Jenna's Reviews > Chronicles, Vol. 1

Chronicles, Vol. 1 by Bob Dylan
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Jul 04, 2015

really liked it
bookshelves: memoir-and-biography, midwest-writers, minnesota-writers
Read in December, 2007

In this autobiography, the poet from Minnesota arrives in New York City as a young man, ready to launch his career. A saxifrage bursting into bloom. What qualities did Dylan have, aside from his knack for words and music, that account for his success? His self-assurance. His faith in his own methods. His strange sense of kinship with all great visionaries and revolutionaries in history (generals, philosophers, men of faith, men of science, you name it; he says, "It was like they were living in my backyard"). His prescient conviction that he would someday be a great mover and shaker himself. His strong sense of history. His equally strong sense of destiny (unusual for a man living in our scientific-minded times, in which it seems no serious intellectual believes in Fate or Destiny anymore). And -- most importantly, I think -- his emphasis on the importance of having *vision* (a word we rarely hear in discussions of poets or musicians anymore). On his first encounter with a singer who was later to help him jump-start his career, he writes, "I saw him walking towards me in the frosty silence... It was like the wind was blowing him my way." It is Dylan's rather reactionary belief that destiny *does* play a role in our lives, his belief that the wind *does* blow mystical revelations our way and his receptiveness to these revelations, I think, that was the keystone of his unique success.

For such a highly politicized figure, Dylan devotes surprisingly few words in this book to discussing the sociopolitical issues of his time. He doesn't think of his songs as "protest songs," he says; instead, he prefers to think of them as "rebel ballads." This nomenclature emphasizes the heroically rebellious personalities of the *characters* in his songs, rather than the political *messages* that the songs incidentally convey. (This could be a useful lesson for all aspiring writers of political poetry: if you want to avoid accidentally crossing the hazy line from political poetry into political propaganda, keep your focus on your characters rather than on your message.) Indeed, one of the most striking things about this book is how character-centered it is, and how vivid all the characters are. Throughout his life, Dylan surrounded himself with people with strong iconic personalities, the kind of people whom you could write a good strong folk-ballad about. I'm guessing that this was another of the secrets to his greatness.

Though his diction here isn't anywhere near as poetic as you might expect after hearing his song lyrics (I guess it's unrealistic to expect a writer to be able to maintain his voice at such an elevated register for the duration of an entire book), this is nonetheless a worthwhile, easy read that's stuffed with insights into the artistic process.
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Comments (showing 1-3 of 3) (3 new)

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message 1: by Mina (new)

Mina Just saw "I'm Not There"...are you reading this to prepare for the film?

Jenna No. I'm reading it just because. What did you think of "I'm Not There"?

message 3: by Mina (new)

Mina Typical art-house fare, well-done. Disjointed dreamlike narrative. A lot of the dialogue fell flat when attempting to sound pithy, but there were also a good number of moments that earned laughs for being ironic or goofy. The Cate Blanchett incarnation was a tad too affected for my taste, and the Richard Gere segment was weak. Visually speaking, I loved the use of a Technicolor palette. Overall, definitely enjoyable for any Dylan fan (more so than that concert of his that we attended, hehe!).

You seem to have a thing lately for books about Minnesotan poets setting up shop in New York City....

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