Monday, December 17, 2012

"Chronicles" by Bob Dylan (2004)

When I was about 5, or 6 years old, my parents used to take me to the Village; as in Greenwich Village in New York City. It was the thing to do then, back around 1960. The Beatniks were still in presence, and with their goatees and bohemian clothes, made quite an impression on me. These people were exciting in a mysterious, yet non-threatening way. There was a current of change in the air which was almost palpable. I didn’t know it then, but I was sharing the same streets with Bob Dylan as he explored this new world. He was 19 years old and the village would become his home for many years.

Writing in pastel tones, sometimes giving only the flavor of a particular encounter with another musician, Mr. Dylan writes of a time when singers and songwriters, the likes of The Clancy Brothers, Brownie McGhee, the Monk and everyone you can possibly think of, even Tiny Tim, who was working the Village scene as a novelty act, singing 1920’s songs with his ukulele.
He writes vividly of the frigid winters I remember in the city as a child, using phrases that evoke the chill and recall the brilliant starlit nights. In almost poetic fashion he recreates the sordid New York of better years, before the corporations took over, and art was still in the very air.

Moondog; the landmark street poet who roamed the city; usually to be found further uptown from the Village; was present in Mr. Dylan’s world. Dylan; the name. Where did he get it? We all know it came from Dylan Thomas, but what was the creative thinking that changed Robert Zimmerman into Bob Dylan? In an age of Bobby Vee, and Bobby Vinton, what made the author chose his new cognomen? Who was he when he arrived in New York and what was he trying to achieve? All valid questions concerning one of the most influential artists to emerge from the tail end of the “beat” scene.
Drawing on his memories of Dave Van Ronk, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, and even the revered Woody Guthrie himself, Mr. Dylan paints a living literary portrait of one of the most creative eras of the 20th century. He weaves back and forth through the decades of his life in poetic fashion, drawing no attention to the shifts in the narrative from one era to another. He moves ethereally, just as with the visions he created in his own songs.

Unabashedly candid in his recollections; and not always casting himself in the best light; the author lays bare his true sentiments concerning what constitutes “art”, folk music and reality in general. Pushing the boundaries of folk lyrics; while helping to create “folk-rock” music in the bargain; would have been enough for most. With this book, he has established himself as a true craftsman of the memoir as a genre. I should have read this 8 years ago.

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