Saturday, January 08, 2005

50 in 05

#1: Chronicles Volume One, by Bob Dylan. Bob Dylan has been floating around the periphery of my musical tastes since high school, when I found the Beatles and figured out that musicians my parents' age might have known what they were doing after all; but all the same, I never found the right way in until this past summer when a friend made a few mix cds for me filled with nothing but Dylan. Even then I didn't get it at first, but I listened a few a times and let the songs roll around in my head. I kept going back to a few in particular, "Positvely 4th Street" and "Love Sick" and "Tangled Up in Blue." I got out the three-disc set I'd bought back in high school, listened to once and never gone back to, three of the early pre-electric albums. "I Shall Be Free no. 10" tickled something that it hadn't tickled before and I went back to those mix cds again. I downloaded "Like a Rollin' Stone" and the album "Desire," listened to "Wigwam" from the Royal Tenenbaums soundtrack. I started to wonder about Bob Dylan as an artist and his book kept popping up on "Best of 2004" lists, so I walked to my friendly neighborhood bookstore and took one home with me.

It's not straight autobiography, and thank goodness for that. It jumps around in time and he allows himself the freedom to let his language roam, to write about what he wants to write about when he wants to write about it. It's all interesting and he talks a lot about process and about living with the fame, or trying to avoid it, about opening up to friends and living around and through the songs he writes. My favorite parts where the beginning and the end, the two chapters that dealt with his early years in New York and how he first found folk music and Woody Guthrie. It was when he seemed most open to the world. The other chapters dealt with the recording of certain albums, of trying to evade fame, and he seemed cut off from something, struggling to find the way in to whatever it was he'd hit so effortlessly before. Maybe he went wrong somewhere and became the sort of man he hadn't anticipated . . . he makes few references to the motorcycle accident that seemed to have changed his life, but in one telling reference to it he says it was the day Robert Zimmerman died. There's a lot still unsaid there, but that's okay. You don't need to say it all.

All told, I'm glad I read it. I could see going back to that first chapter again, and to the last one, but probably not to the rest. I can't even say I'll go back to the other two volumes that are supposed to be coming, but there is a lot more in his music to sift through and discover. I'm glad I have these mixes as a touchstone, a place to start. As to one of the best books of 2004, hell, I don't know. Who thinks like that about books?

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