|The Great White Wonder|
|It’s always good being told what you already
know, and The Rough Guide to Bob Dylan does just that. It’s 380-odd
pages manage to pack in enough biography, reviews, opinion, lists and trivia
to keep any fan - or those just interested - happy. Author Nigel Williamson
has tried to keep his distance and a cool head whilst reviewing Dylan’s
whole output; and condenses the chaotic and confusing life of his Bobness
into a fact-filled 190 pages. There are asides and mentions of intriguing
bootleg material, a short section on the films, an exhaustive index, and
a run through ’50 Great Dylan Songs’ along with a bunch of quotes collected
as ‘The Wisdom of Bob’. These last two are probably the non-essential part
of the book, but the rest of the stuff more than makes up for it. Concise,
sensible and well put together.
Meanwhile, in Studio A: The Bob Dylan Reader, which Norton are just about to publish, there’s Dylan seen through literature. The book gathers up ‘articles, poems, essays, speeches, literary criticism, and interviews’, most of which were new to me, although some of the big name stuff by the likes of Greil Marcus is almost canonical as Dylan reviews go.
Even so, there is plenty to entice and intrigue. The first section covers 1961-69 and includes a letter from Johnny Cash to Broadside, an excerpt from a Press Conference, and an early article discussing rock lyrics as poetry - although it’s author Robert Christgau has the decency to put ‘maybe’ in brackets at the end of his title! Greil Marcus’ infamous put-down review of Self Portrait opens Part Two, which also includes contributions by Ginsberg, Clive James and Rick Moody, as well as a fantastic freeform poem/rant by poet Anne Waldman. A real eye-opener for people like me who know only her more recent linguistically-innovative writing.
Part Three opens with an intriguing interview about Dylan’s conversion to christianity, and moves through into the period when Dylan starts being perceived as an elder musical statesman. Here is his acceptance speech for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, here Cameron Crowe’s liner notes to Biograph, and an excerpt from Dylan’s piece in Songwriters on Songwriting. But there is also the lingering sense of disappointment with Dylan’s new releases here, as the titles of two other contributions, ‘Stillborn Again’ and ‘World Gone Wrong Again’, indicate. But the fourth and final part is more accepting, and includes writing about ‘Dylan at 60’, and some overviews of his work.
What most intrigues me about Dylan is that so many people are intrigued by him; even people like myself, who don’t regard themselves as fans, want to know about him and his music, and own far too many albums by the man. Which is quite staggering when one realises [after consulting the Rough Guide] that he hasn’t released what I consider a good album for over 20 years!
If Studio A is a book of writing about a musician, John Luther Adams’ Winter
Music [published by Wesleyan University Press] is the opposite: a composer
writing about his own music, and what shapes and informs it. I know Adams’ music
through his releases on Cold Blue Music. He lives in the far north, and regularly
travels to the Arctic, yet counters this with regular involvement with, visits
to, and concert presentations in, the metropolises of America. So already there
is a balancing act going on - the isolationist and explorer vs. the city-dwelling
musician involved in the contemporary classical music scene. His music in many
ways is also a balancing act between busy minimalism, abstract sound sculpture,
and silence itself.
© 2004 Rupert Loydell