The celebrated first memoir from arguably the most influential singer-songwriter in the country, Bob Dylan.
“I’d come from a long ways off and had started a long ways down. But now destiny was about to manifest itself. I felt like it was looking right at me and nobody else.”
So writes Bob Dylan in Chronicles: Volume One, his remarkable book exploring critical junctures in his life and career. Through Dylan’s eyes and open mind, we see Greenwich Village, circa 1961, when he first arrives in Manhattan. Dylan’s New York is a magical city of possibilities—smoky, nightlong parties; literary awakenings; transient loves and unbreakable friendships. Elegiac observations are punctuated by jabs of memories, penetrating and tough. With the book’s side trips to New Orleans, Woodstock, Minnesota, and points west, Chronicles: Volume One is an intimate and intensely personal recollection of extraordinary times.
By turns revealing, poetical, passionate, and witty, Chronicles: Volume One is a mesmerizing window on Bob Dylan’s thoughts and influences. Dylan’s voice is distinctively American: generous of spirit, engaged, fanciful, and rhythmic. Utilizing his unparalleled gifts of storytelling and the exquisite expressiveness that are the hallmarks of his music, Bob Dylan turns Chronicles: Volume One into a poignant reflection on life, and the people and places that helped shape the man and the art.
|Publisher:||Simon & Schuster|
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About the Author
Date of Birth:May 24, 1941
Place of Birth:Duluth, MN
Read an Excerpt
Chapter 1: Markin' Up the Score
Lou Levy, top man of Leeds Music Publishing company, took me up in a taxi to the Pythian Temple on West 70th Street to show me the pocket sized recording studio where Bill Haley and His Comets had recorded "Rock Around the Clock" -- then down to Jack Dempsey's restaurant on 58th and Broadway, where we sat down in a red leather upholstered booth facing the front window.
Lou introduced me to Jack Dempsey, the great boxer. Jack shook his fist at me.
"You look too light for a heavyweight kid, you'll have to put on a few pounds. You're gonna have to dress a little finer, look a little sharper -- not that you'll need much in the way of clothes when you're in the ring -- don't be afraid of hitting somebody too hard."
"He's not a boxer, Jack, he's a songwriter and we'll be publishing his songs."
"Oh, yeah, well I hope to hear 'em some of these days. Good luck to you, kid."
Outside the wind was blowing, straggling cloud wisps, snow whirling in the red lanterned streets, city types scuffling around, bundled up -- salesmen in rabbit fur earmuffs hawking gimmicks, chestnut vendors, steam rising out of manholes.
None of it seemed important. I had just signed a contract with Leeds Music giving it the right to publish my songs, not that there was any great deal to hammer out. I hadn't written much yet. Lou had advanced me a hundred dollars against future royalties to sign the paper and that was fine with me.
John Hammond, who had brought me to Columbia Records, had taken me over to see Lou, asked him to look after me. Hammond had only heard two of my original compositions, but he had a premonition that there would be more.
Back at Lou's office, I opened my guitar case, took the guitar out and began fingering the strings. The room was cluttered -- boxes of sheet music stacked up, recording dates of artists posted on bulletin boards, black lacquered discs, acetates with white labels scrambled around, signed photos of entertainers, glossy portraits -- Jerry Vale, Al Martino, The Andrews Sisters (Lou was married to one of them), Nat King Cole, Patti Page, The Crew Cuts -- a couple of console reel-to-reel tape recorders, big dark brown wooden desk full of hodgepodge. Lou had put a microphone on the desk in front of me and plugged the cord into one of the tape recorders, all the while chomping on a big exotic stogie.
"John's got high hopes for you," Lou said.
John was John Hammond, the great talent scout and discoverer of monumental artists, imposing figures in the history of recorded music -- Billie Holiday, Teddy Wilson, Charlie Christian, Cab Calloway, Benny Goodman, Count Basie, Lionel Hampton. Artists who had created music that resonated through American life. He had brought it all to the public eye. Hammond had even conducted the last recording sessions of Bessie Smith. He was legendary, pure American aristocracy. His mother was an original Vanderbilt, and John had been raised in the upper world, in comfort and ease -- but he wasn't satisfied and had followed his own heart's love, music, preferably the ringing rhythm of hot jazz, spirituals and blues -- which he endorsed and defended with his life. No one could block his way, and he didn't have time to waste. I could hardly believe myself awake when sitting in his office, him signing me to Columbia Records was so unbelievable. It would have sounded like a made-up thing.
Columbia was one of the first and foremost labels in the country and for me to even get my foot in the door was serious. For starters, folk music was considered junky, second rate and only released on small labels. Big-time record companies were strictly for the elite, for music that was sanitized and pasteurized. Someone like myself would never be allowed in except under extraordinary circumstances. But John was an extraordinary man. He didn't make schoolboy records or record schoolboy artists. He had vision and foresight, had seen and heard me, felt my thoughts and had faith in the things to come. He explained that he saw me as someone in the long line of a tradition, the tradition of blues, jazz and folk and not as some newfangled wunderkind on the cutting edge. Not that there was any cutting edge. Things were pretty sleepy on the Americana music scene in the late '50s and early '60s. Popular radio was sort of at a standstill and filled with empty pleasantries. It was years before The Beatles, The Who or The Rolling Stones would breathe new life and excitement into it. What I was playing at the time were hard-lipped folk songs with fire and brimstone servings, and you didn't need to take polls to know that they didn't match up with anything on the radio, didn't lend themselves to commercialism, but John told me that these things weren't high on his list and he understood all the implications of what I did.
