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Book Title: Chronicles: Volume One|
Date of issue: 2005
ISBN 13: 9781849833370
The author of the book: Bob Dylan
Format files: PDF
The size of the: 34.22 MB
Edition: Pocket Books
Read full description of the books Chronicles: Volume One:I’m going to do something I try not to do here, since I consider this to be a site about other people’s words- I’m going to ramble on autobiographically for a bit.
I bought this first volume of Dylan’s Chronicles the day it came out in 2004, was anticipating the hell out of it. Back then I was managing a used record store in College Park, Maryland. I studied poetry and creative writing at UMD, big waste of my time, could’ve learned all that on my own, learn more now on my own than I did then anyway, except from maybe two or three professors who had something to say, and besides reading a lot of Shakespeare, it was a big snooze. Though I did find Frank O’Hara and John Ashberry and Fernando Pessoa and I feel like I learned a great deal about ol’ Will’s plays I wouldn’t have come to on my own. Other than that, I should have studied languages or education or linguistics or history or something that could have landed me a better job after I graduated. When I did graduate, the world was so opaque to me I didn’t know how to take the next step. The reality that I considered the adult, professional world to be seemed so dead and vacant to me that I wanted no part of it, but I knew that my consciousness and my conscience were no longer with the style and opinions of my youth. I had always played music, written songs, shitty as they were, and my circle of friends were mostly wanna-be artists and musicians, some skateboarding punks, pot-heads, some real dim and bright lights. I got a job managing a used record store a few of my friends worked at. That way I didn’t have to move home after graduation, could stay around DC, which I loved (coming from a small town in southern Maryland, the DC/Baltimore duality is almost overwhelmingly fertile, experience-wise, especially if you are young and don’t know other cities). So I started working at this record store that was, in retrospect, at the same time the best and the worst decision I could have made.
But it suited me because I knew music inside and out. I knew punk, weirdo-rock, jazz, little no name labels, blues, pop, rap, R & B, African music, Brazilian music, folk singers, composers- I had an infinite catalog of songs always running through my head, felt like I knew millions of lyrics by heart, could name jazz artists by the first four or so bars of a tune, dove deep into every style of music. And I was playing music, writing it myself, so it was an ideal situation, but one I still wanted to keep extremely temporary, employment-wise. My favorite bands came out of the 80’s noise scene, SST bands, stuff like Sonic Youth, Dinosaur Jr., Spacemen 3, Pelt, bands like Minor Threat and Fugazi, I got into Pavement because they were like nothing I’d ever heard, I dug The Velvet Underground as much as anyone could, “Pale Blue Eyes” still makes me weepy, I loved those strange little short-lived mathematical bands like June of 44, A Minor Forest, Hoover. I also loved jazz, all jazz, from Louis Armstrong to the most wild Albert Ayler tunes, Coltrane, Archie Shepp, Cecil Taylor, Ornette Coleman, the European improvisers of harsh noise like Peter Brotzmann, Mats Gustafsson, especially drummers like Hamid Drake, Paal Nilssen-Love, and the masters like Elvin Jones and Buddy Rich, Philly Joe Jones; the great tenor players Sonny Rollins and Lester Young, and those ethereal beings such as Sun Ra, Bobby Hutcherson, Anthony Braxton, who you couldn’t really define or pin down. I came to exalt Django Reinhardt as if he was the real Jesus, the three-fingered Jesus, more striking and more straight to the point than the other Jesus. I had all kinds of music coursing throughout my entire being, pulsing through me all day, all night, I worshiped these people, had shrines to them, treated vinyl records like idols. I played music all day in the store, just put everything on. Heard so much. Found so many things I would never have known about unless I had those hours to just explore a vast quantity of random records at my leisure. The only stuff I didn’t really get into was the watered-down stuff, the stuff that sounded too polished, too clean, like pretty college boys made it, or like it cost a million dollars to record. Anything gritty, anything that had something a little off to it, something that didn’t quite sit right, that made you wonder just what the hell was up with this person, I could get into. All genres, all types. The common thread was originality and heart, and something mournful or odd about the tune. It wasn’t until those long, strangely-paced hours of digging through the stock of that record store that I came to know Bob Dylan’s music.
Dylan had always eluded me, don’t know why, I came to him relatively late in the development of my tastes. I guess it was that I was well-versed in obscurities, but big names of the popular music world seemed instantly repugnant to me; it’s a fault of youth, wanting things to be just for yourself. I just thought that if the masses liked them they couldn’t hold any kind of secret. That the secrets were held by a chosen few, who spoke in tongues, and that those kind of revelations wouldn’t, couldn’t reach a mass audience. The weirder the better, it seemed to me, and the more authentic. So when I put on “The Times They Are A-Changin’”, I just expected it would be another 40 minute write off. Not that I didn’t know Dylan; you can’t grow up in America and not know the name Bob Dylan. It’s like not knowing the names Abe Lincoln or Lee Harvey Oswald. But I don’t think I had ever seriously listened to one of his records until now, and in retrospect I think that was the singularly best time for me to hear him, maybe the only time up until then that I was ripe to understand what he was doing, the immensity of what he means, as a songwriter, as a cultural figure, as a presence in the American twentieth century. You can’t be a child or of a child-like mind to get Dylan. You have to have experience, you have to have known some kind of pain and loss and redemption of some sort; like the great blues artists- Charlie Patton, Big Bill Broonzy, Leadbelly- you can’t be kidding around and get what these guys are trying to put across.
