stimulating, provocative, witty ... an indispensable book about Bob Dylan.