"I understand sincerity," is what he said. John spoke with a rough, coarse attitude, yet had an appreciative twinkle in his eye.
Recently he had brought Pete Seeger to the label. He didn't discover Pete, though. Pete had been around for years. He'd been in the popular folk group The Weavers, but had been blacklisted during the McCarthy era and had a hard time, but he never stopped working. Hammond was defiant when he spoke about Seeger, that Pete's ancestors had come over on the Mayflower, that his relatives had fought the Battle of Bunker Hill, for Christsake. "Can you imagine those sons of bitches blacklisting him? They should be tarred and feathered."
"I'm gonna give you all the facts," he said to me. "You're a talented young man. If you can focus and control that talent, you'll be fine. I'm gonna bring you in and I'm gonna record you. We'll see what happens."
And that was good enough for me. He put a contract in front of me, the standard one, and I signed it right then and there, didn't get absorbed into details -- didn't need a lawyer, advisor or anybody looking over my shoulder. I would have gladly signed whatever form he put in front of me.
He looked at the calendar, picked out a date for me to start recording, pointed to it and circled it, told me what time to come in and to think about what I wanted to play. Then he called in Billy James, the head of publicity at the label, told Billy to write some promo stuff on me, personal stuff for a press release.
Billy dressed Ivy League like he could have come out of Yale -- medium height, crisp black hair. He looked like he'd never been stoned a day in his life, never been in any kind of trouble. I strolled into his office, sat down opposite his desk, and he tried to get me to cough up some facts, like I was supposed to give them to him straight and square. He took out a notepad and pencil and asked me where I was from. I told him I was from Illinois and he wrote it down. He asked me if I ever did any other work and I told him that I had a dozen jobs, drove a bakery truck once. He wrote that down and asked me if there was anything else. I said I'd worked construction and he asked me where.
"You traveled around?"
He asked me about my family, where they were. I told him I had no idea, that they were long gone.
"What was your home life like?"
I told him I'd been kicked out.
"What did your father do?"
"And your mother, what about her?"
"What kind of music do you play?"
"What kind of music is folk music?"
I told him it was handed down songs. I hated these kind of questions. Felt I could ignore them. Billy seemed unsure of me and that was just fine. I didn't feel like answering his questions anyway, didn't feel the need to explain anything to anybody.
"How did you get here?" he asked me.
"I rode a freight train."
"You mean a passenger train?"
"No, a freight train."
"You mean, like a boxcar?"
"Yeah, like a boxcar. Like a freight train."
"Okay, a freight train."
I gazed past Billy, past his chair through his window across the street to an office building where I could see a blazing secretary soaked up in the spirit of something -- she was scribbling busy, occupied at a desk in a meditative manner. There was nothing funny about her. I wished I had a telescope. Billy asked me who I saw myself like in today's music scene. I told him, nobody. That part of things was true, I really didn't see myself like anybody. The rest of it, though, was pure hokum -- hophead talk.
I hadn't come in on a freight train at all. What I did was come across the country from the Midwest in a four-door sedan, '57 Impala -- straight out of Chicago, clearing the hell out of there -- racing all the way through the smoky towns, winding roads, green fields covered with snow, onward, eastbound through the state lines, Ohio, Indiana, Pennsylvania, a twenty-four-hour ride, dozing most of the way in the backseat, making small talk. My mind fixed on hidden interests...eventually riding over the George Washington Bridge.
The big car came to a full stop on the other side and let me out. I slammed the door shut behind me, waved good-bye, stepped out onto the hard snow. The biting wind hit me in the face. At last I was here, in New York City, a city like a web too intricate to understand and I wasn't going to try.
I was there to find singers, the ones I'd heard on record -- Dave Van Ronk, Peggy Seeger, Ed McCurdy, Brownie McGhee and Sonny Terry, Josh White, The New Lost City Ramblers, Reverend Gary Davis and a bunch of others -- most of all to find Woody Guthrie. New York City, the city that would come to shape my destiny. Modern Gomorrah. I was at the initiation point of square one but in no sense a neophyte.
When I arrived, it was dead-on winter. The cold was brutal and every artery of the city was snowpacked, but I'd started out from the frostbitten North Country, a little corner of the earth where the dark frozen woods and icy roads didn't faze me. I could transcend the limitations. It wasn't money or love that I was looking for. I had a heightened sense of awareness, was set in my ways, impractical and a visionary to boot. My mind was strong like a trap and I didn't need any guarantee of validity. I didn't know a single soul in this dark freezing metropolis but that was all about to change -- and quick.
