by carl wilson

Boy from the North Country

dylanzoi.jpg
Today's first edition of the new "Overtones" column considers Bob Dylan's new book, Chronicles: Volume One, as a case of "comic-book metaphysics" - kind of imagining that it's really a graphic novel, "a sequel to Catcher in the Rye with some wildly unforeseen plot twists," as I said - but in picture form because that's how the man talks. It's both a book and not a book. Maybe it's the album of the year. [...]

Short form: It's an amazing, amazing read. The first two sections are the best prose I've seen this year bar none. Reads like a wizard electrician's manual for keeping your mind and soul running at full voltage. Sags a little in the middle but never slumps. It's far more vulnerable and erudite and humble and funny than you'd ever expect, while not doing any little mincing dances at all about the fact that he's a heavy mofo and he knows it: Yes, I was a visionary, I made music that was out beyond anybody's weather system, and that was exactly what I meant to do. But was I a leader, a prophet? Nope, that was your damage, kids. And then you made it my damage too: Did it leave me completely, totally fucked up throughout my middle age, so that my thirties till my sixties were nearly a writeoff, so that I became "a missing person"? Yeah, and I barely made it back. (To find out how I did, stay tuned for Volume Two. If there is a Volume Two. Heh, heh, heh.)

But paraphrase can't give you that flavour - I'd sample you some science from it but Mrs. Zoilus absconded with the book (with my half-asleep permission) in the early morning today - I forgot I'd need it to share it with you. But Alex has one of the most delicious, the Balzac passage where teeth are falling out and nightshirts are catching fire, so head over there and read it. I'll give you the Clausewitz passage, or maybe the Gorgeous George the wrestler legend, after I get home tonight.

For Canadians there's kinda inspiring stuff towards the end about how growing up in a northern landscape scraped him up and scoured him out. For Dylanologists, there's a lot of duck and weave and wink and nod, and what else can you expect?

Miscellaneous knowledge: Dylan's asked by one character if he's "a praying man" and he says yeah. Later on he's talking about John Kennedy and says, "If I was a voting man, I would have voted for him." So that's sorted, he's not a voting man.

There are bizarrely funny-brilliant spots where he declares his deep abiding affinity with the likes of Ricky Nelson and Bobby Vee.

In the column I quote him saying that he came to New York in search of neither romance nor wealth, but I didn't have space to mention that he says the same thing later of the likes of Hitler, Stalin and Churchill - that they weren't in it for love or money. Wonder if he intended this strange parallel?

In one passage, he says he knows he's not that guy anymore, The Visionary, and that next time it's going to have to come from hip-hop (tho as far as he knows it hasn't arrived there yet). That's a lot more hip-hop-friendly than the selective-sounding quote in David Gates' Newsweek piece, which seemed very much like it resulted from a yearning-for-the-old-days love-in between interviewer and interviewee that might have slanted the context.

That, however, does not mean that Gates' piece was not the music interview of the year, because it almost certainly was. (Any other nominees?)

More later. Meanwhile, some considered-but-rejected new column names: Squeal, Bump and Swing, Grace Notes, World of Echo, Epistrophies, Toronto Eye & Ear Control, Microphonics and, for reasons I cannot for the life of me recall, Chrome Attack. I guess Overtones will do.

Read More | The Writ | Posted by zoilus on Thursday, October 07 at 10:19 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (3)

 

COMMENTS

With this column, Scene becomes Overtones, which will focus on a wider range of musical issues and ideas....
Is there a regular day of the week for the Overtones column publication? One hit, one miss. Should we hold our breath for the all inclusive super seven tabloid?
xxx
rg

Posted by rg on October 14, 2004 10:23 AM

 

 

In case you missed it:


Dylan's truth never goes walking naked

OVERTONES
Carl Wilson

The first time I heard the term "identity," it came with "secret" attached. It was the skin-tight, coloured outfit the hero kept beneath his staid blue suit, the name you couldn't breathe by day, the truly terrifyingly powerful you.

Such comic-book metaphysics, scorched by Freud's fingertips, marked Bob Dylan the way they did generations of boys. Fifty pages into the new memoir by the 1960s folk-rock shaman, Chronicles: Volume One, published on Tuesday, he recalls how radio serials in his 1940s Minnesota boyhood mapped out his fantasies of maturity: "I could see it all. All I needed to know about San Francisco was that Paladin lived in a hotel there and that his gun was for hire. I knew that 'stones' were jewels and that villains rode in convertibles and that if you wanted to hide a tree, hide it in the forest where nobody could find it."

