(Preface: I intended to post this review of Bob Dylan's "Chronicles" almost two years ago. I really don't remember why I didn't - well, that's a lie...I do remember: A) I didn't like the book, and B) I didn't like the review I'd written. It was supposed to be part of something I called the "Experimental Book Review" (see below). To make a long story short, I just forgot about it.
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Then about six months ago I found the review again, re-read it, revised it, and planned to post it - but never did. And yet Bob Dylan just keeps rolling along: his latest album, "Modern Times," debuted at number one a few weeks ago. It only took two years, but here's the review.)
I rarely feel obligated to finish reading a book if I don't like it. Once I loose my enthusiasm for a book, it's almost impossible for me to rekindle it. I was initially disappointed with Bob Dylan's autobiography "Chronicles: volume one." But I was determined to finish it - so I read it slowly, a couple of pages in the morning, perhaps a couple more in the afternoon - until I finished it. I really wanted to like this one. Unfortunately, I never really connected with the book.
Bob Dylan has remained an icon for over 40 years - in 2004, Rolling Stone magazine named his classic song "Like a Rolling Stone" the number one rock song of all time. "Chronicles" is the first of an eventual three volumes in which Dylan attempts to put his unique life in perspective - but the book is often confusing.
"Chronicles" spends way too much time on minutiae and far too little on the more interesting aspects of Dylan's life. For instance, there's an interminably long section on Dylan's recording of an album in New Orleans with producer Daniel Lanois. Dylan never identifies the album (turns out it's "Oh Mercy" released in 1989) and never sounds more than mildly enthusiastic about the experience. There must have been dozens of similar episodes in his life that would have been more exciting to write about (at least, one would hope so!).
On the other hand, Dylan simply glosses over his first serious romantic relationship with Suzi Rotolo. Dylan was introduced to the 17 year old Rotolo by her sister, Carla; the pair became inseparable. Dylan fails to mention that Suzi Rotolo is the young woman clinging to his arm on the cover of his 1963 album, "The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan." Likewise, Dylan sheds little light on his relationship with Joan Baez. He devotes about six paragraphs to the "Queen of the Folksingers." Joan Baez would eventually take Dylan under her wing, introducing him to her adoring audience and helping launch his career.
Some of Dylan's revelations are astonishingly humorous: We learn, for instance, that Dylan was motivated early in his career by a positive comment from pro wrestler Gorgeous George; that he met and sang a song for John Wayne while Wayne was on location shoothing a movie in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii; and that his favorite politician was the late Berry Goldwater.
Clearly, the most important revelation in "Chronicles" is the crystal-clear explanation why Bob Dylan decided to sabotage his career at the zenith of his popularity. In 1965 and '66, Dylan released three ground-breaking albums: "Bringing It All Back Home" (1965), "Highway 61 Revisited" (1961), and "Blonde On Blonde" (1966). These three albums sent shock waves around the music world. They were considered rock masterpieces. They would become the standard by which all other rock albums would be judged.
However, beginning in 1967, Dylan released a string of truly bazaar albums. 1967's "John Wesley Harding" was a complete departure of Dylan's style and it confused fans. He followed it up in 1969 with the mellow country-flavored "Nashville Skyline." And in 1970, Dylan released "Self Portrait," an album of such poor quality the one Rolling Stone magazine critic began his review of the record with the question, "What is this shit?"
Dylan explains that his career had gotten out of control. He and his family had no privacy and, in fact, were forced to move repeatedly because fans were literally breaking into his homes and distroying his life. Dylan made a conscience decision to record badly written songs in an unprofessioanl manner in the hope that this would drive his fans away.
"Chronicles" has received excellent reviews in the mainstream press. Sean Penn narrates "Chronicles" for the books-on-tape version. Thinking about it now, I suppose "Chronicles" is probably as good a reflection of the life of this mysterious man as one can hope to expect. I just expected something...more.
Rating: 7.25 out of 10.