Bookmarks Issue: 
Bob Dylan

Volume One

A-ChroniclesBeginning and ending in Greenwich Village in 1961, Chronicles: Volume One seems to go everywhere and nowhere at once. The five chapters cover Dylan’s early rise in the folk scene, his isolation after a near-fatal motorcycle accident in 1970, and the recording of his 1987 album "Oh Mercy" in New Orleans. Mixed into the deck are the musicians and places he encountered along the way and a catalog of inspirations for the famously cryptic singer. Whether he’s extolling Ricky Nelson or professing his unceasing interest in the Civil War, Bob Dylan continues to set his own creative, if crooked, course.
Simon & Schuster. 304 pages. $24.
ISBN: 0743228154

New York Times 4 of 5 Stars
"This book recaptures its author’s first stirrings of creativity with amazing urgency. … Those interested in the roots of Mr. Dylan’s music will have a field day tracking down this book’s arcane references—Darby and Tarleton’s recording of ‘Way Down in Florida on a Hog,’ to name but one." Janet Maslin

Washington Post 4 of 5 Stars
"Surprise, surprise: Chronicles: Volume One, a memoir tapped out over three years on a manual typewriter, turns out to be the work of a masterful essayist, a compelling cultural observer and, yes, a poet masquerading as trapeze artist. … Like James Joyce’s largely autobiographical novel, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Chronicles offers a way to understand the mind and art of its author at a crucial juncture, when Dylan is finding the voice that speaks to and (despite his protests) for a generation, when he’s busily reinvigorating bardic tradition."
Richard Harrington

Boston Globe 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Ambiguity and mystery, so potent here, have long been key to Dylan’s mojo …. Chronicles is packed ... facts filtered and colored to flummox, entertain, and illuminate." Carlo Wolff

Los Angeles Times 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Has Dylan now come clean? If he hasn’t, of what use is an autobiography that conceals more than it reveals, and bends the truth into an artful ensemble of, well, lies? Rather than dealing with such questions directly, Dylan spins them into an extended rumination on the relationship between art, truth and falsehood." Timothy Ferris

San Diego Union-Tribune 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Finally, like Dylan’s songs and albums, Chronicles must be taken on its own terms, enjoyed for what it is regardless of what one may have expected or wished it to be." Paul Williams

Houston Chronicle 2.5 of 5 Stars
"Although Chronicles offers clues about the man behind the curtain, he’s not quite willing to offer himself up for a forthright and guileless inspection. That’s an understandable attitude for someone as famous and revered as Dylan, though perhaps one not well suited to the concept of a published self-history." Eric R. Danton

Critical Summary

Dylan, true to mercurial form, manages to be obscure and forthright in the long-anticipated first volume of his autobiography. For all his frankness, which catches many reviewers by surprise, he omits as much as he reveals. Less a straight biography than a series of well-written and compassionate vignettes, Dylan describes hundreds of past acquaintances in stunning detail, but then excludes or downplays what many consider to be key points of his biography. This sense of frustrated expectations colors what are otherwise glowing reviews; it is as if the critics are waiting to see what the proposed Volumes Two and Three hold before they give Dylan their final nod of approval.

Supplemental Reading

No Direction Home The Life and Music of Bob Dylan | Robert Shelton (1989): There are numerous Dylan biographies; this one stands out because Shelton was the pop music critic for The New York Times in 1961 and is credited with "discovering" Dylan. No Direction is at its best capturing those early points in Dylan’s career.