12 February 2012
320 pages, Simon and Schuster (September 13, 2005)
"Chronicles, Volume One" is the first part of "Bob Dylan"'s planned 3-volume memoir. Published on October 5, 2004, by Simon & Schuster, the 304-page volume covers selected points from Dylan's long career.
Through "Bob Dylan"'s eyes and open mind, we see Greenwich Village, circa 1961, when he first arrives in Manhattan. "Bob Dylan"'s New York is a magical city of possibilities, smoky, nightlong parties; literary awakenings; transient loves and unbreakable friendships.
Elegiac observations are punctuated by jabs of memories, penetrating and tough. With the book's side trips to New Orleans, Woodstock, Minnesota and points west, "Chronicles: Volume One" is an intimate and intensely personal recollection of extraordinary times.
By turns revealing, poetical, passionate and witty, "Chronicles: Volume One" is a mesmerizing window on "Bob Dylan"'s thoughts and influences.
"Bob Dylan"'s voice is distinctively American: generous of spirit, engaged, fanciful and rhythmic. Utilizing his unparalleled gifts of storytelling and the exquisite expressiveness that are the hallmarks of his music, Bob Dylan turns "Chronicles: Volume One" into a poignant reflection on life, and the people and places that helped shape the man and the art.
While most autobiographies concentrate on the highlight reel, Chronicles is spent almost entirely on the practice field. And it makes sense-that's where "Bob Dylan" feels safest, away from prying eyes, labels, and questions.
Notorious for ignoring the press and the extroversive demands of his fans, "Bob Dylan" maintains this stance by concentrating on internal, personal moments rather than the infamous events that the public (via the press) cling to.
Although this book is clearly marked "Volume One", the reader is left with the sensation that the chapter "What Mr. Tambourine Man Really Means", is never going to arrive.
There are virtually no direct insights into any of his most popular records.
Entire chapters are dedicated to "Oh Mercy" (1989) and "New Morning" (1972), but other than the occasional aside, there is no mention of Freewheelin', "Highway 61", or "Blonde on Blonde".
His love-life is painted with delicate, honest declarations, but his most passionate descriptions are saved for his many dozens of artistic influences.
Like any artist "Bob Dylan" saves his greatest admiration for those who do things he cannot. His highest compliment seems to be that an artist, or the expression of said artist seems to originate from a far away place, outer space, the unknown.
Rimbaud, Balzac, Kerouac, Poe, and Thucydides are just a few of the writers he cites as influential, but more interesting is the admiration he heaps upon those famous for brute strength: people who can impose their will on others.
Years of performing passed before "Bob Dylan" even considered writing his own songs, and his first recording with Columbia records would only feature two originals: "Talkin' New York", and the apt tribute "Song to Woody".
Dylan slowly arrived at a daunting, unavoidable conclusion: if he continued to be a folk singer in the purest sense (singing the songs of those that came before him) there would always be people who could do it better.
People like "Mike Seeger" and "Jack Elliot" could play the guitar and sing better than he ever would, and Dylan knew it.
Like his hero "Woody Guthrie", Dylan would have to create his own material, using his own, imperfect guitar, and his distinctive, penetrating voice.
The process of this discovery is one of the many highlights of this book, described in magnificently generous detail, and as one song turns into two, and two into three, the dam breaks, and the world is witness to a new way to write songs.
The next great moment of discovery Dylan discusses would occur 25 years later, after he had sung all those great songs so many times they had lost their vitality.
He had once again become an artist content to sing songs of the past, only this time they were his own. Out on tour with "Tom Petty", Dylan longs for retirement.
"It wasn't my moment of history anymore...one more big payday with Petty and that would be it for me".
Losing all emotional connection to his songs, Dylan had never felt more insecure.
"My haystacks weren't tied down", he writes, "and I was beginning to fear the wind".