on 9 October 2004
This is Dylan in top form. If you like his songs then you'll like this book. Elliptical, poetic, with a seemingly simple surface but touching the same complex depths his best songs do. I'm not sure how someone who didn't 'get' Dylan in the first place would respond to the book, but even so, as a narative it still holds up.
The zig zag chronological order is occasionally puzzling, but builds to create a satisfying whole,. To me, each chapter felt like a track in an Dylan album - each varying in intent and style, but with an overall consistent authorial voice binding them together.
Indeed, some chapters I liked more than others, just like with his albums, and there were occasional really clunky or over-ripe bits that as a long time Dylan fan I immediately forgave.
The early 60's Grenwich Village descriptions, however, which act as a kind of recurring theme throughout the book, particularly those of the people he openly acknowledges influenced him, show the author and his world in a clear light, with a kind of disarming honesty reminiscent of JD Salinger's Holden Caulfield - a reference I imagine Dylan wouldn't be entirely insulted by.
Through it all, Dylan's sense of personal ambition is presented matter-of-factly but doesn't jar. His sense of his own separateness and a profound respect for previous culture and other artists work, seems in character for one who was to develop into such a unique artist themselves.
In fact it's as an 'artist' that the picture of Dylan emerged to me with greatest clarity, with plenty of insights into the nuts and bolts of artistic creation - the gritty business of making stuff. (The fact that he built his own furniture in his first apartment and can remember the brackets and timber to this day seems entirely appropriate for an artist that I have always considered a supreme technician.)
It's along time since I read a book right through in one sitting and I am looking forward to the other (supposedly two) editions.
Yes, he's poet and, thank God, he didn't blow it.
on 11 October 2004
"Cronicles" has recieved rather mixed reviews in Denmark. It seems like most reviewers have been disappointed because Dylan does not reveil any secrets, private or lyricwise. So they act like dedicated and thus disappointed fans rather than reviewers. But "Cronicles" is a perfect introduction to the way Dylan looks at the world, pretty much from his coming into NY in 1960. The scoop of the book is his description of the NY folk scene with all it's weird existances, all the people he met there. It corresponds perfectly with Greils book "The invisible republic": For Dylan there are poeple, myths and time. The present does not really interest him unless it cooresponds with the past. In essense nothing has changed since way before BC and this is what interests him and has done all along. Thus he was able to write all these classic, mystical songs. Dyland tries really hard to tell what this implies and how it is possible to transform this view into songs of importance. And besides: His prose is beautiful, you can hear him talk. And like in his songs, he takes all kinds of detours. This book brings Dylan back home where he belongs: to the world of people first and in the service of them - a transcendentalist old bard.
on 17 October 2004
Like Steinbeck and Kerouac before him, you can hear America in his words. Those looking for insider gossip, showbiz revelations or a straghtforward narrative need to look elsewhere. The book starts with his arrival in New York City in 1961, beautifully evocative and kind hearted. Lovingly bringing to life those people around him, some more famous names than others, it has a unique sense of time and place. Amazing details show a true poetic licence in full flow. He describes the furniture in a friend's apartment in exhaustive detail; the place comes alive. He then writes that the apartment had "about 5 or 6 rooms". New York city, like the past, is another country. We then jump cut (nicely missing out his most famous period) to the late 60s and early 70s, living in seclusion in Woodstock, trying to raise a family while his generation come calling for their lost leader. His polite but solid rejection of the misguided, unworkable '60s ideals is nothing new - he said as much at the time. Maybe now people will finally get it. He belongs almost to a different time, a stranger world, that "old weird America". His fascination with Robert Johnson speaks volumes. His later work is beginning to capture this weirdness. The chapters concerning the writng and recording of "Oh Mercy" are revealing. They show that when he has the right producers, musicians, and motivations, he can make something great. The book is littered with fascinating asides - pen portraits of working musicians rather than pampered superstars, detours into the civil war, gods, generals and literature. There's a playfulness at work. Sly jokes appear here and there. He reveals that he wrote an album based on the short stories of Chekov, but doesn't tell you which one. Shaggy dog stories of old men on Southern porches, and trudging through swamps to get to Woody Guthrie's house. Everyone he writes about comes alive, positively. It's a great book from a great American voice. I expected nothing less
