Thursday, September 11, 2014

Homer revisited, Kerouac again

Bob Dylan's CHRONICLES VOLUME 1 (2004) is five slices from Bob's life. Parts of it are very good. Other parts, eh. But it's all jumbled up.
It opens with young Bob signing a publishing contract with Leeds Music right after signing a recording contract with Columbia Records. This early section is solid -- vivid and detailed, even funny.
But then he starts jumping around. The best part of the book recounts the recording of Bob's '80s album OH MERCY in New Orleans with producer Daniel Lanois. I'm not that big a Dylan fan -- I've never HEARD OH MERCY -- but I thought Bob recounting how the album came together (and almost didn't) was pretty interesting.
But of course I wished he'd told about recording something a little more historic -- like BLONDE ON BLONDE or HIGHWAY 61 REVISITED or BRINGING IT ALL BACK HOME....
The stuff about his early days in Greenwich Village is pretty interesting, too. Detailed and vivid, and Bob doesn't mess around much. But then we jump again.
We meet producer Bob Johnston in a section called "New Morning," and see what Bob was like in the early '70s -- he just wanted some quiet space to raise his kids away from the media and overzealous fans. We never learn the names of his kids, and his wife's name is never mentioned either.
In some later flashback, he recounts seeing Joan Baez on TV, and knowing somehow that he would meet her someday. But he never writes about meeting her, or the time they were together. Maybe that's in Volume 2?
Here's the thing: There's some good writing here, as well as some that's kind of lazy -- and I'm OK with the nostalgia. But it's all kind of ... trivial. He doesn't write much about his huge popularity in the mid-'60s, he doesn't talk about his screaming tour of Britain, he doesn't talk about hitting the road with The Band, he doesn't talk about his motorcycle accident. He doesn't talk about his "vacation" after the wreck, or about THE BASEMENT TAPES.
He talks at length about not writing songs for a play written by Archibald MacLeish. He says he recorded one album of songs with stories "borrowed" from Anton Chekov -- was that BLOOD ON THE TRACKS? Bob never says.
What I'm wondering is, if Bob could have written about ANYTHING in his career, why did he give us these pieces?
I don't mind Bob being tricky, but I'd like him to spill something MEANINGFUL to him in 300 pages. And there's not much of that here. Of course, what does he owe us by this late date? Nothing.
Trust me that you will learn more about Dylan and have a much better time by reading David Hajdu's excellent POSITIVELY 4TH STREET.

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