Book Review: Dylan Chronicles, Volume One, by Bob Dylan
Reviewed By Bruce Rhodes
I have always been a huge fan of Bob Dylan’s music, and am now probably a bigger fan than ever. As I listen to his older music, some of it for the first time, and compare it to the tripe from other acts that record companies “manufacture” these days, Dylan’s music is a true treasure.
I’ve seen Dylan in concert twice, both times in the 70’s, and have invested in tickets to see him in November 2006 in Toronto. In summary, I trust that I’ve qualified myself as a genuine fan of Bob Dylan’s music.
As it relates to Dylan’s Chronicles Volume One, however, I am somewhat less enthusiastic.
On the positive side, the book provides great insights into how Dylan saw the world, in particular his disdain for the celebrity (at times messianic) status that was accorded him. Also, Dylan is skilled at describing the landscapes in which he lived, especially Hibbing and New York City. Finally, Dylan reveals a lot about the mechanics and orientation of his creative process, which is interesting and inspiring.
On the other hand, I have issues with some of the book’s content, as well as with its style. As for content, Dylan writes about dozens of people, mostly musicians, that he claims had a big influence in his life. This is all well and good, except that the reader, unless s|he knows of these people prior to reading the book, has a tough time getting to know them beyond a superficial level; they remain quite anonymous. This was particularly true about Dylan’s wife, to whom he refers repeatedly as nothing more than “my wife”; he NEVER states her name. While I respect Dylan’s need to maintain the privacy of his family members, it would do his wife no harm, and would have warmed up his commentary, if he had provided his wife’s name; to have not done so seems quite strange.
As for style, the book seems to have been written by a genius with relatively little formal education. If this is true, so be it. However, I cannot help but think that Dylan would have enhanced his image (if he cared to do so) if this book could have steered clear of numerous, often embarrassing, errors in spelling, grammar and syntax. Either Dylan wrote this book without the input of an editor, or he had an editor who either failed to see the errors, or saw them and agreed to leave them. For example, “Once, me and Clayton were sitting…” (pg 49 of the trade paperback edition); “[I]…was on Boliva time…” (pg 50); “One time Clayton and myself came in late…” (pg 57); “Evidentially they didn’t know they were being photographed.” (pg 66); “…incredulously, the charges against her were dropped.” (pg 66); “…me and Delores were about to leave…” (pg 69); “… one of [Tony Bennett’s] records was laying around…” (pg 95); “I sunk into the water…” (pg 100); “You could work slow here.” (pg 179). Each of these missteps detracts from the work.
Overall, I’m glad that I bought and read Chronicles Volume One, and I recommend it to Dylan fans. In fact, I plan to buy Volume Two if and when it is published. I just hope that Dylan lets a skilled editor enhance his written work.