on 3 March 2007
You have to remember that this did not start as an autobiography - it started as a series of notes to some re-releases of his albums. Dylan happened to tap into a seam of memories and kept going. That explains the strange structure of this book. It starts at the beginning: Dylan arrives in New York and enters the coffeshop scene of Greenwich Village and all its artists, poseurs and freaks. It then jumps to 1969 and the semi-retired Dylan visiting the playwright Archibald McLeish. Then we're in the late 80's, Dylan struggles with a lack of inspiration, contemplates quitting, has a bad accident, learns how to sing like a jazz singer and invents a new way to play the guitar based on a technique taught to him by old blues guitarist Lonnie Johnson. All this without touching upon Newport 65, or the Christian conversion of the late 70s. The pen portraits are fascinating, as is his account of visiting Woody Guthrie in an asylum. He creates a vivid sense of place of New York in the early 60s and New Orleans in the 80s - both vanished worlds now. But best of all, he outlines how he came to write those early songs and the books he read that influenced him - this seems genuine and generous to me, like Dylan is handing on the flame to whoever can understand. Just remember it's structured around the creation of his albums - it is not a chronological history. If you love his music you will find this rewarding. If you don't know the music, I think you'll find it confusing.
It would be stating the very obvious if I was to say that this is a beautifully written book, the author is, after all, Bob Dylan.
As the title 'Chronicles Volume One' also suggests, this isn't a full-scale autobiography, only really covering his life before, and at the start of his brush with fame in New York City in 1961, although he does talk about incidents which occurred after (devoting chapters to some of his later albums). Nor does it provide a chronological overview, and the text, largely a collection of short anecdotes which freely go back and forth, is very much like having a conversation with an old friend.
What it does offer is an atmospheric insight into the mind and origins of this legend of the folk-rock scene, and a real alternative to the typical memoirs of such public figures. Dylan hasn't written a 'tell-all' book, because he isn't that kind of person. Instead of reading juicy information about his private life, we are given a chance to discover how this very human man views the world.
Particularly interesting was to read about the wide range of influences and images of his early life and career, and the people he met along the way, many of whom he is very keen to sing their praises. As it doesn't flow chronically, the book is instantly given an interesting twist, as well as offering an insight into Bob Dylan's sources of inspiration and the creative progress, and it's a unique look into the musical culture of the 50s and 60s, from someone who has been in this business for over fifty years.
I am glad that I discovered this poetically written book recently, as I would now have been waiting eleven years for a 'Chronicles Volume Two' had I bought this following it's publication date. I do hope that we are allowed to get our hands on a sequel someday, because Bob Dylan's first volume of memoirs left me hungry for more. He's one of the world's greatest story-tellers for sure, and one of life's keen observers. The book contains no photographs inside.
Bob Dylan: words to satisfy my mind. How little we knew of him. We read the PR, the newspapers, CD jackets, lyrics he wrote and sang, but how little we knew of him. At long last, Bob Dylan satisfies our mind and his by scribing his true self.
Bob Dylan is from Hibbing, Minnesota. We all knew that, but not of his life as a child and teenager learning to sing and that of his family. He opens his Chronicle with his arrival in New York City in 1964. He tells us of his journey to NYC, and the people he meets and greets. The people who helped him get started, the people he lives with, loves with and sings with. His trials and tribulations as a young singer in the throes of "folk" songs. He tells us how he came to his writing style, who helped to direct him, and who he admired and trusted. He describes how he came to be able to write such lyrics. He used to go to the library as a child and read classics, and he continued that in NYC in a friend's large library. His vocabulary and intellect grew as a result. He hung around the right and wrong people, he learned as he observed. He got his first chance to sing in small club, and met the person who would help him with his first record deal.
