I am highly impressed by Dylan's book, but am not sure I would call it a
autobiography in the usual sense. Autobiographical fragments, maybe (though
more volumes to come are implied in a title) - or even 'fragments from an
auto-ergography', to borrow Sigmund Freud's alternate designation for his
'An Autobiographical Study'. An auto-ergography is someone's account of
working rather than their personal life, and that on the whole fits the bill
The book is not conventionally structured in accordance with linear time.
Parts 1, 2 and 5 deal with the very early days of Dylan's career, in 1961
he starts with the beginning of his working life, not his biological life);
Part 3 is about 1970, part 4 about 1987. The circular movement back to the
beginning shows Dylan 'bringing it all back home' and implying that all of
his career needs to be periodically retuned to its sources.
'Chronicles' has been very well reviewed (though, predictably, the
non-Dylan-community reviewers seem only to like sections 1, 2 and 5), and is
selling well. Despite the critics' cavils, it seems to have reached out well
beyond Bob's hardcore following. This is a bit surprising, as almost nothing
book deals with Dylan as rock-star celebrity (other than the Woodstock
section of part 3). What we get is three relatively obscure periods of his
working life - the very beginning before he had even made a record; and
accounts of the making of two lesser-known albums (many reviewers had
no doubt never heard of 'Oh Mercy' till they read this
book). No Civil Rights agitation, no Newport Folk Festival, no '66 'Judas'
episode, no Rolling Thunder Review - and nothing on the religious conversion
What comes across is an eminently professional picture of Bob Dylan - as
practising writer and musician. The details of his literary and musical
influences are of enormous interest to students of his work. We discover
that before ever he had made a record he had already read a vast amount of
had absorbed enormous swathes of American popular music. Meanwhile, the
revelation that he has read the likes of Balzac and Leopardi, and all of
Byron's 'Don Juan', should surely finally put the lid on those who claim
that Dylan's songs are 'not literature', while the sheer richness and
diversity of the musical influences - Robert Johnson, Johnny Cash, Harry
Belafonte (and we discover he knows about Western classical music too)
... - should also silence those at the cruder end of 'popular culture
studies' who would reduce his work to a mere case of 'pop music' (once at a
conference I had to put up with a self-styled ultra-left, hyper-Marxist
academic mentioning Dylan's lyrics in the same breath as those of ... Abba,
which are not even written by English native speakers ....).
Content apart, I also find the book remarkably well written - in a clear,
lucid style, preferring short sentences, that I hadn't expected from Dylan.
It is nothing like either the songs or his previous prose style as in
'Tarantula' or the album sleevenotes. It could be called the writing of a
constantly alert observer of self, others and the world around. I
particularly like the strong sense of place (New York and its snows, New
Orleans and the Louisiana swamps) and the detailed interest that Dylan shows
in both architecture and furniture - this too coming as quite a surprise.
Finally, I do maintain that despite its non-linear construction 'Chronicles'
IS a whole, and the middle sections are perfectly
coherent with beginning and end: they simply narrate an older Dylan. The
reviewers who have slagged off
parts 3 and 4 while lauding the rest are merely repeating tired hack
prejudices against later Dylan. If this book proves anything it is that
Bob's entire career needs and deserves to be seen as a dense, complex and
tightly integrated all. In the meantime it will repay endless revisiting and
mining for the gems it contains: 'I was thinking about turquoise, I was
gold, I was thinking of diamonds ..', indeed!
'Otro modo de ser humano y libre'
('Another way of being human and free')
Rosario Castellanos, 1972
Dr Christopher Rollason
M.A. (Cambridge), Ph.D. (York)
Bibliography of writings: www.seikilos.com.ar/biblio.pdf
Editorial board member, The Atlantic Literary Review (Delhi) -
Editor and contributor, Atlantic Publishers (Delhi) - see
Co-editor, Bob Dylan Critical Corner site:
Co-editor, Walter Benjamin Research Syndicate site:
What exactly did this person self-style him/herself as? A "hyper-Marxist",
or "ultra-left"? Both seem unlikely to me. I think I'm fairly well
acquainted with the sectarian left fringe of the political spectrum, but I've
never heard of anybody glorifying themselves as a hyper-Marxist. It also
seems unlikely that anybody would style himself as "ultra-left". The usual
technique is to say that you are on the left, the true left, while other
supposed leftists are actually on the right.
"And how could I ever refuse
I feel like I win when I lose" - ABBA
"There's no success like failure..." - another pop star