Dylan hit me like a brick in the face. “With God On Our Side” and “Chimes of Freedom” were the first songs I remember being utterly enraptured with and destroyed by from him:
“Starry-eyed and laughing as I recall when we were caught
Trapped by no track of hours for they hanged suspended
As we listened one last time an' we watched with one last look
Spellbound an' swallowed 'til the tolling ended
Tolling for the aching ones whose wounds cannot be nursed
For the countless confused, accused, misused, strung-out ones an' worse
An' for every hung-up person in the whole wide universe”
“To Ramona” was perhaps the greatest love song I’d ever personally heard: “The flowers of the city, though breath-like, get death-like sometimes.”... “Corrina, Corrina”, “Girl of the North Country”, etc., the big ones hit me too, “Hard Rain A’Fallin’”, “Only A Pawn in Their Game”. Those first few acoustic records of his seemed like liquid fire, lightning and stone all at once, all of it telling utterly real and bleak truths. And then I moved on through his catalog. “Bringing It All Back Home” and the rock-a-billy blues forms, the humor in the lyrics, the takes they kept of Bob laughing at himself, the searing rhythm of the band, “Highway 61 Revisited” which is probably in the top 5 greatest records ever cut, and on through the weirdness of the early seventies, the mid-seventies masterpieces “Planet Waves”, “Blood on the Tracks”, “Desire”, and then off into the cosmos of the 80’s and 90’s when he was throwing all this stuff at the wall to see what would stick, and the eventual renaissance of his late 90’s records and albums from this century, when he really found his form and his tongue again, when you realized he never lost anything but was just out for a long walk... what it was (and this took me a lot of listening to pin down) was that Dylan captured it all, all the influences, all the currents, all the sounds, all the weirdness and nostalgia, the Americana, the high lonesome sound of the mountains as well as the chaos of the city streets, the resonance of the abandoned plains and the reverberation of both ocean coasts, the silence of the hermetic shepherd under the stars and the cockiness of the hard-boiled city kid, the upstart... everything I liked about all the music I had discovered, it all flowed through that great flame of hair, burned in those eyes, seared in that voice and echoed in those plucked strings...
I came to say things like “the Elizabethans had Shakespeare, we have Dylan” and I believe that. Dylan is twentieth century America to me. Somehow it all became amassed in this slight, skinny Jewish kid from the North Country. He seems like the ghost of everyone who ever lived, singing all their laments.
So when the first volume of his autobiography came out in 2004 I had my copy set aside at the now long gone but always loved Vertigo Books, and eagerly ran over from the record store to pick it up. But for whatever reason, the first few pages didn’t catch me. I don’t know why. I thought of Dylan as the great artist of our times, of the times preceding mine, of the times to come, and yet, it may have been because of the other reading I was into then (a lot of Joyce, reading and rereading Ulysses), it didn’t grab me. I set it aside. It’s seven years later, I’m working a much better job, just put a record out under my own name, Dylan is still with me as strong as ever, and I’m closing the last page of this remarkable first volume of his memoirs.
The book itself is most definitely not only for Dylan aficionados, mostly because so much of what is in the book is Dylan observing the world and times around him, going deep into specifics of memories, fixing time and place by weather, news, architecture, the personalities he encounters, the particularities of the sky and trees, the shadows on streets, the vibe of rooms, the ambience of smoky cramped clubs; basically he writes with an eyes-open style, absorbing the physical world, not self-involved but totally observant. Dylan the man disappears into the spaces he evokes, and then he emerges, startles one with some strange sentence or description, and then the earth is spinning on again, and he is immersed in discourses on folk songs, bars, cities, literature, politics, human nature, history, specifics of music theory, recording techniques, travels; the narrative is utterly non-linear, too; he leaps from memory to memory, associations taking him across decades, and this being the first of what is to be a three volume series, you can see Chronicles becoming this big time, shuffling, always-in-motion mosaic.
It’s no surprise that the most literate of song writers loves books so much, and one of the early pleasures in Chronicles is Dylan discovering the books he was to adore, rifling through the libraries of different friends whose couches he happened to be crashing on. Tolstoy, Pushkin, Chekhov, Gogol, Maupassant, Poe, Byron, Shelley, Milton, Ovid; but above all Balzac, Rimbaud, and Baudelaire. (As recently as “Love and Theft” Dylan was still lifting lines like “Time and love has branded me with its claws”, in “Po’ Boy”, straight out of Baudelaire’s “Le Spleen de Paris”). He can’t help but quote Nietzsche and Von Clausewitz and he keeps returning to Kerouac, who he adored as a youth but then came to de-romanticize. Kerouac is to him another emblematic, problematic American figure. He cites Robert Graves’ The White Goddess, and then tells how he eventually met Graves and wanted to ask him all these things about that book, and the poetic muse, but by that time he had forgotten everything about it.
