Review of Bob Dylan's autobiography, Chronicles Volume One

Bob Dylan Chronicles Volume OneIf you worship at the altar of Dylan this book will definitely have you on your knees, hands crossed, eyes closed and bathed in the celestial Bobness light. For Bob Dylan fans it will be like an intravenous drip of ... the drug of your choice. But is it a good book?

Yes, Bob Dylan can write prose as well as songs - which isn't enough of course - but thankfully he can also tell a story.

Reading the book I felt I got to know New York's Greenwich Village in 1961/62: the characters, the dark and sweaty music clubs, the musicians, the folk snobs, the booksellers and music agents. (As a place and a scene - I found it particularly interesting  - as we, i.e. myself and my wife Pat, recently visited New York and stayed in Greenwich Village.  I even played a few gigs in local venues. I recognised some of the street names and a bit of the atmosphere as described.)

We witness the seeds of the folk scene crank itself up into the cultural phenomenon that it became. Dylan paints powerful portraits of performers such as Dave Van Ronk (in particular Van Ronk), Len Chandler, Mike Seeger as well as the weird and wonderful variety of acts that made up the scene at the time.

We read of his overriding obsession with folk music, his immersion in the life and songs of Woody Guthrie and the influence of his critics. We also learn his musical and literary tastes; including Kurt Weill, Robert Johnson, the 'beat' writers and the philosophers he reads; books he pulls from the shelves of those who offered him a couch for the night.

These and the constant self-questioning and his belief in something significant just round the corner lead to the construction of Bob Dylan the songwriter/performer.

We never get to witness the transformation but he sets it up for us; he leads us down the path.

On the downside, he does spend a bit too long trying to paint himself as a bit of an intellectual; a reader of meaningful books; a deep thinker -  and he doesn't seem to notice that he can be as much of a musical snob as any he describes in the Village.

Reading the book did remind me that an autobiography is not about truth and objectivity; events are interpreted, influences chosen carefully, inner dialogue invented as required to tell the chosen story. It's a good story to tell - it doesn't matter a jot whether it's the truth or not; it's a book full of rich imagery and we get a vivid sense of how his mind works.

He jumps from the 'lightness' and excitement of his time in Greenwich Village to a later part of his career when he is 'famous' - where his mind is in a much darker place. He is beset by doubt; he has a lack of direction; feels alienated; hates the heavy weight of being asked to be a 'spokesperson' and hates the idea that he is obliged to lead a movement.

He doesn't know what songs to write, how to sing, how to make a record; he seems to be in a lot of mental turmoil. This part of the book has a completely different feel to it - you feel he didn't enjoy writing it and was searching for a way to interpret what was going on in his head at the time. I found it no less interesting though he leads you along as his thoughts dart from one 'answer' to another; as yesterday's answer never stacks up to the light of a new day.

Whether you are the biggest Dylan fan, or not, the book is a great read. You will get an insight into the thoughts of someone considered a musical and cultural legend and you will get a coulourful picture of what it was like in Greenwich Village in the early sixties.

Jim Byrne

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What the critics said about 'Every day is sunshine' by Jim Byrne.

  • "a heady and exotic mix. " Q Magazine.
  • "..full of cinematic turns of phrase, dressed up in alluring melodies delivered by some of the most respected players on the modern-day Celtic Folk scene." UNCUT
  • Album of the week on Celtic Music Radio
  • Added to 'God's Jukebox' on Radio Two Mark Lamarr show
  • "A beautifully produced collection of Americana" The Daily Record. Four Stars
  • "Great record... a complete, compelling listen. ", Adam Levy (Songwriter/artist, guitarist with Nora Jones)
  • "ten beautiful, atmospheric songs..", Folk, Blues and beyond
  • "a fresh, original album", Eilidh Patterson (singer songwriter, vocalist with Beth Nielsen Chapman)
  • Sounding like Johnny Cash never left Folsom prison...meditations on life that'll soon sound like old friends. Spiral Earth

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