Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Bob Dylan

I just finished Bob Dylan's memoir Chronicles: Volume 1. It's mostly a great book, but at points he goes on and on about things I'm sure most of his readers do not care about. It's also interesting how he basically skips over the height of his career. He jumps from pre-fame Greenwich Village Dylan to late sixties hermit Dylan. I guess enough has been said about Blonde on Blonde. But anyway, his voice and insights are amazing. He writes his book like he croaks his song lyrics: Dylan has an unmistakable way with language. I'm now confirming that he's a genius (just kidding, no one cares what I think). Also, I came away with a lot of sympathy for a man I'd previously regarded as cold, cruel, and distant.

Dylan variously talks about his "wife" in different stages of the book. But I looked up his relationships, and it's not always the same woman. I'm not sure if he's being sexist or just vague and mysterious.

Strangely enough, the woman in this photo, Suze Rotolo, is the only lover he mentions by name. And from outside research I found that they never married and weren't even together very long. But she must have influenced him a great deal. Then again, maybe he used those "my wife" labels to protect certain women's privacy. He hardly says anything personal anyway. We know he has kids, but he doesn't tell us who their mother is or even their names. If you want to find that out, you need to look elsewhere (which of course I did). It's interesting to see Dylan's privacy maintained in a form so confessional as the memoir. 

As is the case with most musicians' memoirs I've read, Bob Dylan's Chronicles educates the reader with a wide range of background knowledge. From this book I've learned about folk music, the poet Archibald MacLeish, and Robert Johnson. I've picked up some new favorites including Brecht's song from the Threepenny Opera "Pirate Jenny" and Edgar Allen Poe's poem "The Bells." My summer reading lists are often enriched by these kinds of memoirs. I can't even tell you how much I've learned from Marianne Faithfull's wonderful books (see William Burroughs and Bulgakov's  The Master and Margarita). I think most of these figures from the sixties are just highly intelligent, curious, and self-educated people.  

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