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Sunday, October 09, 2005

I wasn't sure what I wanted to read on the flight back. I'd thought someone would have got me Chronicles for Christmas or a birthday, but no one had, and there it was, fresh out in paperback, and me with my iPod and eight hours of travel to look forward to.

Dylan is the very personification of the unreliable narrator, but that's his prerogative. What I thought was interesting about the Scorsese film was that,
notwithstanding Bob's cooperation, the end result was really Scorsese's version of the story. Because so much of the Dylan story is so familiar I almost didn't
recognize what Scorsese was, I think, actually doing, but the fact is that it is a classic picaresque coming of age tale. Small town boy comes to the Big City, finds success through hard work, suffers a setback because of the parochialism of the people who first acclaimed him, ultimately triumphs.

Is it a true story? Well, Dylan might say, some of it is....

Scorsese's story is not the story that Dylan feels like telling in the book. Dylan wants to talk about the stuff that he was reading back when he was couch surfing in the Village, and the way the things he read affected his thinking. He wants to talk about his musicianship, and how he has experimented with technique. He tells about celebrity, and he pretty much lays to rest the notion that he was ever a spokesman for anyone or anything except for Bob Dylan. Even at that, his work is less about answers than it is about questions. Thinking about it, "Blood on the Tracks" aside, aren't most of his songs about other people? Indeed, even "Blood on the Tracks" is as made up as anything else: when did Bob Dylan work on a fishing boat outside of Delacroix? He sneaks some autobiography in here and there, but I'm hard pressed to think of too many Dylan songs that are about the story that Scorsese tells. Joan Baez says that "Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands" was written about her, and I can believe that he told her that, but like most things that Dylan says, I question how literally true the statement is or was. And yet, when Dylan is doing what made him great, his songs are some of the truest things to have ever come out of any American art. When Chuck Berry tells the truth he speaks to what is joyful and exuberant in America. Dylan-- even when he is happy, even when he is in love, has a streak of melancholy, a whiff of fatality. This may be what defines Dylan as one of the principal avatars of the American Trilogy: by going electric, by taking on and transforming rock'n'roll, he took on the question of America's Original Sin, and he did it by acknowledging that Muddy Waters invented electricity. I haven't seen any review that mentions it, but in "Chronicles" Dylan talks about learning a particular technique on guitar from Lonnie Brooks. Come to think of it, I didn't see any reviews that commented on the lengthy sections of the book where Dylan talks about how he writes.

I'd be interested in reading a study dealing with his film work. This is an area where my own knowledge is spotty, or worse-- I've only seen "don't Look Back" and "Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid". "Masked and Anonymous", and "Renaldo and Clara" would be interesting to see precisely because they document the Dylan that came after the "coming of age" Dylan.

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