Monday, December 20, 2010

Bob Dylan Books

When I gathered my Dylan books together, I was surprised to find that I only have sixteen (twelve are pictured above). A quick search of the Seattle Public Library catalog shows eighty-one books in their collection about or by Bob. Entering the artist's name into the search field at Amazon and clicking on books brings up an astonishing 1690 titles with references to the singer. I'm sure that many devoted fans have at least as many titles as me and certainly any true collector has many more.

Here's where I confess, in these opening weeks of my blog, that writing about books is just my excuse to write about Dylan. Okay, not exactly, but besides books and kids and family and nature, Bob is pretty much next on the list of things I care about in life. As noted above, there is no shortage of words in print about his music, and that holds true for the web also. You can click away to at least a dozen high quality sites devoted to the singer, including his own. I will add those links to this blog soon.

So there is no need for me to ramble on endlessly about Dylan. I will write about him only on occasion.  But I believe I have found a slightly different way to approach the topic of Zimmerman: every so often I will discuss one of the above mentioned books. From his own 2004 memoir, Chronicles, Volume 1, to Larry Sloman's excellent reportage of the 1975 Rolling Thunder tour, On the Road with Bob Dylan, there are plenty to choose from. I hope that tomorrow's Dylan fan (it's amazing how many 16 to 25 year-olds you see at his concerts), wondering which book to read about our greatest living artist, will be able to come here, to the Idiot Child, for a preview of what each one holds in store.

Here's one really cool thing about Dylan, and the reason that there's always room for another book and another website: every Bob story is a personal story. Beyond the statistics on shows and songs and LP's, there is no objective truth. Dylan is the masked man. Anyone who listens closely will, sooner or later, get a peek beneath that mask. Sometimes you will see a bizarre distortion of reality or maybe you will see Mr. Jones or a sensitive lover, but in most cases that glimpse you get of Dylan will look like your own face. I'm not talking about Dylan the real human being, of course. I'm speaking about the art. Every person who has interacted closely with the music has found a unique relationship with it and sometimes a corresponding sequence of crazy real life events. Even in the most scholarly and supposedly detached tomes about Dylan these personal stories are revealed. Many authors have seen fit to spend many hours thinking and writing about Bob Dylan. I intend to share my take on what they've discovered and, in keeping with the theme of this blog, look for a less obvious, more cryptic interpretation of the bare facts. 

Speaking of crazy, I have a personal Dylan story too, and even a book to go with it. The Golden Bird is a memoir of my own strange adventures in the decade of my twenties. It's only a little bit about Bob, really. Dylan is a side character, but an important one. It's like the experience of many Dylan fans, where Bob's art and even his presence has a strong and steady influence in a life that goes all kinds of ways they never planned or expected. I'll be writing more about my book when it is released and available for your reading pleasure.

In the meantime I am re-reading Chronicles, and it will be the subject of my next post. Bob's memoir is a good place to start, because unlike in the music, where you can't tell for sure if it's Bob talking, or that guy you met once in a bar in Spain, or what you thought to yourself yesterday when you were stuck in traffic, the voice in Chronicles is clearly the man who wrote the songs. He manages to tell details of the most revealing sort and yet remain mysterious as all heck. Only this time, because we are getting a look at the real human being a little more strongly than the songs, it's mostly his face behind the mask.


  1. nice post, nice blog.
    m polichay

  2. Looking forward to your take on Dylan and the rest of your blog..

  3. Well done Idiot Child.
    Keep th pen a writing', the mind a thinkin' and the heart a openin' wider.
    Oscar Watson

  4. Ohhh
    You have said beautifully some of what I am feeling and hoping to accomplish with my new Dylan blog.
    I have been wanting to do it for quite some time but couldn't quite figure out the "why"- what it was that kept driving me toward it, the why do it.

    I knew it was not the biographical - no matter how fascinating. As you have noted there are plenty of resources for that info. I'm more interested in the personal connections people make within their own journey through the lyrics and rich imagery Dylan provides.

    I'm actually in the process of creating an independent studies MA program for myself. The thoughts fly when I think of the various directions (home?) I could take.

    Anyway, I am so glad you have started and I have found your blog. Hooray for Expecting Rain.
    I clicked "follow" and I will link to you on my blog (hope you will do the same) and I'm about to post you to facebook. "Edlis Cafe" on facebook is a Dylan group so I'll post there as well.

    Stop by "The Language That He Used" and say hello.

  5. I love Dylan more than anyone one else in the music biz. But, I read Chronicles almost as a piece of fiction with some truth thrown in. Any fan worth his salt knows how Bob has a hobby of embroidering personal facts a bit. I'm sure Chronicles is no exception.

  6. Thanks for visiting, my brothers and sisters in Bob.

    You may be right, Anon., about details in Chronicles, but to my ear, most of the bigger picture rings true. I say this as a son of the North Country myself. Part of my fascination with Dylan's work is that sometimes (perhaps often) he plays it straight. That very directness can be shocking (see "Sara," see The Gospel Years, see Christmas in the Heart). We might expect irony or coolness. When we get naked humanity instead, it can be more disturbing than the convolutions of the Thin Man. In fact, we might become the Thin Man, way out of our comfort zone (again, see The Gospel Years).

    Perhaps this expectation was set up by the imagery and attitude of those mid-sixties masterpieces. It's always hard to let go of what one expects (and loves) about Bob. But unless we are just fans of a "period," — and maybe there's nothing wrong with that — an appreciation of Dylan's full body of work (especially today's live shows) demands that our ears and eyes are open to change, and a variety of interpretations of "reality."

    And surely, even in some of the earlier work, what we dig most about Bob's music is the honesty. I'll talk about truth vs. fiction some in my next post and I hope you will respond.

    And thank you Ms. Mercy, I will check out your blog too. I'm always happy to walk the paths set down by friends with a head full of Dylan.

  7. Nice post!!!

    Looke at that Dylanesque Library

    See ya!

  8. Your stack is bigger than mine, Pedro. (But I have found six more of my Dylan books since taking the picture.)

  9. But I have to admit that I didn't read all of them... I usually use for research 'bout especific information...

    I bought two more since that picture... One is an Isis' anthology and the other ir the Scaduto's biography... That book is awesome!!!

    I'm from Brazil and that link ( is a blog only about Dylan...

    See ya!