Spirit Empire

Feeling a little sluggish today, I read the first volume of the Bob Dylan Chronicles. I’ve always been a huge Dylan fan, certainly of the musician, but mostly the poet. He did not let me down. His prose and imagery are stunningly beautiful, although a couple of areas of the book seem a little drawn out. I’m sure that if he read this, Dylan would chide me on my Attention Span Disorder, as he calls it. I mean, this is man who has written songs with sixteen or more verses and who memorized Byron.
To escape the “Voice of His Generation” title that was thrust on him by the media, Dylan, always a chameleon, created a number of tantalizing identities through the years, smoke screening his fans, but also adding to his mystique, a consequence he didn’t foresee. All he really wanted was to develop his craft as a songwriter, go out and sing his songs, then return home and raise his family.
The most beautiful part of this book is a three-page description of New Orleans, in which he paints an impressionist image that we can not only see, but also touch, hear and smell. I’ll buy this book just to read that section over and over.

“In New Orleans you could almost see other dimensions. There’s only one day at a time here, then it’s tonight and then tomorrow will be today again. Chronic melancholia hanging from the trees. You never get tired of it. After a while you start to feel like a ghost from one of the tombs, like you’re in a wax museum below crimson clouds. Spirit empire… The devil comes here and sighs…” *
Dylan’s characterizations of the legendary folksingers who lived and worked in Greenwich Village during the early Sixties are also excellent. I’ve often regretted that I was born about ten years too late and 3,500 miles too west to have been a part of that scene. Instead, I was a pale, skinny, red-haired, bookish folksinger feeling out of place in the land of the Beach Boys and tan, leggy blonds who read nothing but Glamor magazine.
Fortunately, I found creatures like myself in places like Isla Vista (UCSB) and Haight-Ashbury. And of course, I had my friend JP Deni, sharing conversations about folk music, philosophy, politics, eastern thought, and smoking the occasional doob. But back to Dylan…
I know he’d hate this, but this autobiography reminds me, in a funny way, of Harpo Marx’s, Harpo Speaks! Through the years we have listened to Dylan’s words and have tried to find hints of the man inside the prose. Now, he tells us about himself in an honest and clear style, yet still retaining the intangible imagery that is pure Dylan. He demands that you visit his life at his pace and in his time. To some, it might seems as if he’s rambling, but I think he’s telling us his story much the same way that he might if we were sitting with him over a bottle of wine. More than anything, what is revealed in this book is that Dylan, the “eccentric poet”, was more like us than we thought. He probably still is.
I’ve said it for years: Bob Dylan will be remembered as one of our country’s great poets.

*Copyright © 2004 by Bob Dylan


  1. You keep adding things to my reading list.

  2. You keep adding things to my reading list.


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