Thursday, December 30, 2004

Dylan writes!

I got Dylan's autobiography, Chronicles Volume One, for Christmas, having restrained myself from buying it when it came out in the autumn. Given his track record (musical and non-musical) and his recent erratic form, I feared the worst. But it turns out that, no, it is not as bad as it could easily have been, nor as bad as might reasonably be expected, nor even good considering remembering his past has never been one of his interests or strengths and writing prose didn't suit his style; no, it's actually good full stop. He writes tangentially and episodically, concentrating on establishing the mood of a particular time and place economically. He describes the Minnesota communities' repsonse to fallout shelters: "But salesmen hawking the bomb shelters were met with expressionless faces".

His account of songwriting and recording is prosaic and matter-of-fact (and unenthusistaic compared to his treatment of books and people); you can see in his description of the New Morning and Oh Mercy! sessions his growing frustration that the sounds they were making were getting further away from the sounds he had envisioned, and that he, as well as his critics, was unhappy with the final result. So, surprisingly, the book takes a dip in interesty the closer it comes to "the work".

The only groanworthy moment is the appearance of Bono and the two-page eulogy Dylan gives to Bono's genius, knowledge and wisdom. But as Dylan says himself, noone should rely on his judgement! Otherwise, it's clear that, despite fears to the contrary, he is still sane and capable.

Whether Volume Two will cohere as well as this does is doubtful, since it will inevitably cover better-documented parts of his life, and will also have to deal with a lot of touring and recording, but I'd recommend Volume One to anyone with an interest in Dylan.

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