The Café Wha? was a club on MacDougal Street in the heart of Greenwich Village. The place was a subterranean cavern, liquorless, ill lit, low ceiling, like a wide dining hall with chairs and tables -- opened at noon, closed at four in the morning. Somebody had told me to go there and ask for a singer named Freddy Neil who ran the daytime show at the Wha?
I found the place and was told that Freddy was downstairs in the basement where the coats and hats were checked and that's where I met him. Neil was the MC of the room and the maestro in charge of all the entertainers. He couldn't have been nicer. He asked me what I did and I told him I sang, played guitar and harmonica. He asked me to play something. After about a minute, he said I could play harmonica with him during his sets. I was ecstatic. At least it was a place to stay out of the cold. This was good.
Fred played for about twenty minutes and then introduced all the rest of the acts, then came back up to play whenever he felt like it, whenever the joint was packed. The acts were disjointed, awkward and seemed to have come from the Ted Mack Amateur Hour, a popular TV show. The audience was mostly collegiate types, suburbanites, lunch-hour secretaries, sailors and tourists. Everybody performed from ten to fifteen minutes. Fred would play for however long he felt, however long the inspiration would last. Freddy had the flow, dressed conservatively, sullen and brooding, with an enigmatical gaze, peachlike complexion, hair splashed with curls and an angry and powerful baritone voice that struck blue notes and blasted them to the rafters with or without a mike. He was the emperor of the place, even had his own harem, his devotees. You couldn't touch him. Everything revolved around him. Years later, Freddy would write the hit song "Everybody's Talkin'." I never played any of my own sets. I just accompanied Neil on all of his and that's where I began playing regular in New York.
The daytime show at the Café Wha?, an extravaganza of patchwork, featured anybody and anything -- a comedian, a ventriloquist, a steel drum group, a poet, a female impersonator, a duo who sang Broadway stuff, a rabbit-in-the-hat magician, a guy wearing a turban who hypnotized people in the audience, somebody whose entire act was facial acrobatics -- just anybody who wanted to break into show business. Nothing that would change your view of the world. I wouldn't have wanted Fred's gig for anything.
At about eight o'clock, the whole daytime menagerie would come to a halt and then the professional show would begin. Comedians like Richard Pryor, Woody Allen, Joan Rivers, Lenny Bruce and commercial folksinging groups like The Journeymen would command the stage. Everyone who had been there during the day would pack up. One of the guys who played in the afternoons was the falsetto-speaking Tiny Tim. He played ukulele and sang like a girl -- old standard songs from the '20s. I got to talking to him a few times and asked him what other kinds of places there were to work around here and he told me that sometimes he played at a place in Times Square called Hubert's Flea Circus Museum. I'd find out about that place later.
Fred was constantly being pestered and pressured by moocher types who wanted to play or perform one thing or another. The saddest character of all was a guy named Billy the Butcher. He looked like he came out of nightmare alley. He only played one song -- "High-Heel Sneakers" and he was addicted to it like a drug. Fred would usually let him play it sometime during the day, mostly when the place was empty. Billy would always preface his song by saying "This is for all you chicks." The Butcher wore an overcoat that was too small for him, buttoned tight across the chest. He was jittery and sometime in the past he'd been in a straitjacket in Bellevue, also had burned a mattress in a jail cell. All kinds of bad things had happened to Billy. There was a fire between him and everybody else. He sang that one song pretty good, though.
Another popular guy wore a priest's outfit and red-topped boots with little bells and did warped takes on stories from the Bible. Moondog also performed down here. Moondog was a blind poet who lived mostly on the streets. He wore a Viking helmet and a blanket with high fur boots. Moondog did monologues, played bamboo pipes and whistles. Most of the time he performed on 42nd Street.
My favorite singer in the place was Karen Dalton. She was a tall white blues singer and guitar player, funky, lanky and sultry. I'd actually met her before, run across her the previous summer outside of Denver in a mountain pass town in a folk club. Karen had a voice like Billie Holiday's and played the guitar like Jimmy Reed and went all the way with it. I sang with her a couple of times.
Fred always tried to make a place for most performers and was as diplomatic as possible. Sometimes the room would be inexplicably empty, sometimes half-empty and then suddenly for no apparent reason it would be flushed with people with lines outside. Fred was the man down here, the main attraction and his name was on the marquee, so maybe a lot of these people came to see him. I don't know. He played a big dreadnought guitar, lot of percussion in his playing, piercing driving rhythm -- a one-man band, a kick in the head singing voice. He did fierce versions of hybrid chain gang songs and whomped the audience into a frenzy. I'd heard stuff about him, that he was an errant sailor, harbored a skiff in Florida, was an underground cop, had hooker friends and a shadowy past. He'd come up to Nashville, drop off songs that he wrote and then head for New York where he'd lay low, wait for something to blow over and fill up his pockets with wampum. Whatever it was, it wasn't a huge story. He seemed to have no aspirations. We were very compatible, didn't talk personal at all. He was very much like me, polite but not overly friendly, gave me pocket change at the end of the day, said "Here...so you'll keep out of trouble."