Dylan came from Duluth, near where Highway 61, the main thoroughfare of the country-blues, begins, near where the Mississippi River starts, the cold North, steel country, where foghorns blast over Lake Superior, almost mythical territory in itself, and it is in the mythos of America, the mythical Americana of the twentieth century, that Dylan immerses himself, his music, and his recollections- the America of radio plays, general stores, one-room schoolhouses, frost-hewn meadows, coal mines, church bells, patriotic heroes and heroic villains, cowboys and bank robbers and sheriffs and train jumpers, county fairs, Woody Guthrie-esque wandering minstrels above all else, delta blues men and call and response holler sessions- even if you don’t love Dylan, Chronicles is a gigantic, rich, full catalog of all of this kind of lore. One of his song writing techniques in the early Greenwich Village days was to spend hours in the New York Public Library, reading endless newspapers from the 1850’s and 1860’s, picking up random, strange, peculiar stories about the daily life of antebellum Americans. All of that shows in his early songs, and it shows in the particular distance he kept from the movements and currents of his own times- when the entire 60’s youth culture was demanding him to take a stand and be their voice and leader, he could not have felt less in common with them; characters like Stagger Lee and Ulysses S. Grant were more of his peers and contemporaries than the hippies marching on Washington or at Woodstock. His reality was formed by folk songs, which were formed by the lingering smoke of history and personal experience. He was to take those folk forms and blow them all to pieces, make them more than contemporary or futuristic, was to mold something completely new and different from that material, but the American past and American folk stories are the generating point of all he did or has ever done, and the fashions and causes of the times only seem like drops in the great ocean of history he was drawing on.
Beyond all of this, Dylan can write prose very well, very interestingly, and in a style that is all his own. If you have heard Theme Time Radio Hour or any recent interview, that is the voice of this book- the blown out, craggy, father-time voice that sounds and talks like it is centuries old, like a petrified forest's would be. The strange rhythms of his speaking voice are not lost in his sentence structure, neither is his ability as a striking wordsmith. On New Orleans:
“The city is a very long poem... Everything in New Orleans is a good idea. Bijou Temple-type cottages and lyric cathedrals side by side. Houses and mansions, structures of wild grace. Italianate, Gothic, Romanesque, Greek Revival standing in a long line in the rain. Roman Catholic art. Sweeping front porches, turrets, cast-iron balconies, colonnades- thirty-foot columns, gloriously beautiful- double pitched roofs, all the architecture of the whole wide world and it doesn’t move. In New Orleans you could almost see other dimensions. There’s only one day at a time here, then it’s tonight and then tomorrow will be today again.”
On Johnny Cash:
“...ten thousand years of culture fell from him. He could have been a cave dweller. He sounds like he’s a the edge of a fire, or in the deep snow, or in a ghostly forest...”
On Dave Van Ronk:
“Every night I felt like I was sitting at the feet of a timeworn monument... his voice was like rusted shrapnel.”
On an 8 second, 8mm film clip of Robert Johnson:
“He’s playing with huge, spider-like hands and they magically move over the strings of his guitar. There’s a harp rack with a harmonica around his neck. He looks nothing like a man of stone, no high-strung temperament. He looks almost child-like, an angelic looking figure, innocent as can be. He’s wearing a white linen jumper, coveralls and an unusual gilded cap like Little Lord Fauntleroy. He looks nothing like a man with the hellhound on his trail. He looks immune to human dread and you stare at the image in disbelief.”
I particularly like “structures of wild grace” and “nothing like a man with the hellhound on his trail”. Chronicles is full of this kind of stuff. If you have any notion of or interest in the history or the music of what is called Americana, of everything us Americans here in the United States are culturally perched upon in the twenty-first century, this first volume of Dylan’s memoirs seems like a proper portal that can lead you to into its great depths; it’s fascinating and I can’t wait for the next volumes.
Read information about the authorBob Dylan (born Robert Allen Zimmerman) is an American singer-songwriter, author, musician, poet, and, of late, disc jockey who has been a major figure in popular music for five decades. Much of Dylan's most celebrated work dates from the 1960s, when he became an informal chronicler and a reluctant figurehead of American unrest. A number of his songs, such as "Blowin' in the Wind" and "The Times They Are a-Changin'", became anthems of the anti-war and civil rights movements. His most recent studio album, Modern Times, released on August 29, 2006, entered the U.S. album charts at #1, making him, at age sixty five, the oldest living person to top those charts.
Bob Dylan won the Nobel Prize in Literature (2016).
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