Sunday, February 06, 2005
Chronicles, Volume One
It's in the voice. With Dylan, it's always in the voice. The words are very often poetic, sometimes straightforward and devastatingly incisive, sometimes willfully (maddeningly?) elliptical and obtuse but they are magical when delivered, just so, with the voice. His songs are that way and so, almost as a matter of course, is this engaging, meandering, earnest, silly, utterly and wonderfully Bob-like memoir.
Reading this book is like having a conversation with the man (or at least so I imagine...I'm probably wrong about this but I quite like the notion and so I will stick with it just the same) and the voice comes through...you read it and you hear the unmistakable low rumble...nasal and knowing and acerbic and burnished by too many cigarettes and too many nights on the endless road preaching the gospel of a song-and-dance man to congregations of unabashedly adoring parishioners...in every word. The voice is in your head...you can't shake it even if you want to...and the words make that much more sense because of that.
Ideas and remembrances, old loves and festering resentments, wry asides and clear-eyed self-examinations tumble on top each other...no time for arbitrary chapter breaks or smooth transitions from one subject to the next...in a way that seems, at first blush, to be utterly chaotic and without narrative thread. But, of course, it all makes perfect sense in the aggregate. Like the lives we all lead. Like a Dylan song.
* * * * *
The death of Johnny Carson drew me back to this passage: "One night I turned on the TV and saw soul singer Joe Tex on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. Joe sang and left. Johnny didn't talk to him--not like he did with the other guests. Johnny just waved to him from his desk. Carson used to like to talk to his guests about golf and things like that, but he had nothing to say to Joe. I didn't think he would have anything to say to me either. All of his guests tried to be funny, put on a happy face, not come unglued, be like Gene Kelly and go singing in the rain even during a big downpour. If I did that I'd get pneumonia. You had to act like everything was wonderful. Like Joe Tex, I'd never been much in the mainstream. I thought about how much more I was like him than like Carson. I shut the TV off."
I would hope that Johnny would have had something to say to Bob.