the Chronicles of Bob Dylan

In preparing for the coming semester of my Brief History of Music class (section V, covering years 1900-2000), I have been researching through Music and film media to refresh my knowledge of Bob Dylan.

Over the holiday break I have listened to every single one of his albums (concurrently & consecutively!) and I have watched the early documentary Don`t Look Back (1967) as well as Martin Scorsese`s No Direction Home (2005) which is a near-exhaustive account of Dylan`s life both in and out of the public eye – but the work that I think has given me the closest picture into the mind of the man is his recent quasi-autobiography Chronicles, vol. I.

Bob Dylan has been a person I have known my entire life, in as close a resonance (if not more so) than an eccentric uncle or odd family friend. I can hardly remember a time that I did not know his name or, at least, have some semblance of who he was.

As a small boy, his Music charmed me for its hurdy-gurdy sing-song simplicity – but as I grew older, I relished the stories his songs had to tell… the fierce sense of ultimate justice behind Only A Pawn In Their Game the scathing indictment of American syncretism found in With God On Our Side and the driving surrealism of A Hard Rain`s A-Gonna Fall.

I have felt a certain kinship with him for many years, as though we were wrought from the same patch of earth. While this might sound as an absurd boast on my part, he remains one of the few artists whose work follows a sort of logic that I can identify as being analogous to mine own – in a way that has nothing to do so much with the result so much as it does with the process.

For most of my life I longed to correspond with him, knowing the impossibility of such a dialogue due to the deliberate inaccessibility for which he has battled – a trait that is, itself, one more of our many similarities of character.

Reading Chronicles, vol. I, I was quickly taken in by the simple plain-spoken prose that flowed into my mind like a warm trickle of late-night conversation. Dylan and I could have been sitting across a camp-fire from one-another, or in a dimly-lit living room, or some other locale of quiet and unobtrusive intimacy – his words rambled on, sometimes changing horses in the middle of an apocalypse (or chasing rabbits, as jolly ol` DeWayne Bolin would say) but always winding his way back home to roost.

Many of his phrasings had a familiar scent to them, not that we are necessarily the same in our particular writing styles so much as we each have a somewhat ornately oblique way of describing events, places, moods and feelings:

“…I hadn`t come in on a freight train at all. What I did was come across the country from the Midwest in a four-door sedan, `57 Impala–straight out of Chicago, clearing the hell out of there–racing all the way through the smoky towns, winding roads, green fields covered with snow, onward, eastbound through the state lines, Ohio, Indiana, Pennsylvania, a twenty-four-hour ride, dozing most of the way in the backseat, making small talk. My mind fixed on hidden interests… such as eventually riding over the George Washington Bridge.

The big car came to a full stop on the other side and let me out. I slammed the door shut behind me, waved good-bye, stepped out onto the hard snow. The biting wind hit me in the face. At last I was here, in New York City, a city like a web too intricate to understand and I wasn`t going to try…”

Dylan crafts his life before the reader`s very eyes out of the smoky haze of legend and hearsay, weaving his own mythos into the narrative of his life – a practice which I can also find eerily resemblant to my own mystery-building.

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