The best part of working with him, though, was strictly gastronomical -- all the French fries and hamburgers I could eat. At some point during the day, Tiny Tim and I would go in the kitchen and hang around. Norbert the cook would usually have a greasy burger waiting. Either that, or he'd let us empty a can of pork and beans or spaghetti into a frying pan. Norbert was a trip. He wore a tomato-stained apron, had a fleshy, hard-bitten face, bulging cheeks, scars on his face like the marks of claws -- thought of himself as a lady's man -- saving his money so he could go to Verona in Italy and visit the tomb of Romeo and Juliet. The kitchen was like a cave bored into the side of a cliff.
One afternoon I was in there pouring Coke into a glass from a milk pitcher when I heard a voice coming cool through the screen of the radio speaker. Ricky Nelson was singing his new song, "Travelin' Man." Ricky had a smooth touch, the way he crooned in fast rhythm, the tonation of his voice. He was different than the rest of the teen idols, had a great guitarist who played like a cross between a honky-tonk hero and a barn-dance fiddler. Nelson had never been a bold innovator like the early singers who sang like they were navigating burning ships. He didn't sing desperately, do a lot of damage, and you'd never mistake him for a shaman. It didn't feel like his endurance was ever being tested to the utmost, but it didn't matter. He sang his songs calm and steady like he was in the middle of a storm, men hurling past him. His voice was sort of mysterious and made you fall into a certain mood.
I had been a big fan of Ricky's and still liked him, but that type of music was on its way out. It had no chance of meaning anything. There'd be no future for that stuff in the future. It was all a mistake. What was not a mistake was the ghost of Billy Lyons, rootin' the mountain down, standing 'round in East Cairo, Black Betty bam be lam. That was no mistake. That's the stuff that was happening. That's the stuff that could make you question what you'd always accepted, could litter the landscape with broken hearts, had power of spirit. Ricky, as usual, was singing bleached out lyrics. Lyrics probably written just for him. I'd always felt kin to him, though. We were about the same age, probably liked the same things, from the same generation although our life experience had been so dissimilar, him being brought up out West on a family TV show. It was like he'd been born and raised on Walden Pond where everything was hunky-dory, and I'd come out of the dark demonic woods, same forest, just a different way of looking at things. Ricky's talent was very accessible to me. I felt we had a lot in common. In a few years' time he'd record some of my songs, make them sound like they were his own, like he had written them himself. He eventually did write one himself and mentioned my name in it. Ricky, in about ten years' time, would even get booed while onstage for changing what was perceived as his musical direction. It turned out we did have a lot in common.
There was no way to know that standing in the kitchen of the Café Wha? listening to that smooth, monotone drawl. The thing was that Ricky was still making records and that's what I wanted to do, too. I envisioned myself recording for Folkways Records. That was the label I wanted to be on. That was the label that put out all the great records.
Ricky's song ended and I gave the rest of my French fries to Tiny Tim, went back into the outer room to see what Fred was up to. I had asked Fred once if he had any records out and he said, "That's not my game." Fred used darkness as a musically potent weapon, but as skilled and powerful as he was, there was something that he lacked as a performer. I couldn't figure out what it was. When I saw Dave Van Ronk I knew.
Van Ronk worked at the Gaslight, a cryptic club -- had a dominant presence on the street, more prestige than anyplace else. It had mystique, a big colorful banner out front and paid a weekly wage. Down a flight of stairs next to a bar called the Kettle of Fish, the Gaslight was non-booze but you could bring a bottle in a paper bag. It was shut down in the day and opened early in the evening with about six performers that rotated throughout the night, a closed drawn circle that an unknown couldn't break into. There weren't any auditions. It was a club I wanted to play, needed to.
Van Ronk played there. I'd heard Van Ronk back in the Midwest on records and thought he was pretty great, copied some of his recordings phrase for phrase. He was passionate and stinging, sang like a soldier of fortune and sounded like he paid the price. Van Ronk could howl and whisper, turn blues into ballads and ballads into blues. I loved his style. He was what the city was all about. In Greenwich Village, Van Ronk was king of the street, he reigned supreme.
Once on a cold winter day near Thompson and 3rd, in a flurry of light snow when the feeble sun was filtering through the haze, I saw him walking towards me in a frosty silence. It was like the wind was blowing him my way. I wanted to talk to him, but something was off. I watched him go by, saw the flash in his eye. It was a fleeting moment and I let it go. I wanted to play for him, though. Actually, I wanted to play for anybody. I could never sit in a room and just play all by myself. I needed to play for people and all the time. You can say I practiced in public and my whole life was becoming what I practiced. I kept my sights on the Gaslight. How could I not? Compared to it, the rest of the places on the street were nameless and miserable, low-level basket houses or small coffeehouses where the performer passed the hat. But I began to play as many as I could. I had no choice. The narrow streets were infused with them. They were small and ranged in shape, loud and noisy and catered to the confection of tourists who swarmed through the streets at night. Anything could pass for one -- double door parlor rooms, storefronts, second story walk-ups, basements below street level, all holes in the wall.
