25 of 43 people found the following review helpful
Bursting the bubble,
This review is from: Chronicles: Volume One (Hardcover)
To say Bob Dylan is an enigma must be rock's greatest understatement, but the maintenance of an enigma must rely on not apologising and, especially for Dylan, not explaining. This is a book that attempts to explain...and there is no ghost writer credited, no academic and no life long obsessive Dylanologist, just the man himself claiming sole authorship.
This alone must make this book the publishing event of the decade. If some fans are committed enough to search through his dustbin then surely his shopping lists would warrant editorial attention. So why just the three stars - well this small book, taken as a whole is a tad...pedestrian.
It has some wonderful insights - Dylan's appreciation of Roy Orbison, for example, got me spending money on this very website. His reaction to hearing the blues of Robert Johnson is poetry in its own right and , of course, the influence of mentor Woody Guthrie is fully realised and inspirational. Likewise his awareness of the rise and decline of his own talent is expressed in such an honest manner that you can almost hear a myth being deflated.
But it is in the structure and the focus of the autobiography that begs questions. Naturally in such a full life you would expect a book this length to ask more than it answers. You get full descriptions of the making of the 'New Morning' and 'Oh Mercy' albums. The latter contains a very detailled description of a motorbike journey Dylan took with his wife between cuts and pertains to , well nothing really. Are these the albums that made Dylan, I think not? Perhaps the caveat should be that two further installments await?
He lists literally hundreds of influences, passers-by and hangers on which is muddled by a curious insistence of jumping time schemes refusing any real chronology - indeed this volume ends with the securing of his first deal with Columbia and the lurking influence of Albert Grossman.
But it his prose style that is the most maddening and offputting. We are confronted with endless descriptions of prosaic landscapes (New Orleans really gets the treatment), almost Chandleresque dismissals of some people, absurdly long explanations of frankly bizarre guitar playing styles and ABSOLUTELY NO COVERAGE OF THE BURNING QUESTIONS. The 'big' albums are simply not mentioned, neither is his varying and wavering religious committments, nor is the meaty issue of drugs and their relation to lyrics and neither really is his methods of composition.
Buy it for the enchanting impressions of his first year (1961) in NYC, buy it also for his often brilliant imagery and at this stage I wish to make my most contentious point. This book is clearly written by more than one person. Yep there is the lyrical Dylan but there are also blatant suggestions of crudely bolted on narrative, as if the book was conceived by Dylan as a succession of sensory images and just given to a publisher to glue together. My evidence for such a wild claim is the very differing syntax used in certain sections of the book. In fact Dylan seems to have written his piece which is curtailled by ellipsis (...) only to be continued by a far more orthodox series of metaphor-lite and rather mediocre prosody. Enough heavy talk - I would be fascinated to hear what other reviewers think.
The bubble of Dylan's enigma has been dinted by this (auto) biography, roll on the next two volumes to see if they can burst it. Methinks the great man will still have the last laugh.