Like every boy who's been a superhero in his own mind, Dylan would discover that, in the face of real soul danger, when you tried to pull off your monkey suit, you'd find only flesh, that all-too-human costume -- that other monkey suit.

And because Dylanman, Jokerman, Mister-Tambourineman is one of the rare mortals whose mirror tricks were good enough to convince millions to dream him up along with him, it surprises us, too.

In Chronicles, it's told as tragedy, all the bigger for never quite being named. Dylan's elliptical style in songs and interviews always forced fans between the lines. Some were desperate enough to go digging through his garbage for missing links.

Here the lines seem remarkably straight, but the real narrative falls between the cracks of the five sections that make up the nearly 300-page book.

It begins with his apprenticeship in the Greenwich Village folk scene, then jump-cuts to the early 1970s and the genesis of a middling album called New Morning. Then again to the recording of Oh Mercy in New Orleans in the late 1980s, better but not brilliant, as his tone makes painfully clear. At last it circles back to a recounting of his secret origins, how he became Folkman in the north country of Duluth, Minn., and the Twin Cities, then made his way down to his New York destiny, searching for "neither love nor money."

We see a young man who cannot get enough of art or life, an aging guy who can hardly bear or make either one, and then the young man again through that darker glass.

Dylan recently spelled out the implication to Newsweek's David Gates in one of the most candid interviews of his career: "I went for a long time precisely on that fame. . . . But -- it was like a bag of wind. I didn't realize it was slipping away until it had slipped away."

As he says in Chronicles, "There was a missing person inside myself, and I needed to find him." When Gates asked how long he was astray, Dylan startlingly named a span that stretches from the twilight of the sixties to the mid-nineties.

In the book, he describes plunging himself into bizarre displays of behaviour deliberately to disillusion the fanatics who were literally picketing outside his house to demand he come lead their revolution, to win back privacy for his family against people who thought he was their property. He doesn't finish the story, but one can guess that after the divorce he leaves unmentioned, this flight from the myth of himself took on too much steam, a slingshot trip around the poles without an anchor.

When the book was announced three years ago, many people couldn't believe Dylan would follow through. I wasn't even sure I wanted him to, the same way I wasn't entirely pleased that Brian Wilson was going to complete the legendary lost Beach Boys album, Smile, also released this month. There's an endless supply of artifacts out there; mysteries are few.

A writer friend of mine says she wishes she could lie to interviewers, give them legend rather than the literal, but her guile fails her. Bob Dylan's never did: This Tricksterman's untruths were truer than true, the exact reverse of a politician's platitudes.

I thought anyone who really wanted Dylan to reveal himself was a traitor, another dupe of an inside-out celebrity culture where gossip is virtue and art a sin.

Oh me of little faith. Everything the gossips want, he either omits or touches on casually -- the drugs, the sex, his rise to fame, the politics, the motorcycle accident, the heart attack, the boyhood trials of asthmatic little Bobby Zimmerman.

He refers to "my wife" without indicating that in one chapter he means first wife Sara Dylan and another, Carol Dennis, the 1980s companion he's never before admitted having married.

And yet far from being self-absorbed, the book sprawls with people like his songs do, grandiose characters sketched in quick flaming strokes, from Joan Baez to U2's Bono, from Gorgeous George the wrestler to Sunpie the Louisiana souvenir-shack prophet.

They're all wonders to him, as is every song and every book, from medical manuals to Clausewitz and Balzac.

He plans two more volumes, so some of the rest will get said -- most of all, perhaps, how that missing person became convinced he could stop hiding.

But what Dylan has hidden in the forest of celebrity memoirs is a different kind of tree: It's a novel about a character named Dylan, which reads startlingly like a sequel to The Catcher in the Rye with wildly unforeseen plot twists. It is only as autobiographical as it must be, showing a Dylan in love less with himself than with this world gone wrong.

Many of the singers who've been called the "New Dylan" over the years have been more like diarists. But Zimmer-Man's truth never goes walking naked; instead it's a mask that constantly slips. It doesn't confess its emotions, but keeps demanding, "How does it feel? How does it feel?" - every one of those words a riddle. In this book, by furnishing it with family, friends and the everyday struggle, he generously restores that enigma to its humanity. Just like Batman or the Paladin or Tom Thumb or Queen Jane or Sunpie, it's not that his identity is secret, but that a secret is his identity - just like everybody else's.

With this column, Scene becomes Overtones, which will focus on a wider range of musical issues and ideas.

Posted by zoilus on October 12, 2004 11:03 AM

 

 

awww....I kind of like Microphonics.

tim

Posted by tim posgate on October 8, 2004 11:19 PM

 

 

 

Zoilus by Carl Wilson