There was an unusual beer and wine place on 3rd Street in what used to be Aaron Burr's livery stable, now called Café Bizarre. The patrons were mostly workingmen who sat around laughing, cussing, eating red meat, talking pussy. There was a small stage in the back and I played there once or twice. I probably played all the places at one time or another. Most of them stayed open 'til the break of day, kerosene lamps and sawdust on the floor, some with wooden benches, a strong-armed guy at the door -- no cover charge and the owners tried to offload as much coffee as they could. Performers either sat or stood in the window, visible to the street, or were positioned at the opposite end of the room facing the door, singing at the top of their voices. No microphones or anything.
Talent scouts didn't come to these dens. They were dark and dingy and the atmosphere was chaotic. Performers sang and passed the hat or played while watching tourists file past, hoping some of them would toss coins into a breadbasket or guitar case. On weekends, if you played all the joints from dusk 'til dawn, you could make maybe twenty dollars. Weeknights it was hard to tell. Sometimes not much because it was so competitive. You had to know a trick or two to survive.
One singer I crossed paths with a lot, Richie Havens, always had a nice-looking girl with him who passed the hat and I noticed that he always did well. Sometimes she passed two hats. If you didn't have some kind of trick, you'd come off with an invisible presence, which wasn't good. A couple of times, I hooked up with a girl I knew from the Café Wha?, a waitress who was good to the eye. We'd go from place to place, I'd play and she'd take up collection, wear a funny little bonnet, heavy black mascara, low laced blouse -- looked almost naked from the waist up under a capelike coat. I'd split the money with her later, but it was too much of a hassle to do it all the time. I still made more when she was with me than when I was working on my own.
What really set me apart in these days was my repertoire. It was more formidable than the rest of the coffeehouse players, my template being hard-core folk songs backed by incessantly loud strumming. I'd either drive people away or they'd come in closer to see what it was all about. There was no in-between. There were a lot of better singers and better musicians around these places but there wasn't anybody close in nature to what I was doing. Folk songs were the way I explored the universe, they were pictures and the pictures were worth more than anything I could say. I knew the inner substance of the thing. I could easily connect the pieces. It meant nothing for me to rattle off things like "Columbus Stockade," "Pastures of Plenty," "Brother in Korea" and "If I Lose, Let Me Lose" all back-to-back just like it was one long song. Most of the other performers tried to put themselves across, rather than the song, but I didn't care about doing that. With me, it was about putting the song across.
I had stopped going down to the Café Wha? in the afternoons. Never stepped foot in there again. Lost touch with Freddy Neil, too. Instead of going over there, I began hanging out at the Folklore Center, the citadel of Americana folk music. That was also on MacDougal Street, between Bleecker and 3rd. The small store was up a flight of stairs and the place had an antique grace. It was like an ancient chapel, like a shoebox sized institute. The Folklore Center sold and reported on everything that had to do with folk music. It had a wide plate-glass window where records and instruments were displayed.
One afternoon I went up the flight of stairs and wandered in there. I browsed around and met Izzy Young, the proprietor. Young was an old-line folk enthusiast, very sardonic and wore heavy horn-rimmed glasses, spoke in a thick Brooklyn dialect, wore wool slacks, skinny belt and work boots, tie at a careless slant. His voice was like a bulldozer and always seemed too loud for the little room. Izzy was always a little rattled over something or other. He was sloppily good natured. In reality, a romantic. To him, folk music glittered like a mound of gold. It did for me, too. The place was a crossroads junction for all the folk activity you could name and you might at any time see real hard-line folksingers in there. Some people picked up their mail there.
Young occasionally produced folk concerts by the unmistakably authentic folk and blues artists. He'd bring them in from out of town to play at Town Hall or at some university. At one time or another I saw Clarence Ashley, Gus Cannon, Mance Lipscomb, Tom Paley, Erik Darling hanging around in the place. There were a lot of esoteric folk records, too, all records I wanted to listen to. Extinct song folios of every type -- sea shanties, Civil War songs, cowboy songs, songs of lament, church house songs, anti-Jim Crow songs, union songs -- archaic books of folk tales, Wobbly journals, propaganda pamphlets about everything from women's rights to the dangers of boozing, one by Daniel De Foe, the English author of Moll Flanders. A few instruments for sale, dulcimers, five-string banjos, kazoos, pennywhistles, acoustic guitars, mandolins. If you were wondering what folk music was all about, this was the place where you could get more than a vague glimmer.
Izzy had a back room with a potbellied wood-burning stove, crooked pictures and rickety chairs -- old patriots and heroes on the wall, pottery with crossed-stitch design, lacquered black candlesticks...lots of things having to do with craft. The little room was filled with American records and a phonograph. Izzy would let me stay back there and listen to them. I listened to as many as I could, even thumbed through a lot of his antediluvian folk scrolls. The madly complicated modern world was something I took little interest in. It had no relevancy, no weight. I wasn't seduced by it. What was swinging, topical and up to date for me was stuff like the Titanic sinking, the Galveston flood, John Henry driving steel, John Hardy shooting a man on the West Virginia line. All this was current, played out and in the open. This was the news that I considered, followed and kept tabs on.
