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Thursday, 9 June 2005

Bob Dylan - Chronicles Volume One

I've been reading Bob Dylan's first volume of autobiography recently. I have just a few pages to go. Dylan is an artist who I have better understood as I got older. I remember first hearing so many songs that I thought were preferable as cover versions by other people - 'All Along the Watchtower' by Jimi Hendrix for example.

I had read a couple of reviews of this book, which encouraged me to read it. It was rated as top book to read by Mojo magazine at the end of last year.

Well I agree with the comments that the style of prose is good. Dylan's style is unusual, reminds me a bit of the Beat writers. It takes a few pages to feel comfortable with it, and the narrative technique he uses is unusual too. Unlike many autobiographies by stars there is very little detail of dates, times, contexts etc. I'm not a huge fan of Dylan, so a lot of the subtle references were probably lost on me. As a result I often felt like the text jumped from one time to another without any clues to orientate the reader.

I did enjoy reading the book - it had a lot of interesting facts in it and some great anecdotes. I particularly liked the bit about Woody Guthrie, where Dylan visits him in the mental hospital for the last time, is offered some songs that Guthrie wrote if he goes to the family house. Dylan goes in search of the songs, but is unsuccessful. As an almost throwaway comment, he points out that these were the songs which would later be recorded by Billy Bragg and Wilco. What an amazing story!

But I wouldn't rate this book at the top of my list, because it was just too confusing. It felt like it needed a good editing job from someone with the nerve to say to Dylan 'this is great stuff, but it needs to be put into context so that the reader can follow where you are going'.

Ultimately the problems might be down to my lack of knowledge of the subject. I'd be really interested to hear what real Dylan fans made of the book. Feel free to post a comment and let me know.

I suppose the final test rests with the fact that I will still be keen to read the next volume when it comes out.

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