[JPL] Down Beat review of Bob Dylan's Chronicles

Tom Reney tr at wfcr.org
Sat Mar 12 06:17:53 EST 2005


BOOKS 

DOWNBEAT March 2005 

Dylan On Dylan

by Tom Reney 



 

Bob Dylan's Chronicles, Volume 1(Simon 

& Schuster) pays anticipated tribute to a 

familiar cast of folk and blues legends, 

creators and carriers of a tradition that 

Dylan himself has drawn from and 


enriched over the course of his career. Of 

course, Dylan will never be regarded as a 

contributor to the jazz tradition; if anything, 

the accessibility of his great work 

played a significant part in eroding the 

status that jazz held as the music of a hip 

elite in the '50s and '60s. Nonetheless, he 

pays considerable and insightful attention 

to jazz in this memoir. 



Dylan recalls playing "The Water Is 

Wide" with Cecil Taylor, conversing with 

Thelonious Monk at the old Blue Note, 

and a kinship he felt with fellow trailblazer 

Miles Davis. He notes that Greenwich 

Village denizens who'd seen Charlie Parker 

acted like he'd "transmitted some secret 

essence of life to them." Even his adoption 

of the name Bob Dylan is tied not only to 

Dylan Thomas, but, in typically convoluted 

fashion, to jazz singer Dave Allyn, about 

whom he read in DownBeat. 



Reading like a cross between Old 

Testament Chronicles and The Education 

Of Henry Adams, Dylan recalls in lyrical 

prose and discreet portraiture the wide 

array of influences that begat this poet laureate 

of rock 'n' roll. He allows that he 

couldn't make "hide nor hair" of James 

Joyce's Ulysses; otherwise, he enthuses 

over sources ranging from Lord Byron, The 

Threepenny Opera and the fulminations of 

abolitionist Congressman Thaddeus 

Stevens, to Harold Arlen, New Orleans 

radio personality Brown Sugar and bluesman 

Robert Johnson, whose recordings 

impressed him as "fires of mankind blasting 

off the surface of this spinning piece of 

plastic." 



In the book's most revealing passage, 

he confirms Ralph Ellison's contention that 

black musicians often give whites a key to 

their own identities. Here, Dylan describes 

an amazing odyssey in which he leaves a 

rehearsal session in San Rafael in complete 

dejection ("my own songs had become 

strangers to me") only to wander into a 

barroom where an unnamed jazz singer is 

performing. "The singer reminded me of 

Billy Eckstine," Dylan writes. "He sang with 

natural power. Suddenly and without 

warning, it was like the guy had an open 

window to my soul. It was like he was saying, 

'You should do it this way.' All of a 

sudden, I understood something faster 

than I ever did before ... I knew where the 

power was coming from. This was revelatory 

... I could get off this marathon stunt 

ride. I had that old jazz singer to thank." 

As do listeners and readers of Dylan, for 

the brilliant work he's produced in recent 

years, and for this lively memoir. 

 

 

Ordering Info: www.simonsays.com 

 

 



Tom Reney
"Jazz à la Mode"
Monday-Thursday, 8 p.m.-Midnight

WFCR 88.5 FM
Public Radio for Western New England
Hampshire House
131 County Circle
Amherst, MA 01003-9257

tr at wfcr.org
www.wfcr.org


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