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As the first volume of Chronicles, Bob Dylans long-anticipated autobiography, finally appears, we are given a forcible reminder how it has never been easy to be a Dylan admirer. How could the fiercely anti-establishment composer of With God on Our Side embrace (in turn) orthodox Judaism, then fundamentalist Christianity two religions absolutely antithetical to his celebration of the unfettered human spirit ? How could the demigod of folk (and disciple of Woody Guthrie) make his controversial move into electric rock? How could this man of the streets become the arch capitalist? If no answers to these questions are to be found within the pages of Chronicles, there is nevertheless a whole host of pleasures to be encountered: literary felicities, brilliantly etched pen portraits of musical personalities he has encountered, the biting wit one might expect not to mention a thousand surprises (how could a man hardly noted for the beauty of his vocal tones be such an admirer of composers whose work he could never tackle, such as Harold Arlen, composer of Over the Rainbow?.
Those who have loved Dylans lyrics (and thats a good chunk of the academic world these days) will find the same coruscating prose here: idea and image fused into brilliant (if often opaque) word pictures, as Dylan takes us back to his early days on the New York folk scene, before he became the face of rebellion in music. There are insights into his reluctance to conform to the image his fans have of him (hence his highly unlikely conversion to religious dogmas?), and this inaugural volume of his autobiography takes the reader up to the moment of his first real celebrity. Its a fascinating and infuriating read, of a piece with Dylan the Enigma. And perhaps answers to those unanswered questions will appear in succeeding volumes. --Barry Forshaw --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
'Like discovering the lost diaries of Shakespeare . . . Maybe the most extraordinarily intimate autobiography by a 20th-century legend' -- Daily Telegraph, October 7, 2004
'There are enough bizarre and entertaining snippets of information sprinkled throughout to fascinate the most jaded Dylan obsessive' -- Independent, October 8, 2004
Entertaining and surprisingly deprecating . . . Chronicles is tautly written, vividly cinematic, and funny -- Financial Times, October 8, 2004
Takes its place next to On The Road . . . as an essential record of an American artists manifest destiny -- Observer, October 10, 2004 --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
Top customer reviews
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.
His writing style is reminiscent of (and inspired by) the Beat poets, who were active at the same time that Dylan was starting out. In fact, I’m pretty sure I’ve seen a photo somewhere of Dylan hanging out with Allen Ginsberg. But Dylan’s voice is easier, more friendly – like listening to a friend as you sit around a fire drinking cans of beer.
It’s also interesting how he approached it. It’s a true memoir, jumping backwards and forwards through time as the author follows different trains of thought but maintaining a steady narrative throughout despite this. And I find it entertaining that it’s volume one, even though no volume two has been released to date. I wonder whether he’s still working on it, or whether this is the best that we’re going to get.
Overall, this probably won’t mean much to the average person, but if you’re a Bob Dylan fan – or a fan of music in general – then there are few better reads for getting such an intriguing insight. It’s fascinating to see behind the creative process and to learn more about what makes him tick. The Daily Telegraph went so far as to call it “the most extraordinarily intimate autobiography by a twentieth-century legend ever written”. I agree with them.
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I found without any effort from my part hearing Dylan's voice reading to me as I read.
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