Bob Dylan had quite a reputation as a man on the edge, helping to fight the battles for justice and the American Way. That was all wrong, all hype, all PR.
He believed in justice and the American Way, but he was not on the fore front fighting for it. He wanted the reverse; to be left alone, to live his life and to write and sing. All the publicity drew strange and unattractive people to him- they broke into his home, found him wherever he was and bothered him and his family. He felt unsafe as Bob Dylan. He hated that life.
He learned to rent a house under an assumed name and to become undistinguished. He was able to travel and to be himself, somewhat. He married, had 5 children that he dearly loved. He helped to raise them, changed their diapers, loved them, gave them toys, brought them to the beach, picnics; ordinary. everyday stuff. Bob Dylan would have us believe that he is an ordinary man; well, ok, he is in some way. But he is also a troubadour, singing the words and tunes that we all love. He has been everywhere. He tells of us his time in New Orleans; the city he loves the most. Trying to get a record together and what he learned about himself and the songs he wrote. He tells of us his dinner with Bono, of U2, and how they drank a case of Irish ale, and what they learned from each other. He tells us how he admires Ice-T and Frank Sinatra, Jr. But most of all we learn a little about how Bob Dylan is as a man. Much to be admired and respected, but then, only a man.
Highly recommended. prisrob
on 4 November 2004
I know it is boring to give this book 5 stars. However, as a late developer I have only grown to like Mr Dylan's work in recent times. I can't bragg about being there at the time but now that the music industry is at the point of eating itself, one can take comfort in the fact that this legend is still alive and can still produce a gift like this...can I give it 6?
I found this a little disappointing. i was expecting it to be more revealing and more interesting. Although at tiems I found it boring, I did finally read it all the way through. It did help me sleep! It certainly shows Dylan to be a thinker and widely read. it shows him to be quite a detailed observer of what is going around about it. I don't think it really demonstrates the inspiration behind some or indeed any of his songs oe the stories behind his albums. It does not say a lot about some of the characters you would expect him to say more about such as for example Johnny Cash. Interesting to read about his early days in New York but not enough is said. Interesting to hear what he says about some of the protest singers of his day and his frustration about being labelled a protest singer himself and expected to lead protests. Again, I dont think enough is said and it is all a bit shallow. Having read it, I dont think I know much more about him than i guessed or did before i read it. I found myself skipping passages or pages because he was in my view rambling just too much. The one word that really fits my thoughts on this book is "rambling". I am disappointed
on 7 October 2004
This is a great read full stop. After all the speculation and unauthorised biographies galore its a real treat to read it direct from source. He talks of places 40 years ago so intimately you feel like you 're watching a classic movie.
Its a surprise to hear him talk of the past in such mythic tones but you can't help but be drawn in. Very easy to read and much,much too short. Roll on Vols 2 & 3 !
on 8 November 2005
This is an astonishing book for such an evasive figure. The fragmentary approach does give the impression of Dylan actively limiting his candour but what he does give away is revealing, clear minded (with the odd exception) and beautifully written.
The best section for me concerns his formative years and folk club adventures in new york. Dylan sings the praise of the music and performers he admired - not just Woody Guthrie but Robert Johnson, his contemporary/mentor Dave Von Ronk and many others. His modesty in the face of his heroes contrasts hugely with the blazingly disdainful figure of legend.
He is also quite prepared to discuss his inadequacies. At one point he describes how he walked out of a session with the Grateful Dead, convinced he was walking out on his life as a musician, concluding that his best work was way behind him and he was no longer capable of breathing any life into his old songs . Tho there is salvation from that abject misery, it is small, temporary and eccentric (he is inspired by a singer in a bar just belting out songs), as if he has discovered no more than a small pocket of oxygen in a huge vacuum.
This is an intriguing and honest if incomplete memoir of a unique, brilliant and you have to conclude, somewhat damaged artist.