As far as keeping tabs on things, Izzy kept a diary, too. It was some sort of ledger that he kept open on his desk. He'd ask me questions about myself like, where it was that I grew up and how did I get interested in folk music, where I discovered it, stuff like that. He'd then write about me in his diary. I couldn't imagine why. His questions were annoying, but I liked him because he was gracious to me and I tried to be considerate and forthcoming. I was very careful when talking to outsiders, but Izzy was okay and I answered him in plain talk.
He asked me about my family. I told him about my grandma on my mom's side who lived with us. She was filled with nobility and goodness, told me once that happiness isn't on the road to anything. That happiness is the road. Had also instructed me to be kind because everyone you'll ever meet is fighting a hard battle.
I couldn't imagine what Izzy's battles were. Internal, external, who knows? Young was a man that concerned himself with social injustice, hunger and homelessness and he didn't mind telling you so. His heroes were Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. Moby-Dick, the ultimate fish story, was his favorite tall tale. Young was besieged with bill collectors and dictates from the landlord. People were always chasing him down for money, but it didn't seem to faze him. He had a lot of resilience, had even fought city hall into allowing folk music to be played in Washington Square Park. Everybody was for him.
He'd pull out records for me. He'd given me a Country Gentlemen record and said I should listen to "Girl Behind the Bar." He played me "White House Blues" by Charlie Poole and said that this would be perfect for me and pointed out that this was the exact version that The Ramblers did. He played me the Big Bill Broonzy song "Somebody's Got to Go," and that was right up my alley, too. I liked hanging around at Izzy's. The fire was always crackling.
One winter day a big burly guy stepped in off the street. He looked like he'd come from the Russian embassy, shook the snow off his coat sleeves, took off his gloves and put them on the counter, asked to see a Gibson guitar that was hanging up on the brick wall. It was Dave Van Ronk. He was gruff, a mass of bristling hair, don't give a damn attitude, a confident hunter. My mind went into a rush. There was nothing between the man and me. Izzy took the guitar down and gave it to him. Dave fingered the strings and played some kind of jazzy waltz, put the guitar back on the counter. As he put the guitar down, I stepped over and put my hands on it and asked him at the same time how does someone get to work down at the Gaslight, who do you have to know? It's not like I was trying to get buddy-buddy with him, I just wanted to know.
Van Ronk looked at me curiously, was snippy and surly, asked if I did janitor work.
I told him, no, I didn't and he could perish the thought, but could I play something for him? He said, "Sure."
I played him "Nobody Knows You When You're Down and Out." Dave liked what he heard and asked me who I was and how long I'd been in town, then said I could come down about eight or nine in the evening and play a couple of songs in his set. That was how I met Dave Van Ronk.
I left the Folklore Center and went back into the ice-chopping weather. Towards evening, I was over at the Mills Tavern on Bleecker Street where the basket-house singers would bunch up, chitchat and make the scene. My flamenco guitar-playing friend, Juan Moreno, told me about a new coffeehouse that had just opened on 3rd Street, called the Outré, but I was barely listening. Juan's lips were moving, but they were moving almost without sound. I'd never play in the Outré, didn't have to. I'd soon be hired to play at the Gaslight and never see the basket houses again. Outside of Mills Tavern the thermometer was creeping up to about ten below. My breath froze in the air, but I didn't feel the cold. I was heading for the fantastic lights. No doubt about it. Could it be that I was being deceived? Not likely. I don't think I had enough imagination to be deceived; had no false hope, either. I'd come from a long ways off and had started from a long ways down. But now destiny was about to manifest itself. I felt like it was looking right at me and nobody else.
Copyright © 2004 by Bob Dylan
Table of Contents
1. Markin' Up the Score
2. The Lost Land
3. New Morning
4. Oh Mercy
5. River of Ice
What People are Saying About This
"A remarkable achievement, and like Henry Miller's best personal writings, it is a story that opens up the times that it portrays, and then reveals the possibilities of the human spirit."
