Sunday, August 09, 2015

Bob Dylan's Highway 61 Revisited (2006)

Another way to explore the 33⅓ series, perhaps the most common: read the ones on favorite albums. Highway 61 Revisited has long been my personal favorite, and with the book's 2006 publication date this particular entry—by Mark Polizzotti, about whom I don't otherwise know much—is one of the earlier books in the series. I found things to like and not like. More than anything it underlines the difficulty of the project in conception. In many ways, all a writer can do is huff up and uncork the love, hopefully with a side of original research or at least insight ... if there is any left to be found. Polizzotti's footnotes for the book number into the triple digits, which says plenty about what has gone before as well as what is going on here. In particular, Polizzotti has issues with Greil Marcus's attempts to own the Bob Dylan critical enterprise. Polizzotti's complaints are valid, but Marcus's loopy takes are well suited to Dylan in general, even when they are obviously quite insane, so Polizzotti is more tilting at windmills in that regard. But there is good work here, and it all proceeds from the good faith of his regard for the album. Interestingly, even as much of Dylan's most compelling attraction lies in the language he uses, it also resists very much the language of the critic, making the critic look a little silly. Thus, even though Polizzotti obviously appreciates "Desolation Row" and goes on with great authority about it—indeed, much in accord with many of my own views on it. Polizzotti has my sympathies and I'm sure I have his. But he looks just a little silly going on at length about it. We all do. One of Bob Dylan's most confounding and terrific skills is the ability to tell almost anyone to shut up and make it stick. On the music, and on the sessions, this little book is much better, taking care of a lot of legwork and connecting many dots. That the picture created by the connected dots seems beside the point is hardly Polizzotti's fault. He comes from a literary background but wisely sets that aside for the most part here. It's not without insights—I had never before noticed the symmetry of the two vinyl sides, for example—but I think it's best only at small things, such as sorting out the producer's role among Tom Wilson, Bob Johnston, and of course Dylan himself and his process in the studio, still evolving in 1965 but very close to the enduring template that set in with the next album, Blonde on Blonde. No one can explain this album, Highway 61 Revisited—it's what I find so entertaining about Marcus's attempts. Polizzotti's book is definitely worth a look for the hardcore.

In case it's not at the library.

No comments:

Post a Comment