Rapids, Minnesota, a town about twenty miles away from where I came from. Listening to Judy was like listening to the girl next door. A non-doctrinaire list of Bob’s likes in both music and life is one of the attractions of this book, which after all, is a celebrity memoir. Bobby Zimmerman was lucky where he first landed in the Villagehe crashed in a book-filled apartment that belonged to a bohemian couple, Ray Gooch and Chloe Kiel. Ray’s books provided Bob with a self-taught higher education. I switched on the lamps. The place had an overpowering presence of literature and you couldn’t help but lose your passion for dumbness. Up until this time I’d been raised in a cultural spectrum that left my mind black with soot. Brando, James Dean, Milton Berle, Marilyn Monroe, Lucy, Earl Warren and Khrushchev, Castro. Little Rock and Peyton Place. Tennessee Williams and Joe Dimaggio. J. Edgar Hoover and Westinghouse. The Nelsons. Holiday Inns and hotrod Chevys. Mickey Spillaine and Joe McCarthy. Levittown. Standing in this room you could take it all for a joke. There were all types of things in here, books on typography, epigraphy, philosophy, political ideologies. The stuff that could make you bugged-eyed. Books like Fox’s Book of Martyrs, The Twelve Caesars, Thuycidides’ The Athenian Generala narrative which would give you chills. It was written four hundred years before Christ and it talks about how human nature is always the enemy of anything superior. . . It’s like nothing has changed from his time to mine. The music scene was similarly rich. Folk gurus like Dave Van Ronk and Mike Seeger led the way, and a party at folklorist Alan Lomax’s apartment introduced young Bob to the full scene. A bit later he played harmonica behind other singers. It was one of these gigs, playing in a recording studio with the Texas folksinger Carolyn Hester, that resulted in his meeting the legendary talent scout John Hammond, who had signed Bessie Smith, Billie Holiday, and the Count Basie Band, among others. By the time Hammond offered Bob a contract with Columbia Records, he had written hardly anything. During the next four years Dylan changed music permanently, especially with his great string of mid-’60s albums Bringin’ It All Back Home, Highway 61 Revisited, Blonde on Blonde, and John Wesley Hardin. This heroic creative period is totally skipped over in Chronicles 1, but not the aftermath. Bob does nothing to dispel the rumor that his motorcycle accident in the fall of 1966 \(Blonde On Blonde was partly an excuse to escape his rockand-roll fame. This period is presented here as a nightmarish one for Dylan and his wife and little children, who just wanted to be left alone up in the art colony of Woodstock, New York. Being called a spokesman for a generation by the media and even by some of his fellow musicians, such as Joan Baez and Robbie Robertson, only made Dylan more reclusive. Musically, this period was marked by albums such as Nashville Skyline and by the almost universally despised Self-Portrait, on which Bob crooned an imitation of Elvis doing “Blue Moon.” During his 45-year career Dylan has had several comebacks that, in his case, are really reinventions. One part of Chronicles 1 skips to the beginning of In this chapter of the book we fast-forward to 1987, when Bob really was hurt, recovering from a bad accident to his hand that had almost ended his guitar playing. Musically he presents himself as lost, opening on tours for Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, unable to even sing the songs from his great period in the ’60s. In 1987 he had written some new songs and hatched a plan with producer Daniel Lanois, who set him up in a big house in New Orleans’ Garden District, out by Tulane and Audubon Park. Perhaps the best writing in the book is Bob’s evocation of New Orleans and environs, a place that totally spoke to his spirit at this juncture. Lanois’ sound is full of echoes and reverbs partly created by strangely placed microphones and partly by using Louisiana groups such as the zydeco band Rockin’ Dopsie. By the end of the sessions a musical breakthrough has been accomplished, one that seems aided by Dylan’s love of atmospheric New Orleans. Southern Louisiana’s everyday surrealism communicated to Bob, who had been feeling stuck for a long time. His story about taking his wife for a ride on an old powder-blue Harley out to Morgan City where they stumble across a joint called The King Tut Museum is priceless. The fact that he omits information about which wife this is just doesn’t seem important. The last two songs recorded were both fine ones: a bittersweet love song titled “Shooting Star” and a tribute to Johnny Cash titled “Man in the Long Black Coat.” Bob’s high regard for Cash’s artistry evokes this: Johnny didn’t have a piercing yell, but ten thousand years of culture fell from him. He could have been a cave dweller. He sounds like he’s at the edge of the fire, or in the deep snow, or in a ghostly forest, the coolness of conscious obvious strength, full tilt and vibrant with danger. “I keep a close watch on this heart of mine.” Indeed. I must have recited those lines to myself a million times. Bob’s sance in New Orleans appears to have set him on track both as a songwriter and a singer. The resulting album, Oh Mercy, was regarded as a new beginning. The decade-and-a-half since then has been a rich period, culminating in Love and Theft in 2001, a playful masterpiece. In recent interviews Bob has alluded to a batch of new songs, so as usual, stay tuned. Dylanologists fall into three are the equivalent of musical end music writers such as Gary Giddins, Greil Marcus, and Sean Wilentz, who place Dylan firmly in a tradition of American songs stretching back to the continued on page 34 1/7/05 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 29
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