Mikal Gilmore, Rolling Stone
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Bob Dylan is known as a spiritual man, but also a loner, often offering opaque answers (or none at all) to direct questions. True to form, in Chronicles I there are many biographical omissions, and we are not given any real insights into his spiritual beliefs. However, what this autobiography does offer is a very engaging look at one man¿s evolution with his own creative voice, both in light of, and in spite of, the public attention it has received. It is on this level that Chronicles I interested and challenged me. Unlike Bob Dylan¿s previous book, 1966¿s Tarantula, which was a psychedelic roll through his subconscious, Chronicles I features an introspective Dylan writing plainly and openly about his creative process. For a famous recluse Dylan is remarkably exposed however, many of the elements that defined Dylan¿s musical path are dealt with only in passing¿sometimes in a single sentence. In fact, in some cases the moments that made Bob Dylan into Bob Dylan are ignored completely. Counter to what many music critics and fans may have wanted or expected, we are not offered an autobiography that is a full, wide-screen disclosure. What we are given is an invitation into the creative process of one of popular music¿s most significant icons. We are given snapshots of the formation of the man at different stages of his career: the young man striving for success the successful man striving for authenticity the older man striving for inspiration. The book is an account of process, perseverance and passion, and we see Dylan struggling to form and understand the voice that he feels is uniquely his, recognized now as one of the most significant in pop culture in the last fifty-odd years. To me, Chronicles I is at its best when it is showing the Dylan of the early 1960s, when he first arrived in New York City. Virtually alone in an unfamiliar city, Dylan began playing shows in folk clubs around Greenwich Village. We are told of how he forged his identity on hard-scrabble folk music and emulated the parts of other artists that he admired, in a slow opening of his creative scope and a honing of an authentic voice of his own. Collectors of rare folk albums provided source material that became Dylan¿s foundation, and with a few specific musicians providing artistic epiphanies, Dylan¿s unusual vision took over. Dylan¿s writing is a cadence of shortened sentences and clipped asides, and often reflects a wry humour that surprised me. But most impressive about Dylan¿s prose style was how similar it is in tone to his music. Chonicles I displays the same combination of simple words and sentence structures, mixed with vivid and unusual metaphors that are characteristic of Dylan¿s lyrics. Open the book to nearly any page and read for a paragraph or two and a voice you already know is reading to you. These lyrical skills have inspired a whole raft of pale imitators in a variety of genres, but are best used in the practised hands of an old pro. I was also struck by Dylan¿s admission that he notices details more than narrative, a trait that informs his music and his writing. When I think of any significant Dylan song, it is the frayed snippets of sepia-toned characters that emerge. There are vagabonds, dilettantes and debutantes in his songs, and so too, in his recounting of his life, where he tells stories about the people and the times that were forming around him. As one of the most heralded and most revered musicians in modern times, it is revealing to see the processes of the man behind the myth.
I had never been a Dylan fan, knew only what any 40-something American knows of his public life, and the only song I ever listened to carefully enough to enjoy it was *Tangled Up In Blue*. Attracted by nothing but curiosity and the luscious noirish cover, I bought this and read it. Okay, yes, I'll make a fool of myself here---just about every word did indeed glow like burning coals. I was entirely unprepared for the rich rich ride this book provides. The untethered chronology is wonderful precisely because the voice is so present, so immediate in every epoch it offers--we are always living a *now* with this voice. I had to read it with a highlighter because by the 3rd page I found there was no way I'd be able to memorize the passages whose loveliness/ingenuity/wit/feeling burned like, well, you know. So engrossed was I in this book, that it wasn't till about page 50 that it occurred to me: Oh, wait a minute--is this why people are Bob Dylan fans??? And now, a mere two weeks after reading Chronicles, I find that I want to restrategize my longterm life plans to maximize the number of times I can listen to Bob Dylan's 115th Dream, or Fixing to Die, or Gates of Eden, or Shelter from the Storm, or Lonesome Day Blues..okay you get the picture. I hope ardently that other people will open the Dylan door through this book--it's an amazing experience.
I was very impressed with this book. I have always been a huge fan of Dylan's and was very familiar with his work.It could be a little dry to some depending on your taste in writting and music of coarse. What makes this book so great to me is that he is very percise on small details. He does not leave anyting out about the moves he makes. You get a thourough understanding of all the things he does once he hits New York. From the people he meets, to the books he read, to the shows he plays, you get a little bit of everything. I would recommend this to anyone interested in music or poetry.
To say that Dylan doesn't care about his fans is a lie. You don't write an autobiography just to write one, you do it for the fans. He doesn't need any more money, he did this one for the fans. Everyone needs to take this book and embrace it if they haven't already. What you need to understand is that Dylan isn't some stupid punk bad boy who writes lyrics that don't make sense. He is a poet, and probably the greatest lyricist ever. He has given us a chance to take a look at his life. This book is his own account, and when the critics embrace a book as one of the Best of 2004 in over 15 different legitimate magazines and newspapers you know there is something special. That something special is the autobiography according to the artists' memory. We could pick at little pieces and say that it didn't happen, but you look at the big picture and take it all in. Imagine if Beethoven, Jim Hendrix, or Jerry Garcia would've done something like this. A man who will never be forgotten, a living legend who has just given us a piece of his life, a piece of history. This book really shows the genius behind the songs, shows the poet even when he's writing a paragraph. Bob Dylan didn't start out as a star when he entered New York, it would take more work than most imagine. Everyone and their brother ought to read Chronicles, Volume One by Bob Dylan.
One of the things I liked best about Chronicles is Dylan's focus on songs and musicians, which after all have been the focus of his life. Songs are living things for him, they DO things, have personalities, and he is brilliant at describing what the music and songs do. I also appreciated his description of his mind when he was on the cusp of re-creating modern music, the sense that something new had to be imagined, and the simultaneous immersion in the craft of song- writing. Besides prodding my own desires to create, I want to hear the musicians he writes about - Robert Johnson, Odetta, Woody Guthrie, not just others' renditions. This book is elusive, yes. That's what I expect from artists, and like about them.
