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Dylan on Dylan Paperback – 6 Sep 2007
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Gathered together for the first time: a rare and diverse collection of intimate interviews, straight from the mouth of America's most celebrated street poet. DYLAN ON DYLAN is a must-read for his millions of fans.
'I change during the course of a day. I wake and I'm one person, and when I go to sleep I know for certain I'm somebody else.' Bob Dylan DYLAN ON DYLAN gathers together for the first time twenty-nine of the most significant and revealing conversations with the singer, stretching over forty years from the earliest days of his career in 1962 through to 2004. Among the highlights are the seminal Rolling Stone interviews by Jann Wenner, Jonathan Cott, Kurt Loder and Mikal Gilmore, as well as the legendary 1966 Playboy interview. In-depth and intimate, these interviews cover the gaps left by the Chronicles: Volume 1. Dylan expert Jonathan Cott writes an introduction to this must-have collection of the artist in his own words. 'Edited by Jonathan Cott, one of the original editors of Rolling Stone and arguably the most simpatico writer ever to converse with Mr Dylan, the interview format remains eminently readable ! Mr. Cott identifies the major sea changes in Mr Dylan's life via conversational format, without undue commentary ! Nobody can explain Mr Dylan as well as he, when he cares to do it, can explain himself' The New York TimesSee all Product description
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Now that Dylan has won the Nobel Prize for Literature - which left him 'speechless' - I though it time to re-read this, to see if I can glean anything new from this remarkable man. Dylan was and is a phenomenal talent. I am a huge fan of his pre-1967 work (also Blood on the Tracks). As a writer and change agent for the culture, he towers over the Beatles and strides above even Elvis. He brought literacy into song writing, not mere wit (Cole Porter) and with a voice of 'sand and glue' (Bowie).
Dylan is acutely aware of what he does and what he believes in. He eschews the tricks of the studio in favour of the emotion of recording 'live.' You hear no overdubs, no tricks - of course, he is 'old fashioned', not seduced by the studio. He wants to record and get out of there. These days, he seems bewildered by his early gift for words - he says he doesn't know where they came from - and I believe him. He simply cannot do that anymore and he knows it. He sees himself as in the folk tradition, with deep roots. He steals from everyone - as he is 'not a melodist'. He went from nobody to star, then superstar, then a recluse, then a relentless touring pro. A great singer with a limited voice, he can no longer sing, but refuses to stop playing. As he ages, he lets out to the interviewers what he thinks, and it becomes an embarrassment, especially when he becomes a born again Christian. This is when I stopped expecting him to come out with greatness - he sounds merely insane.
And yet he is relentless. He writes and performs, not as a nostalgia act like the Stones, but in the genuine belief he has more to say, more to add to his huge contribution to music. You have to admire Bob Dylan even if you don't like him or admire his songs. He is a phenomena.
I found this collection an awful but somehow compelling read. I think the best 3 albums ever recorded were Bringing It All Back Home, Highway 61 Revisited and Blonde on Blonde. To paraphrase John Lennon on Elvis - 'Before Dylan, there was nothing.'
There is a preponderence of interviews from 1978, as Dylan promoted Renaldo and Clara. One interviewer notes: "I was surprised by how willing Dylan was to go into detail about the film; he'd never done that with his songs." This is very true, and not necessarily a good thing as Dylan seems desperate to pass the film of as serious art exploring themes of identity etc. and these interviews are rather dull.
Also included is the 1971 interview by self-proclaimed Dylanologist A.J. Weberman, the man who literally scoured Dylan's rubbish and who had the distinction of being physically attacked by the man himself. Eventually, though, Dylan granted him an interview where Weberman expounded his crackpot views, railed against Dylan's selling-out, and insisted that he himself was the subject of Dylan compositions such as "Dear Landlord". He them set this down in an inept copy of Ginsberg-style beat speak. The inclusion of this piece is entirely unmerited and lowers the tone somewhat.
Generally, though, these pieces are well-chosen and interesting, and give Dylan in his own words, sometimes contradictory, as they follow his ever-changing moods. Marvel at his lightning conversion to a rather fundamentalist form of Christianity, and equally sudden relapse, smile wryly at the interviewer-baiting of the mid-60's and bask in the warm glow of 2000's Dylan's erudition and worldly wisdom.
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The frustrating thing about being an admirer of Bob Dylan is that the man refuses to acknowledge his own legacy. Bob was very consistent from the beginning, stating more than once, "I just sing and play guitar". Well, that's a little bit like a prophet saying "I just give the occasional lecture". On one level, yes, Mr. Dylan is just a singer and songwriter (and some would claim he's not even really a singer). On another level, Bob has an amazing ability, or perhaps a God-given talent for taking intangible, nebulous thoughts and ideas that may exist only in a subconscious form, and putting these formless ideas into tangible words and music. Bob seems to be able to pick up something in the air, thoughts and feelings that people may not even be able to express themselves, and then he's put it all into a neat and simple package called a song.
I believe Bob Dylan puts down his own talent because he's not consciously aware of how he writes songs. (He certainly appears to be unable or unwilling to interpret the meaning of his own work.) I don't want to read too much into his lyrics, but I think that his songs will stand the test of time in 100, 200, 300 years.
I think an artist like Dylan is like Mozart - who just did what came naturally, and wasn't able to explain just how he was able to compose music that seemed to arrive straight from heaven. Like Mozart, Dylan is probably more of a messenger than a songwriter.
Most or all of these thirty-one interviews coincide with tours, films, records; recently Dylan had an art exhibition but this postdates the final 2004 interview. They are all very polite- nobody says he's a disappointing ghastly little man, for example, to see what happens. All the background work - agents, contracts - is missing and it's impossible to know what information has been suppressed. The largest amount of data is about other musicians - notably early influences, and then musicians who accreted to him as became or was mad famous - and studio work, which he compared to working in a coal mine. He seems very generous about influences - there's quite a huge list of people he listened to. There's also quite a bit on poetry and writers - but whether deliberately or not it's a bit of a shambles - it's hard to believe Rimbaud, Byron, Shakespeare etc has any serious effect. It seemed possible to me he might have read Dylan Thomas - 'petrol blind face to the wind', 'Bible black night' seem Bob Dylanesque. At any rate the words are the thing here and there's very little on his writing technique, if he has/had one. The impression given is he used a portable typewriter and because this is an effort left most of the words the way they emerged. He doesn't seem to have ever designed songs in the sense of selecting some emotion or reaction or outlook, and trying to embody it in works, reworking it to make it more or less subtle.
I'm sure Dylan fans will buy this book and similar ones, and they are I suppose right to do so, but the nutritional content isn't very satisfactory - whether he has unrevealed depths, or basically is just another entertainer, who knows?