Sunday, January 16, 2011

Chronicles, Volume One (2004)

I understand the idea here is there's going to be three volumes altogether, and even that he is already busy working on the second. But we all know how Mr. Robert Zimmerman is occasionally prone to some stretchers. I'm just happy for what we got here, which is typical enough for Bob Dylan in terms of its capricious approach to the task of memoiring—skipping about from the period of his odyssey in which many of us are inordinately interested, the landing and early days in New York City in the early '60s, to a couple of others with marginally less draw: when he was recording the albums New Morning (1970) and Oh Mercy (1989). Over and out, done, more or less: 293 pages. What's much less typical from Dylan, and should probably be considered as surprising as it is appreciated, is the straightforward fashion in which he recounts the events. Where previously much of his life and background was murky and general, cloaked in deliberate if playful misinformation and almost sarcastic mythologizing—orphaned in the Dakota flatlands, taught to play guitar by Hopi Indians, a busker on the streets of southside Chicago (I actually made all those up, but they're not that far from the stories he used to spread about himself)—here he lays it all out flat, clean, and unadorned. There's more where that came from in the Scorsese documentary that followed in the year after publication of this book, but in many ways this is where the clean breast started. The change of heart it betokens had likely been in process for many years before that, going back (my guess) to his serious health scare of circa 1997. In many ways, however, and as happy as I am to have it and read it and get a clearer sense of the trajectory of his life and career, and I wouldn't have it any other way either, the end result is also a bit like the experience when one finally manages to cajole a magician who has just performed some astonishing trick into giving up its secret. It's good to know, on one level, but some of the wonder of it is inevitably rubbed away for good. Is this something Bob Dylan himself understands? Well, it did take him a long time to cough up even this one. And when did they say that next one (of three?) (and he's just about 70 now?) was supposed to come out?

In case it's not at the library.

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