This book truly is outstanding. Being a creative person, myself, I understand that Dylan does not feel the need to explain his songs to anyone. You either understand them or you don't. If they were all spelled out in plain english, they would lose all meaning. This book was an amazingly honest insight into Dylan's thoughts and feelings, which is what a memoir should be. He tells of his long journey from his small hometown to New York to New Orleans and everywhere in between. This book reads like one beautifully written song. He overlooks 'major' events and instead focuses on the images he remembers so vividly. His tale is an intriguing one, if that's what you are looking to get out of this book. This is not a book for those who narrow-mindedly search for the logical explanation behind the man and his songs. Highly recommended for those with a creative spirit.
After a lifetime of playing with the press, Bob Dylan has started to come clean. This book not only gives intererting inside info about the man and his music, but the writing is elegant and stylish. No mere auto bio here, he jumps around in different time periods in his life and still only gives some of what you might want to know. STill, it is intimate, engaging and a wonderful read.
This man is unbelievable. His music; timeless and powerful with lyrics to blow away ANY other artist ever. A sense of melody, time and songwriting unparalled in the music world. His voice always changing causing every drop of emotion to be felt. His ability to constantly move forward and never stay in one place over the years. Needless to say, once you hear it you want to know all about this guy. What makes him tick? Well, this book is beautiful. His storytelling, attention to detail, his passion. All of these things and more shine through in this book. Get his Lyrics 1962-2001 book too for another look at this brilliant mind. This book is a must have, no questions asked.
Just from the excerpts I've seen so far (e.g., Newsweek, etc.), this is going to be a MUST HAVE & MUST READ & MUST LISTEN! Wow! This is almost better than the songs... Well, no, never, but still. I may have to get both the Vol. 1 book AND the Sean Penn audio. Checked at my local B&N today and they said come back Oct. 5th:-( I can't wait!
Book club selection. Was a very disjointed account of Bob Dylan's life... reading this, you'd think he was the epitome of the family man, just a little drink now and then. It jumps from experience to experience ... not exactly a chronological chronicle.
Great, great book. Dylan doesn't cover what the gossip columnists want to hear, instead giving readers a glimpse into the way he thinks and feels.
Gives you insight into the man¿s mind, what was going on in his head during his informative years, just before he started writing. Then he jumps later and tells about the difficulties in still creating records when the genius has worn off. Good stuff and lots of interesting name dropping during days in the Village.
So much better than you expect it's going to be. It loses its way a bit later on (especially in the episode about recording with Daniel Lanois, which is heavy with studio squabbles), but the opening section about arriving in New York is fascinating and thrilling.
Dylan hasn't made a truly satisfactory album since 1966. Despite the reviews, this book doesn't indicate that he's belatedly recovered his muse via a new medium. Better than Tarantula, I s'pose.
At his best Dylan's prose is lucid and lovely. At times, however, I haven't a clue what he's talking about. Much like his songwriting. For example, what the hell is he getting at when he relates the incident in which a guy named Robert Zimmerman is killed on a motorcycle in California? He goes so far as to stress his point - whatever it is - by saying something like, "You can check it out for yourself if you don't believe me." Huh? That aside, Dylan was and always will be one fascinating feller. And it's a pretty darn readable book.
Long awaited autobiography by the world¿s best-loved troubadour. At times thoughtful and self-deprecating, the book is less gossipy than some would like, but incredibly fulfilling to those of us who have fallen in love with his music. Essential for fans and music lovers everywhere.
Great book by one of the greatest musical minds of this generation. Can't wait for volume II
enjoyed it. i think he dictated it in a series of interviews. it's fair to say just about anything dylan does is interesting. i liked the way little of it seemed to be about him and a lot about what was going on around him at the time. a gemini trait no doubt. wasn't really what i expected. for his life story you'll have to ask someone else, he's too busy living it to write it.
I love Bob Dylan. This is an amazing memoir, whether or not you're a big fan of the music.
This is an excellent autobiographical chronicle of Bob Dylan's young life and early career. I found his prose to be enjoyable and extremely informative. The book reveals a Bob Dylan who was totally different from his ¿voice of a generation¿ image.
Fun but scattered bio. Jumps around in time.
Amazing insights into the creative processes.
This book is rich with references and lesson in American history and pop culture and literature. Bob Dylan may not be formally educated, but his depth of knowledge is fascinating. From this book I learned that Bob Dylan is a down-to-earth man who, during his life and career, just wanted to play his music. Nothing more, nothing less. I also learned that Spike Lee's father was a professional bass player.
Good book for a Dylan fan. It was written very much like a lot of his liner notes. It was interesting to hear him talk about how some of the recent albums came together but I was most interested in his early days.
It's the surreal tangents and the anecdotal glimpses into Dylan's humility that I most love in this book. The mini-essay on Thucydides that goes on for several pages, the observations on Machiavelli (and where he went wrong), and the description of how - during the recording of Oh Mercy - he worried that he was stretching producer Daniel Lanois' patience and asked him, "Are we still friends, Danny?"