Bob Dylan | Chronicles Volume 1

Simon & Schuster Paperbacks

" ... the fire in my mind was never out, like a wind vane that was constantly spinning" (Bob Dylan)
by David Fujino February 2006

Whether you know him as Dylan, or Bob Dylan, or Bobby Dylan, it's his songs that matter.

He's been writing them for over 40 years now and while most people know songs like "Mr. Tambourine Man", or "Blowin' In the Wind", Dylan himself says he's never been a mainstream artist.

In any case, in reading these very readable chronicles, we discover — not surprisingly — that Dylan is an excellent writer.

He creates a portrait of himself — the artist as a young man — in a more-or-less chronological order.

In the opening pages, we find our young songwriter living in New York where he was already known as Bob Dylan. The time is the late 1950's, the early 60's, and Dylan is on the verge of recording a record for Columbia.

"I'd come from a long ways off and had started from a long ways down. But now destiny was about to manifest itself. I felt like it was looking right at me and nobody else."

Notice how Dylan's writing is in a lean American vernacular, with faint echoes of Woody Guthrie, an early and important influence on Dylan.

Also notice how practically-minded and insightful the young Dylan is:

"Most of the other performers tried to put themselves across rather than the song, but I didn't care about doing that. With me, it was about putting the song across."

This is certainly no tell-all biography — in fact, Dylan also writes that he likes to be at home with his wife and family, so you know this won't be a typical bio, nor a sensational exposé.

What does he write about?

He writes positive things about artists like Joan Baez and Miles Davis, and this makes for great reading, but he also writes about the uniqueness of New Orleans as well as the casual pleasures of making things by hand from metal and wood.

He writes about his voracious reading in New York in friends' libraries and in the public library.

And he writes about his name change from Robert Zimmerman to Bob Dylan on page 78 of the paperback edition.

Dylan's writing has a smart and shining intuitive quality, and especially when he's writing about the songs of the legendary bluesman Robert Johnson, his writing rises to a whole new level:

"Johnson's words made my nerves quiver like piano wires. They were so elemental in meaning and feeling and gave you so much of the inside picture. It's not that you could sort out every moment carefully, because you can't. There are too many missing terms and too much dual existence. Johnson bypasses tedious descriptions that other blues writers would have written whole songs about."

This is Dylan the songwriter, the guy who doesn't come from the Academy, the guy who originally came from the people and learned how to sing their songs so he could then sing his own songs.

These Chronicles are an inspiring and pleasurable read. I've already been re-reading sections. I hope there's a Volume 2 coming out soon.

We welcome your comments and feedback
David Fujino
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