Richard's Reviews > Chronicles, Vol. 1

Chronicles, Vol. 1 by Bob Dylan
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Oct 16, 2011

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Read in October, 2011

I picked this up not knowing what to expect – like just about everybody in my generation I was a fan but couldn’t figure out where Dylan was coming from. Looking for insight, I watched DA Pennebaker’s 1967 documentary on Dylan “Don’t Look Back” and came away even more confused about Dylan. Reading the book reveals some of the mystery and truths from Dylan’s perspective and provides a good deal of the influences behind his music. He talks a about growing up in the mining town of Hibbing, MN of his father and uncles all of whom went to WWII and came back, never said a single word about their experiences (dinner around the Dylan table must have been a spectacle:

Pa: Pass (the) potatoes…
Ma: How wuz yer day?
Pa: Sure

You definitely get the idea that Bob wanted to set the record straight and clean up the confusion that has surrounded his name since his days as folk singer in Greenwich Village to the anti-war poet of the people, to dissolute rock n roller with The Band to Christian to just another performer as he is now. As revealing as this memoir is it still contains haziness that could have been better clarified with some dates. Chronicles Volume I begins with his days in MN and the events/music that formed his direction, followed by a short stint in Duluth where he practiced his folkie technique (copying his muse Woody Guthrie primarily) to his launch as an unknown to Greenwich Village where he encounters Dave Van Ronk and other luminaries of the folk scene. After hooking up with the legendary manager Albert Grossman a legendary deal maker/bully he landed in Woodstock at the height of his 60’s fame. It’s here that Dylan makes it very clear he wanted nothing to do with the 60’s scene he was thought to be leading and details how he could find no peace in Woodstock even going so far as to be armed to protect has young family. He was baffled by the mantle of sage handed to him, wanting nothing more than the prototypical small house with a white picket fence and a place to enjoy his family.

The story proceeds in something of a dreamlike state free of any dates but included are the occasional references to shows, albums, sidemen that act as waypoints to give you an idea of the period he’s writing about. Maddening is that The Band gets only one single reference and that only an exchange between Robbie Robertson and Dylan traveling in a car when RR asks Bob something like “What’s next, man”? and he replies something like “WTF, you too?” and mentions wanting to jump out of the car. It was just THE BAND after all Bob, why would you want to mention THEM??? Maybe he’ll circle back for more in Volume II, one can only hope.
Interestingly, he goes into a lot of detail about hooking up with notable produce Daniel Lanois and recording his first album with him (”Oh Mercy, 1989). Lanois’ own material like “Acadie” “For The Beauty of Wynona”, “Shine” etc. is spectacular, understated, haunted stuff so one would think he would be a perfect fit as a producer for Dylan, but Bob being Bob that wasn’t necessarily the case. Still it provides an interesting look into the creative process among musicians that is worth reading.

Dylan closes Volume I of Chronicles by circling back on his days in Greenwich Village and his time spent with his then muse Suze Rotell for whom he wrote the epically beautiful “Boots Of Spanish Leather” (delivered in fine form by guitarist Martin Simpson on “A Nod To Bob” released as a 60th birthday tribute). Despite Suze’s beauty and talent, Bob being Bob it didn’t last long and so the first Volume comes to an end.

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