Bob Dylan achieved immortality before he was 25. That was almost 40 years ago. Things haven’t changed.
Granted he has as much to do with clothing himself in myth as anyone. People need stories, he provides them. Go figure.
Dylan introduced rock to folk, poetry to rock and weed to the Beatles. He is a rambler with antagonizing precision, a blind man seeing lightning and an aristocrat in beggar’s boots. Never about following orders or having hit records, he defines contradiction, humility and vision – all marks of mastery.
Chronicles: Volume 1 christens a trilogy of memoirs. You know immediately it’s Dylan, the way you knew Miles Davis’ voice in his autobiography. Unmistakable.
Other biographers reported Dylan into myth – Chronicles brings it all back home, as if Mona Lisa herself came to life and began talking.
A gloriously meandering navigator through his own history, Dylan writes like an asexual Henry Miller minus the exclamation points.
Everything but startling revelation, Chronicles enlivens drab, overdrawn facts as if to say “Yeah, this is what ya’ll missed” with that knowing smile. You see Grandpa Bob rocking in his chair, doing what he does best, telling stories about telling stories, all rolling and flowing into and through the others.
What makes Dylan unique is how he expresses himself. A gloriously meandering navigator through his own history, Dylan writes like an asexual Henry Miller minus the exclamation points. Filled with candor, metaphysics and joie de vive Chronicles is an historical jambalaya of proper nouns, colloquial aphorisms and legendary hows and whys. The only thing missing is the Lost Colony of Roanoke.
A self-admitted anachronism, Dylan’s creativity rests in the years surrounding the Civil War:
“Back there, America was put on the cross, died and was resurrected. There was nothing synthetic about it. The godawful truth of that would be the all-encompassing template behind everything that I would write.”
In hindsight watching him transform his myth and music is as enlightening as watching the world follow. He makes it all matter.
When you speak of Dylan don’t use words like enigma or messiah – they’re inaccurate crutches. He owes you nothing, least of all an explanation.
When you see him walking down the street don’t expect, praise or think twice – it’s alright. Thank him silently with a nod or wink. Then go home and crank up Blonde On Blonde, loud, until your ears bleed.
40 years ago Bob Dylan built himself a myth. Releasing his memoirs has brought him back to blessed humanity.
This story first appeared in San Diego City Beat on October 20th, 2004. Bob shook the house two nights later at Cox Arena on the campus of San Diego State University.