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Dylan: 100 Songs & Pictures

October 14, 2009
Never Ending Tour
Never Ending Tour

ISBN: 9781846094460, Omnibus Press, Price: $39.95, Height: 12, Width: 10, Pages: 496, Binding: Paperback, Publication Date: 10/1/2009. Available here from amazon.com.

I took a bus to New York City form Chicago with my five-string banjo two years after Bob Dillon went there from Minnesota (he’d changed his name from Robert Zimmerman). We were born within two weeks of one another. The difference, he had talent. But looking at these pictures from the Greenwich Village days through our old age, it is easy to drift back. Putting Dylan in a neat little classification has been a bit harder over the years.

In the early days his records were not played on WFMT’s Midnight Special, though those of Pete Segar and Joan Baez were (maybe because he was a contemporary composer of songs— a radical concept in the days of traditional folk that paid tribute to earlier writers, like Woody Guthrie, but somehow felt it inappropriate to do anymore). Then came the famous Newport Folk Festival of 1965 where he was booed for going electric. Of course, he eventually went a little country, a little religious, a little…well, we all know because he brought us along with him on these unpredictable sojourns.

This book gives us a chance to examine and think about those various stages. About him, about the times, about ourselves. I remember seeing a PBS program on folk music in which his former lover, Ms. Baez, was critical of him for not being more directly active in the civil rights/anti-Vietnam movements. Yeah, we may have felt that at the time, but what comes through here is that this was an artist with his own vision. He went where he felt he had to. And we were never far behind. You can’t pin him down to any time period any more than you can pigeon hole his music. He “gave us his heart, but we wanted his soul.”

This excellent book not only gives short bio clips but also responses to Dylan’s work by people like Guthrie; Peter, Paul & Mary; Tom Paxton; John Lennon; Paul Simon, Judy Collins, Bruce Springsteen; and Paul McCartney. My favorite is by an over-awed Frank Zappa, “When I heard ‘Like a Rolling Stone’ I wanted to quit the music business.” “Rainy Day Women #12 & 35” got me through Vietnam, but I really like the lyricism of “Girl from the North Country: and “Boots of Spanish Leather.” “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall” was written, while Bob Dylan was hanging out with friends on Bleeker Street. The lyrics, the photos mark a goodbye to innocence.

Many of the protest songs by other writers now seem self-righteous, whereas, despite his hard hitting style, there is a compassion in many of Dylan’s: “You’re right from your side / I’m right from mine / We’re both just too many mornings / An’ a thousand miles behind.” At one point he says, “I don’t want to write for people anymore. You know, be a spokesman. From now on, I want to write from inside me. The way I like to work is for it to come out the way I walk or talk.” Or to sum it up with one of his great lines, “He not busy being born is busy dying.”

Dylan’s early lyrics incorporated political, social and philosophical as well as literary influences. They defied existing pop music conventions and appealed hugely to the then burgeoning counterculture. Dylan performs with guitar, piano and harmonica. Backed by a changing line-up of musicians, he has toured steadily since the late 1980s on what has been dubbed the Never Ending Tour. His accomplishments as a recording artist and performer have been central to his career, but his greatest contribution is generally considered to be his songwriting. His most recent recording Together through Life, his 33rd studio album, was released last April (2009). It reached #1 on both the Billboard 200 and the UK album charts in its first week of release.

Buy this book, enjoy it again and again. And sing along with me to Bob, “May your heart be always joyful / May your songs always be sung / May you stay, forever young.”

φ φ φ φ φ (five roses out of five)        – John Lehman 

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